This review found that psychosocial interventions for parents with heavy alcohol use or drug use problems which focus both on parenting skills and alcohol/drug use are the most helpful. Interventions which do not involve children are also more effective.

The findings provide guidance on what kind of interventions to use to reduce alcohol and drug issues among parents.


Ruth McGovern (email:, James J. Newham, Michelle T. Addison, Matthew Hickman and Eileen F. S. Kaner


McGovern R, Newham JJ, Addison MT, Hickman M, Kaner EFS. Effectiveness of psychosocial interventions for reducing parental substance misuse. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2021, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD012823. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD012823.pub2. Accessed 14 May 2021.

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Release date

Effectiveness of Psychosocial Interventions for Reducing Parental Substance Misuse


Aim of the review

Psychosocial interventions are talking or practical interventions, or both, delivered to individuals or groups. The interventions examined in this review seek to help parents to change their alcohol use or drug use and address any related problems they are having regarding the care of their children. This review aimed to find out if such interventions could help parents to reduce their alcohol and drug use and if this might also benefit their children. 


Heavy alcohol or drug use, or both, by a parent can be harmful to the person using these substances, their partner, and the children living with them. Children where one or both parents are heavy alcohol users or use drugs are more likely to be injured, experience physical and mental health problems, and go on to use alcohol and drugs themselves. Consequently, heavy alcohol use and illicit drug use by a parent is often considered to be a child protection concern. 

Search date

The evidence in this review is current to July 2020.

Key results

This review included 22 studies with a total of 2274 adult participants who had alcohol heavily or used drugs. A number of different types of psychosocial interventions were tested in the studies; some of the interventions focused on the parents’ alcohol and drug use, whilst others on parenting skills and parent‐child relationships. Some psychosocial interventions combined both. The majority of the studies evaluated interventions delivered to mothers. Most of the studies were conducted in the USA and were funded by research councils or charities. 

This review found that psychosocial interventions probably help parents to make a small reduction in how often they used alcohol and used drugs. It appears that interventions that focus on the parents’ alcohol and drug use as well as their role as parents may be best at reducing parental alcohol and drug use. These interventions may be more helpful to fathers than mothers.  More research is needed to understand whether these interventions can be helpful to both mothers and fathers. The current evidence suggests that interventions that do not involve children may result in a greater reduction in how often parents use alcohol and/or use drugs. 


Interventions for parents who are heavy alcohol or drug users which focus both on parenting skills and alcohol/drug use may be the most helpful, as may interventions which do not involve children, although there were some weaknesses in the quality of the evidence. These interventions may be more helpful to fathers than to mothers.

Source Website: Cochrane Library