Effects of Substance Misuse

The threat of substance misuse posed on family members is a problem which has dominated the lives of children for many years. Cork (1969) interviewed 115 children who had either parents or both parents in treatment for substance problems (drinking). The results indicated that 98% of children said their main concern was parental quarrelling and fighting. Wilson & Orford (1978) interviewed members of families where one parent was receiving treatment for substance use.

Nine of the eleven families reported marital conflict. Such research has found that children were often present during parental quarrels and as a result had experienced difficulty concentrating in school and in some cases had not gone to school in attempts to try and prevent parental fighting or even sometimes, protect a parent (Orford and Harwin, 1982).

Velleman and Templeton (2003) concluded that (1) the children of problem substance users were more likely to have experienced disharmony such as domestic violence in their families of upbringing, (2) as a result children are at significant risk of emotional conduct and learning problems, (3) boys were more likely to experience problems of an anti-social behaviour whilst girls were at risk of experiencing problems of withdrawal, demoralisation and distraction at school, (4) children are particularly likely to report coping with detachment which included avoiding the parent, blaming oneself by feeling guilty and switching off, and (5) adolescent offspring were more likely to leave home early as a method of escaping childhood adversity and are more likely to be early starters in their use of substances. These findings suggest children experience many difficulties which can affect their progress in later life.

They reported later on that they feel isolated and emotionally alone in their childhood, and their experiences continued to affect their relationships with their parents and other people in later adulthood (Velleman and Templeton, 2003). Interviews with children more recently have shown that they know all to well about their parent’s substance problems (Velleman (2000), and Orford et al. , (2005)). This is because children require love, affection, nurturance and a clear structure which they do not receive due to parental substance problems. It is evident from previous and more recent research relates the same problems existing in children affected by parental substance use (Addiction, 2002).

Forrester and Harwin (2006) investigated parental substance use it was found that substance misuse was a extremely common issue within child care social work and that one third of families going for allocation are disproportionately serious cases involving substance misuse also suggesting that their remains a substantial need to improve the experiences of children and other family members. Children described feelings of hurt, rejection, sadness and anger upon the discovery of parental substance use, one of the most difficult effects of the substance use were that children felt as though the substance was more important to their parents than themselves, this suggests the difficulty children face and the feelings of powerlessness to alter the course of their lives. In Spouses The spouses of substance users have been viewed through different perspectives. They have been viewed as being a part of the problem as a result of disturbed personalities.

Jackson (1954) identified stresses with which spouses must cope with, these were as follows: (1) Social isolation, where embarrassment and social stigma prevent the family from attending social gatherings. The family centre more on the substance and cover up attempts are increased. (2) The wife experiences problems with the children’s questions and confusion and will attempt to shield them by explaining the father as ‘sick’ to maintain a father role for the children. (3) Spouses are also affected by economic problems, as a result of their partner’s absence from work or loss of employment as well as the expense of the substance use. (4) A spouse may also experience sexual problems as a result of increased emotional distance which may lead the partner to avoid sexual contact.

(5) There is also the threat of violence where hostility and frustration may often erupt in violent expression, prevailing attitudes about the substance and the family self-sufficiency may also contribute to the wife’s frustration, as maintained by Jackson (1954). In a more recent study Maharajh and Akleema (2005) reported the aggressive sexual behaviour of substance dependant men. The findings indicated that the spouses of substance dependent men were subjected to more aggressive and painful sexual experiences which involved more body marks and more biting of body surfaces than those of non substance dependent males. Other Family Members From the stress-strain-coping-support model Orford (1994, 1998) identified the universal impact of living with a relative who has a substance problem.

The study involved the experiences of family members from three contrasting cultures which were those from Mexico City, South-West England and the Australian Northern territory. The study found that many of the same experiences were retold in places as different as poor communities in Mexico City, villages in semi rural South-West England and remote Aboriginal communities in Northern Australia. Orford (2005) maintained that to understand these different experiences one way of representing them was through a number of interlocking facets i. e. the total experience could not be understood without appreciating each of these facets, four facets were identified. The first facet was that living with a relative who is drinking or taking drugs excessively is very stressful.

It was found in all three cultures that one of the reasons why the relationship had gone bad was because family members had felt that the relationship in which they had invested in so much had gone badly wrong. The unpleasantness of the relative’s behaviour towards family members and others was described as taking many forms (Orford, 2005 p96). The relationship had been described as becoming disagreeable, aggressive and sometimes physically violent. The relative was described as being isolated from the family and taking little part in family life, family members had also felt uncomfortable around their relative as a result of sudden mood changes and not knowing how the relative would react at any given time. Another commonly expressed emotion among the family members was that of conflict over money and possessions.

In most cases the relative demanded money where the request had often been by a reproach, an accusation and a threat or actual violence, often leaving family members with little option but to accede to the requests or demands. More specifically the kinds of events taking place included stealing from family members, borrowing money without asking and buying things for the relative which would later be sold. Much of the anxiety associated with the relatives substance use involved not knowing where the relative was and when he/she would return and the unpredictability of the relative’s mood. More commonly family members had complained of the relative being out on the streets all day and associating with bad company.

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