Society ‘in denial’ on how families are affected

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Society is in denial about the impact of addiction on families who regularly struggle to cope while the addict obtains professional help, an expert in addiction has warned.

Stephen Rowan, former director of the Rutland Centre, said the “neglected majority” of people impacted by addiction were the addict’s family, and that while the family might be “in bits,” the overwhelming support was for the person either still addicted, or sober or in treatment.

“One of my points is, we need to shift the balance. We still have a society-wide attitude that if the addict is “fixed”, the family will be grand. You hear people saying “He’s a great guy, he’s off the drink.” The perception is once the drinking stops, everything is fine, but the reality is the spouse or the small child is often more damaged than the addict,” Mr Rowan said.

Mr Rowan, who is head of the Department of Addiction Studies at the Addiction Training Institute in Athlone IT, said family members often switched into “rescue mode” protecting the addict from the natural consequences of their own condition.

“Sometimes, with absolute love and good intentions, families actually enable things to go on and get worse instead of minding their own feelings and becoming aware of what’s happening to them. If they focus on minding themselves, the addict is more likely to hit rock bottom and the family will be freer to talk about their experience,” Mr Rowan said.

He said addiction was a “devastating illness” and that society needed to find ways to spike the notion that it was an individual issue.

Mick Devine, administrator for Tabor Lodge Addiction and Housing Services Ltd, a voluntary residential rehabilitation centre for alcohol, drug, gambling and food addiction, said treating the addict’s family was an integral part of the service they provide.

He said in the last five years, funding had been made available for dedicated family counsellors, of which they have two, helping families in Cork. He said in some cases, families engaged with the service “even though the addict never darkens our door”.

Mr Devine said it was difficult to help the family when the addict wouldn’t come in, but that there was a 12 step programme for families to help them to get on with their lives.

Last year more than 1,200 families engaged in the service’s four-week Wednesday afternoon programme under the umbrella of its Family Support Network in Cork City and County.

Tabor Lodge celebrates its 21st anniversary this year and to mark the occasion a public seminar on the theme of Change and Well-Being for the Whole Family in Recovery, will take place in the Carrigaline Court Hotel today, at 9.30am.

It is geared towards people who work with or care for families affected by substance misuse, be that drugs, alcohol, food, sex or gambling addiction.


Source: The Irish Examiner, 10/09/10
Journalist: Catherine Shanahan