The recovery journey of dependent drinkers can ‘markedly improve’ the lives of their family members – as long as the recovery is sustained, says a report from Sheffield Hallam University and Adfam. The research – the first of its kind on this scale and led by Prof David Best – surveyed more than 1,500 family members, around half of whom were parents and a quarter spouses or ex-spouses. Almost 90 per cent of respondents were women.
There are almost 600,000 dependent drinkers in England, and an estimated 222,000 children living with one, while in 2016-17 just over 108,000 dependent drinkers accessed treatment. For those who do enter treatment outcomes tend to be positive, the report notes, with more than 60 per cent completing successfully.
‘Family members are both a resource to support recovery, and people whose own lives can be transformed through recovery,’ the report says. Those surveyed reported improvements in a range of areas when a dependent drinker was in recovery, including emotional and mental health, debt, problems at work, involvement in the criminal justice system and violence. Around a third of respondents were victims of family violence during their family member’s active dependency, which fell to 10 per cent during recovery, and while more than 70 per cent reported receiving treatment for mental health issues during the drinker’s dependency, this fell to just over a third.
‘Recovery journeys’ can also be an emotional challenge, however, the report points out, with relapses leading to poorer physical and mental health and quality of life. ‘While families as a whole experience significant benefits through the recovery journey of loved ones, not all of the emotional damage is reversed, and relapse undermines at least some of the positive gains,’ it says. Family members need support in their own right, the document stresses, with many respondents struggling to find appropriate help.
‘This report is an invaluable addition to a growing body of knowledge about the impact of substance misuse on families,’ said Adfam chief executive Vivienne Evans. ‘It supports and adds weight to Adfam’s 30 year mission to provide help and support for these families, who are such a key element of recovery and yet need to have a journey of recovery for themselves.’
‘The pressures of caring for a family member who is dependent on alcohol can be overwhelming,’ said Dr Richard Piper, chief executive of Alcohol Research UK, which funded the study. ‘It’s clear that families are a key resource in supporting recovery, and that they benefit significantly where recovery is successful. This research highlights the need for a better focus on families and their role in the recovery journey. In particular, families need better access to support services.’
Family life in recovery available at alcoholresearchuk.org