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Whole Family Approaches in Teenage Substance Abuse Therapy

Written By Stuart Croft
Reviewed By Tiffany Green
Medically Reviewed By Dr David Barker
Updated May 1, 2024

Teenage addiction rehab and therapy are unfortunately encumbered by numerous complicating factors. Dealing with addiction in adults is already a delicate balance of personal growth and accountability. Adding in the complexities of adolescent neurochemistry, increased vulnerability to peer pressure and uncertainty, and strained family dynamics make this balance all the more difficult to achieve.

As one of only two private rehab treatment centres with the skills, experience, and accreditation to provide residential teenage drug addiction treatment services in the UK, we rely on all the tools at our disposal to help adolescents overcome their addiction and rejoin their families and communities with a renewed outlook on life.

An indispensable part of this toolset for dealing with teenage addiction is whole-family approaches; therapy models centred around the idea that addiction is best addressed as a family problem, not an individual one. By making the whole family a part of the recovery process, we help families rebuild lost trust, improve communication, and develop home environments that facilitate whole-family healing.

The role of family dynamics in addiction

Family dynamics and teenage addiction are intertwined. Strained family relationships, neglect, and abuse have all been conclusively linked to a higher risk for teenage substance abuse (Whitesell et al.), while in other cases, substance abuse and repeated failed attempts to get sober are the causes of relationship strain. With teenage addiction causing feelings of anger, regret, and frustration in adolescents and parents across the economic spectrum, there’s no denying that addressing issues of family dynamics, interaction, and communication is critical to the long-term successful rehabilitation of the patient and the family. 

From years of experience helping teenagers beat addiction, we know the effect that it can have on the family. Addiction is a whole-family disease capable of causing deep hurt and a rapid erosion of trust. When emotional pain and eroded trust are combined with low self-esteem and the powerful chemical grasp of drugs, many families, as good-intentioned as they are, simply don’t know how to cope with the situation. While seeking professional help in dealing with teenage addiction is absolutely a step in the right direction, family therapy and counselling can help undo some of the damage caused in anger or frustration.

What is the goal of family therapy in teenage rehab addiction?

Family therapy in teenage addiction primarily seeks to help families recover from addiction through collective healing, addiction education, improving family dynamics and relationships, and helping families create an environment where long-term healing and recovery can take place.

Collective healing

Teenage addiction causes fear, pain, and anxiety in parents. Parents’ reactions to teenage addiction, in turn, cause uncertainty, distress, and anger. In families that have tried and failed to beat addiction, repeated patterns of disappointment can, as stated earlier, severely harm the healthy trust that is supposed to exist between family members. 

With a renewed commitment to recovery and a full commitment to family therapy, families can address past hurts and work towards forgiveness and reconciliation.

Addiction education

Substance addiction has been seen as shameful for a long time. Although the stigma and bias surrounding addiction are on the decline, many still carry outdated beliefs and attitudes towards addiction and recovery. This makes addiction education critical for families trying to recover from addiction, as an updated and medically accurate understanding of addiction, mental health disorders, medication, and therapy all help lay the groundwork for a lasting recovery at home.

Addiction education goes beyond simply changing attitudes. On a practical level, it arms you with skills like identifying and eliminating triggers, designing family-focused relapse prevention strategies, and setting realistic timelines and expectations for recovery.

Understanding is half the battle, and we’ve seen firsthand how effective an understanding of addiction can be at helping a family go from hopeless to determined. Only by understanding what they’re up against can a family pull together as a unit to support their sons, daughters, and siblings in lasting recovery.

Improving family dynamics

Family dynamics, the everyday interaction patterns between the members of a household, can be the greatest weapon in the fight against teenage addiction, or it can drive a developing adolescent to substance abuse and self-harming behaviour. As family therapists who deal with addiction, it’s our responsibility to help identify and improve family dynamics that may cause a teenager to feel isolated, desperate, or crying out for help. 

We cannot overstate how important it is not to see family therapy as a weakness or something wrong with us. Young people today are faced with new challenges that no adult had to deal with at that age, and those from well-to-do, affluent, and otherwise perfectly normal households face the same risks of having their teenager experiment with or get caught up in drugs. 

What is important, whether you’re from a close-knit family or one that struggles to get along, is the shared concern for your loved one in addiction therapy and coming together in their support. 

Some of the discussions your family therapist will lead include topics on improving communication skills to enhance open and honest communication between all members of the family, practical ways to show support and be proactive about each other’s needs, setting healthy boundaries that promote and maintain relationships, and developing coping skills to deal with stress in a healthy manner.

Treatment modalities in family therapy

Within family therapy, mental health service providers rely on several treatment modalities and approaches to achieve their desired outcomes. It’s important to recognise that different families have different treatment priorities. The needs of families vary significantly, especially when comparing situations involving parental addiction or mental health challenges to those with absent parents, families facing or experiencing poverty, or other disruptions to healthy family dynamics. By selecting the right treatment modalities, therapists best enable families to build and maintain environments that facilitate their teenager’s long-term recovery.

Each family seeking teenage addiction recovery services at Gladstone’s is evaluated to find the right combination of treatments. This multi-systemic approach that includes the family has been proven to be more effective than relying solely on individual and group therapy for the treatment of teenage addiction (SAMHSA). Some of the treatments that benefit the families of those in treatment at Gladstones include:

  • Psychoeducation: This was the first broadly used approach in family-based substance addiction treatment. In addition to providing families with information about what to expect in terms of recovery, it also actively involves family members in the process as social support networks and problem solvers. It helps family members develop communication skills that promote understanding, provides accurate and stigma-free information on the biopsychological effects of addiction, and offers ongoing support throughout the process. 
  • Mediated one-on-one therapy: This approach entails the family therapist first seeing the patient and family separately, then together in a group session where the therapist mediates certain issues and concerns. This allows each party to breach any sensitive or difficult-to-discuss problems with the therapist in private, who can then guide the combined sessions positively and constructively.

Teenage addiction rehab therapy at Gladstones Clinic

Treating addiction in teenagers is a complex and difficult task, with a lot riding on the outcome. We’re uniquely vulnerable to the pressures of life at this age, and the prognosis for a happy, healthy, and meaningful life diminishes significantly when substance abuse issues aren’t addressed expeditiously and effectively. Unfortunately, due to the complexity of this task and the additional resources required to treat teenagers, the number of residential addiction treatment facilities for teenagers is in short supply.

At Gladstone’s Clinic, we’ve seen the transformative effect that family therapy can have on a teenager facing substance abuse issues. Our experience of family therapy matches the years of clinical study that have gone into this field: It is an important component of the multi-disciplinary approach required for the effective and long-term treatment of teenage substance addiction.

After helping dozens of families from all walks of life beat teenage addiction for more than a decade now, we understand that if you’re reading this article as a parent worried about their child’s well-being, you must have a lot on your mind.

Please feel free to call Gladstone’s Clinic at 0808 258 2350 or to contact us through our portal. We’ll gladly talk you through any of your concerns and lay out options and strategies for moving forward in an obligation-free call.

For more information about the topics discussed in this article, you can visit these pages on Gladstone’s website.

Get professional help in dealing with teenage addiction

If you would like more information on our teenage addiction rehab programme, feel free to contact Gladstones Clinic at 0808 258 2350 for an obligation-free discussion or advice.

Works Cited

SAMHSA. “Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Family Therapy.NCBI, SAMHSA, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK571088/. Accessed 16 April 2024.

Whitesell, M., et al. “Familial, Social, and Individual Factors Contributing to Risk for Adolescent Substance Use.NCBI, PubMed Central, 20 March 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008086/. Accessed 2 April 2024.

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