Meet Stephanie and Aiden
Nine-year-old Aiden entered the therapist’s office with his mom, Stephanie. Aiden and Stephanie were at the office for family therapy, as part of Stephanie’s outpatient treatment for cocaine addiction. Together, they had attended 52 sessions over the past year.
Stephanie was doing well. Her cocaine use declined quickly in response to the treatment she received. The treatment was helpful for Aiden, too. He had been through a lot, being raised by someone struggling with addiction.
Meet Patti and Josh
Nine-year-old Josh was dropped off at a friend’s house while his mom, Patti, went to therapy. Patti was receiving outpatient treatment for a cocaine addiction. Family therapy, however, wasn’t suggested as part of Patti’s substance abuse treatment. Over a year, she made progress, but her individual therapy didn’t produce the same kind of results Stephanie experienced.
Research Says: Bring the Kids!
Researchers found the secret to Stephanie’s success could be Aiden (and that Patti might be doing better if Josh attended sessions with her). A recent first-of-its-kind study revealed that moms who are in therapy for drug and alcohol use recover faster if their kids are involved in treatment sessions.
Researchers looked at the progress moms made in therapy over 18 months. Those who included their 8- to 16-year-old children in therapy experienced a quicker decline in cocaine, marijuana and alcohol use than mothers who underwent individual therapy.
Experts weren’t surprised at these results. Lead author of the study, Natasha Slesnick, noted, "Interpersonal stress, especially within the family, has been shown to be an important factor in drug and alcohol abuse. So, it makes sense that having mothers and children working together in therapy can help moms with substance use problems do better over time.”
As moms work through the stressful issues of family life, they are simultaneously dealing with many of the factors that typically contribute to substance abuse.
This study focused on the benefits of family therapy for moms. However, additional studies show this approach is good for the children, too. Often, kids aren’t included in their mom’s treatment plan, but they must cope with their mother’s substance abuse in a lot of ways. Receiving treatment through family therapy can be helpful for their mental health, as well as their mom’s.
A Change in Approach?
Typically, family therapy is not part of the treatment plan for moms struggling with substance abuse. This approach seems to miss out on a great opportunity to help both moms and their kids.
With this latest research in mind, perhaps we should try more family-oriented methods. Stephanie and Aiden would agree.
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