The Family Recovery College

What is the Family Recovery College?

The Family Recovery College offers a free informal 12-week online course, Understanding Substance Use and Holding on to Hope, for anyone living in Scotland concerned about someone else’s alcohol or drug use. We will support you to build knowledge, skills, and confidence to support yourself and your loved one.

Students on the course will:

  • Increase their positive connection with others
  • Develop communication strategies to improve relationships
  • Improve self-care and emotional wellbeing
  • Improve understanding of substance use through new knowledge and skills
  • Feel empowered to influence change in their lives and the lives of their loved one

We developed this course in the spring/summer of 2019 with a group of family members who have their own lived experience of supporting a loved one with problematic drug/alcohol use. Our course advisors worked with us to design, deliver and evaluate the project to ensure that it was helpful and relevant to student’s needs.

‘Thought it was going to be more formal but it’s been very relaxed and I’ve not been afraid to ask about anything.’  – Student on the 2019 course
“I could see a really big change in some of the students from the beginning of the course to the end. The students that didn’t really speak or needed encouragement in participating at the start were engaging and smiling at the end of the course. Some memories for me came up about how I used to feel the way the students did at the recovery college. I empathised with them and it showed me personally how far I have come in my journey of recovery in being affected by someone else’s addiction. I’m glad I can help support causes such as the recovery college and my own support group to help people in this time of their life. So, I felt a bit sad if had come to an end but really happy that it had a positive effect on the students.”  – Course Advisor for the 2019 course

Why the Family Recovery College is Important

Family members and friends often take on the primary role of caring for or supporting their loved ones. Due to the secrecy, shame and stigma of supporting a loved one with an alcohol/drug problem, often there is little acknowledgement or support for those doing the supporting. Many people find themselves experiencing long-term mental health and physical health conditions, often related to the challenges and stress of their caring role. We hope that the Family Recovery College will help students feel empowered to support themselves and their loved ones.

“Gave you food for thought and able to look at things differently”
“I feel that I have benefitted from the recovery aspect and I am now more able to identify my priorities regarding self-care.”  – Students on the 2019 course

What will the course cover?

The course will cover the most up-to-date information and knowledge of drug and alcohol use. We will hear from family and friends who have lived/living experiences. We will run a series of sessions on positive communication based on the CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) principles. We will spend time thinking about our self-care and well-being. We will discuss stigma and think about what it means for us, our loved ones and our community.

Who can attend the course? 

Anyone aged 16 years and older affected by another person’s drug or alcohol use is welcome to attend. That includes biological and non-biological families, LGBT+ people and families, families with or without children, friends, partners, siblings, young people, older people, foster carers, kinship carers, neighbours, work colleagues, etc.  

We hope to make the Family Recovery College accessible to all. Please do not hesitate to contact us if there is anything additional we can do to make you feel welcomed and included.  

Our Anti-Discrimination Statement 

The Family Recovery College (FRC) is opposed to discrimination in all its forms, including on the basis of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, class, appearance, national origin, cultural background, ethnicity or religion/belief.

The FRC believes that all course participants, staff, course advisors, speakers and workshop facilitators have the right to be treated with fairness and respect. We will not tolerate or condone discriminatory behaviour from anyone involved in the college.

We value the cultural and social diversity of the FRC and believe that this diversity is an asset to the college.

I want to join the course!

To find out more information on when a course is starting and how to join, contact either:

Debra Nelson: 07379 830357  or

Tich Watson: 07775 252380 or 

The programme is certificated by Scottish Families as the Scottish Government’s Nationally Commissioned Organisation (NCO) for families affected by addiction. 

Developing the Family Recovery College Values 

Imagining and designing the FRC was where we began, and our course advisors discussed values and ideas from their own experiences that communicated their hopes for FRC students:   

self-care, resilience, safety, the wellbeing of students, financial support, ‘we will support you’, building your strength, self-worth, hospitable, it’s not the family member or significant others fault/responsibility, no guilt or shame, hopeful, empathetic, ‘get GP’s on board, ‘education is key’ confidentiality, inclusivity, non-judgemental, helpful, ‘understanding hopes and fears’, funded treatment for every family member, respect, positive, ‘I have choices’, welcoming, ‘normalise family support (stigma)’, supportive, educational, open and frank discussion, ‘get the police involved’, ‘I want them to have joy’. 

And from these course advisors chose five core values: 

Education: to enable people to separate their loved ones from alcohol and/or drug use. 

Inclusion: all people who are affected by someone else’s drug/alcohol use are welcome. We recognise that not everyone has the same story.  

Hope and Positivity: we want students to leave the course with a sense of hope. 

Confidentiality: Participation and information shared will remain private and confidential. 

Non-Judgemental: the FRC is a safe and supportive environment that will challenge the stigma placed on people who use drugs and those that care about them. 

Evaluating our impact 

We used a combination of evaluation tools to assess the impact of the first course in 2019, one of which was the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEBMS).  

80% of 2019 students experienced a positive meaningful change to their wellbeing when comparing their pre-participation and post-participation WEBMS scores.

The graph below shows changes in student wellbeing overall: 

  • At both the start and end of the course no students scored in the high well-being category. 
  • At the start of the course 80% of students scored in the low well-being category. By the end of the course, this reduced to 30% of students scoring in the low well-being category. 
  • At the start of the course, 20% scored in the moderate wellbeing category. Positively, this increased to 70% by the end of the course. 

Key limitations: the small student numbers/sample size do hinder the reliability of these results. 

We also developed an in-house evaluation tool with course advisors based on the outcomes we hoped to see. There was a positive change to the mean score for all 10 questionnaire items.   

The 6 questionnaire items evidencing significant positive change were: 

Q1: I feel a positive sense of connection to other people in my life 

Q3: I feel that my overall well-being is good 

Q4: I place value on my self-care and wellbeing even when I am worried about my loved one. 

Q6: I feel that I have the knowledge and skills to communicate with and support my loved ones. 

Q7: I feel empowered to make a change in my life when I need to 

Q10: I have hope that things can change in my loved one’s life 

Key limitations: this measure is not validated because we made it up and again the small student numbers hinder the reliability of results. 

Our Learning

What have we learned through the process of developing and designing this course with family members?  

Don’t do it to or for people… Do it with people! It takes lots of energy and extra time, but it is incredibly worth it. Take time in the planning and make the most of local expertise and knowledge. Co-production means you cannot see what the outcomes will look like, but if you trust the process of listening and responding to what people know they need themselves, you will be amazed at what happens.   

We asked our course advisors to reflect on their role and experience as course advisors. Here’s what they had to say…  

Is there anything you feel that Scottish Families could do to improve the experience for future course advisors? 

‘Maybe being a bit more involved in the Recovery College class days i.e speak about their experience in things i.e stigma, any training they have had that they could help within the classes. But overall the experience was excellent.’

How (if at all) did being a Course Advisor impact your own life? 

‘It impacted on myself with nothing other than positivity. My own confidence has come on leaps and bounds. Before doing this I use to feel that my thoughts ideas opinions were not relevant and being part of this has shown me that this can’t be far more further from the truth. The inclusion of the course advisor has been excellent. The support and encouragement from the SFAD staff have been second to none. It’s been one of my own highlights in my life to be part of The Recovery College. Was a bit sad to see it end but to see what has been created is really emotional for me and I am so proud to say that I was a course advisor with the recovery college.’

It has given me a sense of self-worth and the feeling that my opinions and lived experience matter.’

Was there anything you learned from this experience that will help you in the future?

‘To be more vocal about changing stigma.’

‘The knowledge that I gained from other people while working with them will give me a solid basis for teamwork in the future.’

‘That it’s good to just be me. No need to feel I need to fit in and become someone else to fit in. When you feel so strongly to help others and work with like-minded people anything is possible.’

‘So much!! How powerful your love is!! It affirmed some of my actions and helped me reflect and hopefully change others. The power of being with the other advisers and supporting the students as well as each other…good to talk …good to listen!!’

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