Medical Family Therapy in Alcohol and Drug Treatment

  • Kristy Soloski
  • Jaclyn Cravens Pickens
Part of the Focused Issues in Family Therapy book series (FIFT)


The prevalence rates of licit and illicit substances in the United States of America (USA) suggest that medical family therapists (MedFTs) and other behavioral health providers will undoubtedly encounter individuals or families struggling with substance use. In any given year, around half of Americans use alcohol, a quarter are binge alcohol users (i.e., five or more drinks on a single occasion), and about 6.5% are heavy alcohol users (i.e., those who binge 5 or more days in a 30-day period) (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2014). For illicit drugs, around 9.4% of Americans are current users, the majority of which are using marijuana (SAMHSA, 2014). A MedFT involved in an integrated behavioral healthcare (IBHC) team to treat alcohol, and drug issues will need to be aware of the complex physiological and social effects that substances can have, as well as the interplay of these factors on the disorder. In some cases, patients may see the use as benign and underreport it, and it may have unexpected effects on the patient or family system that are not immediately recognizable. Other patients may present for treatment for a different problem while at the same time having an undiagnosed or untreated substance use problem. MedFTs are crucial members of treatment teams who can attend to these intricacies.


Glossary of Important Terms in Alcohol and Drug Treatment

Chemical dependency

The physical and/or psychological dependence on one or more psychoactive drug.


The practice of using drug action in the body to address/treat behavioral health issues; or, the field of medicine that addresses the use of medications to help treat or correct mental health illness and drug addiction.

Physical dependence

The repeated use of licit or illicit substances can lead to a physiological reliance on the substance, which may include tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

Polydrug abuse

The use of several drugs either in succession or at the same time to achieve a certain effect.

Psychoactive substance

Any substance that directly alters normal functioning of the central nervous system (CNS) when it is taken by means of injection, ingestion, inhalation, snorting, or absorbed by blood.

Psychological dependence

A state of consciousness caused by substance use that will reinforce the dependence on substance use.

Psychotropic drugs

Drugs used to treat behavioral health illnesses, including, but not limited to, antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anxiolytics.

Substance abuse

The harmful or dangerous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and other licit or illicit chemical substances (e.g., prescription medication, marijuana, cocaine), that creates significant distress in the individual’s life.


The need for an increased amount of alcohol or drugs of abuse to experience an effect from use (this occurs after repeated use)—or the body’s ability to consume greater amounts of a substance with the same physiological or psychological impact.


The abnormal physical or psychological response to the discontinuation of use of a licit or illicit substance that has the capability to produce physical dependence. Common withdrawal symptoms may include sweating, fever , vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, and muscle pain—or the body’s attempt to reach homeostasis after a history of psychoactive drug use/abuse. Symptoms experienced by the individual will depend on several factors related to substance of abuse, frequency, and severity of use.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Community, Family, and Addiction SciencesTexas Tech UniversityLubbockUSA

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