It’s official – carers of people with substance misuse problems have got a rough deal

Not entirely surprising figures from the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) show that nearly 1.5 million adults in the UK are significantly affected by a relative’s drug use.

a group of black chicks walking away from a yellow chick

Carers of people with substance misuse issues are one of the most unsupported and unrecognised groups of carers in the UK today

The UKDPC estimated the harm families experience as a result amounts to £1.8 billion per year.

That’s not even mentioning families supporting someone abusing alcohol, where figures are less comparable.

Unfortunately, these carers have less rights and support offered to them than others.

And as per the current Equalities Bill, if you’re looking after someone with substance misuse problems, you’re not protected from discrimination by association (unless the user has additional health problems or a disability).

If you’re a carer for someone with substance misuse problems, you also can’t receive Carers Allowance (unless the user has additional issues entitling them to Disability Living Allowance).

You are entitled to a Carers Assessment if the user is eligible for community care services, but this is rarely offered. “But what if I…” – nope, tough, you chose to look after someone with the wrong condition.

I appreciate that this is not a clear cut issue. There are undeniable challenges involved – stigma, criminality of illegal drug use, potential for ‘enabling behaviour’, and so on – but overall there remains an impression that it’s the carer’s responsibility if their wellbeing suffers, as the addiction is the user’s own “fault”. In some cases, I accept this will hold true. But as addiction is considered to be society’s responsibility to treat (health and social care’s specifically), then why should carers of substance misusers be excluded from statutory carers support?

While debates continue on the right balance between treatment and criminal justice, carers nonetheless perform a vital role. In most circumstances, carers are working to help the user address their addiction problems. They fill an important void in support when a user refuses to engage with treatment services. Moreover, when users are engaged, supporting and involving families is an essential means to ensure users comply with treatment (as discussed in Supporting and Involving Carers; A guide for commissioners and providers from The National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse)

Carers of people with substance misuse issues are one of the most unsupported and unrecognised groups of carers in the UK today. There is more that can be done, there is more that must be done to ensure that they get a better deal.

Tomorrow night (25th February) I am hosting a web chat for carers on drugs and alcohol misuse. Please do come along. Details of the chat are here.

And we have more information for professionals working with carers of people with substance misuse problems on our Professionals website.

Drew Lindon is Substance Misuse Lead at The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and is our guest blogger this week.


February 22, 2010 - Posted by | Substance Misuse, Uncategorized | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Great news for Carers and Significant Others!
    Action for Change to increase services offered to Carers and Significant Other of substance misusers, their successful bid to secure three years funding will provide additional services.

    They will deliver this by providing an ‘Open Access’ advice and information service at 18 venues throughout East Sussex and by offering one to one counselling and/or group work to the Carers. For a full list of venues go to or call on 0300 111 2470.

    All referrals welcome from any agency or group. Are you working with someone who might benefit from the expertise that Action for Change can offer Carers of substance misuse. Please refer to any of the open access points, give our phone number 0300 111 2470 or our web site

    What Carers have said:

    “Before I started going to Action for Change I felt quite helpless with the situation that I was in”

    “Action for Change helped me to think what I actually want for myself and my children in the future and what behavior I would accept and what I wouldn’t. Because of this, I feel very positive and in control of my life.”

    Comment by Bob Stewart | January 9, 2012 | Reply

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