Drug and Alcohol Use in the Family
People who are misusing substances such as drugs and alcohol, need support from self-help groups and professionals. But it is increasingly recognised that when the members of a drug and alcohol user's family also get support, they not only improve their own quality of life but the user's as well.
When their family is also involved in treatment, the user is more likely to enter treatment, stay in treatment, reduce drug use or stop altogether, and their chances of relapsing are decreased.
1. Don't panic
Often when you find out about someone’s drug or alcohol use it can be quite a shock. This is normal, drugs are a very emotive subject and your anxieties, confusion and anger can lead to unhelpful reactions that may end up making things more difficult for yourself and others.
Take the time to calm down and. If possible, remove yourself from the situation. Clear thinking will allow you to react and respond effectively to the situation. If you are in any danger from abuse or domestic violence contact the police and ask for the domestic violence unit.
It is important for you to try and find out what is going on, so write down a list of questions you might have for the user. Consider when a good time to talk might be, preferably when they are not intoxicated. Find out which time of day is the best time to talk.
3. Keep it in the 'I'
When communicating, try to remain calm at all times. Try not to react instantly and angrily; take a deep breath and hold it for five to 10 seconds and try not to let any accusations or blame get the better of you. Try to let it go past you.
Try to remain as factual as possible and refrain from accusing or blaming the user. This is hard to do but remember at this stage you are trying to get an accurate picture of what is happening. You may want to express how this is affecting you but keep it in the 'I', e.g. "I understand you are angry but I feel really concerned and anxious about this situation".
Drug and Alcohol use is a very emotional issue especially when it affects someone you love. Blaming yourself or others consumes your energy and can lead to high levels of anger, frustration and irrational thinking. Rather than thinking about who or what caused the situation, focus more on solutions and problem solving if you can.
Not knowing about drugs and alcohol is one of the main causes of stress for family members. Often we rely on rumours and myths, which can be frightening. Web pages like Wikipedia have balanced information about drugs and substances or you can speak to experts at a local drugs agency, library, social services dept or community centre.
6. Close support
Often family members will isolate themselves and try to hold things together. They very rarely consider that they might need support themselves, which makes them much more vulnerable. Do you have a friend or family member you trust, who is more likely to listen than to judge? It always helps to talk and get things off your chest; talking about the situation out loud can often help you see a different perspective.
7. Support groups
Many services out there offer support groups and many people access them. Why? When we are affected by drugs and alcohol issues in the family we often isolate ourselves and think we are the only ones affected by this. Meeting others in a similar situation lets you know you are not alone in your experience and you can be with people in a confidential and non-judgemental environment who understand and can help. As well as receiving support you may be in the position to support others, which can be rewarding and therapeutic.
8. Professional help
Approaching services for help can be very scary but many can testify to the benefits of receiving professional help. Research shows that family members suffer similar psychological and physical stress symptoms to those of the user and those family members who access treatment not only improve the quality of their own lives but increase the chances of the user accessing treatment and reducing or abstaining from alcohol and drug use.
9. If in doubt
If you are finding unusual materials or substances indoors, a family member acting out of character, intoxicated or unconscious, always seek help and advice.
If concerned about confidentiality, the ambulance service does not contact the police after being called to drugs incidents and all drugs services have confidentiality policies. Best to be safe than sorry.
10. The bigger picture
Focusing on one person can be emotionally and physically consuming and detrimental to other family members and friendships. Using an organisation that supports users and their families can help you to focus on yourself and manage everything else going on around you as well as your relationship with the person you are concerned about. Taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture means maintaining your home, family, job, social life and boundaries.
- www.hawkspring.org.uk If you are a parent, grandparent, brother, sister, relation or friend affected by someone’s drug and alcohol in Bristol use the Knowle West Alcohol and Drugs Service (KWADS).
- www.addaction.org.uk – the UK’s largest drug and alcohol treatment charity.
- www.al-anonuk.org.uk - provides support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking.
- www.talktofrank.com – An A – Z list of drugs, their names, uses and effects.
- www.adfam.org.uk – The leading national organisation working with and for families affected by drugs and alcohol.