Rethinking how we view addiction could avoid family trauma - by Jessica Douglas
Partner blog: Phoenix Futures
My name is Jessica Douglas and following 15 years working in various roles in the sector I recently took on Phoenix’s new role of Head of Residential Access & Placements. One of the key aspects of this role is to explore what is preventing access to substance use residential treatment and to work with other community and residential providers as well as commissioners to improve access.
One of the elements I have been exploring is access for families – parents with children in particularly. I have found they are one of the most discriminated groups of people when seeking treatment, with particular stigma faced by women.
I was talking to a mother just last week whose alcohol use had escalated. She had been wanting to seek help for some time but was frightened to ask for it. She feared people; friends, family and professionals judged those with substance use problems as ‘bad parents’ who could not possibly look after their children. She feared seeking help in case “her children were taken away”.
That powerful instinctive fear of losing her children delayed her seeking help and contributed to her condition getting worse, to the extent she could no longer care for her children and in her words “lost them anyway”. She felt if people had understood addiction better she could have been supported into treatment and the story would have been very different. She added that if she had been informed that there was a residential service, where she could have taken her children with her that this was likely to have encouraged her to seek help sooner.
She is not unique in her experiences. Stigma leads to judgement and judgement instils fear that leads to isolation. We have to break this pattern. Even though addiction is a treatable mental health condition, the lack of awareness of addiction and the stigma, confusion and fear that surrounds it causes untold harm. People unnecessarily lose care of their children. Its stop children being able to grow up safely and happily with their parents. The trauma of this can travel from one generation to another with the same pattern being repeated.
William White reported “Children of parents with Substance Use Disorders (SUD) are more than 5 times more likely to develop an Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) related problem, including tobacco dependence, than children without parental alcoholism. Children with family histories of drug use disorders other than Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) are as much as 8 times more likely to subsequently develop a drug use disorder than children without such family history.”
Furthermore, we know that women with a substance use need who experience the psychosocial crisis and deep trauma of losing care of their children are at significantly increased risk of drug related death (DRD).
A publication in Scotland reported “The link between women having children
removed from their care and risk of DRD was a recurring theme with professional stakeholders and
women with lived experience.”
Residential treatment facilitates a range of protective factors against drug related deaths in one place, making it easier for people to access and benefit from the range of care they need.
Mothers in treatment have the most treatment gains specifically health gains; with an increased growth in areas of Recovery Capital. Motherhood can act as both an incentive and disincentive to
accessing treatment, and therefore it is important that commissioners of recovery systems find
effective ways to reduce the disincentives and increase the incentives of this group to access
treatment. (The Impact of Motherhood on Recovery, Study by Karen Biggs, Phoenix Futures).
The right support for families can make a world of difference.
We therefore need to work together to ensure that everyone, friends, family and professionals, understand addiction as a treatable health condition, that recovery is possible, and to avoid the knee-jerk assumption that people who use drugs/alcohol cannot be good parents. At Phoenix Futures, we provide specialist residential family support services for people across England and Scotland in Sheffield and North Ayrshire. They provide residential treatment for substance use for single people and couples alongside their children as well as provision for pregnant women.
“You not only gave us the opportunity to keep our children but you gave our children the opportunity to see their parents grow and remain as a family” – Resident at the Phoenix Futures National Specialist Family Service, Sheffield
These services are non-judgemental, providing support for substance use and mental health through a whole family approach in one setting. The services provide:
• A drug/alcohol treatment programme for parents
• Accredited parenting programmes
• Childcare and child development expertise
The services are well integrated with local health and social care teams offering a wide range of services including midwives, health visitors, perinatal services, schools, housing, physical and mental health services and social care.
And it works – most families come to Phoenix under a care order and a majority leave with that care order removed. Most children arrive with a number of areas of delayed development and leave on or ahead of development milestones. Our study of families 4 years after they left a Phoenix family service showed 70% were still together.
Addiction Awareness Week is an opportunity for us all to learn and ensure that parents have the opportunity to be the best parents they can be, and families can grow up together.
2. Full article: Why are drug-related deaths among women increasing in Scotland? A mixed-methods
analysis of possible explanations (tandfonline.com)
3. Substance abuse treatment. Generalities and specificities. - Ana Adán Puig, Conrad Vilanou - Google
Books Chapter 8: The Impact of Motherhood on Recovery