Family matters when it comes to addiction says White Oaks

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When we think about addiction, first and foremost, we see the person who can’t stop drinking, or gambling or taking drugs.

The addict is the priority when society starts to look at the countless social problems stemming from addiction. Now however, staff at the White Oaks Rehabilitation are opening up their services to family members and relatives of those with addiction problems.

This Saturday, February 23, the Muff centre will open its doors to those from across the North West who have been or continue to be affected by another person’s addiction.

Addiction counsellors Aine Wilson and Stephen McLaughlin say demand has been high for the one day family programme which offers those taking part a chance to avail of counselling and support.

“What often happens is that people develop unhealthy coping mechanisms if they are living with an addict in the family. The addiction is the ‘family secret’ and so much takes place behind closed doors. If we look at the relationship between parents and children where there is an addiction that young person’s emotional development can be severely damaged and that can have a transgenerational effect and ripple through to when those young people go on to have their own families,” says Stephen.

Addiction counsellor Aine, who battled her own addiction with alcohol for many years says one person’s issues with drinking or drugs or gambling has an absolutely huge effect on those around them.

“It can damage the whole family system, you just can’t measure how big an effect it has,” she says.

“Some of the people who come to the family programme have been affected for years and they don’t see it that they’ve been affected. They change, they become more anxious and stressed out because of the rows going on behind closed doors. Children growing up in those homes see what’s going on and they carry that shame and guilt with them throughout their lives. The simple things in life don’t come to these young people, they miss out on a normal childhood and that’s something they can never get back but the family programme here at Whiteoaks is a stepping stone for them to get help. The programme is for people who are aged 16 and over who are suffering from the strain of a loved one’s addiction and also for friends of those who are addicts.”

Addiction counsellor Stephen McLaughlin says even attending the family programme can help people feel less isolated.

“When people come to the family programme it’s an opportunity to have their voice heard,” he says,

“When they hear other people’s stories they can connect with what those people are saying. Those living with a loved one’s addiction need to take care of themselves as well regardless of whether or not the addict is getting help.”

One woman who has used the family programme said it completely changed her life. Wishing to remain anonymous to protect the identity of her family, the woman said: “Counselling was the first time in my life that I felt someone actually listened to me and my story and most importantly, didn’t judge me.

“The pain, despair and heartache eased, it was like someone opening a door in a dark room slowly and allowing the light to come in.

“I attended counselling for about 18 months. When I went to Al-Anon I couldn’t believe there were so many people who felt exactly how I felt; the difference being that these people were happy, positive, courageous and inspirational - all the things I wanted and needed.

“Today that is how I am, and life is good. The addictions are still there but they don’t dominate my life because I’m a different person and because I have changed, my home has changed, it is relatively peaceful and happy.

“I never would have changed had I not received the support of the Family Programme, counselling and Al Anon. I am, and will be forever grateful,” she added.

To avail of the Family Programme contact 0035374 93 84400.