The Impact of Alcohol and other Drug Use on Family Members - Karen's StoryKaren* understands the isolation parents can feel when they learn that their child has been using drugs. Karen first discovered her son was smoking cannabis when he was 15 years old.
"I was devastated and threw it out," says Karen. "We never spoke about it."
"In hindsight, I would definitely talk to him about it and offer him support, I now know it lessens the emotional impact of the drug use and also keeps the communication channels open between the parent and the child."
Karen says she would also source information about drugs, their effects and accessibility, so that she had a greater awareness of alcohol and other drug use in the community.
Karen's son continued to use drugs, completed his schooling and attended university for six months. He began using amphetamines and drifted from place to place and from job to job.
"It was an incredibly difficult and isolating time in my life," says Karen.
During these years, Karen attended a presentation at a university by the coordinator of the Parent and Family Drug Support Line, a free, 24-hour confidential, anonymous service providing professional and peer support. Karen made contact and found the service to be empathetic and supportive.
Karen joined the Parent and Family Drug Support Line as a volunteer, not wanting another parent to feel so alone and helpless.
"I think having that understanding of how parents feel is so helpful for them, it lessens their load and gives them someone to talk to about their deepest fears," says Karen.
Karen's son is newly engaged and looking ahead to the future, while Karen continues to volunteer for the Parent and Family Drug Support Line.
Volunteering for the Parent and Family Support Line has helped Karen in moving forward.
"I thought I could help people from a distance, but what I have actually found was that I have received far more than I have given. This organisation has introduced me to people from all walks of life who have triumphed despite the sadness they have experienced through their child's drug or alcohol use."
* Name has been changed
Seeking Family Support from Alcohol and other Drug ServicesAlcohol and other drug services know how important it is to offer support to the whole family.
Western Australians can learn more about the family support services available in WA by searching the Green Book or calling the Parent and Family Drug Support Line. Many of these services are free.
While family support services are mostly based in the metropolitan Perth, there are services available in the regions.
Here are some of the services provided to family members and significant others by alcohol and other drug services, as well as information about why these services are important and how they can benefit the whole family -
Cyrenian HouseCyrenian House runs a weekly Family Matters group where family members can get support from each other as well as from a trained counsellor. The group provides family members with communication strategies, coping skills, information about drugs and their effects, and an opportunity to talk with others in a similar situation.
Cyrenian House also co-facilitates a group run by Families 4 Families twice a month. This is a peer support group run by families for families, with a mix of guest speakers and shared support.
"Families can often feel isolated and alone in their endeavours to support the family member who is using alcohol or other drugs," says Cyrenian House Family Counsellor James Snell. "Family support services are important to let family members know that they're not alone and to provide support."
"It gives people the chance to debrief and de-stress in a supportive environment and can also help family members manage their own feelings in regards to the family member who is using the drug."
HolyoakeHolyoake offers a range of programs which provide support, self-awareness, understanding, information and coping strategies for family members and significant others.
Holyoake reports that 30% of clients choose to access the service due to a significant other's alcohol or other drug use.
Along with providing counselling for individual family members, couples and family counselling, Holyoake has a number of group programs. These include Relationships in Focus, Parent's Program, Art & Play (for mothers with a history of alcohol or other drug use and their children), Childhood in Perspective (for men and women over 18 to address issues related to growing up in a family where alcohol or other drugs were a problem), and the Young People's Program (for young people aged 3-17 impacted by a parental or significant other's alcohol or other drug use).
"We work with family and friends to assist them to understand the impact of alcohol and other drugs on their loved ones, themselves and their relationships," says Holyoake Clinical Services Manager Christine Ockenfels. "Research indicates that a family's strategic responses to these problems can promote positive change in the person using alcohol and other drugs."
"Feedback from clients indicates they also experience positive changes in anxiety, depression and physical symptoms, as well as relationship improvements."
Mission Australia - Drug and Alcohol Youth Service (DAYS)Mission Australia's Drug and Alcohol Youth Service (DAYS) provides young people and their families access to a comprehensive range of free and confidential alcohol and other drug services. DAYS aims to empower young people affected by alcohol and other drugs to improve their health and wellbeing.
Families can directly refer a young person to the service for either counselling or a three week stay at the withdrawal unit.
"Family members can also access information and referrals to other parent or carer services during this time," says Mission Australia's Area Manager for Youth, Mental Health & Alcohol and other Drugs Suzanne Caren. "We can also refer parents to other AOD treatment services in their area, so they receive the best advice on how to respond to their child."
Palmerston AssociationPalmerston Association provides a number of family services, including family counselling and both informal and structured family support groups run by people who have experienced a family members' alcohol and other drug use.
Palmerston Association's Stepping Forward family support group program also offers sessions about drugs and treatment, stages of change and communication. Each session is designed to provide participants with something of value without having to attend all sessions.
"Our families are a part of our life and can often be part of the solution," says Palmerston Association Acting CEO Bram Dickens.
"Collectively, our team has a wealth of experience, working with community groups, families and children, people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities and Aboriginal people. Everyone is welcome."
Parent and Family Drug Support LineAs well as offering a free, 24-hour confidential, anonymous telephone support line with the option of professional and/or peer support, the service also offers face to face support to parents attending Drug Court with their children and a fortnightly peer support group.
A free parent support pack is available which provides tips and strategies on how to talk to your children about alcohol and other drugs, and offers suggestions on what works well if your child is using. Call 9442 5050 or 1800 653 203 (country callers) for your free copy.
Womens Health & Family ServicesWomens Health & Family Services supports and encourages family involvement. Services include the Drug and Alcohol Program (DAP), PEPISU Women & Children Program, and the Aboriginal & Grandparents Family Support Program.
Womens Health & Family Services AOD & Mental Health Service Manager Margaret Slattery says there are many reasons why it is important to provide family inclusive practice in alcohol and other drug services.
"Educating families in AOD use, relapse management, healthy communication and shifting family attitudes can increase family members' understanding of the effects of alcohol and other drugs and help empower families to more positively influence their loved ones," says Margaret. "It strengthens the possibility of someone accessing treatment and staying in treatment longer."
More Information and SupportIf you want to know more about alcohol and other drugs or the services available to you, these links are a good place to start -
- Drug Aware - www.drugaware.com.au
The Green Book Directory of Alcohol and other Drug and Mental Health Services in Western Australia - www.greenbook.org.au
Parent & Family Drug Support Line - (08) 9442 5050 (metro) / 1800 653 203 (country).
Cyrenian House (with offices in North Perth, Joondalup and Warwick)
- Holyoake (with offices in Victoria Park, Midland, Northam, Merredin and Narrogin)
Mission Australia - Drug and Alcohol Youth Service (DAYS)
- Palmerston Association (with offices in Perth, Fremantle, Rockingham, Mandurah, Thornlie, Albany and Katanning)
- Womens Health & Family Services - (with offices in Northbridge and Joondalup)