Dialog Box

15 December 2017

Substance abuse and the road to recovery

Each year around 40,000 Victorians struggle with dependence on alcohol and other drugs, resulting in long-term - and sometimes fatal - damage. But that is only part of the story, as CatholicCare discovers daily through its work supporting families who are living with the ripple effects of addiction.

In North Richmond, just one suburb away from CatholicCare’s East Melbourne office, a new safe injecting room is scheduled to open in early 2018. It will be the second one in Australia; a desperate response to an entrenched heroin problem that resulted in the overdose deaths of 34 people in the local area last year alone.

Earlier in the year, the Victorian government announced an increase in drug rehabilitation beds; part of its $81million plan to tackle the burgeoning ice epidemic.

This investment couldn’t come sooner for the emergency services, hospitals and police at the frontline of a war zone fuelled by alcohol and drug abuse. Nor for the despairing family members and friends who are also deeply affected when a loved one is battling addiction.

Because substance abuse doesn’t just effect the individual; it is literally tearing families apart.

A report by Alcohol/Drug-Involved Family Violence in Australia (ADIVA) in 2016 showed that across Australia alcohol was a factor in a third of family violence incidents. In FY15, the Crime Statistics Agency found that 6,224 incidents of reported family violence were directly related to alcohol abuse; a further 7,453 incidents recorded alcohol as a likely factor.

For the many children in these families, the effect of living in an unpredictable environment filled with fear and tension can lead to significant emotional and psychological trauma that is carried long into their future. Sadly, statistics show that domestic violence can also become a learned behaviour, perpetuating an intergenerational cycle of violence.

Since 2000, CatholicCare has been helping hundreds of people to deal with not only the immediate emotional impacts of drug use, but to get to the heart of what caused the behaviour in the first place.

‘Many of our AOD clients have experienced severe trauma or childhood neglect,’ says Chris McNamara, Senior Manager of CatholicCare’s programs in Barwon and Melbourne’s North West.

‘The absence of a positive role model, along with the influence of peers who are facing similar problems can make the journey to recovery a long and difficult one. It is important to have a strong network of support, and as such, CatholicCare programs focus on equipping family and friends with the skills to encourage and care for the client as they work through their addictions.’

‘It is one of the key strengths of our program.’

CatholicCare’s Alcohol and Other Drug Family Service offers a range of specialist counselling, support groups and community education programs for individuals and families supporting someone through substance abuse. The services are currently based in Epping, Footscray and Wyndham Vale.

The staff see many cases where substance abuse has resulted in family breakdown culminating in a court-mandated counselling process. These sessions focus on getting both parents to think and act in the best interests of the children, minimising conflict through the ensuing separation.

They also see many complex cases; with clients often requiring support for multiple issues, including mental health issues, financial hardship, unstable or unsuitable housing, and legal matters, along with Family Law and Criminal Law issues.

‘When we work with clients presenting with complex problems, we usually see that these are interconnected,’ says Chris. ‘The path where one problem repeatedly snowballs into the next is extremely hard to navigate. By working with a client to slowly unravel those problems they see that things can change. At CatholicCare we refer many clients to our other specialist programs, and to external agencies, depending on what they need. Our focus is always on getting our client back on their feet, regardless of who provides the service.’

This wraparound service is fundamental to CatholicCare’s work and a key driver for success. Their approach is one that strengthens a person’s ability to build positive relationships which is key to breaking the cycle of abuse and building resilience to walk the difficult path to recovery.

And for many clients like the one below, it is a path they no longer take alone.

‘I am now on the journey of recovery. I feel well equipped knowing I have [CatholicCare] and my husband walking with me – I feel that I have a guide helping me to watch and listen to myself and strive to keep things in tow as much as I can. I know I am not perfect and the process of recovery will have its hiccups and it’s the way I learn from my mistakes that is important.’ ~ CatholicCare client

This story was first published in Connect: a newsletter for supporters of CatholicCare, Summer 2017. 

If you, or someone you know, needs assistance in dealing with substance abuse, please contact us at 03 9287 5555 or through our website here.

Want to help? If you would like to find out more about how you can support our Alcohol and Other Drug services, please contact our Donor Relations team on 03 9287 5517 or donate here.


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