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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Comments 25 comments

leni sands profile image

leni sands 5 years ago from UK

Indepth information, interesting, useful and some straight forward advice. Great hub, Tara. Keep up the good work.

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks leni sands for reading and commenting.

Charlotte B Plum profile image

Charlotte B Plum 5 years ago

How true, I am so glad you wrote this hub to shed light on this issue! More people need to read this.

Welcome to hubpages! It is a lovely community here and I trust you will grow to like it! =)

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Charlotte. I'd be very happy for lots of people to read it, wish they would!!! Thanks for your welcome to hubpages. I'm so glad I did. I'd been writing bits and bobs but had no confidence in myself. I'm glad I took the gamble to let others read it. It is a lovely community. I've had nothing but warmth and understanding.

Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Interesting hub. I know about the carer syndrome. My mother was an alcoholic and my father was her carer. He loved her till she died on Christmas morning from cancer. In this country there is a 'co-dependency' syndrome as well. I think that support groups for those who are carers, such as al-anon are also important.

Good info.

Aceblogs profile image

Aceblogs 5 years ago from India

Wow , what an article . It is simply superb and great piece of advise there by you ! I will make it read to some one very close in my life which may bring him to reality

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Aceblogs. I would love it if this hub helped your friend. Thank you for your fan mail too. Welcome to hubpages, it's a friendly community that will inspire you and increase your confidence. I look forward to reading more of your hubs.

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Denise Handlon. I agree, support groups are essential for those caring for addicts. Feeling that you're no longer alone can be a huge relief.

Minnetonka Twin profile image

Minnetonka Twin 5 years ago from Minnesota

Great hub with great information. Addiction can ruin lives but there is always hope for recovery. I use to be a Personal Care Giver for an addict and I could really relate to what you talked about in your hub.

Anaya M. Baker profile image

Anaya M. Baker 5 years ago from North Carolina

Thank you so much for touching on this often-unrecognized aspect of addiction. I was a carer in a previous relationship for about two years, although for the first year, I wasn't aware of the role I was playing. My ex was able to hide a very serious addiction from me, and so I spent a year not understanding why I seemed to be supporting him financially, emotionally, and physically (I thought the symptoms were due to other medical causes). When I finally found out what was going on, I spent another year caring, hoping that he could get better. He didn't.

It was an extremely difficult and emotional time in my life, but because all of my energy and attention was focused on my partner, I was really out of touch with what was going on with me, and also felt guilty for expressing my own needs. Eventually, I bottomed out. I was having severe problems with anxiety and depression, panic attacks, weight loss, not to mention the financial ramifications of what was going on in the house. I lost everything-- all my savings, my credit was ruined, the apartment we shared.

The worst thing about it all was that I had no one to talk to about what was happening. I was afraid that if I told anyone what was going on with my live-in boyfriend, they would assume that I must be somehow involved in the same lifestyle. There was a huge amount of shame, and eventually I became as good as he was about hiding his illness from friends and family members. Lactose intolerance, severe allergic reaction to a medication, winter blues, depression, the flu, you name it. Inside though, I was crumbling, and because of that, I was not able to provide the care and support that he needed.

Eventually, I had to leave the relationship. I do not know if he is clean now or not, but I had to pick up the pieces of my own life.

I would strongly encourage anyone and everyone who finds themselves in this kind of situation to reach out. It can be difficult to admit, I think that carers internalize a lot of the feelings of guilt and shame that the addicts themselves hold, but talking about it really does help to in letting some of that go. Obviously you're probably not going to want to call a staff meeting at work and announce whats been going on behind closed doors, but finding a trusted friend or two can be a big help. And I can't emphasize enough how helpful the Al-Anon program can be, I'd really encourage any carers out there to look into it. I only discovered it after I had left the relationship, and wished I had known about it sooner, but it was a big help for me in rebuilding my own life afterwards.

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Minnetonka twin and Anaya. M. Baker for your comments. I'm so glad that you could relate to this terrible situation. It's a hideous lonely place to find yourself in.

Sharyn's Slant profile image

Sharyn's Slant 5 years ago from Northeast Ohio USA

EXCELLENT information here. Really hit me to the core! Especially this paragraph: "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?" I totally lost my identity and my home, vehicle, etc., trying to care for an addict I loved. In the end, suicide prevailed and it will take a long time to heal. Addiction sucks! There is lots of help out there. The addict just has to want it. I really appreciate this excellent article.


gjfalcone profile image

gjfalcone 4 years ago from Gilbert, Arizona

Thank you for this Hub. If I were ever asked the toughest battle I ever fought, it would be to get a loved one thru just one more day. The internal conflict as a carer is reconsiled as such; for them to be in the position to recognize things won't get better until they want to help themselves.It is a slow and painful process, but most rewarding in the final analysis.

Up & Awesome... and may God Bless.

wordscribe43 profile image

wordscribe43 4 years ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

This is such an important topic for so many reasons. It's one near and dear to my heart as a woman in recovery and as one who's counseled people in recovery. You make some important points about the gap in resources and people's lack of knowledge in knowing where to look for help. I'm glad you brought up the caretakers plight, too. Not enough people consider that. If it's family, it's a family disease after all.

And great line about humility and enjoying the pleasure of the little things in life. Once you've gone through something like this, your world view changes. My problems now are just problems of luxury. Pushed all the twiddly bits and such.

Daisy Mariposa profile image

Daisy Mariposa 4 years ago from Orange County (Southern California)


Thanks for sharing this article with us. I'm sure many readers of your Hub will find the information helpful.



Thanks for sharing your story, too. I'm sure your post has helped many people -- knowing they're not alone is important.

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks to all of you for your encouragement. It's great to know that this hub struck a chord with so many of you. As you say Daisy, knowing that you're not alone makes a world of difference.

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

I have much more experience in this field than I sometimes wish I had and I applaud you for this hub; a very straightforward approach to a very difficult subject. Thank you!

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thank you Billy.

Dim Flaxenwick profile image

Dim Flaxenwick 4 years ago from Great Britain

Excellent hub that really needs to be ...óut there...´´

Well done. so thoughtful.

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Dim.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 4 years ago from United States

This is a very interesting hub and the term carer is not one I have heard in the US. I was a carer for my first husband, but was an enabler. We had some great years in the beginning of our marriage. However, 3 sons later the tide turned. He did not get sober and ended up being emotionally and physically abusive.

Support groups are very helpful and I wish I had found one sooner. I know a lot of recovering alcoholics and it is essential that they want to get sober for themselves to find recovery.

I am so glad to hear your son is in recovery. There are way too many people trapped in this disease but it is a disease that affects the whole family. I also like the term carer, as addicts do need help and a carer needs education about the disease.

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Pamela. I don't have a son. That was a quotation taken from an article I read when researching. I'm sorry to hear that you've been through so much pain. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment. All the best.

Awzborn profile image

Awzborn 4 years ago from Sacramento , California

I am a surviour of a viloent crime that the disease of addiction was easier to say was the cause. My first hand experience of being a carer started when I was a newborn, she ran from all her bad decisions and I was a reminder of an adultrious affair.She drown herself like many , but there is not a day I did not love my mother.Personally I would not have had life any different , it has made me who I am today, authentic.

I really appreciate how well written this Hub is,words I know but could not have said . Being a shadow in the life of a loved one with the disease of addiction is like being the strong silent type, not the enabler.Like you said"your concern must be heard in a caring way', in my opinion it is the judgment of others with little compassion that leads the wounded back to thier drug of choice.Seems this reminds them of thier lack of self -acceptance.

Must say that befor her brutal murder she found serenity, and I am so glad I was her shadow, the carer.

DDE profile image

DDE 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Voted up!! A very interesting Hub sometimes carers do forget who they really are

Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 3 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Awzborn, i'm so sorry I haven't replied sooner, I must have clickled 'accept' then got distracted and forgot about them. I'm so sorry to hear your traumatic story but pleased to hear that you have no regrets. You're right, our experiences in life make us who we are. All the best to you.

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