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Supporting the families of drug and alcohol users

Making It Happen is an Adfam guide for commissioners, service managers & frontline professionals to use in developing effective support for adult family members.

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This is a guest post from Oliver Standing of Adfam.

Making it Happen

In recent years a growing evidence base has developed around the range of harms experienced by families affected by a loved one’s substance use, and the benefits, value and cost-savings in providing support. Reports such as Hidden Harm, Labour’s ‘Think Family’ agenda and The Munro Review (2011) have put the needs of children affected by addiction firmly on the map (though much remains to be done to resource this and ensure timely and effective support for those who need it). However, there has remained a lack of recognition of adult family member’s support needs, and a lack of guidance in this area, a gap highlighted by the UK Drug Policy Commission in 2012.

Support in their own right

Adfam has always advocated for support for family members in their own right, as well as for appropriate involvement in a loved one’s care, to help reduce the stress resulting from both the substance use itself and the at times rocky recovery journey, and to improve outcomes for all. This is why we have developed Making It Happen, a practical guide for commissioning teams, service managers and frontline professionals to use in developing effective support for adult family members, whatever their context.  Increasingly, family support is becoming integrated with treatment services. This provides an opportunity but also a risk as family and carer outcomes rarely enjoy the same level of focus and reporting as core treatment criteria. Family needs and support can be sidelined, making them, quite literally, the poor relation.

In this time of localism and shrinking resources we feel it’s vital commissioning teams and those responsible for service design address the needs of this under-recognised group. Making It Happen is a clear, practical best-practice guide to designing and implementing services for adult family members which address their, often, significant needs and contribute to better outcomes for all.


Making It Happen outlines:

  • the positive outcomes which can result from effective support for families, both in terms of their own health and wellbeing outcomes and those of the person in recovery
  • the essential components of family support: one-to-one practitioner support; information and guidance; and peer support (either one-to-one or in a group setting)
  • the essential characteristics of family support: recognition of the needs of family members in their own right, not just as “recovery capital”; a warm, supportive client-centred ethos; and the involvement of family members in service design
  • the structured evidence-based interventions that exist for families affected by substance use, such as 5-step, CRAFT and SMART
  • the modes of delivery of family support in a local area: through a dedicated community support group; through a treatment service; through a “generic” carers centre; or through a combination of options

The information above is illustrated with case-studies of real services, and there are practical and easy to use sections of generating evidence and outcomes around family support and how to put it all in practice. The resource concludes with a self-assessment checklist which commissioners or service managers can use to assess the level and efficacy of support in their area.

Whilst we very much recognise that in a time of pressure on budgets all round this might describe a gold-standard rather than an easily achievable model we feel it’s crucial to outline that ideal as something that can be worked towards. The guide can also therefore be used by practitioners and service-managers as an advocacy tool in conversations and negotiations about the shape of the service. If you would like further information on Adfam’s packages to support review and implementation of family support provision in your local area, please email us.

Download Making it Happen here (pdf).


 Blog posts in the drug and alcohol category are kindly sponsored by Breaking Free Group which has developed a powerful and adaptable digital health platform which targets the underlying psychological and lifestyle factors that drive addictive behaviours. Breaking Free has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.


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