Carers of addicts -The invisible problem.
Carers of addicts. The invisible problem
By Tara Carbery © October 2010
Manchester city council had a recent campaign to uncover the ‘invisible carers’ to highlight how common the problem is. There were billboard posters on buses and trams showing the person being cared for in full colour and the carer depicted as a shadow.
The effect was extremely powerful and despite being aimed at people caring for those with illnesses and disabilities. It is just as relevant to those caring for addicts.
It seems addiction is widely overlooked or not talked about as it remains so stigmatised and the scale of the problem is enormous.
“Carers can feel they have lost their identity”
Are you feeling powerless, trapped, frustrated or that you are being taken for granted? Do you feel you have lost your identity? Do you have to deal with the shame and embarrassment of the loss of a loved one’s dignity?
The difficulties a carer of an addict faces are numerous. It is often a thankless task which is unrecognised to the general public. It is underserved in terms of services and support organisations.
This is despite carers of addicts representing both the largest and most pro-active market for treatment and recovery, information and services. The scale of the problem is not widely recognised.
If you are a carer of an ill, disabled or elderly person, help and support is broadly publicised. Carers of addicts though are often not aware of their rights, or how to access services.
“Society’s attitude can be ignorant and judgemental”
This is before we consider the myths widely held by many that addicts ‘bring it on themselves’. Society’s judgemental and ignorant attitude needs to be addressed as ‘carers’ of the addicted represent the largest gap in the carers market. It is estimated at more than 6 million in the UK.
GP’s are often not fully aware of services available and cases can get lost in the system due to overworked staff, poor communication and long waiting times for counselling referrals.
Once you begin to ‘care’ for an addict, you may begin to feel invisible as if your needs have become insignificant. Your role is now to look after someone else and your identity has become blurred. It is a job that can make you feel undervalued and taken for granted.
This is despite the fact that it is such a difficult, frustrating role to take on. The addict concerned may seem ungrateful as they are ashamed and guilty but are fighting the seductive lure of addiction. This, as we know is no easy feat.
“Adults of addicted loved ones often experience emotional, physical and financial problems. They may receive no recognition or thanks for caring for their families because of the shame they feel, they are reluctant to ask for help.”
A dependant person faces many difficulties in their quest to get free from addiction. You however, have to go through the ‘highs’ and the ‘lows’ of their path towards recovery with them. Feeling full of hope when their will power is strong and feeling deflated when they relapse.
It should be taken into consideration that opposing attitudes from other family members or friends can have a negative effect on an individual’s recovery. It can be the most powerful way to support an addicted individuals recovery and subsequent treatment and after care.
If you do notice a loved one becoming increasingly dependant on a substance, it is probably best to let them know that you have noticed a change in their mood, behaviour and health. How you talk to them is of the utmost importance.
If you are angry with them and blame them, this could make things worse. Difficult though it may be, the message to them that you are concerned needs to be communicated positively.
Many users fighting addiction will try to hide their growing dependence from friends and family. They may see concern as interference and withdraw increasingly from their loved ones. Many addicts will continue to socialise with people with similar addictions, this inevitably will lead to further substance abuse.
When families become involved in the treatment procedure it can greatly improve the loved ones rate of success, encouraging them to ‘stick with it’ and avoid a relapse.
When there are positive outcomes and recovery is achieved, life can be better for the individual concerned than ever before. The humility learnt and a pleasure gained from the simple things in life emerges. These feelings may never have been appreciated before.
“One of the hardest things I have ever dealt with was watching my son’s life spiral out of control as his addiction to alcohol worsened. It hasn’t been easy but the satisfaction and relief I gain from seeing him in recovery makes it all worthwhile” (Sarah F – carer)
For the carer and family of the recovered individual, there must be no greater reward than seeing their loved ones appreciating and enjoying life.
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