Family Support and Intervention in Substance Abuse Among Adolescents


The notion of illicit substance abuse has always been one of the most challenging aspects of public healthcare, as the following issue encompasses a series of factors that contribute to addiction development, making recovery an extremely complex endeavor. Researchers define substance abuse as the intake of such substances as tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs of various types in such a way it harms the human body and influences human behavioral patterns regularly (Seitz). As far as the issue is concerned, it should be outlined that substance abuse is highly correlated with the notion of mental disorders.

On the one hand, mental issues are now considered to be one of the most widespread reasons for long-term substance abuse among people. However, the process of drug intake causes a variety of mental disorders following the patterns of addiction (Seitz). The issue is especially relevant to the notion of drug abuse among adolescents, who generally tend to hyperbolize their emotional response to the environment and thus putting themselves at risk of struggling with mental issues. Hence, endeavors such as drug abuse tend to appear at the age of adolescence due to various factors, including peer pressure and mental instability (Das). Thus, it is of crucial importance to maintain proper communication with young people at the time to secure their emotional and physical well-being, with family playing the most significant role in this setting.

The following paper is aimed at analyzing the notion of family intervention in the process of substance abuse prevention by providing Scott Kalvert’s film The Basketball Diaries as a primary example of the issue. The motion picture demonstrates the disastrous outcomes of the family’s refusal to intervene in the situation and ignorance of the problem itself. In the beginning, the film’s events will be analyzed on the matter of family intervention and adolescents’ risks of being involved in drug abuse. Later, the following facts will be examined about the scholarly data on family intervention in substance abuse prevention presented in the peer-reviewed literature. Finally, the alternative solutions for the film’s case study will be introduced to portray the significance of family participation.

The Basketball Diaries as a Means of Adolescent Substance Abuse Depiction

To begin with, it is necessary to outline some of the major events and plotlines taking place in the film. Hence, the movie is based on real events and portrays the life of a fifteen-year-old teenager Jim Carroll, a basketball player who dreams of becoming an author one day, filling the pages of his diary with the notes that might later turn into a prominent full-scale novel (The Basketball Diaries). However, while having dreams about a successful future, Jim and three of his friends tend to experiment with various illicit drugs after school and basketball practice. At first, the following endeavors seem like nothing but a way of pastime that does not cause any major harm for anyone in the squad. However, even at the very beginning of the movie, it may be evident that overall Jim’s surrounding contributes a lot to his lifestyle.

Practically every day, Jim wakes up from the screams of a lady with mental issues who lives across the street, the relationship with mother, like it frequently happens in adolescence, is quite superficial, and the treatment at school is rather violent, especially when it comes to the rebels like Jim (The Basketball Diaries). Considering these issues, it becomes evident that the overall tendency of substance abuse emerged based on the boy’s emotional state and lack of support and understanding. However, the event that becomes a full-scale catalyst for Jim’s substance addiction is the death of one of his closest friends who had leukemia. As a result of severe depression, Jim finds emotional release in heroin intake, and the moment he tried the drug, all his ambitions and values started to gradually fade away. Once Jim’s mom discovers her son’s addiction, she kicks him out of the house without much hesitation, as she hopes that Jim will come back clean to find a place to stay. However, the refusal of the parent takes a bigger toll on Jim’s mental state and addiction scopes, and the boy, along with his friends, loses connection with his previous life. One of the most painful scenes in the film is the moment when Jim comes back to his mother’s house and begs her to let him in and give him some money, while his mother contains herself and leaves Jim lying at the front door.

The following situation may be regarded critically from both Jim’s and mother’s perception of the issue, as her actions could be justified considering how much pain she feels for her son. However, when it comes to the issue of adolescent substance abuse, it is the family that plays the most important role in the process of a teenager’s physical and mental recovery. Thus, it is natural for a boy like Jim, who faces his very first psychological traumas in life, to find problem salvation in drugs and alcohol, as adolescents do not obtain the established patterns of coping mechanisms that would help them address the problem on their own. Hence, the family’s intervention in abuse prevention serves as one of the few ways to help the child. To address the issue, it is of crucial importance to dwell upon the scholarly explanation of the family’s role in substance abuse control and prevention among adolescents.

Family Intervention and Substance Abuse

The notion of substance abuse, when used in the context of adolescent behavioral patterns, is inevitably correlated with the child’s closest social environment, primarily analyzing the impact of family and school. According to the researchers, the very concept of substance abuse among adolescents frequently derives from the relationship with one’s family and is then called a “family disease,” encompassing the issue of genetics, biology, and social environment of the family (Kumpfer and Magalhães). Hence, the adolescent’s predisposition for substance abuse and addiction depends greatly on the behavior and relationship resent within the family unit. Such a correlation is introduced in Bowen’s family systems theory, which claims the family unit to be an extremely interrelated system of relations where every action of one family member affects the actions of the rest of the family (Kumpfer and Magalhães). Hence, as far as The Basketball Diaries is concerned, it becomes evident that Jim’s behavioral patterns are affected by the lack of his mother’s participation in his life at times where support and assistance are needed.

In the context of sociology, such issues as adolescent substance abuse could be prevented or terminated promptly with the help of efficient family intervention and communication within a family unit. The researchers claim that besides the influence obtained from the family, adolescents and their parents can learn from imitating the behavior of other people in society, following the principles of social learning theory (Kumpfer and Magalhães). As a result, both parents and children have the opportunity to observe the behavioral patterns that do not lead to such detrimental results as substance abuse, potentially applying the framework in their family units. Hence, once combined, the theories of social efficacy and family systems allow the family units to influence each other in ways beneficial for each family member.

Taking these aspects into consideration, it may be concluded that family plays the most significant role in terms of substance abuse prevention and control among adolescents. However, as far as this intervention is concerned, it is of crucial importance for the parents to learn how it should be performed most efficiently without making the matter even worse using total control and supervision. Over the past years, various scholarly frameworks for family intervention aimed at establishing cooperation between both adolescents and parents to prevent the possibility of substance abuse. One of the most efficient programs in this context is the Strengthening Families Program (SFP), aimed at working with both kids and parents on the topic of substance abuse and addiction (Kumpfer and Magalhães). In terms of the following endeavor, the participants are engaged in a weekly program, where they are educated on the topics of fundamental psychology, effective communication, emotion control, peer resistance skills, parenting skills, supervision, and other disciplines that may help the family member gain control over the substance abuse situation either at present or in the future.

As a result, while working together, families define the ways of efficient communication and common problem-solving methods performed through sharing. Such cooperation proves to influence the substance abuse rates among adolescents, as families who practice active and healthy intervention are at the advantage of parental supervision, guidance, and problem identification at the early stages. However, instead of just examining the adolescent’s environment, it is of crucial importance to speak with children about their mental state, as this factor is one of the most decisive ones in terms of the adolescents’ predisposition for substance intake while leading to severe mental issue in the future.

Mental Health and Adolescent Substance Abuse

Adolescence, by all means, is one of the most challenging and fragile ages when it comes to bringing up children. During the teenage years, children tend to experience many new life situations and feelings concerning the relationship with society, first independent steps. While they perceive their first successes and failures in quite an emotive way, the families of adolescents frequently tend to undermine the scope of the teenagers’ feelings, explaining such attitude through the prism of their own experience. As a result, adolescents feel an extreme lack of understanding in the family and stop sharing their concerns, creating a foundation for the emergence of the mental issue (Seitz). Hence, mental disorders like depression or anxiety often lead to an increased probability of substance abuse at an early age, as illicit drugs and alcohol have the reputation of items that can help people feel at ease and forget their struggles.

According to the researchers, adolescents are more likely to use substances while struggling with mental issues and then bring these problems with them into adult life, turning substance abuse into a full-scale lifestyle (Seitz). Hence, when speaking of adolescents, it becomes evident that the family has a high level of responsibility to identify mental issues before they contribute to the child’s self-destructive lifestyle. The situation should especially be handled when any stressful situation takes a toll on the child’s mental state.

Hence, when speaking of Jim’s situation, his mom did not manage to perform a timely intervention in his life after Bobby’s death, leaving the boy to deal with the loss on his own. As a result, the explicitly depressive state of a teenager led him to the lifestyle where Jim cared about nothing but an addictive way to ease the pain (The Basketball Diaries). Of course, the boy’s life was also replete with stressful situations at school where he experiences sexual harassment from the basketball coach, but his friend’s death served as a catalyst for acute depression development, and the situation was not taken seriously enough by the parents. Hence, although parents cannot control every aspect that affects their children’s mental state, timely intervention once the unhealthy condition is noticed is of crucial importance for the child’s future.


Substance abuse among adolescents has now become one of the most challenging aspects in terms of public healthcare and psychology. The primary goal of the following paper was to analyze the extent to which parental intervention influences substance abuse control and prevention, addressing the example displayed in Scott Kalvert’s film The Basketball Diaries. As a result, it was estimated that family intervention plays one of the most significant roles in the issue’s context, as the behavioral patterns within the family unit affect both adolescents’ lifestyle and mental health – two factors that contribute a lot to the development of substance addiction at the early age.

Works Cited

Das, Jai K., et al. “Interventions for Adolescent Substance Abuse: An Overview of Systematic Reviews.” Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 59, no. 4, 2016, pp. S61-S75.

Kumpfer, Karol L., and Cátia Magalhães. “Strengthening Families Program: An Evidence-Based Family Intervention for Parents of High-Risk Children and Adolescents.” Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse, vol. 27, no. 3, 2018, pp. 174-179.

Seitz, Nicki-Nils, et al. “Trends in Substance Use and Related Disorders: Analysis of the Epidemiological Survey of Substance Abuse 1995 to 2018.” Deutsches Ärzteblatt International, vol. 116, no. 35-36, 2019, p. 585.

The Basketball Diaries. Directed by Scott Kalvert, performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Lorraine Bracco, Mark Wahlberg, James Madio, New Line Cinema, 1995.

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