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Family Therapy in AOD

family therapy

Strategies for working with families who are experiencing Ice addiction.

In most cases, people who are being affected by Ice addiction have families. Most likely, the family will be heavily impacted by the ice addiction of that person and will also be closely involved helping with the recovery. The below article covers some tips about AOD related family therapy.


Psychoeducation aims to educate families about methamphetamine and its effects including effects on the brain and dependence, outline a roadmap to recovery, and provide information about relapse drift and coping with relapse. Without this understanding, families can have unrealistic expectations about detoxification and treatment programs, and the expected trajectory to recovery and full functioning including employment.

Brief intervention for family members

A simple 5-session brief intervention for families has been developed based on the Stress Strain Coping Support model.

The intervention shows benefits in family members’ psychological symptoms and coping behaviours. Family members’ symptoms improved even when their relative’s drug use had not improved or had worsened:

Step 1: Listen, reassure and explore concerns

Step 2: Provide relevant, specific and targeted information

Step 3: Explore coping responses

Step 4: Discuss social support

Step 5: Discuss and explore further needs

The Matrix model

The Matrix model for people with cocaine or methamphetamine dependence was developed in the 1980s by the Matrix Institute, Los Angeles USA, and was adapted by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and includes a specific module for working with families.

It describes family responses to methamphetamine use according to four phases. In reality, family responses are not linear, but can cycle between the phases:

  • Introductory phase – unaware, not affected much, no drug problem
  • Maintenance phase – realise there is a problem, attempt to solve it, financial assistance, excuses, take responsibility for maintaining family life
  • Disenchantment phase – angry, guilt, shame, give up, ignore problem, blame person using or themselves
  • Disaster phase – sense of failure, hopelessness, separate from person using or preserve the peace

Family therapy

Family therapy is based on the principle that assisting a client’s family system to be healthier and more supportive both aids the wellbeing of all family members and provides a stronger support network for the person using methamphetamine, which aids the recovery process. It focuses on the system and the interaction rather than the individual.

Although family therapists require speciality training, there are a number of learnings from family therapy that can be considered and applied by practitioners who encounter families in their work. 

First, family therapy encourages thinking systemically about the client and the family. This is important both for the practitioner and the family as our and their focus can become narrow. This involves thinking about the family system, formulating about the family and having conversations with the family beyond the substance use. Conversations can of course still include substance use but need to consider beliefs and meaning rather than just inventories of bad behaviour.

Second, it is useful to consider and differentiate substance focussed interventions, for example support for entry into treatment, support for substance reduction or abstinence and relationship focussed interventions, for example, increasing positive feelings, communication or shared activities.

Topics to explore in family therapy for families of people who use methamphetamine include:

  • Understanding drug use and addiction
  • Recovery for the individual 
  • Recovery for the family
  • Rebuilding trust

Family therapy has been shown to be effective in: reducing drug use, reducing other problems, improving family and social functioning and discouraging relapse.

Families should be invited to participate. Clients who use methamphetamine can be asked whether they think it would be helpful for their family to come to a session. If in agreement, consider with the client the best way to invite family members.

Learn more about how ice can affect children and siblings in the affected families.

Here are some more related articles:

Could Cocaine Be The New ‘Ice’ in Australia? It Seems Unlikely!

Ice Addiction Treatment – The Stress Strain Coping Support model

Ice and Mental Health – Anxiety and Depression