“This is the first time such an extensive report has been completed on this area in New Zealand and one which also uncovers new information about addiction,” says lead investigator Dr Helen Moriarty.
“Firstly the report shows the impact of addiction on families may be much greater than previously thought. Secondly, the exact nature of these impacts is more extensive than has been previously recognised.”
The researchers spoke to 50 key stakeholders associated with addiction about how services to families could be improved. 19 families involved with addiction were interviewed in depth for the study, and 100 additional people with relevant experience also contributed their thoughts and comments.
Dr Moriarty says within traditional addiction treatment services there has been a gap in providing family-oriented assessment and treatment focus. There is growing interest in the role of the family as a whole in improving treatment and recovery for the addict, as well as the importance of service co-ordination for improved family well-being.
However, she says there is a also scarcity of information in this area, particularly in outcome measures that can be used to monitor the impact of drug and alcohol abuse on family life, rather than just monitoring the progress of individuals.
The aim of ‘Living with Addiction’ is to give greater direction and guidance on the important effects on families as well as ways to minimize the impact of addiction.
The report is timely because of the current development of the Whanāu Ora policy, and the recent review of services for mental health and addiction.
- Families report a range of impacts from addiction, including low self esteem, withdrawal, parental unavailability, lack of trust in adults, concern about own addictive tendencies, and adapting to dysfunction.
- Gaps in accessibility and timeliness of services, and administrative and confidentiality barriers in trying to get help for another family member.
- Perception of under servicing for families battling addiction problems. Services often not well known and difficult to access.
- Lack of understanding of strategies to develop positive family resilience when under pressure from addiction. Families used terms such as ‘minimising, making allowances, turning away, and carrying on’.
- Family support not usually linked to the treatment of a family member. More support needed, particularly emotional support. Children often need help in coping with parental addiction, or that of a family member.
“Overall there is often a lack of knowledge about the nature of addiction in many families,” says Dr Moriarty, “and this is creates a problem for family members who initially don’t recognize the addiction problem, don’t understand the extent of the problem, may not acknowledge that it’s affected them personally, and are reluctant to seek help.”
The researchers conclude that more research is needed to determine the implications of the findings for clinical practice, other health and social services, and also for public health and social policy.
“Families in this study are living with addiction, but perceived that they were not well served by the health and social services,” says Dr Moriarty. “This is an area where the providers of Whanāu Ora services have a potential to make significant changes for the wellbeing of communities.”
“The life stories uncovered in our interviews clearly show that many are struggling because they just don’t have coping strategies which result in family resilience when facing the challenges of addiction. In short many families need extra help, but don’t tell, don’t ask, and so their needs go unrecognized and services aren’t providing it.”
The report can be accessed at: http://www.familiescommission.govt.nz/research/alcohol-and-drug-abuse/living-with-addiction