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Doctoral defense: Addiction within families – The impact of substance use disorder on the family system


Jóna Margrét Ólafsdóttir´s doctoral thesis points out that the family members of a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) experience its effect in different ways in terms of their mental health, psychosocial state, and the family system as a whole. Family members living with an individual afflicted with SUD can experience increased depression, anxiety, and stress. Furthermore, they experience decreased family cohesion and communication between family members compared to members of families not affected by SUD.

Ólafsdóttir argues that to understand the effects of SUD on families and family systems, one must acknowledge the fact that the different role-based family subsystems – spouses, parents, siblings, and children – have different needs and view things from different perspectives. Consequently, one size does not fit all in family therapy.

– An individual with SUD is also one of the units of the family system. Accordingly, it is necessary to provide family therapy by focusing on the whole family, Ólafsdóttir notes.

A new tool for family addiction therapists

Based on quantitative and qualitative analyses of the material, the author proposes a dynamic and functional model of atmosphere in families that have a relative afflicted with SUD. This model defines the various attitudes that individuals may hold toward their substance-dependent family member based on family roles.

The four subsystems – spouses, parents, children, and siblings – expressed their feelings toward their close relative with SUD in different ways.

– Understanding the relationship between each subsystem within the family system and a close relative with SUD could lead to more individualised family group therapy that would support the recovery of the family system as a whole, including the relative who is suffering of substance use disorder, Ólafsdóttir says.

The proposed dynamic functional model of atmosphere in families that have a relative with SUD provides family addiction therapists with a tool for understanding how cohesion, communication, and emotions can change among the family members.

Information on the defense

With the permission of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Lapland and the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Iceland, Jóna Margrét Ólafsdóttir will be defending her dissertation Addiction within families: The impact of substance use disorder on the family system on 23 October 2020 at 2 pm online at https://connect.eoppimispalvelut.fi/vaitos2.

The opponent is Associate Professor, Dr. Eydís Sveinbjarnardóttir from the University of Akureyri. The custos is Adjunct Professor, Dr. Tarja Orjasniemi from the University of Lapland.

Information on the doctoral candidate

Jóna Margrét Ólafsdottir has completed a master‘s degree in social work at the University of Iceland. In addition, she is a National Certified Addiction Professional, Master Addiction Counselor granted by NAADAC, the Association for Addiction Professionals, US.

As of 2015, she has pursued a joint PhD in the field of families and substance use disorder with the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Iceland and the Department of Social Work at the University of Lapland, Finland. Presently, she is an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of Iceland. Her teaching focuses on addiction and substance use disorder, and she supervisies field practice for students of social work.

Additional information

Jóna Margrét Ólafsdóttir jona(at)hi.is

Information on the publication

Jóna Margrét Ólafsdóttir: Addiction within families: The impact of substance use disorder on the family system. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 292, ISBN 978-952-337-229-0, ISSN 1796-6310, University of Lapland 2020, Rovaniemi.

Permanent link to publication: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-952-337-229-0