To Improve Substance Use Disorder Prevention, Treatment and Recovery: Engage the Family

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Approximately 21 million people in the United States have a substance use disorder (SUD); the number of family members impacted by a loved one's SUD is exponentially greater. Affected family members of individuals with SUDs are at high risk for developing chronic medical and psychiatric health conditions, are high utilizers of the health care system, and have high health care expenditures. Family members play a central role in the lives of many individuals with SUDs; information given to family members can have a significant impact on persons with addiction and therefore the SUD treatment that an individual might receive. Evidence-based interventions targeting affected family members have been shown to: improve health outcomes for all family members, result in better addiction treatment outcomes, and prevent adolescent substance use. Despite mounting evidence, the health care system has been hesitant to engage families in a meaningful way. Health care providers should consider how implicit and explicit assumptions about the role of family members in SUD development, treatment, and recovery may contribute to this underlying reluctance. Antiquated policies and procedures that alienate family members should be modified (e.g., limiting phone access). Family members have a right to receive professional treatment and to be educated about the difference between mutual/peer support and evidence-based treatment options. Despite the potential for family members to move the needle on the country's current addiction crisis they remain an underutilized resource. A paradigm shift will be required to get the current SUD care continuum to adopt a family-centric model.

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