‘There’s Only So Much One Person Can Do’ – A ‘Deep Dive’ of Family Support Available in Scotland

This study was carried out as an independent scoping exercise by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs. The purpose of this study was to gather an idea of the landscape of family support across Scotland and gain knowledge on this from the perspective of services themselves.

The focus of this study was any service that supported families impacted by someone else’s alcohol and drug use across Scotland. This included a range of services, such as drug and alcohol services that also supported families, carers centres, support for children and young people, and services directed at families impacted by someone else’s substance use only. Desk research and qualitative, informal conversations were used to form the contents of this study. A total of 48 services took part in the Deep Dive, which included 29 out of 31 Alcohol and Drug Partnership areas.

This research project was completed by Rebecca McColl, Scottish Families’ Policy and Research Assistant, as part of her paid internship with Scottish Families in 2021-22.

We would like to thank all of those who gave their time to speak with us for the Deep Dive. Please note this report has been produced by Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, and whilst it contains information obtained from a wealth of other services across Scotland, it does not represent the sole view of any organisation or individual who participated in the project. Any errors of interpretation remain our own.

This project was titled a ‘Deep Dive’, as previously we had not undergone any investigative work to the same extent into family support across Scotland. However, despite our best efforts, there were still services we were unable to reach, and there is the possibility there are still services unknown to us. It must be noted that whilst extensive, the findings of this project may not be wholly representative of all organisations linked to family support across Scotland.

Key Findings

  • Staff supporting families are working at or over capacity.
  • There are considerable gaps nationally in family support, particularly for young people.
  • Services feel underfunded to meet the needs in their community.

1. There is a clear lack of family support services per Alcohol and Drug Partnership area, per population.

2. Some services are, or are near, impossible to contact. This is discouraging for family members seeking support and family members in crisis.

3. Multiple services support people who live outside of their local area, mostly due to lack of family support in neighbouring areas.

4. Many areas only have family support provision due to volunteers who run groups unpaid.

5. There is no system or infrastructure that links services effectively.

6. There is an apparent ‘postcode lottery’ – what options and choices you have is directly impacted by where you live in Scotland.

7. Significant barriers remain in the way of family members seeking support in their own right, such as stigma.

8. Families are often treated as an afterthought, or a ‘box ticking’ exercise, instead of receiving adequate provision in their own right.

Overall, there was a sense there is still much to do for families impacted by someone else’s alcohol and drug use in Scotland. Funding issues, gaps, barriers and a lack of urgency to provide family members with the support they need is still a national problem.

Recommendations for Change

Although many of the issues discussed above are likely to be long-term changes, the following recommendations derived from the Deep Dive suggest what could be implemented immediately or in the near future to improve the experience of services for family members seeking support and for services themselves to get the support they need.

1. Increased funding and provision specifically for families and young people impacted by someone else’s alcohol and drug use is needed.

2. Services should ensure contact details are easily accessible and up to date to make reaching out as seamless as possible for families seeking support. Services should also offer a range of options for getting in touch, including freephone numbers, webchat and email.

3. We would encourage funding for dedicated family support teams rather than sole workers per area. The number of families who need support far exceeds the capacity for one worker.

4. The contents of ‘Families Affected by Drug and Alcohol Use in Scotland: A Framework for Holistic Whole Family Approaches and Family Inclusive Practice’ should be carefully considered and implemented by Alcohol and Drug Partnerships (as outlined in the Appendix) with progress closely monitored.

5. We would advocate for local services to strengthen connections with one another and build local networks.

Read the Report

The full report of ‘There’s Only So Much One Person Can Do – A ‘Deep Dive’ of Family Support in Scotland’ can be downloaded here.


Our Policy and Research Assistant, Rebecca McColl, featured on our podcast ‘Life with Alcohol and Drugs’ discussing the report’s findings including the gaps and barriers from services and the recommendations for change.

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