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Family Functioning in Families with Alcohol and Other Drug Addiction

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Family functioning in families with alcohol and other drug addiction

        The first article I looked at was “Family functioning in families with alcohol and other drug addiction.”  This journal article was written by Gabriele Schafer and published in the Social Policy Journal of New Zealand in June of 2011.  The purpose of the study was to explore the effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the familial systems of people who suffer from severe substance abuse issues.  More specifically, the study aimed to find what family dynamics operate in these circumstances.

        The study was conducted with twelve participants who were either current residents or ex-residents at Higher Ground in Auckland, New Zealand.  Higher Ground provides a four-month residential community that uses individual and group therapy to combat relentless drug and alcohol abuse.  The participants consisted of three women and nine men ranging in ages from their early 20s to their early 50s.  All of the women and six of the men were currently residing at Higher Ground.  The other three men were ex-residents.  All of these participants were part of a Multiple Family Group (MFG) treatment program.  This entailed a weekly family therapy meeting with the resident and their family.  The research was completed in the form of semi-structured hour long interviews that were recorded and transcribed.  The qualitative analysis of these transcriptions used descriptive thematic analysis techniques to find patterns linking the participants.

        The results of the research expressed that these participants were unable to maintain functional relationships with their current family members or their family members of origin.  The interview data produced four main themes common between the participants.  The first was that majority of the interviewees experienced traumatic childhood or adolescent happenings.  Many of them experience physical or sexual abuse, or neglect in their homes and turned to an addictive substance to cope.  One patient expressed that drugs allowed her to feel numb and lock out the pain.  In addition, multiple of the participants had parents with alcohol or drug abuse problems that they learned from.  The second theme was continued conflicted relationships with origin family members that have persisted into their adulthood.  They had hoped that they could separate from their issues with their origin family upon entering adulthood; however, many of them still have loyalty and attachment issues with these family members.  The third theme was that their childhoods had left them unable to act properly in relationships that they developed in adulthood.  They entered adulthood lacking communication skills to use in intimate relationships.  Also, the women said that they found themselves in emotionally and physically violent relationships and abused drugs and alcohol to cope.  The fourth theme was that all of the bunch who were parents had destructive parenting styles.  Some admitted to abusing their children.  Others had fears that their children would turn out just like them after witnessing their failures as parents.  One of the men had his wife leave him so he lost access to his children temporarily.  On the other hand, two of the women had lost custody of their children for an undetermined length of time.  In these cases, the women blamed this on the children’s physically and emotionally abusive fathers who had driven them to drug and alcohol abuse so that they could cope with their everyday lives.

        It is imperative that further research in these departments be done on a larger scale.  While the twelve participants provided a good insight, this needs to be repeated with a broader sample.  Assessment of these issues may help us break the cycle of alcohol and drug abuse that seem to carry down the familial line.


Schafer, G. (2011). Family functioning in families with alcohol and other drug addiction. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, (37), 135+. Retrieved from

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Drug abuse and mental illness: Progress in understanding comorbidity

        One of the journal articles I reviewed was entitled, “Drug abuse and mental illness: Progress in understanding comorbidity.”  This article was written by Nora D Volkow with help from colleagues and published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.  Volkow touched upon results of a few different studies to provide a more in depth look at the relationship between drug abuse and mental illness.  Recognizing comorbidity is an important step we need to take as we consider treatments for both drug abuse and mental illnesses.  She described relationships between drug abuse and mental illnesses such as posttraumatic stress disorder, and general psychosis by citing multiple studies and their results.

        The first relationship discussed was between posttraumatic stress disorder and drug abuse.  Volkow tied both of these together with the common contributing factor of stress.  Posttraumatic stress disorder is triggered by a stressor.  She then went on to state that the stress responses in posttraumatic stress disorder could lead to abuse of drugs including sedative-hypnotics such as alcohol.  These types of drugs may grant temporary relief to those who are suffering.  In addition, drug abuse is commonly caused by an individual reaching a stress level they cannot handle.

Next, the article presented two contrasting studies on stimulant drugs and triggering general psychosis.  The first study Volkow referenced presented the work of Sekine and others which studied methamphetamine abusers with and without previous histories of general psychosis.  Psychosis is presumed to onset because the stimulant drugs increase extracellular dopamine concentration in the brain.  The study attempted to answer why methamphetamine abusers had persistent issues with psychosis even after stopping their abuse of the drug.  Their results proposed that methamphetamine abuse destroys dopamine transporters.  These dopamine transporters are supposed to be responsible for removing excess extracellular dopamine in the brain.  Therefore, general psychosis may continue after methamphetamine abuse has ceased.  The next study, which was completed by Volkow and her team, related these results to psychomotor impairment which is compatible with decreased brain dopamine activity.  Volkow cited these discrepancies as results of the different subjects they studied.  Her team studied methamphetamine abusers with no history of general psychosis.



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