Celebrating International Family Drug Support Day
February 24, 2023 marked International Family Drug Support Day, an initiative started back in 2016 to draw attention to the importance of families affected by alcohol and/or drugs, including the benefits of supporting families.
International Family Drug Support Day is facilitated by Family Drug Support, an organisation that aims to assist families throughout Australia to deal with alcohol and other drugs issues in a way that strengthens relationships and achieves positive outcomes.
This year’s International Family Drug Support Day aimed to highlight how providing education, promoting awareness and sharing tips on how to cope and keep safe are critical to improving outcomes for the families of individuals who use drugs.
Events are held in most Australian major cities, and in the USA, Ireland and Hong Kong to support this important Day. This year, Adelaide’s event was held at Parliament House on Wednesday 22 February, hosted by Chris Picton MP of the Labor Party.
The overarching theme for this year’s event was ‘Support the Family, Improve the Outcome’ and focused specifically on promoting harm reduction as a way to help keep everyone safe.
Speaking of the theme, Tony Trimingham, Founder and CEO, Family Drug Support states, “Any family anywhere, regardless of background, economic and other circumstances can be affected by drugs. Adopting a compassionate rather than moralistic and punitive approach will help save lives and benefit the whole community.”
The objectives for the event included:
- Continuing to push for productive changes in drug policy based on evidence and reducing harm.
- Reducing stigma and discrimination for families and drug users.
- Promoting Family Drug Support services for families and friends.
- Promoting harm reduction strategies for families and friends.
- Promoting the importance and benefits of supporting families.
- Acknowledging the important role of FDS volunteers in providing family support across Australia.
- Promoting greater support and resources for treatment services.
Debby Kadarusman, In-Home Withdrawal Coordinator at Sonder was delighted to have been invited to attend the event as a speaker.
Debby provided a captivating speech, focused on one of the International Family Drug Support Day’s objectives of “reducing stigma and discrimination for families and drug users” –
“…With the objective of ‘reducing stigma and discrimination for families and drug users’ in mind, one particular person came to my thoughts. Let’s call this person “Tiffany” – this is obviously not their real name.
Tiffany was someone who moved to Australia as a child. Their family was big on living as an “Australian” and assimilating into this country. They wanted a life of just doing as everyday Australians did and to just blend into society and live a “normal and peaceful life”.
However, Tiffany struggled through childhood and teen years to “blend in” as they were “othered” by their peers. Too different, you see to “truly” be just any other ordinary Australian.
So, how did Tiffany move through those difficult emotions and quash this feeling that they were unable to be their authentic self? Through the use of substances.
Through methamphetamine, Tiffany found the courage to have fun and experience new things.
Through alcohol, Tiffany was invited to parties and had a social avenue.
Through cannabis, Tiffany found a group of friends, with their common link to each other being cannabis.
After years of use, Tiffany’s ability to function effectively in everyday life diminished and the relationship with their “live a quiet normal life” family was broken.
Fast forward to 3 years ago, after finding support through a withdrawal and AOD counselling program and peer connections in an AOD support group, Tiffany was able to become abstinent and regain a functioning life and more importantly to them, their family’s trust, love, and acceptance.
But let’s fast forward again to today. Tiffany continued over the years to engage with an AOD counsellor and is the healthiest (both physically and mentally) they have ever been. Tiffany has found a passion for nutrition and physical health and, more importantly, lives a life that is true and authentic to themselves, with meaningful relationships with others who not only accept but celebrate who Tiffany is.
However, Tiffany’s relationship with their family has returned to being conditional. Why? Because Tiffany is not abstinent.
Through Tiffany’s own hard work with professional and peer supports, Tiffany made the conscious decision that they had the tools to change their relationship with substances, identifying that they better aligned with the strategy of harm minimization over abstinence.
Whilst Tiffany understood that abstinence was the most suitable harm reduction and demand reduction strategy for their use of cannabis, they had developed a different understanding around their use of alcohol and had developed enough tools to increase their ability to manage alcohol use.
Despite hard work, informed decision-making, and conscious use of their learned tools to keep healthy, Tiffany is plagued with feelings of shame, disappointment, and anger when interacting with their family.
When Tiffany was abstinent, their family displayed feelings of pride and joy but upon learning that Tiffany was no longer abstinent, these feelings were replaced with questions and looks of mistrust which left Tiffany feeling that they must now return to hiding parts of themselves and living a conditional life.
So, what does this tell us? Unfortunately, Tiffany’s family is not unique in their understanding and belief that abstinence is the option for people with substance use concerns.
The reality is, substance use does occur on a continuum, even for those who have had troubled relationships with use. However, this belief that abstinence is the only way hinders the growth and development of people who are re-developing their own relationships with substances.
Despite Tiffany’s efforts and the fact that Tiffany now lives a very healthy and meaningful life, this does not matter for Tiffany’s family who has now returned to seeing Tiffany as a disappointment and failure, as they only see Tiffany through the lens of substance use.
So why did I want to share Tiffany’s story? Because Tiffany is definitely not unique in their experiences with their family.
We as a sector still have a lot of work to do to celebrate the changes Tiffany has made, to share the stories like Tiffany’s, to say that meaningful, happy, healthy living is possible, to bring hope and light to families and society that Tiffany is still just like “you”, that you can achieve success with some level of use occurring.
We need to bring in the family, include family, and support family, in each treatment journey so they are able to change their own understanding of substance use.
So today, I want to celebrate Tiffany, and all the others like Tiffany, who have put in the hard efforts to change their lives and feel free and liberated at living their truest form of self. Let’s share more stories of all the different ways of “successful living” someone can achieve, so everyone can feel connected and celebrated as they should.
To learn more about Family Drug Support, visit fds.org.au
There are a range of services available in South Australia for people who experience problems with alcohol and other drugs. To find a service near you, visit Know Your Options. This website provides individuals, families and health professionals with a directory of services and information about treatment options and selecting a service.
To learn more about Sonder’s alcohol and other drugs services, visit sonder.net.au/alcohol-other-drugs