For Families and Loved ones

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Resources For Families


What It’s Like To Have Drug Addict Siblings

My favorite memory with them was when I was little, maybe 6 or 7 years old. We were at the beach and I was standing where the waves broke in the sand, I was a little weary about going in by myself. Being that it was around four or five in the evening, the waves were calmer and the sky was a mixture of orange and yellow. Of course my mother was watching me like a hawk from her beach chair, but I was still nervous to go in alone. Then out of nowhere, my brother had one arm and my sister took the other. Before I knew it, I was airborne into the water with them right behind me. We were laughing and fooling around, and I remember feeling so lucky that I had two older siblings who were so cool. I wanted to be just like the both of them.

This was, of course, before the hell that welcomed us in. I use “us” because the worlds belonging to my parents and myself came crashing down alongside my brother and sister’s. My brother is about six years older than me; my sister is about four and a half. We were raised together in the same home, with the same morals, and cared for endlessly and equally by our extremely hard-working parents. I feel like whenever somebody falls to addiction, the first thought of blame goes directly towards the parents, caretakers or whoever raised that person.
People who don’t know us may point the blame towards my parents, but that isn’t the case here. My father worked 20 hour days when we were young, and my mother not only cared for us but she also worked, too. I used to think of them as my own personal superheroes (and I still do). There was not one Christmas where all of our wishes didn’t come true, not one birthday where we didn’t feel like the most important person in the world, and I can’t remember a time where both my mother and father didn’t love me unconditionally.

Anybody who loves an addict knows the frustration of not having anyone to blame all too well, and it’s something I have struggled with from the beginning of this journey. It doesn’t help when you have people surrounding you who do not fully understand the situation at hand. My sister used to be my other half; she completed a void inside me that only a sister could. Though I grew up with her wiping my tears, she has unfortunately become the cause of them for a long time. We shared a room for the first six years of my life, and I often slept in her room with her when we finally got our own rooms. I loved her to no end, and I watched her slip away from me firsthand.

I always looked up to my brother, mostly because he seemed so cool. He was on the football team, won the state championships, and he had an endless amount of friends who were always so sweet to me. Both my brother and sister had amazing personalities that were often contagious, and I truly loved them with all of my heart.

It has taken me eight years to come to the realization that when the person you love becomes an addict, they are no longer the person you love. You can spend your nights trying to understand addiction, and how somebody can transform into a person so horrific right before your own eyes, but there is no understanding to it. I’m not going to go into detail about the extent of pain the both of them have caused both my parents and our surrounding family members, because there is no point. I am not writing this to convince you that they are bad people, because they aren’t. They made choices that are unfortunately the reason they are both addicts to this day. You can transform your lack of understanding into anger by blaming everybody around the addict, but it won’t change anything; and you can trust me on that.

Nobody put the needle into my sister’s arm, and nobody swallowed the pills for my brother. I can’t count the amount of times they have hurt me on both hands, because it well exceeds the amount of fingers I have. You may or may not have heard about the current drug epidemic that is engulfing northern New Jersey, but for me, it has engulfed way more than just my hometown. It seems to me as if people do not truly understand how quickly addiction sets it’s seed in someone, and how quickly it can destroy not only one life but the surrounding lives around an addict. Regardless of whether or not you live in a nice neighborhood with a perfect life, addiction shows no mercy.

For my own mental health, I keep a distance from them until they are ready to be a positive part of my life. I truly believe that they will one day heal and come back, and I will welcome them with open arms. But until then, I can only pray and work towards having the life I’ve always wanted; even if it’s without the people I need by my side. The anger that I have accumulated from ruined birthdays, stolen possessions, and the constant destruction of trust has transformed into a peace of mind that my brother and sister are not who they used to be; and that’s okay.

The next time you read an article about an overdose, or see a news segment about it, please do me a favor and say a prayer for that person and their family. We are in this together, and we will get out of this together. I hope my perspective on a topic that is not widely talked about gives both addicts and the people surrounding them a peace of mind to know that they are not alone.

Marisa Whelan

AUGUST 22, 2014

Families in Recovery (Part 1/2): Explaining Addiction

Family Drug Support

Support Line: 1300 368 186

(available 24 hours 7 days a week)

Welcome to Al-Anon Family Groups Australia

If you are troubled by the drinking of someone close to you, please call 

1300 ALANON (1300 252 666)


Addiction Specialists Doctors

  • At First Step our clinicians specialise in addiction and are qualified, experienced and competent in both addiction and mental health
  • We not only diagnose and treat the dependence but diagnose and treat the mental health issues
  • The combination of this integrated team of clinicians who specialise in addiction and our all-encompassing services means that every aspect of an individual’s recovery can be supported and provided in one location

That means patients are more likely to move from the chaos of addiction and into safe productive lives and is what sets First Step apart from other addiction treatment programs


42 Carlisle Street

St Kilda 3182

P : +61 3 9537 3177

F : +61 3 9537 0133

[email protected]



1800 888 236

24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Confidential alcohol and drug counselling and referral line.


1800 423 238

24 hours, 7 days a week

Advice and support for people who use ice, their families and health professionals.

Pharmacotherapy, Advocacy, Mediation & Support (PAMS)

1800 443 844

10am–6pm, Monday to Friday

Advice for anyone experiencing trouble with their pharmacotherapy program (Methadone, Suboxone etc.).

Youth Drug and Alcohol Advice (YoDAA) Line

1800 458 685

24 hours a day, 7 days a week

Telephone information and advice for young people and others concerned about them.



There are different support and treatment options for people recovering from drug and alcohol dependence

These can range from:

  • Withdrawal units (commonly known as detox) either medicated or unmedicated
  • Live-in residential rehabilitation or day programs
  • Community or Outreach Drug and Alcohol Services
  • Self-help meetings such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery and GROW Groups
  • Pharma-cotherapies: prescribed medication programs for heroin and other opiate dependence e.g. methadone, buprenorphine (subutex), suboxone
  • Psychologists, Psychotherapists, Social Workers or Counsellors (some can be accessed through the Medicare supported Psychologist Referral Scheme – see your local doctor for more information)



  • Not all treatments work for everyone. If your family member feels one option isn’t working for them, encourage them to try something else or support them to look into a different program or service. A combination of things can be more effective than just relying on one approach.
  • The person needs to acknowledge that they have a problem and are willing to get help. In Australia we generally don’t have options to force a person into treatment unless they are ordered by the courts (some drug-related criminal offences) or Community Services; where there are children at risk


  • Learn about recovery from drug and alcohol dependence and what’s involved.
  • Sorting out drug and alcohol issues always takes time and for most people several goes at it.
  • For some it may be a very up and down journey and the journey may be long and difficult.
  • While they are in rehab, take this time to look after yourself – medical issues, catch up with friends, reconnect with others in the family, work with your own counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Maybe join a support group.
  • Life in rehab is like life in general – there are good days and bad days and can be very emotionally turbulent. There may be days when they sound miserable or unhappy. This is not uncommon; being in a rehab program is a big adjustment as is being without drugs and alcohol.
  • They may be negative about the program, other people in the program, their case worker/counsellor. It is important not to problem solve but listen and provide emotional encouragement rather than solutions. In general it’s best to encourage the person to stay in the program.
  • Understand that the person is not just giving up drugs and alcohol they are re-shaping and reassessing their whole life and who they are.
  • Acknowledge and focus on the positives, the small steps and “successes”.
  • If you have contact with them on family or visit days do not just grill them about the program and their progress. They often want to hear about regular things; what is going on for you and the rest of the family.
  • If a person leaves the program early or is asked to leave, we may need to accept that the time just isn’t right or the program is not the right one for them. Focus on what we can do, which is to keep communicating and maintaining our relationship with our family member.

Defining the Boundary

  • What is the issue, circumstance, area of concern?
  • What do you need to achieve?
  • Examine your motive in wanting to set this boundary. Is it in response to clear thinking about an area of concern or is it an angry response to a set of circumstances?
  • If the person wasn’t using substances would you accept the behaviour? In other words it is important not to treat people differently just because they are substance users.
  • Know the distinction between them as a person and their behaviour. Even ‘I’ statements can be phased in more positive ways on occasion. Note the difference between –
  • ‘I don’t want you living at home when you’re using!’
  • ‘I don’t want you to use drugs in our home!’
  • Is the boundary encouraging them to be responsible for their life, the choices they made, their behaviour and the impact on those around them or is it just treating them like a child?
  • What are the risks of the boundary for everyone involved?
  • Using the ‘using at home’ example, the home and people within it may be safer if there is no use at home but the user may be at more risk if they then use outside the home. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer. Options and consequences have to be considered and each family may take different approaches. Child safety and protection should always be a serious consideration. The rights of young children need to be the most important element.
  • Set clear consequences for what happens if the boundary is breached. Consequences should be negotiated together including the substance user and may be graded from mild to severe. Consequences need to be appropriate to the breach and everyone needs to be able to live with them. Any action tied up in the consequence needs to come from you – the user may not be ‘made’ to do something.
  • Example:
  • “Because you used at home twice last week I am going to look for alternative living arrangements for you “– rather then “Because you used drugs last week you now have to go into rehab”?
  • How will you ‘measure’ if the boundary has been kept?
  • Is there a time limit on the boundary or does it goes on indefinitely?
  • How often and when will you review the boundary?
  • What flexibly – and it will help if there is some – will be made for changes in circumstances?
  • When and where will the boundary be set and commence?
  • Other family members of an appropriate age who live in the home should be party to the agreement partly to prevent ‘divide and rule’ circumstances. It will be no good setting a boundary where key people are not involved disagree with the boundary.
  • Is the boundary realistic at the moment in the currant circumstances?
  • Can a win/win be achieved? In other words, set the boundary in a way that you, the other family members and the drug user gain something from keeping the boundary. Boundaries set as revenge or to express your anger or to punish the drug user are doomed to failure.
  • When will the boundary commence? Immediately or is there a need for a commencement date?
  • How will you get support from within yourself or from others to be able to set and keep the boundary? How will you deal with harmful feelings and other issues that may arise? Support groups can be very important for supporting you.
  • Remember we live in the real world and not a fantasy one. The choice of a boundary is likely to be a compromise rather then the ideal you might like.
  • Be prepared to reward the drug user for respecting and keeping the boundary. They often don’t get ‘pay offs’ and it will encourage them if they see that keeping the boundary is appreciated.
  • Prepare and rehearse the discussion on setting the boundary. Imagine their likely response. Be prepared for negative reactions. Use ‘I’ statements. Rehearse the conversation going the way you would like it to.
  • Remember your needs are equal to not greater or less then those of others. Your needs are worth respecting and you are entitled to set and have boundaries kept.
  • Take your time and get it right. You can’t change other people but you can change your response to them – which may in turn invite them to change.


Detoxification Clinics

There has been over the past 10 years a dramatic shift in policy resulting in the reallocation of resources from inpatient to home based withdrawal programs. As a result there has been a significant loss of beds and the closure of a large number of facilities.

Some clinics only offer home based detoxification; if have little or no support and have played a bit to hard of late, a medical detox might be the way to go.

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1 thought on “For Families and Loved ones”

  1. Murcia Pilardo

    Thanks so much for this information,
    our family is suffering, we never sleep anymore, but we are greatful for this service, keep it up

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