What does family support mean for families affected by addiction?

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs supports anyone concerned about someone else’s drug or alcohol use. It uses a broad definition of ‘family’, including relatives, carers, friends, neighbours, work colleagues or any other ‘concerned significant others’.

In spite of previous strategies to help people affected by drugs and alcohol, The Road to Recovery (2008), and the national alcohol framework ‘Changing Scotland’s Relationship with Alcohol’ (2009), there have been limited developments in family support. Developments in policy and practice have focused predominantly on children affected by parental substance misuse (CAPSM), in particular, those in younger age groups. Responsibility for drugs policy has in recent years shifted at Scottish Government from the Justice into the Health portfolio, joining alcohol. Unfortunately, however attitudes towards families affected by drugs and alcohol do not reflect the empathy, support and recognition afforded to carers of other long-term and relapsing health conditions.

Scotland is certainly not ‘the best place in the world to grow up’ if you’re a family affected by addiction. Across Scotland, families are often:

  • denied support in their own right
  • actively excluded by services in the treatment of their loved one
  • overlooked in relation to their contribution as carers and the impact this has on their own lives
  • socially isolated, and stigmatised by services and communities
  • powerless and often disconnected from the wider recovery movement

Scottish Families Affected by Drugs and Alcohol’s call to action for family support is outlined in its ‘It’s All Relative’ Strategic Plan 2017-20, which is structured around five outcomes:

  • families are supported
  • families are included
  • families are recognised
  • families are connected to communities, and
  • families are a movement for change.

In contrast to a deficit model which sees families affected by alcohol and drugs as the cause of the addiction, and as broken and needing to be fixed or excluded, SFAD sees the whole family as an asset, even where family relationships are fragile or damaged. By identifying and supporting all of the potential strengths around individuals, including these family assets, it can tap into significantly enhanced resources to transform treatment and recovery outcomes – including saving lives.

Most family members who contact SFAD’s helpline do so seeking support for their loved one, not for themselves. The helpline worker may often be the first person they have spoken to about what is going on at home – even where it’s been going on for years. They have never really thought about seeking support for themselves in their own right. As one of the helpline callers described:

 “The girl I spoke to … was very kind. I feel she really understood me and got what I was trying to say. I’m less angry with my sister having spoken with her. She has really calmed me and I am keen to get in touch with the services that she has suggested could benefit me. She was so kind and said I could call at any time. I’ve never had that before most people think I’m a neurotic nightmare of a mother and want to get rid of me. Thank you for understanding and being here for me.” (Helpline caller)

SFAD uses the evidence-based CRAFT programme (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) to work with family members to understand the dynamics of addiction in the family, introduce positive communication and clear boundaries, and ensure that non-addictive behaviours and actions are recognised and rewarded. It also supports family members to think about their own needs and self-care – often for the first time. In 70% of families trained in CRAFT, the person using alcohol or drugs enters treatment, and this is more likely to be sustained and successful.

Through family support groups, family members talk about finding “sanctuary”, “strength, comfort and hope”, anda safe space to share and find validation for your feelings”:

“At last other people who really understand the kind of stuff you go through when trying to support someone with addiction issues. No one judging you or saying I would do this or you should do that. You can say as little or as much as like, I surprised myself the first week I said so much, got so much off my chest and felt and still feel so supported by these amazing people who have had similar experiences and truly get it. I look forward to our get togethers every fortnight and haven’t missed any meetings, thank goodness we found each other.” (Family group member)

We hope that the new joint alcohol and drug strategy, due to be launched in November 2018, will significantly enhance the profile of families affected by addiction, and build and invest in a stronger infrastructure of support, connection and recovery. This could help overcome the common response that supporting families is important but there’s no funding to pay for it – it is seen as a ‘nice to have’ luxury or a discretionary purchase, not as an essential, evidence-based investment.

SFAD is calling for the Scottish Government to work with Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to ensure that no matter where they live in Scotland families have access to a range of support options. This includes support linked to treatment services, independent support, practitioner-led and peer-led options, as well as mutual aid and fellowships. Support should be offered across the wider definition of families, including all ages, stages and family relationships; it should be available face-to-face and remotely; and full use should be made of Scottish Families’ free national family support services (Helpline, Telehealth and Bereavement) which are available across Scotland.

Families affected by alcohol and drugs deserve nothing less:

“I truly believe you are an angel sent from heaven. My prayers have been answered speaking with you tonight.  I have been worried sick not knowing where to turn and watching my son slowly fade away in front of my eyes. I thought my only option was to consider his funeral arrangements. I truly feel blessed having spoken to you tonight that things can get better and with your information and support I believe they will. You have a heart of gold and I can’t thank you enough.”

If you are concerned about someone else’s drug or alcohol use, please contact the Scottish Families Helpline by calling 08080 10 10 11, email helpline@sfad.org.uk  or webchat at www.sfad.org.uk.


About Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs

Scottish Families provides a free national helpline, one-to-one telehealth support, bereavement support for those bereaved through alcohol or drugs, local family support services, workforce development, policy and campaigning work, and wider community development including our new Connecting Families programme.