Managing substance abuse within families

Photo: UNODC Français / French

24 March 2011 - At the fifth-fourth session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND), held in Vienna from 21 to 25 March, UNODC - with the support of the Government of France - organized a side event entitled "Healthy and safe children through family skills training" to highlight the importance of family skills training programmes in preventing substance abuse among children and adolescents.

Research has shown that the family is the most important factor in protecting children and young people from drug abuse and other dangers. When parents spend quality time with their children and monitor their activities, children are much less vulnerable to substance abuse, delinquency and risky sexual behaviour. However, many parents lack the relevant child-rearing knowledge and life skills to prevent their children from abusing drugs or engaging in other risky behaviours.

UNODC has been running family skills training programmes as part of its larger programme to prevent drug abuse in order to equip parents with the skills they need to help to protect their families from drug abuse. Family skills training programmes enable parents and children to interact in a relaxed social setting that encourages communication. Parents learn skills that help them to supervise and provide consistent discipline to their children. Children learn personal and communication skills and how to resist peer pressure.

The event involved discussions on the research behind family-based prevention of substance abuse (how factors such as poverty, conflict and economic problems affect parents' ability to look after their children, what knock-on effect that has on child development and how family skills training programmes can help). It brought together researchers, policymakers and "trainers of trainers" who are teaching family skills as part of evidence-based family training programmes in Serbia and Panama.

Speaking at the event, UNODC Executive Director Yury Fedotov said: "Family skills training is cost-effective. Ten dollars are saved in substance abuse health-care costs for every one dollar spent on family skills training. Additional savings can be expected if we take into account the positive impact family skills training can have on juvenile justice, social services and education."

In 2009, UNODC published guidelines on family skills training programmes, subsequently publishing a compilation of evidence-based family skills training programmes in 2010. The family skills training programme is being implemented in Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgystan and Turkmenistan), the Balkans (Serbia and Albania) and Panama and is to be extended to additional countries and regions in 2011.

"Thanks to this programme, I learned useful and important skills to help me to raise my children better. I could discuss my problems with other parents, and as we became friends we were better prepared to support each other. I now have more confidence and less stress. Most importantly, the training sessions helped me to become closer to my children", said a parent beneficiary from Bishkek.