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Knowing what to do and say

February 20, 2024

For years they’d been estranged, but when *Gavin’s adult daughter finally came back into his life, she was going through some hard issues. For one, she had a serious problem with alcohol.

Desperate to have her back in his life, Gavin became scared of saying or doing the wrong things in case he pushed her away. At the same time, he really wanted to help her, but wasn’t sure how.

“I was trying hard to do and say the right things but I was scared of saying something wrong and setting her off,” he said.

“It was so frustrating trying to get her into help. She was ready but she had to wait three months for residential rehab.

“It’s such a difficult thing for a family to deal with.”

He said connecting to family support at Drug ARM had been “a huge help”, even though he wasn’t sure about it at the start.

“As a bloke, you know, there’s the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, and it’s hard to talk, but they made it so easy to communicate. They’ve been wonderful.”

He said it was his daughter who first reached out to Drug ARM and enrolled in our Day Program and things had evolved from there. “She finished with the program and left, while I stayed on – it was amazing. They made it clear, ‘we’re here for you now!’

“I’ve been going to them regularly for over a year and I really look forward to it.”

As one of our Breakthrough for Family Queensland support facilitators explained, “we give families the knowledge, confidence and support to speak to their loved one who is dependent on a substance.

“We let families know what dependency is, what alcohol and other drugs are and do, and importantly, help them not to take the blame for their loved one’s use.”

She said blame was a huge factor for many parents who early on often asked, “What have I done wrong? Was I a good parent?”

“That’s why in many cases, when I send out information and referral support to parents, I add to my email – that ‘you are a good Mum’ or ‘you are a good Dad!

“A drug problem can happen to anyone for a number of reasons – among these are peer pressure, trauma or grief. Nobody wakes up and says, ‘I’m going to have a problem with drugs today’.”

She said our education support to families included providing information on why they won’t stop using substances and how they get used to the substance, build a tolerance and use it to suppress thoughts.

“We help them to understand what stage of change their loved one is at and how they can work with them in that stage. We also focus a lot on setting boundaries, such as around not giving money to them and acting on consequences.”

Acting on boundaries was something that Gavin struggled with the most.

“On one occasion, I had to kick my daughter out of home. It was a rule we had set up that she couldn’t do it (drink alcohol) at home and when she did, I had to act on that,” he said.

“Drug ARM taught me not to be terrified of acting. They said ‘it’s not you. Don’t be scared. Set boundaries even when it is hard to do.

“I really struggled with it, but when my daughter realised I was serious, she learned she couldn’t do that if she wanted to come back.

“It was a low point though. It was so hard to be strong. It was devastating. I’ve never been so sad in my life… but it’s all worked out.”

Gavin said that what was great about family support was not just talking to them about the problems and gaining information and practical guidance, but having someone there who could also celebrate the wins. He said his daughter was now out of live-in rehab and in a transitional house.

“She’s so much better now. We’ve never been closer – it’s like we’ve never been apart.”

Our family support workers don’t just work with parents. They see grandparents, friends, even neighbours and, of course, partners.

Like Gavin, another one of our Breakthrough clients, *Shirine, started accessing family support after her fiancé went to Drug ARM. He had a problem mostly with methamphetamine (ICE) and, also with heroin. At the time, Shirine was heavily pregnant with their daughter.

Shirine said her partner was on several waitlists for live-in rehabilitation and in the end, they had to endure a six-month wait before he could finally commence.

“Drug ARM helped him get into rehab (a program outside of Drug ARM) and made sure he was prepared and took everything he needed,” she said.

This preparation included ensuring he was not using heroin for seven days – a requirement of entrance into the rehab program.

At that stage, he was living on the streets and so it became a huge community effort, rallied by our family support facilitator, to help him meet that requirement. The fact that he did was a credit to all involved.

“They also made sure I was okay and had someone to talk to. They helped me get things for Bubby. They spoke to me about what to expect around my partner’s recovery. They were amazing,” Shirine said.

Shirine has been checking in with a support facilitator from Drug ARM’s Breakthrough for Families program once a week for several months and said she would continue to check in while her partner was still living in the program, recovering. She said she felt much more positive about their future, now he was willing to change and getting help.

Our family support facilitator said families experienced huge strain while trying to support a substance dependent loved one and benefited from learning more about substance use and strategies around communication, boundary-setting and self-care.

“Families are dealing with all kind of impacts. We see it all, such as money going missing, overdoses, panic attacks, stress, relationship problems and parents being accused of causing the substance use.

“Kids who are dependent will project onto the parents and accuse them of things like, ‘you wrecked my life’.

“I’ve seen parents disagree on how to relate to their child who has a drug or alcohol problem and the marriage has broken down over it.”

Our family support facilitator said she aimed to bring compassion to her role and to help families through this difficult time. “We work with families to help them not to take things personally.

“We don’t ever judge – we just want to make sure they are all okay.”

Another of our support workers, Terri, delivers general family support out of Toowoomba. Her program is unique at Drug ARM in that she is able to see families with children under the age of 18 for a full range of issues. For her, many parents are seeking support and strategies in relation to their child’s developmental and behavioural issues, which often also involves learning difficulties.

Terri came to work at Drug ARM, knowing all too well the struggles that families can go through, especially when a member has a dependency on a substance. She says her marriage broke down and she had to raise her three children alone when her husband failed to address his problems with alcohol.

“He couldn’t recognise his problems and wouldn’t seek help. I became the policeman parent, trying to protect the children from his behaviour, which was never going to work,” she said.

Having this lived experience ensures she brings compassion and understanding to her role.

“I’ve lived through hard things, so now I know I can do hard things. We all can,” Terri said. It is this renewed belief in herself that has led Terri to commit to a life-long dream of running a full marathon. She is doing it out of acknowledgement of her own resilience, to help inspire others and to raise money for Drug ARM support programs.

Check out Terri’s full story, here

Our impact

Drug ARM last year connected with more than 2000 families seeking education, advice or support. These connections were made through our:

Family group sessions

If looking for a Breakthrough for Families group program to attend in person, we have regular sessions running now in our Ipswich office on Tuesdays (2.30pm to 4pm) and Fridays (10am to 11.30am) at Suite 6, 31-33 Nicholas Street. We also run regular online group sessions on Wednesdays, 12.30pm to 2pm. Group sessions are also delivered at various times across multiple sites in Queensland. Call our Intake team or visit our website for details.

Other support

If you have a problem with alcohol or other drugs, Drug ARM offers counselling and group programs, including our Day Program.

To enquire about any of these support options, contact Drug ARM Intake on 07 3620 8880 or email .

*Client names have been changed for privacy purposes. Stock images have been used.

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