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Section 8
Methods Family Members Use to Cope with Substance Abuse

Question 8 | Answer Booklet | Table of Contents

• Active attempts by the relative to change the problem users behavior e.g. encouraging the problem user not to drink or take drugs
• Active attempts by the relative to control the use of substances by the problem user e.g. controlling their money
• Expressing strong emotions about the alcohol or drug use e.g. starting an argument

• Actions which protect problem user from negative consequences of their misuse e.g. joining the problem user in drinking or taking drugs
• Certain forms of tolerant coping are self-sacrificing e.g. the relative clearing up mess made by the problem user after the problem user has been drinking or taking drugs

• Aim to put physical/psychological distance between relative and problem user e.g. staying with a friend to avoid spending time with the problem user
• Being independent and doing something for self e.g. pursuing own interests like sport


Coping Engaged

Coping Tolerant

Coping Withdrawn


Active interaction between the relative and the alcohol/drug user focused on attempting to deal with the problem.

Sometimes involve interactions, sometimes lack of action. The main result is that it removes negative consequences for the user.

Attempts to put distance between the relative and the user. Sometimes driven by uncertainty, sometimes a need to look after self.


"I ought to be able to change him/her"

"Others do not understand him/her"

"The less we are together, the better"


Angry, hurt, responsible

Powerless, guilty

Self reliant or hurt

Actions (examples)

Watched his/her every move, checked him/her, or kept an eye on him/her

Given him/her money even when you thought it would be spent on drink/drugs

Avoided him/her as much as possible because of his/her  drinking

Possible Advantage

May help relatives feel that they are doing something positive

Conflict may be avoided

May prevent relatives from becoming over-involved

Possible Disadvantage

It may be very stressful, and make the user feel resentful

Relatives may feel they are being taken advantage of

Relatives may feel that they are rejecting and/or excluding the user

1. Assess the effectiveness of the current ways of coping of the relative
2. Enable the relative to see that there are alternative ways of coping
3. Empower the relative to think of alternative ways of responding to their situation
1. There are three ways in which the relative may currently be coping with the situation
2. All forms of coping may be linked with feelings of guilt and worry and a sense of powerlessness for the relative
3. Some forms of coping may result in worse physical or psychological problems for the relative
What to do
1. Discuss the relative’s present ways of coping
2. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of current ways of coping
3. Discuss alternative ways of coping with the relative
4. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these new ways of coping
- Copello, Alex et al; "Methods for reducing alcohol and drug related family harm in non-specialist settings"; Journal of Mental Health; Jun2000, Vol. 9 Issue 3; p329-343

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about the three methods family members use to cope with substance abuse.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Acheson, A., Vincent, A. S., Cohoon, A., & Lovallo, W. R. (2019). Early life adversity and increased delay discounting: Findings from the Family Health Patterns project. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 27(2), 153–159.

Joyner, K. J., Acuff, S. F., Meshesha, L. Z., Patrick, C. J., & Murphy, J. G. (2018). Alcohol family history moderates the association between evening substance-free reinforcement and alcohol problems. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, 26(6), 560–569.

Roy, A. L., Isaia, A., & Li-Grining, C. P. (2019). Making meaning from money: Subjective social status and young children’s behavior problems. Journal of Family Psychology, 33(2), 240–245.

What are the three methods family members use for coping with substance abuse? To select and enter your answer go to Answer Booklet.

Answer Booklet
Section 9
Table of Contents