In response to growing concerns about the consequences of adolescent substance use, the treatment field has evolved to develop and test developmentally-sensitive assessment tools and interventions for youth. The result is a growing body of literature documenting interventions for treating adolescent addiction and reducing use. An ongoing debate in the field of adolescent substance abuse treatment, however, is whether individual or family-based interventions are preferred. While some research favors family-based interventions for their ability to provide a support system to the recovering adolescent, other researchers argue that family-based interventions neglect intrapersonal risk factors for substance use such as self-efficacy and personal strategies for coping with urges.
There are both challenges and benefits in involving families in the treatment of adolescent substance abuse. Developmentally, adolescence is marked by differentiation from parents as youth seek autonomy and begin to identify more closely with peer groups. For this reason, deviant peer influences have a large impact on youths' behaviors, including substance use. These issues are heightened among substance using youth who may be estranged from their families. Yet, previous research suggests that parents can play an important role in steering their adolescent towards prosocial behaviors, and time spent with parents can buffer against the influence of deviant peer groups. A closer examination of the comparative effects of individual and family-based approaches is necessary to determine the role parents should play in the assessment and treatment of their adolescents' substance abuse.
With a common focus on the role of family, the four papers presented in this symposium each address a different aspect of adolescent substance abuse, offering practical implications for intervention methods and assessment protocols. The first paper assesses the effectiveness of substance abuse interventions for their ability to reduce adolescent alcohol use. Although several rigorous tests of interventions exist, this is the first known meta-analysis to synthesize findings across studies. The second paper utilizes the Adolescent Substance Abuse Database to synthesize the latest empirical evidence on methods to reduce adolescent marijuana use. Both the first and second paper utilize stratified analyses to compare the effects of individual verses family-based interventions. The third paper investigates parents' abilities to offer collateral information in the assessment of their adolescents' alcohol use and related service needs, suggesting that parents offer unique information related to family dynamics. Finally, the fourth paper gives a broad overview of interventions to reduce youth problem behavior, synthesizing effects across nearly 2000 studies and comparing the effectiveness of family-based interventions to individual modalities. Across presented papers, suggestions are made for the role family members can play in identifying and treating their adolescents' substance abuse.