Young people affected by others' alcohol use deserve support

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs | October 2019 | 8 minutes

Policy proposal: Develop a funded national programme of advice, guidance and support for those concerned about alcohol including families, carers and children of alcohol-dependent parents.

The Alcohol Charter, produced jointly by the Drugs, Alcohol & Justice Cross-Party Parliamentary Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Alcohol Harm, sets out effective and workable policies to reduce the damage to society caused by alcohol misuse. The proposal above is one of 16 evidence-based policy proposals laid out in the Charter.

Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs is one of more than 30 organisations that endorse the Alcohol Charter. Here, they outline their reasons for supporting this proposal.

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We have supported adult family members of people with alcohol problems for many years. But we are often asked to speak to young people who are also concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use (usually a parent or sibling), so we knew there was a gap in support for this age group.

There are incredible Young Carers organisations and charities out there, but there are not many which are solely for young people living with someone else’s alcohol or drug use. That’s why Routes was created.

Routes is Scottish Families’ new service for young people aged 12-26. The name reflects that it is a brand new service co-created from the roots-up by the young people it supports. These young people chose the name as they felt they shouldn’t be ashamed of their ‘roots’, but also that they are in control of their destiny and the ‘route’ their lives take. One of the young adults mentioned that they had taken what they now see to be the wrong ‘route’ in life, but with the right support, have managed to turn their life around.

Routes offers young people a chance to talk about their experiences without fear of being judged or stigmatised. Everyone is there for the same reason.

We are often asked to speak to young people who are also concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use (usually a parent or sibling), so we knew there was a gap in support for this age group.

As the project is developed in partnership with the young people, we listen to what support they needed and activities they would like to do – something they find refreshing yet hard to believe! So far we have been on many outings, including to the beach, the circus, and the cinema. We also encourage young people to learn new skills such as first aid, photography, and cooking. For example, they are creating and acting in their own play about their experiences of being affected by a loved one’s alcohol or drug use.

It has been wonderful to watch friendships blossom as the young people start to relax and enjoy themselves – the support and encouragement they give each other is awesome!

People with a family member with alcohol problems are more likely to experience mental health issues, financial problems, family conflict. They are often unpaid carers, with the struggles that brings. But with the right support, adults and children are better able to cope and to take the right ‘route’. They are also better able to help their family member to get support with their addiction. That is why we support this proposal to develop a national programme of support for people affected by someone else’s alcohol use, ranging from advice to practical help. As it stands, there are several charities and organisations providing this support, but it is far too patchy. It must be accessible to all. For those struggling, as for the young people in Routes, it would make all the difference in the world.

Heather’s story

I’m 26 and my mum has a problem with alcohol. I’ve been born into the alcohol life. At the beginning, it wasn’t so bad. My dad and brother would make sure I was fine and take me to school when needed. But as I got older and my dad left, things did get difficult.

My mum still has a problem with alcohol. Every day I wake up and think ‘is today going to be the day she decides to drink?’ It’s an awful worry. My whole day is ruined with anxiety and panic. My mum is probably one of the nicest women ever when she is sober, and everyone thinks the world of her. But when she drinks she turns into someone else, it’s like a split personality. She currently goes to a day unit to get help daily and AA meetings, but that doesn’t help me. I’ve recently been in touch with a foundation which gives me amazing support. It does help just having someone listen to you without judging.

My best advice for a young person dealing with a parent with an alcohol problem is to remember that you are not alone. I remember being the only person in my street with a mother who drank too much and no one could relate to how I felt, but there are so many people out there dealing with the same problem.

Join online groups and find local groups. Don’t suffer in silence. We can all help one another.


Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs is the hub of a network of support groups across Scotland providing support to family members and friends who have been affected by the substance use of a relative or loved one. They help raise awareness of issues affecting families and provide information through a wide variety of resources.

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The policies laid out in the Alcohol Charter represent realistic, powerful ways to reduce the harm caused by alcohol. Help make them happen.

Ask your MP to write to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care about the Alcohol Charter. Your voice can make a big difference.

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