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Alcohol and drug problems affect not only those using these substances but also family members of the individual substance user. There has been a historic neglect within the addiction sphere of both research and practice pertaining to the effect of drug use on the family. Each family member is uniquely affected with negative outcomes ranging from economic hardship to violence being perpetrated against them (Csiernik, 2002). Thus, treating only the individual with the substance problem is limiting and serves an overly narrow orientation for the enhancement of both family and community health. This study addressed an important gap in literature with regard to the experiences of families affected by drug use.
The research involved qualitative in-depth interviews and focus group interviews undertaken with a broad range of participants. In total 51 individuals took part in the study. The sample comprised two subgroups: family members (47) and professionals (4). The family member’s subgroup comprised mothers, fathers, siblings and extended family relatives of the drug user. The professional subgroup consisted of family support workers working within drug treatment and rehabilitation services as well as the co-ordinator of the National Family Support Network.
The findings reveal substance misuse has a profound effect on the family system that results in lifelong changes within the family. The negative effects of drug use permeate each member and every aspect of family life. The application of a family systems theory meant significant patterns of conflict, cut-off, and triangulation were found. Both groups prioritised the need for policy makers and services to focus on the needs of family members affected by a member’s substance misuse.
Recommendations made in this study include (1) that a large scale study be undertaken to include a greater diversity of family members (2) future research should include variation in family structures reflecting emerging cultural trends in Ireland and (3) an increased focus on the family within drug treatment service provision.
Stack, A. : “It’s like throwing a pebble into water and there is a ripple effect throughout the entire pond” The Effect of Drug Use on the Family System. Masters Dissertation, Dublin, DIT, September 2010