Emotional rollercoaster

john taylorOffering support to families affected by addiction means acknowledging the ups and downs of a close bond, says John Taylor

Recently I made a film for Turning Point’s recovery and wellbeing friends and families service, a London-based service supporting people affected by someone else’s substance misuse. The film tells the stories of clients who have suffered from active addiction and the trauma they have experienced as a result. It also portrays their journey to recovery through the service and how they have pulled through from their ordeal.

When I was asked to lead on supporting friends and families at this service at the beginning of last year I agreed because this kind of support is essential, but can often be ignored. For much of the nine years I have been working in the substance misuse field, I have supported people affected by someone else’s substance misuse – whether a relative, or friend. If you really want to know the price of addiction and what its impacts are, ask those I call the ‘affected others’.

As a friends and family worker at HMP Pentonville in 2011, I met clients coming to visit their loved ones from all around the country. They would meet me before or after visits, and I would often intervene to put them in touch with drug services in their local area to find support. What I found challenging at the time was how little support there was for people indirectly affected by substance misuse.

I am pleased to say that five years on, more support is now available for this client group – but there is still more to be done. According to Adfam, an estimated one in five people is affected by someone else’s substance misuse. Many of these people do not use substances themselves, and it is unfair that they have limited access to support when needed. It is very important that we understand the emotional rollercoaster that active addiction can bring to friends and families, affecting their physical and emotional well-being.

Where support is available, many are unaware of it. When I talk to other professionals in the field, only a small number recognise the difficulties faced by friends and families, exposing the need for an extension of the support that is already provided.

At our recovery and wellbeing friends and family service we aim to provide some of that crucial support by offering one-to-one counselling, group work, telephone support, and complementary therapies such as ear acupuncture and shiatsu. We also refer to our counselling service for ongoing therapeutic support if needed.

One of our most popular schemes is the Education, Training and Employment (ETE) service. The ETE team can help friends and families look for work opportunities, college courses, and voluntary placements, or help with writing CVs and building up people’s confidence.

We provide links to local support groups in the community such as Al-Anon, Families Anonymous (FA) or Co-Dependants Anonymous (CODA). These self-help groups not only offer support, but can also help people to explore the co-dependency that addiction may bring.

The biggest challenge we face is preventing friends and families from becoming too enmeshed in the problems affecting their loved one, which can cause them to forget about their own wellbeing.

We also explore specific behaviours displayed by people suffering from addiction. Manipulation can lead friends and families to become involved in enabling addictive behaviour out of fear or guilt. An exploration of enabling, implementing and setting boundaries therefore underpins some of the work I do with my clients.

I believe it is important for every professional in the country working in the social care sector to have an awareness of the impact that active addiction has on others, and to know that there are services out there supporting this client group. Once more people are aware of what’s on offer, we can further the possibilities of providing better support.

John Taylor is friends and families lead at Turning Point South Westminster, www.turning-point.co.uk. Watch his film at www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuiF6fhbji4