When you hear the phrase ‘alcohol harm’ what is the first thing you think of? Damage to your liver? Drink-driving? Anti-social behaviour? What about the impact on the drinker’s family? While problematic alcohol use can detrimentally affect individuals, it can also have a devastating impact on those closest to them. Families affected by alcohol often suffer in silence, feeling ashamed of their loved one’s drinking and stigmatised as a result, or they see heavy alcohol consumption as a ‘normal’ part of both society and family life, so don’t realise there’s a problem or that support is out there.
Support for families has been proven to be effective, and can take a variety of forms: from one-to-one work with professionals to peer support groups; from structured interventions to information leaflets. As is often the case, however, support varies a lot locally; excellent in some areas, but minimal in others, if it exists at all.
At Adfam, we passionately believe that families deserve support in their own right. No-one should have to suffer in silence because of the actions of those closest to them. Support for families should be well resourced, available in every area, and well promoted so families know it is there and how to access it.
We should be motivated not only by the clear moral argument for supporting fellow citizens at times of need, but also by the beneficial consequences and savings for society as a whole. Properly supported families can themselves support their loved ones through the challenges of life and hopefully into support, treatment and recovery. Every £1 invested in support for families affected by substance use gives £4.70 in value back to society . This includes through improving the health and wellbeing of both family members and drinkers.
We also lead the Alcohol and Families Alliance, a coalition of organisations developing and influencing policy on alcohol and families: – why not join us!
This article was first written for Public Health Today.