Understanding Substance-Abusing Parents in Systems of Care: Can Evolutionary Concepts Help?

Thomas McMahon, PhD

ACEs, Social Policy, Service Delivery, Addiction, Stress

October 2011

Dr. Thomas McMahon from Yale University School of Medicine discusses the concept that although substance abuse clearly represents a threat to the stability of family systems, clinicians, researchers, and policymakers do not currently have a conceptual model within which to examine risk for compromise of family systems across generations.  Building on principles drawn from modern evolutionary theory, this plenary session will focus on ways the concept of reproductive strategy might help policymakers and professionals better understand substance-abusing parents in systems of care.  Using a developmental perspective on reproductive behaviour will highlight ways genetics and early childhood trauma may interact to influence compromise of parenting across generations within family systems affected by chronic substance abuse.  Empirical data collected from a sample of fathers enrolled in drug abuse treatment will be used to support key concepts.  Ways a developmental perspective on the production and parenting of children in the context of chronic substance abuse might inform public policy, treatment, and prevention will be reviewed.

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