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A treatment program that provides sobriety individual counseling for an alcohol-abusing husband as well as couple counseling for the husband and his wife can provide significant "trickle-down" psychological benefits to the couple's preadolescent children, according to an article co-authored by an Old Dominion University faculty member.

The research shows, however, that the behavior of an adolescent child in the home may not be as likely to improve with reductions in the father's alcohol use and improvements in marital functioning.

Michelle Kelley, professor of psychology, wrote the article together with William Fals-Stewart, a former ODU faculty member now at the University of Rochester. Their article appeared in the fall 2007 issue of Journal of Family Psychology.

The research focuses on the behavior of preadolescents (8-12 years) and adolescents (13-16 years) whose fathers cease to abuse alcohol and whose fathers and mothers have a more peaceful relationship following their participation in the treatment program called Learning Sobriety Together. The program combines Behavioral Couples Therapy for the husband and wife conjointly and individual counseling for the substance-abusing husband.

Preadolescents exhibited improved internalizing (e.g., fewer symptoms of sadness and anxiety) and externalizing (e.g., aggressive, non-compliant) behaviors as the family conditions improved, but the same was not true for adolescents in the same households. The researchers speculate that children who have reached their teens may have behavior that is less likely to be linked to changes in the family environment.

"Our findings have important implications for treatment providers," the authors write in the article. "Interventions designed to reduce paternal drinking and improve couple functioning may be viable preventative interventions for preadolescents in these homes and a way to benefit children without identifying or treating children directly. This is important because many parents entering substance abuse treatment are reluctant to allow their children to participate in treatment.

"In contrast to younger children, even in families of remitted fathers, adolescents who exhibit behavioral difficulties may need direct intervention to address problem behaviors."

This article was posted on: October 23, 2007

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