The Child’s Change Cycle- how children feel during a parent’s recovery

The Child’s Change Cycle- how children feel during a parent’s recovery

The Child’s Change Cycle- how children feel during a parent’s recovery

I came across the Child’s Change Cycle in Fiona Harbin and Michael Murphy book, ‘Secret Lives: Growing with Substance Misuse – Working with children and young people affected by family substance misuse’ in 2006. It’s a fantastic book and in it they developed the Cycle of Change to add further context to it in terms of how children might feel during their parent’s recovery from substance misuse.

I previously wrote about the Cycle of Change- How to use it to support a loved one’s recovery. This was an introduction to the cycle of change and how to understand it to support a loved one’s recovery. In this blog, I’m taking it one step further to consider children on the change cycle. Here’s a reminder of what the Cycle of Change looks like.

Substance Misuse and Parenting

It is no surprise that parenting capacity is affected by a parent who is drinking or taking drugs. I do not like to drink in front of my children and I don’t like other people drinking around them either. Why? I know that after a couple of drinks, my guard is down and my parenting is not as good as it is when I’m not drinking. I also know that my tolerance levels these days are critically low, so I can feel the effects from one drink. I recognise that when adults drink around children, the conversation can change to inappropriate topics, swearing freely and that children can see a difference in adult behaviour when drinking (or have the time of their lives because they have fewer boundaries!). So wherever possible, I keep my own children away from it.

It is important to remember here that SUBSTANCE USE DOES NOT MAKE PARENTS BAD PARENTS! How everyone manages their own use is up to them, I have formed my own view from over fifteen years of working with children, young people and families and helping many of those families recover from parental substance use. Many people use substances and manage and function very well in their daily life, including in their parenting capacity. Many parents still go out at the weekend, ensure their children are safe and cared for and have a great time using recreational drugs or drinking and slip back into their routine when they’re done.

In my work, however, the parents I supported had significant problems with their use and there was not one child who has not known about their parents’ problems with drug or alcohol use in one way or another.

A friend of mine told me a few year’s ago that she had given up drinking when her son told her she drank too much. She described that this was a realisation for her and she decided to have a break months ago. She feels so good from giving up that she has continued. Is she an “alcoholic”? No. Was alcohol causing her some problems? Yes.

Children and the recovery cycle

It would make sense that when a parent stops drinking or using drugs, that everything in family life will be happy and there would be a great deal of positive changes. There will be positive changes, but a parent stopping using is the very start of that change in a family. For a child, having a parent that is more present than they have been in a long time, perhaps actually parenting for the first or a long time can be confusing and needs to be handled with care.

So, Harbin and Murphy, created an additional layer to the Cycle of Change to reflect how children may feel at each stage of the cycle (diagram from Children and Young People affected by Parents’/Carers’ or Siblings’ Drug or Alcohol Misuse Guidance for Professionals)

child's change cycle

When a parent is in active use and has no intention of changing, a young person can experience neglect and emotional abuse. This sounds harsh, but in reality, when a parent’s priority is drugs or alcohol, their child is not. The relationship is affected and the child will not understand why.

In contemplation, a child has hope that things might change.

In preparation/decision, there is further hope but also anxiety about change.

In action/active change, this hope and anxiety increases.

Liane Goryl, who has managed young people’s services and is now managing locally commissioned contracts said, “If the parent is in the maintenance phase and living a substance free life, the young person will have been impacted upon during other stages of the parental cycle of change.  As the adult moves through the cycle of change, so does the child.  They experience their own worries and concerns which can impact on their mental wellbeing.  Even when the parent successfully stays in the maintenance phase, the young person can wonder why all of a sudden their parent is putting in boundaries and rules and interested in where that young person is.  This can contribute to a young person trying to regain control and pushing back and not obeying rules that are now being implemented by parents.  Where there are much younger siblings that have only known the parent to be drug free compared with an older brother or sister; it can be difficult for that teenager to understand why the parent could become substance free to look after that child but not them, causing an emotional response in the form or anger and depression”.

As Liane states, I have seen young people react in this way to their parent’s recovery. The shift easily moves to their behaviour rather than anyone actually considering the change for them and why their behaviour is occurring. I have sat in many child protection meetings which have focussed on the behaviour of a child without a connection being made that that behaviour is due to a parent’s substance use.  Please bear this in mind.

Lapse and Relapse cause disappointment, fear, confusion and sadness.

How can we help?

At each stage of the cycle, we need to consider where a child is at too. What are they thinking? How are they feeling? Families think they hide a loved one’s substance misuse well, but the best thing to do is speak to children in an age appropriate manner. A good starting point is to ask them how they are, what makes them happy and is there anything that makes them sad. I explain more about this in my blog Helping Children with a Drug and Alcohol Using Parent.

The thing to remember is not to feel guilty if you have children. The key with family support is communication. Talk to your children about the problem, create an open forum for them to talk and ask them how they are. Discuss any changes and make sure they have good quality time with you, your loved one and their friends and family. I always advise to let school know about the situation so that they have someone to talk to that they can trust outside the family. Use this model to establish how they might be feeling and work through those feelings. Not all children will feel the same but they need someone to talk to.

I can help you!

We work on this and more in my one to one programmes. This month, I have an offer on for 10 sessions for £997. This is a low investment for the changes that I help my clients make.

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 help my clients reduce stress and live a better life.

Sign up to my mailing list here and get my free 10 Steps to Family Recovery download with my top tips for family recovery.

Take Care.


Victoria x

Support for family members affected by drugs and alcohol in their own right

Support for family members affected by drugs and alcohol in their own right

I’ve attended training in January to learn the 5-Step Method of supporting families coping with a loved one’s drug or alcohol use.

It is the first time I have come across a model of support that helps family members in their own right. Usually, the person having problems with substance use accesses a service then families are offered help as a result of this.


Family support groups


The type and quality of the help varies from country to city to town. There is no consistency in this. For example, a family in Ireland will be able to access family support groups which are led by family members who have been supported, trained and developed by the National Family Support Network. They have set up quality assurance so that families can access a quality service whether It’s led by volunteers or led by professionals.

In Manchester, there are a few family-led support groups that I’ve heard of, but I feel ignorant that I haven’t linked up with them more, so the families I help can get further support from people that are in the same, but unique, situation as themselves. This is called peer-led support and allows people at the very least to realise they are not alone in coping with  a loved one’s drug or alcohol use.

Local carers centres also provide advice and support for families caring for people with drug and alcohol problems.


Local drug and alcohol services offer


Drug and alcohol services are getting better at offering family support services. In Bury, they offer the CRAFT programme (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) and in Salford, they offer 5-Step Method, but again, this usually depends on the person using substances accessing the service then families being supported following this.

There are whole family support services commissioned in some areas like Early Break’s award winning Holding Families which provides a 6-month programme for children and families affected by parental substance use.


Why families should stop focussing on the person using drugs/acohol


Family members always focus on the needs of their drug or alcohol using relative before themselves. I saw an advert recently on Facebook for a rehab and family members were asking, ‘how much is this?’ and ‘how long do they stay for?’. There was nothing about, ‘what support do you provide for families?’. When a family member made a comment, the rehab posted a link to Famanon which made it pretty clear that they didn’t support families and they were solely focused on the person using substances spending money to go to rehab.

People tend to think that rehab will solve everyone’s problems, but they cost anything from 5-50k. It is possible to get to rehab through the drug and alcohol service but it doesn’t happen overnight because of the cost to services. The person using substances has to show a commitment and often a reduction in their drug or alcohol use before they will be given funding to go to detox or rehab. Drug and Alcohol services often run a pre-detox group and who can blame them with so many funding cuts to services.


Why rehabs are not always the answer

Rehabs are great, but, Most people relapse in the first 90 days following a period in rehab. Why? Because they don’t have the skills to face the reality of being back at home in the same situation, with the same triggers and the same life that they were tucked away from in rehab. It is then that people need support and guidance when they are back in reality. I know a family who paid 30k to send a relative to a luxury rehab, she was drinking again within three weeks. No aftercare was provided unless they travelled 200 miles back to the residential rehab their relative had left. Family support was non-existent – a lesson here is that it doesn’t matter what you pay, it’s the aftercare that counts. Lots of services recommend 12-steps for families but this involves going to groups which works for some but not for others. I recommend to give everything a go twice and find something that works for each individual.

The point I’m trying to make is there are lots of services for problematic drug and alcohol users, but there are also many for families too. The more support families get, the more they can focus on themselves, regardless of whether their relative continues to drink or take drugs or not.


Focus on the family


There are some brilliant programmes out there for family members which I have mentioned above. CRAFT focuses on reducing stress and getting a loved one into treatment. The model I use with families is similar to this, so family members are supported at the same time as figuring out the detail of their loved one’s substance use in order to understand it and influence their loved one’s behaviour (note that I’ve said influence as you cannot change anyone else’s behaviour, it is their choice). Mainly, it builds resilience and coping strategies with family members so they can live a better life.


5-Step Method


I’ve now been trained in 5 step method (this has nothing to do with 12 steps!) which is a fantastic way of supporting family members in their own right. It doesn’t matter whether they have regular contact with the person using drugs or alcohol, whether they are in treatment themselves and it doesn’t even focus on their loved one at all. This is all about families. What they need, what they want to know and discussing whatever is important to them.

This is a unique and evidence-based model which has been tested out to work all over the world.

I deliver this over 6 sessions with an introductory session included:

1. Introduction, assessment and goal setting

2. Getting to know you and the problem

3. Providing you with relevant information

4. Exploring how you respond and cope

5. Exploring and enhancing social support

6. Identifying further needs and referring on for further help

It is a wonderful programme of support! Find out more on my website here as I’m offering this at my training rate and can deliver online so you can get the help in the comfort of your own home. You just need a set of headphones and a phone/laptop. I also offer my services in the Manchester area (UK).

Get in touch for a friendly chat about your situation and to find out more about my services.

Take care,


Dealing with aggression

Dealing with aggression

Recently, I’ve been thinking about aggression. I shared last year that I had been in a violent relationship in my twenties. It was a very difficult time, but, I learnt an awful lot from it. The main thing I learnt was that it is not acceptable for anyone to shout, hit, control or forcefully put themselves into a position of power, whether alone or in front of others.

In my professional life, I have completed a lot of training around domestic violence and also worked in organisational development where my team trained people in assertiveness and resilience. Knowing how to ‘do it’ and putting the skills into action around are emotions is a tricky challenge.

I’ll hold my hands up, when I was younger, I did not used to be as emotionally intelligent as I am now. I used to react to whatever feeling was going on inside me. If someone was annoying me I’d snap at them, if a situation annoyed me I would vent to anyone that would listen, if someone challenged my values, I would be absolutely raging!

Through my learning and self-development. I have worked on this and mantra is ‘respond, don’t react’. This applies to reacting to my own feelings as well as being on the receiving end of someone else’s. Trying to remember this mantra works well. Trust me!


Fight, flight or freeze


Our responses to experiencing stress, aggression or danger are fight, flight or freeze. I have examples of all three. Have you ever been in relationships with people that push your buttons and your values clash so much that when they argue with you, you can’t help but fight back? Does this get you anywhere? Maybe, in some circumstances where there is absolutely no other option and it’s a choice between life or death. Probably not in any other situation. This goes for arguing back too.


A man at Christmas chased me and my daughter in our car in a fit of road rage as I turned into a road and made him jump! It was one of those roads that appears to be wide, but when you turn into it, it’s really narrow- so it makes you jump when people turn in. As I turned into my street, I saw him behind me flashing his lights and beeping. As my daughter is four years old, I knew I had to protect her. After a on the spot risk assessment, I thought, there is no chance I’m going to pull into my drive. I carried on driving and called my husband. I drove for about a mile and a half hoping he would go, but he didn’t. Guess what? I ended up at a traffic light! It turned red. He got out and started yelling for me to wind window down. I knew I had to bring him down from his rage. With the window firmly closed and the car locked, I simply said, ‘I have my daughter in the car. My husband is on the phone. Please go away.’ Something in that sentence brought him down and he walked away.


We sometimes freeze when someone does or says something hurtful or embarrassing about us. I personally think that when this happens to me, it is about not being able to process what’s been said in the moment. We may not want to react inappropriately. ‘Freezing’ is how we would describe a deer in headlights. Animals freeze to try and prevent danger, such as an attacker from seeing them move. It is part of our instinct to do the same.


What is aggression?


Aggression is an inappropriate response to feelings of stress or someone or something perceived as a threat. It is where an individual believes they are standing up for themselves, but in a hostile way. This behaviour stems from not being able to see another person’s point of view, and often, not caring whether they have a view or not. An aggressive person’s views are right, ours are wrong. Life is black and white, there are no grey areas and quite frankly, they are not interested in hearing the our point of view.


Aggressive Behaviours


Aggressive behaviour is acted out in many forms, from anger, threats, bullying, shouting, punishing, coercion, control, verbal or physical violence, and conversion strategies to try and wear someone down.  People who regularly display aggressive behaviours can be authoritarian and genuinely believe it’s their way or the highway. They may have wider emotional or mental health issues going on, or be using substance problematically.

Friendships with aggressors are usually based around their perceived influence, fear and protection as opposed to friendships being formed because of commonalities and the enjoyment of someone else’s company. This is how cults and gangs are formed-by fear not fun.


Dealing with aggression


In the moment of an aggressive act, we will naturally have a fight, flight or freeze response. It’s instinctive. We are likely to complete a mini-risk assessment of the situation we are in.

Personal safety is paramount above any strategy whatsoever. If there is any threat of violence, get out of there. Walk away, run. Whatever you need to do.

Another mantra of mine is that ‘you can’t rationalise with someone who isn’t rational’. My advice is do not even try to engage in a conversation with someone who is not rational at that point. If they are drunk, angry or intoxicated in any way, do not bother to try any techniques. Leave them to it and speak to them when sober or calmer.


  1. Stay calm- have you ever had a good result from arguing back or retaliating? Probably not. So it’s best to avoid it!


  1. Empathy- are they having a bad day? Is the behaviour unusual? What’s actually going on for that person on that day?


  1. Take ownership- are you responsible for anything? Have you behaved aggressively yourself? Name it. I’m sorry I was talking during your presentation, but… (see point 5) We all make mistakes!


  1. Say something!- Only you can decide whether you say something in the moment or following an event. If someone just is not listening, forget it. Withdraw from the scene, but don’t forget about it. We often just let things go but in the long run, this passive behaviour will not get you anywhere. In the moment reponses are great, but not always appropriate or realistic.


  1. Respond, don’t react- Tell the other person how you feel. My favourite tool for this is I-messages. Frame it like this:
  • I feel… (state how you feel)
  • When you.. (state the behaviour)
  • I would like… (what you would like to happen instead)

For example,  “I feel upset when you shout at me. I would like it if you could wait until you feel calm to have a discussion about things in the future.”

It is a fact that NOBODY can argue with your feelings. They are yours and they belong to you.  This way will have more of an impact that yelling back at them.


  1. Establish triggers- if it is a loved one or someone you see regularly, working out what triggers them to aggressive behaviour is useful, so that you can plan ahead for future outbursts and how you will manage it. Look out for the red flags that are typical when their undesirable behaviours are triggered.


  1. Consider your values- what do you believe in? What will you or wont you accept? How would you feel if someone behaved this way towards your grandma, your best friend or your son?


  1. Consider the future of your relationship- violence is not acceptable in any forms. Aggression can be worked with, providing the individual is accountable and takes responsibility for their behaviour. If they do not, you do not have to accept it. Think about your options as you could reduce contact, cut ties, move out, only see in certain situations and so on.


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 or via Skype.

I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here

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I have a closed Facebook Group called Vesta Confidential. If you are affected by a loved one’s substance use, come and join me.

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,