What Are the Benefits of Family Therapy Treatment Programs?

Family is a primary source of attachment, nurturing, and socialization, and each family member is differently affected by an individual using substances. For instance, families may experience problems such as damaged attachment, emotional distress, developmental challenges, economic issues, legal problems, and sometimes even domestic violence.1

Family therapy programs emphasize the interdependent nature of family relationships and the way they aid an individual struggling with addiction.

What Is Family Therapy?

Family therapy is a collection of therapeutic approaches that share a belief in family‐level assessment and intervention.2 These approaches generally focus on a large variety of problems in addition to a family member’s substance problems. They also concentrate on family communication, some other disorders, and problems with school or work attendance. The goal of these family-focused treatment programs is to meet the needs of all family members.

What Are the Potential Benefits of Family Treatment Programs?

There are numerous benefits of family therapy programs.3 They may include the following:

  • Improved communication among family members.
  • Finding acceptance and support from the therapist.
  • Understanding and organization of the family structure.
  • Improving and strengthening the desire for change.
  • Establishing possible accountability.

All these benefits help with the family’s determination to change negative behaviors and the way they communicate. Another benefit of family therapy is that it does not observe substance abuse as an isolated problem but in the context of family. This is why this type of therapy shares some similar features with 12‐step programs.4

family therapy and treatment programs


What Are the Different Types of Family Therapy Approaches?

There are numerous approaches that can be applied in family therapy treatment programs. Today, there are four main family therapy models used as the foundation for substance abuse treatment, whether in an inpatient treatment program or in an outpatient treatment setting:5

  1. The family systems model believes that families function and interact in the context of their substance abuse. In that way, the family keeps balance (homeostasis) while adapting to substance abuse.
  2. The family disease model considers substance abuse as a disease that affects the whole family. There is a danger that substance abuser’s family members might develop codependence. As a result, that causes them to enable the individual’s substance abuse.
  3. Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT) incorporates a few different approaches which focus on the links between awareness, emotionality, behavior, and environmental input.
  4. The cognitive-behavioral approach sees family interactions aiding unfit behaviors (such as substance abuse).

In terms of family-based approaches, several specific types of family-based treatments were proven to be beneficial in adolescent substance abuse treatment programs.6 They include the following:

  • Multidimensional family therapy (MDFT)is a family- and community-based treatment. It is intended for adolescents who abuse substances and also for individuals at high risk for problematic behaviors.
  • Multisystemic therapy (MST)is a thorough and demanding family- and community-based treatment. It has proved to be effective with adolescents and also with individuals who tend to behave violently.
  • Brief strategic family therapy (BSFT) is based on a family systems approach to treatment. Here, it’s considered that one family member’s problematic behaviors are rooted in damaging family interactions.
  • Functional family therapy (FFT) blends a family systems view of family functioning with behavioral techniques. The aim of this approach is to improve interaction, problem-solving, and parenting skills.
  • Family behavior therapy (FBT) combines behavioral contracting along and contingency management in order to deal with substance abuse and other problematic behaviors.

How Effective Are Family Treatment Programs?

The studies of the success of family treatment programs are limited, but they indicate that these approaches should be included more often in substance abuse treatments.

Evidence suggests that substance abuse treatments which include family therapy are more effective than the treatments that do not include it. Family therapy was shown to improve user’s engagement and retention in treatment and it might prevent relapse. The results showed that the individual’s drug and alcohol use reduced.7