Home » Library » Parenting » Using Family Therapy to Treat Teen Substance Abuse

Using Family Therapy to Treat Teen Substance Abuse

Teens have their own set of circumstances and stressors that can impact their substance abuse behaviors, thus making the need for treatment designed specifically for adolescents extremely important.

Teen addiction treatment is often as much for the adolescent as it is for the family. Because an adolescent will often return home to a parent or guardian, family therapy is a logical component of treatment and recovery.

What is Family Therapy?

Family-based approaches empower families with skills to help adolescents and adults communicate through conflict and understand any underlying causes of substance abuse or co-occurring disorders. These types of therapy models are rooted in the belief that each family member has a role in the family system, and that one individual’s substance abuse affects the whole family.

Family therapy can be offered in residential and outpatient rehabilitation programs. It’s also often used in conjunction with other forms of therapy. The adolescent may attend individual or group therapy sessions with others in treatment, along with family therapy.

Here are some common models of family therapy that may be a part of an adolescent’s treatment and recovery program.

Types of Family-Based Approaches

While all family focused therapies are rooted in the belief that substance abuse impacts the whole family, each therapy has its own approach.

Behavioral therapies are very common in addiction treatment for adolescents. Family Behavioral Therapy (FBT) helps those in treatment develop coping skills against substance use triggers, but also teaches how to deal with co-occurring disorders. If your teen is in dual diagnosis treatment for drug use and depression, for example, FBT may be a viable treatment option.

This therapy also rewards positive behavior during each session. If behavioral goals are met, the addiction counselor may use contingency management to reinforce behavior.

Article continues below...
Therapists live, online right now, from BetterHelp:

Multidimensional Family Therapy (MDFT) includes sessions as a family/group and separate sessions for the teen in treatment and parent(s). The counselor may also work with the school or other areas of the teen’s life, especially when acclimating to normal life following treatment.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse did a study comparing MDFT to a similar type of therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both models focus on changing attitudes and behaviors that led to drug use, but in the study, there were only two CBT sessions that include the family. All other sessions were conducted only with the individuals. While both types of therapies were effective, adolescents in the MDFT group fared better in the long term.

In another study with younger teens, the CBT group did not participate in any family therapy sessions. Again, there was a positive correlation with MDFT and long-term sobriety in young teens.

Finally, Multisystemic Therapy (MST) is intensive family therapy that targets the whole system that impacts an adolescent’s substance abuse behaviors. Like MDFT, MST also addresses other community systems like schools and neighborhoods. MST is most often done in the adolescent’s home, school, etc., which differs from other family approaches. The therapist is available 24/7 to the family.

MST is most frequently used in adolescents with conduct disorders, often also referred to as antisocial personality disorder. This is characterized as a complete disregard for others or societal rules and expectations. Substance abuse is often a result of this disorder. MST is utilized when a teen has a history of criminal behavior.

Substance abuse impacts the entire family and support network. Family therapy is a critical component of a teen’s treatment program, especially when they are returning to parental supervision following treatment. Fortunately, family therapy can improve the success rates of treatment.


Using Family Therapy to Treat Teen Substance Abuse

Desiree Patton

Desiree Patton is a Media Correspondent for Pyramid Healthcare, Inc., a provider of treatment for adults and teens suffering from addiction or substance abuse, as well as individuals with mental health disorders. Our locations in western, central, and eastern Pennsylvania allow us to provide comprehensive care across the entire state to people with behavioral health issues.

APA Reference
Patton, D. (2018). Using Family Therapy to Treat Teen Substance Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 16 Jun 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.