Carers of substance misusers suffer as needs are neglected

Sally Anfilogoff considers the importance of carers’ assessments and why for one group of people they can be so difficult to get

Services for carers of people who misuse substances are scarce. And with drug and alcohol teams tending to be based in health care settings rather than in social care, carers’ assessments are difficult to obtain.

I have been organising training on carers’ assessments for substance misuse teams – and it has been a real learning experience for me. I have found that many workers don’t have access to the same kinds of resources available to social care teams. Add to that a lack of knowledge about what constitutes a carers’ service and you have workers who may be ill-placed to offer carers’ assessments and thus access to services.

So what can workers in substance misuse do? First, find out whether there is an assessment form that can be used. You can get one from the local social services team and use that as a basis for talking to carers, or you could design your own.

Remember, though, the form isn’t the assessment – the most important thing is to take time to talk to the carer alone to find out what support would be most helpful and what outcomes they would most like. They may want to regain their social life or perhaps even to stop caring.

The kinds of concerns the carers of this group identify are similar to those of any carer, although they will have the additional problem of the stigma. Questions they need answering include: What does the diagnosis mean? What treatments are available? What can I expect to happen to the service user in the near future and longer term? Is there an out-of-hours emergency telephone number or do I just call 999? Is it OK to call 999 if I’m frightened or scared? Are there any national or local organisations or community services that can help?

Providing answers to these types of questions may deal with most of the needs of the carer.

Although there may well be little in the way of tangible services for this care group and respite is often not an option by using a checklist approach (the carers role breaks/social life money/benefits education/training/employment practical and emotional support the future caring role emergencies), you can help people find ways to enlist some support for the carer that will make a difference even in a small way: perhaps through some domestic help, an emergency plan, an exit strategy for when they can no longer care, a list of local support groups and places they can go for support. Having access to a social group where people understand what it is like to care for someone with a drink or drug problem is appreciated too.

Further information
For more information about support for carers and families of those who misuse substances see and

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