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A national newsletter on substance misuse management in primary care NETWORK

rates. The opportunity should also be taken to address social issues that could compromise parenting and lead to poor social outcomes.

Instead of trying to prevent drug using women from having children (which will be almost invariably unsuccessful) a more profitable approach would be to

Patricia Boydell describes the important work of Harbour, a family support group. Ed.

Harbour Project

help women to address their problems, to explore their aspirations with regard to having children and to ensure any pregnancies they do have are intended and optimally timed for the best possible medical and social outcomes. Primary care services are ideally placed to play a leading role in this area with enormous potential for reducing the impact of problem drug

As well as providing in house drug awareness training we organise various self help courses and arrange holistic therapy sessions. We apply for a special grant to enable parents to take respite breaks such as a meal out or a theatre trip. We invite a variety of speakers to group meetings to talk about aspects of their work which may be useful to our members. We also keep up to date by undertaking relevant training and regularly attend conferences to meet with likeminded people and to share good practice. We have a newsletter and a seven day telephone helpline which is manned by a trained volunteer. Everything we undertake at Harbour is to help parents feel less stressed and to arm them with knowledge that will help them cope more easily with their situation.

Harbour Project is a voluntary organisation in Bolton, Lancashire which offers support to anyone who is concerned about another’s substance misuse. Harbour began over 15 years ago when two mothers whose sons were using heroin couldn’t find any help or support for themselves. They applied for financial help, obtained a room for meetings − and that was the beginning of Harbour. Over the years Harbour has grown, providing support and advice to many hundreds of families. We are currently funded by Bolton Adult Services. Referrals are received from local drug agencies, probation, FRANK, doctors, police, and others through word of mouth and personal recommendations.

What can Harbour offer?

The primary aim of Harbour is to support those who are affected by another’s drug or alcohol misuse. Parents and carers need and are entitled to help in their own right − not as an appendage to the substance misusers’ treatment, but simply because families are important and need to take care of themselves. Harbour provides a refuge where people can share experiences, get issues off their chests and discuss their problems with others who are experiencing similar emotions and difficulties.

and guilt is attached to having a son or daughter who is using drugs

“ So much blame

Why do parents need support – what is happening in their lives?

When a parent first discovers their child is using drugs they often feel the worst possible thing has happened. They panic, deny it is happening, and get angry with the child and with themselves. They focus all their attention on the user. The health of a parent may suffer greatly with many experiencing stress related illnesses, anxiety and insomnia. They no longer socialise, they’re not sure if friends understand, and they feel they can’t trust others with their secret.

Parents feel guilty, ashamed, stigmatised, and isolated. So much blame and guilt is attached to having a son or daughter who is using drugs. Meanwhile, life can become a roller coaster with the substance user demanding money causing huge financial problems. Some parents spent thousands, because in their own way they are trying to keep the drug user out of trouble. But despite this many still get arrested for drug related crimes. A number of Harbour members have had a family member in prison and


use on the children of drug using mothers and reducing the intergenerational effects of health inequalities. It is an opportunity which should not be missed.

Dr Mary Hepburn, Consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Glasgow

we have supported them through what can be a traumatic time especially when, on release, there is no accommodation for their family member and parents feel pressurised into accommodating them once more in the family home with all the problems that this can bring. Sometimes parents reach a state where they feel as though they can’t bear any more but it is surprising how they do. They gain the ability to rationalise and tolerate things that were once unthinkable, widening goal posts to accommodate the user’s increasing chaotic behaviour. These are just some of the emotions and problems parents face.

What are the benefits of belonging to a support group?

Most parents arrive at Harbour at the end of their tether. Some want a magic cure, but unfortunately there aren’t any and becoming free from drugs or alcohol can be a long and complicated process. Harbour helps parents to recognise this and with support and encouragement helps them learn to live in a different way. Just knowing there is someone there who completely understands can be an enormous help, and parents learn and grow along side each other and no longer feel isolated. We never cast blame or judge but we do advocate setting clear boundaries, to try to refuse their family member’s demands for money and encourage members to take more care of themselves. The problem may stay the same but parents learn better coping strategies and try to handle the situation in a more positive way, and as a result they become less stressed and more able to take control of their own lives. Another significant factor of belonging to a support group is the many special friendships that are forged within the group.

For the future, we hope that different agencies and organisations can work together to maximise their various skills and resources instead of working in semi- isolation. We might then see a change for the better because all families really want is an end to their ongoing problems, hope for the future and the opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.

Patricia Boydell, Harbour Facilitator

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