Information for Families

We know on average it takes a family member 8 years to come forward for support and that for every person who uses alcohol or drugs, 11 people are impacted. When we first start to get to know family members, they have so much to tell us, so much that they want us to understand, so much that they want to offload. Often talking to us will be the first time they have spoken to anyone outside their family about what they have been experiencing, they may not have even spoken to close family or friends.

Family members are often exhausted, demoralised, frightened and sad. Our role is to re-energise and encourage them to discover the skills they have and to help them see that they can be empowered to make choices and move forward in a positive way.

We have included some information below that may be helpful for you right now, whatever situation you find yourself in. We know reaching out for support can be hard, and we are here for you when you are ready. If you have any questions or want to know about our support services, please contact our helpline team who will be ready to answer any questions you have.

Mental Health

Knowing someone who uses alcohol and drugs can cause a lot of strain on our own mental health. Everyone is different, but we have included below some of the challenges that family members we support have told us about.

Stress and Worry: Having constant concerns and worries about someone’s health and the future can be mentally exhausting. We may start catastrophising and not looking forward to the future, always thinking something bad will happen to us. Over time this can cause further mental health problems and exacerbate existing ones, so we may feel more physical and emotional signs of poor health like aches and pains.

Anxiety: You may feel constant anxiety about the person you care for. If they are strong feelings or last a long time, they can become overwhelming. You may have symptoms like tense muscles, headaches, feeling dizzy, not able to concentrate and difficulty sleeping. Anxiety can impact your ability to live your life as you want to, and without any support, it will become more and more difficult to manage.

Isolation and Loneliness: When caring for someone who uses alcohol and drugs, you may limit your social interactions and hobbies which can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. You may even be afraid to leave your home, fearing what people might say to you or not wanting to put on a brave face for what is going on. Your life can feel very different to others and it can seem like others don’t understand.

Less Time For Yourself: Balancing looking after someone with personal well-being can be challenging. It can affect our overall physical health and self-care. You may not have time for yourself or feel down and just not able to do the things you enjoy. You may feel your time is taken up by the person you are caring for or taken up by constantly worrying about what could happen.

Money Worries: The costs of loving someone who uses alcohol and drugs can have monetary costs such as paying for rent, food, clothing, heating, electricity, presents, alcohol, cigarettes, etc., leaving you with financial stress and worries.

Lack of Sleep: Constant worries and fears can lead to a lack of sleep and insomnia that can affect your mental health, your physical well-being, and your relationships with the people around you. It could affect your work too.

Low Self-Esteem: Looking after someone can affect your self-esteem, you might lose confidence in yourself and your ability to do anything in your life. You might have had to give up your work, losing an important part of yourself. It’s essential to remember your worth beyond this role.

Depression: The challenges of looking after someone can make you feel low or depressed. You may develop unhealthy ways of coping, such as not talking to anyone or even using alcohol and drugs yourself. Feelings of being frustrated and hopeless can also make you feel like harming yourself or ending your own life.

You are not alone. And it’s also perfectly normal to experience these emotions when you are affected by someone else’s substance use. Reaching out for support from family, friends, professionals, services like Scottish Families, and your doctor, can make a significant positive difference in your mental health. Your mental health matters too and taking care of yourself is a priority.

Creative Coping

We understand that dealing with the impact of a loved one’s substance use can be challenging. To help families find solace, empowerment, and a sense of purpose during difficult times, we run our Creative Coping programme.

We believe that creativity knows no bounds. The Creative Coping Group has seen family members engaging in a wide array of creative activities, such as gardening, baking, songwriting, sewing, creative writing, poetry, crochet, photography, and much more. Being creative gives us a supportive space where we can explore our unique ways of coping. Creative activities empower us and give us personal growth, self-confidence and emotional healing.

Photography is a therapeutic outlet for many of us. Most mobile phones now come equipped with a camera. This means we carry a camera in our pockets, ready to capture moments of inspiration, beauty, and emotion at any time. Photography allows us to channel our emotions and find a positive space, whether we’re capturing the wonders of nature, the faces of our loved ones, impressive buildings, delicious meals, beautiful landscapes, or our loving pets. Through the lens of a camera, we can see the good in each day. Even with life’s difficulties, moments of happiness and love can be found.

Creativity is not limited to those who consider themselves naturally artistic. It is a quality that anyone can tap into and embrace. Many family members have expressed how challenging it can be to express their emotions and make time for self-care amid life’s chaos. Creative Coping encourages self-care, self-expression, and moments of peace.

We encourage you to explore your creative side. Whether it’s something you already enjoy or a new passion waiting to be discovered, take that time for yourself and create. The power of creativity is within us all, and it can be a valuable tool for personal growth and emotional healing.


Mindfulness is a powerful tool when you are affected by someone else’s substance use. It gives us self-awareness, emotional regulation, and resilience in the face of challenging situations. By practicing mindfulness regularly, you can acknowledge your feelings and reactions without judgement, and have a deeper understanding of your own needs and boundaries.

Mindfulness gives you the tools to maintain your well-being. It’s a pathway to find strength and clarity when life is chaotic, helping you to heal and grow.

There are plenty of mindfulness tools and information available on the internet. We recommend some of the links below to get started.


We currently offer bereavement counselling at Scottish Families and we are advocates for counselling and therapy in general. If you are interested in counselling for your mental health or anything else, it is best to speak with your doctor or to reach out to charities and services that can provide this. If you’re not sure where to start, our helpline team would be happy to try and answer any questions.

Counselling lets you explore the emotions that can come with grief and the challenges faced by those who have lost a loved one. It can help us adapt to life without our loved ones after their death. We experience many conflicting emotions when we are grieving. It’s normal to feel guilty, sad, angry, or even relieved after a loved one dies. These emotions can coexist and are an essential part of the grieving process. With alcohol and drugs, some deaths can be sudden and unexpected which leaves us without the chance of saying goodbye and can cause us more grief and distress.

Counselling provides a safe space for us to express our feelings and navigate the complicated emotional landscape of loss. Counsellors help us work through our emotions, including those we may not fully understand or accept. The goal of bereavement counselling is not to ‘recover’ from grief but to adapt to life without our loved ones and eventually find moments of joy and continue living.

Being ready for counselling can be tough. We may be unsure if we are prepared for it, or we may think we’ll have a different experience from what we’re anticipating. Counsellors usually provide us with options to try a session and see if it feels right for us first. If we feel overwhelmed, we can take a step back which is perfectly acceptable.

Counselling offers a range of benefits. It creates a safe and non-judgemental environment for us to explore our emotions. We can find relief in knowing there is no fixed timeline to ‘get better’, which allows us to navigate our feelings at our own pace. It can help us with clarity, self-awareness, acceptance and forgiveness.

There are different kinds of counselling approaches which include psychodynamic, cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and humanistic approaches. These approaches can be tailored to our needs and it’s best to speak to your counsellor about what will suit you the best.

There is a difference between support and counselling. Support often involves practical assistance, information, and a safe space to talk about life and what is happening. Counselling is longer, more in-depth, and focused on emotional healing, self-awareness and adaption.

If you are interested in bereavement counselling with Scottish Families, please get in touch with us through our helpline and we’d be more than happy to help you.

Positive Communication

Talking about someone’s substance use to them, or even to somebody else about them, can be challenging. These conversations can cause stress, concern, and anger, and the person may not respond the way you expected them to.

Effective and positive communication is a good skill to build strong relationships and resolve conflict. We have included some information below for talking to someone about their substance use. Everyone is different, and it’s important to know that if something doesn’t work the first time, don’t give up. It can be challenging to accept that someone you care about is making concerning choices in their life. You cannot change them, but you can express your concerns and feelings to them.

We have our one-to-one support team who offer more in-depth support, and positive communication is one of the subjects they look at and can support you with. If you are interested in this kind of support, please contact our helpline.

Take time to prepare: Take some time to plan your thoughts before speaking to the person. Write down what you’d like to say. Planning your words in advance helps to avoid unnecessary or lengthy discussions, particularly when our emotions are running high.

Timing matters: Consider the best moment to start the conversation. Is it during the day, after work, or when they are alone? Choose a time when they are most likely to be receptive, relaxed, and focused. Avoid having the conversation with other people there as this can cause discomfort and embarrassment. Trust your judgement to choose the right setting.

Listen: Listening is just as important as speaking. Be open to their thoughts and feelings, even if you don’t agree with what they are saying. Using open-ended questions and encouraging them to talk can change the conversation from a lecture or attack to something constructive and positive. Acknowledge their feelings and share your own, paying attention to their tone and body language to understand their emotions.

Some things to avoid: During your conversation, try to avoid interrupting, raising your voice, being dismissive, assuming you know best, changing the subject due to discomfort, blaming or finger-pointing, being defensive, and failing to listen to the person’s words.

Try to not say things like “You have to…” which is ordering, “It would be best if you…” which is advising, “You were being stupid” which is judging, “Do you realise…?” which is lecturing, “I can’t deal with this” which is avoiding, and “Why do you do it?” which is interrogating.

Express your feelings: Emotional responses can show empathy and consideration when they are appropriately expressed. Share your feelings calmly and without accusation, use “I” statements to encourage understanding of the impact their behaviour is having on you such as “I feel really sad and alone when you are drinking.”

Show understanding: Acknowledge the reasons behind a person’s behaviour and what they are doing, this will make them feel less defensive. The more they know you understand them, the more likely they are to listen and speak to you.

Setting Boundaries

Boundaries set out what is considered reasonable and unreasonable in any relationship. They can give us trust, stability, and respect, and they can avoid conflict. By setting boundaries, you can limit the impact of someone’s behaviour. Boundaries let you assert your own needs to make you feel more secure and respected.

You can’t change someone else, but you have control over your own responses.

We have our one-to-one support team who offer more in-depth support, and setting boundaries is one of the subjects they look at and can support you with. If you are interested in this kind of support, please contact our helpline.

We have included some basic information below on setting and maintaining a boundary.

Before you set a boundary, ask yourself:

  • What do I want the boundary to address?
  • What outcome am I aiming for?
  • Why am I setting the boundary? Is it based on anger or thoughtful consideration?
  • Would I tolerate this behaviour from someone not using alcohol or drugs? Should they be treated differently?

You could also consider the options below. You don’t need to cover every point, but this is a helpful starting point for thinking about your boundaries.

  • Does the boundary encourage personal responsibility?
  • What are the risks for both the person and everyone in the family?
  • Clearly outline the consequences for breaking the boundary
  • Think about how you’ll make sure the boundary is working
  • Assess the impact on others affected by the boundary such as siblings, neighbours, etc.
  • Consider whether a reward for maintaining the boundary is appropriate like going out for dinner or watching a film together.

Once you have your boundary, it’s time to set it and make sure that everyone involved agrees.

Make sure to:

  • Listen to each other
  • Be open and honest about your feelings
  • Respect the other person’s perspective even if you don’t agree
  • Avoid taking responsibility for their behaviour and choices
  • Acknowledge and express your feelings and why the boundary is being set.

When you are ready to negotiate your boundary, you should:

  • Explain the boundary clearly, why you are setting it, and what would happen if it were broken
  • Start gently and take the time to explain
  • Be flexible and open to compromise

The person may not want to negotiate and follow the boundary. If this happens, you can consider setting a boundary to talk more together. It’s smaller and achievable and may make it easier to set the next boundary.

It can be difficult to keep boundaries, so don’t be disappointed if your boundary does not work with the person. You can always try again, or our team are here to support you with it. It is challenging, but it’s important to know you can get support with this.

To keep the boundary, you should monitor any changes (i.e., if it is broken, or not being met), acknowledge when it’s kept or when it’s broken, and respond appropriately if it’s broken.

People who have an alcohol or drug problem often lapse into previous behaviours when boundaries are first set. They may be reluctant to change their behaviour, act out, find it hard to change, and be difficult to talk with. But your boundaries are important and should be respected. If it is broken, you should consider your response thoughtfully without making excuses for the person. You can then respond to them, express your feelings of disappointment, and re-set the boundary or change it.

When you are first setting boundaries, they may be broken, and the person may apologise for this. But is it enough? Well, there is no right or wrong answer and what matters is your choice in each situation. Apologies can be sincere expressions of remorse and guilt. But they can also be attempts for sympathy, manipulation, or not being genuine. Consider the apology and ask yourself if it is sincere or not. Keep in mind that actions often speak louder than words.

We use cookies. By browsing our site you agree to our use of cookies.