Drugs, alcohol and mental health

Drugs, alcohol and mental health

Drugs, alcohol and mental health

 

I’ve worked with people who have problems with drugs and alcohol (I’ll refer to both as drugs for this blog) for over a decade. I had some brilliant training years ago around dual diagnosis. This term refers to people who have been diagnosed as having mental health problems at the same time as problems with alcohol or drugs.

 

Which problem was there first?

 

I believe that people use substances because of the consequences from using them, whether they are positive or negative, resulting in positive or negative consequences. Interestingly, a positive consequence includes the following:

  • What somebody likes about using drugs and alcohol (these are called positive reinforcers)
  • Things that drugs and alcohol helps them to avoid (these are called negative reinforcers)

This is where we can start thinking about mental health. If someone has mental health issues that are possibly undiagnosed or diagnosed, then substance use might help them to alleviate some of the negative ways they are feeling. We call this self-medication. So, the drugs are beneficial to them. In these cases, the mental heath issues may have been the problem that was either undiagnosed or not treated properly in the first place and then the drugs came along after.

We then move onto the negative consequences of drug use. These are:

  • The problems caused by taking drugs
  • The things that people miss out on because of drugs

When we think about the negative consequences of drug use and mental health, some typical problems that may be caused from drug use is that it can exacerbate mental health problems, so even if someone gets short term relief, their problems overall can increase through their drug use. Drugs can also cause mental health problems for people who have possible had no mental health problems prior to taking drugs. This can be due to many factors like sleep deprivation, hallucinations, anxiety, paranoia, stress and in some cases, drug induced psychosis, accidents, physical health problem- the list goes on.

How do we help people with a dual diagnosis?

 

When I’ve supported people who have problems with both mental health and drugs, it has been challenging trying to get them the help they need. This is because services in mental health often find it hard to treat people who are intoxicated with drugs. This makes sense, because it is tricky to assess someone who perhaps isn’t able to communicate all that well.

Drug and alcohol services can also have difficulty because if a person is self-medicating with drugs, once they are removed as a coping mechanism, we need to get the right support in place, the right medication if needed and the right therapies. The recovery journey needs very careful planning in partnership with all the required services involved.

We often think that once people stop using drugs, then life will be immediately better. Recovery doesn’t work like that. Stopping using drugs is just the start of that journey. Each recovery journey is individual to that person and they need to lead it themselves. This is why professionals and family members must understand the goals that a person with dual diagnosis wants to achieve themselves, rather than imposing this upon them. If everyone works together to meet these goals, then the individual is more likely to want to change. Read more here on recovery.

 

Support

 

There is a lot of support out there for anyone who is feeling unwell. There is also lots of work being done around breaking the stigma of accessing help for mental health and substance use. Asking for help is the best thing anyone can do if they need it.

Click here for some services who can help.

 

I can help

 

My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area.

You can also get help via Skype  and my online group therapeutic programme which I’ve launched this week! Take a look here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.

 

Take care,

 

Victoria.

 

How to help children living with a drug or alcohol using parent.

How to help children living with a drug or alcohol using parent.

I have been fortunate enough to have worked in a job I love. I’ve have been able to help families affected by a loved one’s drug or alcohol use. I have learned so much from my clients and I have been astounded by the recovery that families are able to make.

This is from working with children like my first client who was a fifteen-year-old heroin user in prison, to families with a parent who was knocking back a couple bottles of vino every evening. Every family is unique and has their own needs. Many parents are capable of caring for their children while using substances and some aren’t as much. Some children have fantastic support and some don’t.

Over the years, I have seen patterns emerge from supporting children living in homes where one or both parents has problematic drug or alcohol use. I wanted to share them with you…

 

What have I learnt about children living with a drug or alcohol using parent?

 

1. They know what’s going on. No matter how much families may try to hide it. The best thing to do is to speak to them about it.

Most parents I worked with believed that their children did not know that one (or sometimes both) of the parents were drinking or using drugs. Every child I worked with, with one exception, knew. A four-year-old girl told me, “When my mummy drinks, she gets silly and falls off her bike”. A teenage boy said he hated his mum because of the embarrassment she caused him when she was drunk in his neighbourhood.  A mum who was an amphetamine user slept off her drugs while the oldest child cared for her younger two siblings while her mummy was “poorly”. She was six. They all knew that their parents were different when they were under the influence of substances.

The best way to approach this is to explain to a child about drugs and alcohol so that they know it is not their fault and they know they don’t have to keep anything a secret. Pretending it isn’t happening is not helpful for anyone.

2. They usually wanted to stay with their parents.

All the children I worked with loved their mums and dads. They didn’t want to leave them. Often, Children’s Social Care was involved so we asked these questions. The fifteen-year-old boy loved his mum but he couldn’t bear to see her the way she was. Talking to children and reminding them about good times with their mum or dad will help them to remember positive times when their parent wasn’t under the influence.

3. They may see and hear things at home that scare or worry them.

Try not to argue with your loved one, even when your children are in bed and definitely don’t involve them to make a point. Put yourself in their shoes and save your own energy. They absorb everything.

Ask children how they are feeling in a quiet space, at a good time, on a regular basis. This builds up their trust. Teaching them about feelings words helps them to learn how to describe them and prevents them bottling their emotions up.

4. They can grow up with drug and alcohol problems themselves.

Children with substance misusing parents are three more times likely to have problematic substance issues themselves. In my experience, this can also go completely the opposite way where children don’t want to touch substances at all.  It’s been evidenced that around half of addiction is due to environmental factors and half is genetic, so influencing the environmental factors at home can really help.

5. They need somebody they can trust and to talk to that isn’t in the family home.

You are doing an amazing job of caring for your child (ren) and partner. However, children need someone else to talk to. Letting somebody know what is going on outside the family that they know they can talk to in confidence helps enormously. I have seen families try and keep everything secret and it doesn’t help.  I supported children in one to one sessions so they could talk about their wishes and feelings with someone they could trust who was not in their family which allowed them to say whatever they wanted. This was with their parents’ permission, without it being shared or worrying that they will upset you.

6. They need to do fun things in and outside the family home.

I created a groupwork programmes for children in my work. The feedback was fantastic. They all got some quality time doing a variety of activities and meeting other young people in the same situation as themselves. They realised they were not alone. Supporting them with hobbies obviously helps them to thrive and prioritising these over whether a loved one has caused chaos that particular day is even better!

7. They need quality time with the substance using parent if possible

Speaking to your loved one about a good time for them to do something fun with their children may seem like an impossible task. We cover the “hows” in the Vesta Programme. Selecting a time when you know they are sober, for example, straight after work, and remind them on the day that they have plans with their children.

8. They need their basic needs meeting, no matter what’s going on

Providing love and attention, routine, enough sleep and sticking to boundaries will help them continue to be children. When we feel guilty, we often let these things go thinking they may help but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t.

9. Their whole family needs support to recover from drug or alcohol use.

There are many options for drug and alcohol users but not so many for family members. I can’t emphasise the importance of everyone in the family receiving help to recover.

10. Criminalising people for substance use does not work.

I always wonder how well my clients in prison would have done if they had been supported in their own communities to recover. Instead, they were stamped with a criminal record which will affect them forever. To do so well in prison and then be released to the same problems just seems a bit ridiculous to me.

 

I can help

 

My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area.

You can also get help via Skype  and my online group therapeutic programme which I’ve launched this week! Take a look here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.

 

Take care,

 

Victoria.

How can I stop my loved one’s drug or alcohol use?

How can I stop my loved one’s drug or alcohol use?

I know you are feeling tired frustrated and at the end of your tether and that is why you are here, looking for answers. While this might not be the answer you want, I have to tell you that you can’t stop your loved one drinking or taking drugs. Why not? Because it is their decision to make. What can you do? You can influence their behaviour and I can show you how.

 

Why wont they stop?

 

When somebody starts using drugs or alcohol, they have a choice when they start using and probably believe that they are fully in control of whatever they are taking. There are many factors involved as to why someone becomes an “addict” or, as I prefer to say, has problems with alcohol or drugs. This can include having a genetic disposition if there is a history of addiction in the family. Environmental factors, such as where somebody was brought up, friendships and attitudes to alcohol within the family. This means that your partner may be more likely to develop problems with drinking than others. The other factor is that they continue to take drugs or drink because they are getting something out if doing so.

The other thing that happens when we drink or use drugs is that it affects the dopamine in our brain which regulates how we feel and think and respond to pleasure. Taking substances can increase to a point where an individual’s tolerance is increased, so they need more of the substance to produce the same effect. They then begin to experience withdrawals and may pick up a substance to ease the discomfort of this and this pattern of behaviour over a period of time, actually changes the way our brain works.

 

It’s all they want to do!

 

Dopamine affects decision making and impulsivity and eventually, it is difficult for a drinker to enjoy anything except their substance. Their brain adapts to the dopamine experienced from their substance so much that they struggle to get pleasure from anything else. Life becomes an obsession with drinking or drug taking, planning activities around it, withdrawing from it and then using again.

This means that the person you love is still that person, but they have lost an element of control over their substance of choice. This substance is contributing to the decision making for them. The promises your loved one makes and doesn’t keep have been overtaken by the need to have their drug or drink.

An important note is that a problematic drinker or opiate user should never stop using their substsnace without medical support. This is because if they are dependent, it is very dangerous to stop without supervision if they are physically dependent. Please always ask your loved one to seek advice from their GP or drug and alcohol service.

 

What can I do?

 

So, you can’t stop them using, as I have said it is their choice, but, what you can do, is focus on your quality of life and that of the rest of your family while learning strategies to influence your loved one’s substance use. You can live a better life without substances deciding how your day is going to go. You can also encourage your loved one to access treatment at the right time. You can make your loved one realise that they are missing out on brilliant things with you, your family and friends.

 

Take action…

 

Here is something you can put in place right now. Think about 3 ways that you tried to stop your loved one drinking. Write them down. Then, think about how effective each strategy was is stopping or reducing their drinking.

 

Did your strategies work?

 

Now, think about how much effort you put into each strategy. Was it easy/hard? Write this down.

So, what has worked? What hasn’t?

If there is anything that has worked well, keep doing it. If they haven’t, stop doing them. Right now! Give yourself a break because in order to change things, we need the energy to be able to make those changes.

Doing the same thing over and over again with no effect is not working and is draining your precious energy.

Don’t worry if none of your strategies work as this is often the case.

Want to know how to get your loved one into treatment and live a better life?

 

I can help

 

My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area.

You can also get help via Skype  and my online group therapeutic programme which I’ve launched this week! Take a look here

Follow me on Twitter and Facebook

Sign up to my mailing list here to keep up to date with Vesta news and get my free Ten Steps to Family Recovery download.

 

Take care,

 

Victoria.