CHILDREN SHOW IMPROVED BEHAVIOR, FUNCTIONING WHEN FATHERS RECOVER, RESEARCHERS SAY
When fathers recover from substance abuse, children exhibit significant improvements in psychosocial functioning, researchers at Old Dominion University and the State University of New York at Buffalo have found.
These improvements may be enhanced if behavioral couples therapy is included as part of the substance-abuse treatment, they reported in the April issue of the American Psychological Association's Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
The study - the first to examine systematically the secondary effects of behavioral couple therapy on children of substance-abusing parents - was conducted by Michelle L. Kelley, associate professor of psychology at Old Dominion University, and William Fals-Stewart, a former Old Dominion faculty member and currently a research associate professor at SUNY-Buffalo. Funding was provided by more than $4 million in grants from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Further, it is unique in that both alcohol- and drug-abusing parents were included in the study and similar results, in terms of children's psychosocial functioning, couples' relationships and fathers' substance-use frequency, were found among both types of couples. Lastly, in contrast to previous research, children's psychosocial adjustment was assessed both prior to treatment and at regular intervals during the year after treatment.
The findings are of particular importance given that before treatment, approximately one-third of the children living with an alcohol-dependent father and half of children living with a substance-abusing father exhibited symptoms of significant psychosocial impairment.
Behavioral couples therapy is aimed at rebuilding and strengthening a couple's relationship by teaching them to express positive feelings, share activities and reward abstinence. Studies have reported lower divorce and separation rates in the two years couples participate in behavioral couple therapy.
In 1992 and 1996, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that nearly 30 percent of female and 18 percent of male adult problem drug users live with children and that more than 6 million children are being raised by substance-using parents.
The results of this study suggest a dynamic relationship among child, parent, couple and in terms of family adjustment. An intervention such as behavioral couples therapy that addresses all these issues concurrently is likely to have the most positive effects on children, the researchers said.
This article was posted on: June 12, 2002
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