Interview with Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs

Justina Murray, CEO of Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, talks about how the families SFAD works with have been affected by the pandemic.

  1. What have been the specific issues for the families you work with during the pandemic?

Scottish Families supports anyone in Scotland who is concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use. During the pandemic the situation for families has been extremely challenging. Things have become harder for families who already recognised there were issues around alcohol and drugs in their family, as substance use has increased or there has been relapse from recovery, and everyone has been stuck in the house together for long periods – a real ‘pressure cooker’ environment. Also the usual supports or ‘escapes’ have been unavailable or less available, including treatment or support services for their loved one; going out to work or learning; sport or leisure activities; or spending time with friends or wider family.

Additionally, there are ‘new’ families coming forward, who have only just realised there is a problem with substance use in their family. Sometimes this is due to substance use increasing. It can also be because substance use which previously happened outside the house moved inside the house during lockdown, or families were at home more and so became more aware of what was going on.

More families are now being harmed by alcohol and drug use than before lockdown.

  1. How have your services adapted and responded?

Scottish Families has continued to provide our full range of services throughout the pandemic. Our free national Helpline (08080 10 10 11), one to one Telehealth service, and Bereavement Support service were already virtual services so there has been no change.

Our Helpline contacts have doubled compared to this period last year, due to more families reaching out for support, and also people concerned about their own substance use but unable to reach their local treatment services (as they have no phone credit or no-one is picking up the phone). Interestingly now just 22% of our Helpline contacts are over the phone with most via webchat, email or text.

Our local Family Support Services and Routes Young Persons Project) moved to phone/ online support in March, including one to one and family support groups. We were fortunate to secure additional funding from a range of funders which enabled us to provide:

  • digital support (devices and data) so families could engage online
  • doorstep deliveries of ‘Stay in the Hoose’ wellbeing packs (e.g. activities, wellbeing tips, toiletries and treats)
  • a busy programme of online activities (cooking, yoga, keep fit, mindfulness, self-care etc)
  • food parcels and home delivered family meals; and
  • online learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

We held our first online wellbeing festival for families in July and August – Connect, Communicate, Learn and Thrive #CCLT2020. We broadcast a series of ‘Alcohol Shorts’ podcasts focusing on alcohol and third sector responses during COVID. We also launched a new service during this period, with our All in the Family service based at the South Lanarkshire Beacons (and delivered in partnership with My Support Day peer-led family support) starting on 20 July.

  1. What are the issues arising for families that you work with now?

Families continue to live in a volatile situation, and the increasing of restrictions across Scotland (and particularly in certain areas) is causing significant anxiety and concern as we head into autumn. Many treatment services for family members remain limited or unavailable, just at a time when more people are reaching out for support. Although people are still engaging in online support, everyone is becoming a bit jaded and are very keen to re-start face to face support and connection with other families, and with staff. There are some who have not engaged with online options who are becoming increasingly isolated, and others who are finding it hard to get any privacy to engage from home – where they share a home with their loved one, or where other family members are unaware or unsupportive of the situation.

  1. What needs to happen to help families that you work with now?

During the summer, we re-started face-to-face contact with our Routes young persons project, for example through outdoor games, sports and other activities. Since the schools re-opened we started one to one support with young people, although not being able to access school buildings (as external partners) means we need to find places outside of school to meet. Outdoor options will become more limited as the weather worsens. Our ‘All in the Family’ collaboration in South Lanarkshire is offering some face to face support at The Beacons in Blantyre, although this is also subject to change if local restrictions change. All other support remains over the phone or online. We will continue to support families in every way possible as this situation continues, and be ready for new families to come forward. We need treatment services to be fully functioning so that people can access support for their own substance use – this is a huge help to families who otherwise have to provide all care, support and treatment themselves. Also we need to remember that most families remain hidden from view due to the stigma, shame and secrecy of addiction in the family.

Remember ‘We are still open!’ to support anyone who is concerned about a loved one’s alcohol or drug use, so get in touch or encourage others to do so.

Helpline 08080 101011, email, webchat