Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work


School of Social Work

First Reader/Committee Chair

Dr. Rosemary McCaslin


The primary aim of this investigation was to explore caregivers’ emotional experiences regarding their adolescent with substance abuse problems. These researchers systematically examined the literature on caregiver stress and found a large body of studies on caregivers of persons with mental illness, severe medical problems including cancer, HIV/AIDS, and developmental disabilities. Yet, an absence of research was found on caregivers including parents of adolescents with drug and/or alcohol problems. Based on the findings on investigations with other types of caregivers, these researchers expected caregivers of adolescent substance abusers to report high levels of emotional and psychological distress. Like caregivers of persons with psychiatric problems, it was expected that caregivers would report feelings of hopelessness, anger, anxiety, worthlessness, depression, apathy, alienation, etc. It was also expected that caregivers would express feelings of failure as parents, guilt for not caring better for their adolescents, and frustrations with how this problem can affect the complete family system. A total of 12 caregivers, including parents, of adolescents with drug and/or alcohol problems were interviewed using a semi-structured interview composed of 20 questions related to their experience of caring for an adolescent with these problems. The interview was designed by these researchers and was based on a systematic review of the literature as well as the clinical experiences of these researchers. The study is considered a qualitative-ethnographic study and attempted to capture the personal and intimate challenges confronted by caregivers. The results yielded five salient themes that emerged from the interviews. They were: stress, hurt, disappointment, failure, and hope. In addition, “mini-themes” were also identified. The themes were distance, resistance, guilt, helplessness, and shame. As a result of these findings, recommendations for reaching out to caregivers, the provision of psychological assistance for caregivers, and future research were presented. In addition, the results led the researchers to discuss the challenges of caregivers, especially minority caregivers, in caring for and parenting adolescents with these problems. The results also prompted more questions that require further study. Finally, the researchers also made a series of recommendations for mental health and substance abuse professionals, especially social workers, in the assessment and treatment of families with this problem. In the end, it is the contention of these researchers that substance abuse problems among adolescents are not only an individual issue, but a family issue that requires intervention at the family systems level. Overall, the findings from this study supported the researchers’ assumptions that caregivers of adolescents with substance abuse problems would report high levels of stress, depression and worry, and also economic problems.

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