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Caring and illnesses

Young carers: drugs or alcohol misuse

Many adults drink alcohol, but it can become a problem if they begin to misuse alcohol by drinking it too often or in too great a volume. People can find it very hard to stop drinking alcohol – this is known as an addiction.

People can also become addicted to drugs. We often think of people being addicted to illegal drugs such as cannabis or cocaine, but people can also become addicted to drugs they have on prescription, such as painkillers or sleeping pills.

Life as a carer of parents who are misusing drugs and alcohol can be very difficult. They might try to hide their addiction from their closest friends and relatives, and may even get annoyed if people try to talk to them about it. Their behaviour can be quite unpredictable at times – they can get angry or scary, especially if they are craving alcohol or the drugs they take.

Alcohol and drug addiction are like illnesses – it's not anyone's fault, and it can be hard to stop someone taking drugs or drinking. Talking to someone who misuses drugs or alcohol can be difficult, especially if they don't feel that they have a problem. Choose a time when the person has not been drinking or taking drugs to chat about the situation and explain how you feel.

Getting help with alcohol or drug problems

People using alcohol or drugs may worry about what will happen if they ask for help. There are lots of people who can help. A good place to start is with the local family doctor (GP). They will be able to make a referral to a specialist drugs and alcohol team.

Doctors might also suggest that the person using drugs and alcohol should get some help from social services. Some people worry that social workers will take children away from their parents, but this is unlikely to happen – it is a last resort if social workers feel children are at risk of being seriously harmed. Social workers normally simply provide the family with some extra help and support.

Treatment and support

The drug and alcohol team might suggest that the person using drugs and alcohol has a "detox", which helps them to stop using drugs or drinking. They also may go to see a local counsellor to help them work through their problems.

Alternatively, they might go to stay at a rehabilitation centre. Support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous are also useful for the person with the addiction to meet others who are in a similar situation.

You should ensure that you get help for yourself, too. Sometimes dealing with drugs and alcohol – and recovering – can take months, or even years. You could talk to a trusted friend or teacher, or another member of your family.

Another way you could get support is through a local young carers' service. These can be a good place to meet other young carers, get practical help, or just find someone to talk to. The confidential Carers Direct helpline (0300 123 1053) can search for a young carers' service in your area.

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Page last reviewed: 09/04/2014

Next review due: 09/04/2016

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