Interdependence Between Alcohol Use and Mental Health Within the Family

 

Mental health problems affect around one in four people each year. Some people with mental health issues self-prescribe with alcohol and/or illicit drugs as an ill advised way of managing their mental health difficulties.

According to the World Health Organisation, half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, and, unsurprisingly, the “harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs among adolescents is a major issue”.

At last month's NHS SMPA annual conference, Josh Connolly, ambassador for NACOA (The National Association for Children of Alcoholics) talked about how addressing alcohol dependency  as an illness that affects not only the adult who is drinking, but the family as a whole, has been successful in helping to prevent, support and raise awareness with children and young people struggling with alcoholism in the family. Josh explained how his father’s alcohol dependency was then reflected in Josh’s own personal battle with addiction:

‘The one thing that I would say with my addiction is that I think I used it to find ways to avoid having to deal with the difficult emotions. I acted out at school so I didn’t have to say how I was feeling. We need to know it’s ok to sit with the not good emotions.’ 

‘I think I suffered from the same thing as my Dad. It was trauma. Now I have passed some of that onto my kids. That’s something I have to live with.’


‘The one thing that I would say with my addiction is that I think I used it to find ways to avoid having to deal with the difficult emotions. I acted out at school so I didn’t have to say how I was feeling. We need to know it’s ok to sit with the not good emotions.’


According to NACOA, alcohol dependency is rarely an isolated problem; a study with 4,000 respondents found children in families where one or both parents suffer from alohcol addiction, dependency or a similar addictive problem are 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder, 2 times more likely to develop alcohol dependency or addiction themselves and 3 times more likely to consider suicide.

Today is World Mental Health Awareness Day, and this year’s theme is suicide and suicide prevention. Suicide is the leading cause of death among young people aged 20-34 years in the UK and is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year-olds globally. 

What these figures highlight is the need for an increase in preventative and early intervention mental health support for children and young people affected by a family member’s alcohol or drug use. Furthermore, until substance misuse and mental health services have the time and resources to work together, diagnosing and treating both interdependent conditions, we will continue to see service users and their families struggle with the battle towards recovery.

View Josh Connolly’s presentation slides.

Find out more about World Mental Health Day