Our lifebelt: alcohol services for friends and family in Cambridge

November 2017 | 8 minutes

The South Staffordshire & Shropshire Foundation Trust (SSSFT) inclusion substance misuse service provides support to anyone over the age of 18 affected by someone’s drug and or alcohol use across Cambridgeshire.

They work with friends and families of people affected by substance use to increase their resilience and knowledge, helping them to support their loved one while looking after themselves.

They offer advice and information through telephone and face-to-face support, friends and family support groups, and a programme to help people understand substance misuse.

Vicky and her colleague Cate are SSSFT's Friends and Family Leads, offering tailored 1-1 and group support. Vicky has worked with Gwen* for 18 months.

Gwen’s* story

I have a daughter and two sons. My daughter was adopted. Throughout her childhood we had no real problems, though she had ADHD. In her early teens it was normal teenage stuff. Then when she was 14 her birth father left a message for her on Facebook, and things changed. She started going out late and even sneaking out at night. She began self-harming. And she discovered alcohol.

For my young sons in particular it was a nightmare. Their sister began stealing; they didn’t know if they’d wake up and their Xbox would be gone. Their friends stopped coming round. She was physically violent to all of us.

Eventually we had to ask her to leave. We found supported housing for her to live in, but she was evicted due to alcohol use and moved in with her abusive boyfriend. Despite several trips to A&E because of alcohol and violence from her boyfriend, we couldn’t get her help. “She’s not vulnerable,” one doctor said. “It’s just alcohol.”

I lived in fear of getting a call from an unknown number in case it was the police. One night she was attacked. I asked the police to keep her DNA on file so they could check any bodies that were found to see if they were her. We honestly thought that was where her drinking was heading.

Eventually she became pregnant. For the most part she stopped drinking during the pregnancy and I was relieved. But after the baby was born she struggled to cope. Several months later we were asked to attend a meeting with social services, where we found out that she had been drinking since he was two weeks old, and had post-partum psychosis.

But it was still so hard to get help. We eventually got her into hospital, but once again she was discharged because it was “just alcohol.” In the meantime, we became the baby’s guardians.

Throughout this time we felt like we were drowning – but Vicky was our life belt, our dry land. We’d found out about SSSFT during my daughter’s pregnancy; before that it hadn’t crossed my mind that there would be support available for our family.

Now I go to a family support group, which has shown me that I’m not alone, that my daughter’s drinking isn’t my fault, and that I don’t need to feel guilty. There are also talks on different topics, and those help me to understand and support my daughter – for example I went on one on attachment and adoption.

But the most valuable thing is having Vicky on the end of the phone any time I need her. I can call her with any problem or just when things get too much – for practical advice, coping strategies and a listening ear. She says, “Ok – try this way of dealing with it.” When the special guardianship order for my grandson was going through my daughter was particularly unkind, and Vicky helped me to see that I didn’t have to engage with it. And when we realised she was drinking again I couldn’t understand it – why couldn’t she put her son first? But again Vicky helped me see that for her, as someone addicted to alcohol, the alcohol was more important than everything else.

Vicky rings me about once a month to check in, and if I call her she always phones again after a week or two to see how things are going. Without Vicky I don’t know where we’d be – it’s a scary thought. But I don’t think we’d have any relationship with my daughter at all. I’m so much more resilient now.

A few weeks ago my daughter had her second child. She didn’t drink during this pregnancy, her partner has cut down on smoking weed so there’s much less violence, and she’s got more support from social services. We’re hoping for the best.

I wish there was more understanding about alcohol and the harm it can cause in people’s lives. There was just so little support available for my daughter, and I get the feeling that if it had been drugs it would have been different. There’s this feeling that everyone likes a drink, and you can buy it in the supermarket for pennies – it’s not such a big deal. If someone drinks too much it’s their own fault. But it doesn’t matter if it’s alcohol or drugs – addiction can tear families apart.

*Name changed