Advice for the family of a drug user

Many families in the UK are living with a loved one who is using or trying to come off drugs. It’s a difficult situation for everyone involved, but help and support is available.

Whether you're the parent, friend or partner of a person using or coming off drugs, there are some common issues that you’re likely to face. It can be initially hard to accept that the person was or is taking drugs. When the reality sinks in, it can be difficult to know what to do first.

Where to start

Many people who find themselves in this position aren't sure where to start. The person who’s been taking drugs will know how they’ve been affected by them, and why they’ve been taking them. They may even know a bit about what to expect when they come off them. But you are not likely to know very much about drugs at all. You'll want to know as much as possible in order to feel more in control and more able to help your loved one.

There are a number of ways to get the information you need. You may want to know more about the drug, what the recovery process will be like, and what treatments and support are available. FRANK, a government-run organisation, is a good place to start. They have a helpline (0800 77 66 00) and a website, which provide in-depth information about drugs and advice about drugs-related services in your local area. You can also use the service search to find your nearest drug addiction support centre.

Your GP can talk to you about the kinds of treatment options and services available. They should be able to give you information about the effects of the drugs that the person you’re caring for may have been taking, including the common symptoms and signs of withdrawals. They will also be able to give details of local support groups.

Recognising your role as a carer

Your first concern will probably be to make sure that the person you’re caring for can get all the available medical and emotional support. You may not even see yourself as a carer or someone with needs of their own.

But caring for someone using or coming off drugs can be life-changing and demanding. If you have someone in your household who is taking drugs and refusing to stop, that can be very stressful, upsetting and frustrating.

Even if they accept that they have a problem and decide to stop taking drugs, you may need to help them get through the withdrawal and recovery period. There may be some difficult times during this process. It can be an emotional time. Sometimes, carers realise that they have to let their loved one face the consequences of continuing their drug use. So it’s common to feel anger, guilt and disappointment, and even fear and loneliness.

But there are many support organisations that can help you care for someone using or coming off drugs. Many carers find that talking to someone who knows what they’re going through is really helpful, whether it’s through workshops, one-to-one sessions or talking to other carers.

Support organisations

A national organisation working with and for families affected by drugs and alcohol. It can advise you about many issues, including financial worries, understanding how to help during different stages of recovery and coping with difficult behaviour. It also has a Useful organisations page.

It provides expertise on drugs and research materials. The Information service page signposts carers and users to relevant useful organisations and information.

Families Anonymous
Run support groups for the family and friends of people with a current, suspected or former drug problem.
Helpline number: 0845 1200 660

A government-run organisation providing straight-talking information about drugs and advice for parents and carers.
Helpline number: 0800 77 66 00

The national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law – providing free and confidential specialist advice.
Helpline number: 0845 4500 215

More information for carers

Financial advice
As a carer you may be entitled to financial help and other support. Ask your local authority for a carer's assessment. This determines what help you could receive from social services. For more information on assessments and how to apply for one, see Carers Direct: assessments. To find out about the benefits that you and the person you're looking after may be entitled to, see Carers Direct: money and legal.

Working and caring
If you work, find out about your rights in the workplace. If you’re out of work or a student, you can also get help. For more information, see Carers Direct: work and study.

Taking a break and looking after your own health
People in a caring role often find it difficult to take a break. Your local authority or a local support group may be able to provide respite care. Depending on your circumstances, this may be offered free of charge. For more information, see Carers Direct: time off.

It's important to eat well and get plenty of exercise. If you feel exhausted or have symptoms of depression, see your GP.

Young carers

If you have a caring role for a parent using drugs, you may need additional support. For information about who can help you, your rights, and other young carers’ experiences, go to Carers Direct: being a young carer.

Call the NHS Carers Direct helpline on 0808 802 0202 for free, confidential advice on any aspect of caring.

Addiction: helping a loved one

Looking after someone who has a drug or alcohol addiction can be daunting and frustrating, and it can damage your own health. Get expert advice on what to do to help your loved ones and find out how to look after yourself at the same time.

Media last reviewed: 05/08/2013

Next review due: 05/08/2015

Page last reviewed: 26/03/2013

Next review due: 26/03/2015


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