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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Brown Researchers Assess the Effects of a Brief, Parent-focused Intervention for Substance Abuse

By the time teens reach the 12th grade, 46.7 percent report having been drunk and 44.7 percent report cannabis use. Youth who initiate alcohol and other drug use early in adolescence are more likely to develop substance abuse diagnoses, and drinking to intoxication is highly associated with high-risk sexual behavior, high deviance, young adult arrests, and low educational attainment. Adolescent alcohol and other drug use can be directly and indirectly influenced by parental modelling, punishment for experimentation, and advice about peer selection. Other parenting behavior associated with the onset and maintenance of adolescent alcohol and other drug misuse includes poor parental monitoring, poor family communication, low warmth and support, high parental criticism/hostility, and parent-adolescent conflict. Furthermore, sibling drinking has emerged as a key predictor of heavy drinking in adolescence in several studies, suggesting it is an important target for family interventions.

[Photo: Dr. Lynn Hernandez]

The purpose of this study, led by Drs. Anthony Spirito and Lynn Hernandez, faculty members in the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, was to evaluate the efficacy of Family Check-up, a parent-focused brief motivational intervention, in families where parents were concerned about one adolescent’s alcohol or marijuana use and the referred adolescent also had a sibling close in age. The primary goal of Family Check-up was to provide individualized feedback, delivered though one counseling session, on specific parenting skills, including monitoring and supervision, limit setting, and alcohol-related communication. A total of 92 adolescents between the ages of 12-19 of age along with a sibling between the ages of 11-21 years old were randomized to Family Check-up or a psychoeducation comparison condition. Findings indicated that the Family Check-up program did not produce better effects on alcohol and other drug use outcomes than the comparison condition, neither of which were able to generate significant reductions in alcohol or marijuana use, in identified teens or their sibling.

These findings raise the possibility that a more intensive intervention may be necessary to affect change in alcohol and other drug use in adolescents not referred to counseling due to an alcohol-related problem or event. The research team proposes that further research could be conducted to explore whether brief parent interventions, such as Family Check-up, could be useful as a preventative intervention for those parents with teens who have a low baseline substance use.

This study was published in Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 2017(ahead of print).

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