Caring for young people can be one of the most significant and rewarding things we can do in our lives. It can also be complex and at times, hard. It is common for carers to put the needs of others before their own. You must take steps to look after your own health if you want to continue to be able to care for others.
In this conversation, we will:
When we say carer in this conversation, we mean parents, guardians and any other adult who cares about a young person.
When we say drugs in this conversation, we mean all kinds of drugs. This includes things like alcohol, cigarettes and prescription medicines, as well as other drugs like cannabis, ‘nangs’ or vapes.
Carers have to adapt to suit the changing needs of young people as they grow. All families go through ups and downs. Some carers have to deal with the extra challenge of supporting someone who is feeling the negative effects of drug use.
Young people affected by drug use are some of the most vulnerable in our community. Their ‘here and now’ and future are both affected.
Caring for a young person who is feeling the impact of drug use can include challenges like:
Dealing with these issues can be very stressful. Feelings of worry, anger or even guilt are common for carers. It is normal and okay to feel these strong feelings.
You must look after yourself while you are looking after others. Be sure to balance your caring responsibilities by reaching out for support when you need it. When you are well, you will be better able to provide support to others who may be struggling.
If you are dealing with any of these issues, there are places that can help
Factors that can affect a young person's wellbeing include:
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are stressful events that children may go through during their childhood. The more of these a person experiences, the greater their risk of issues such as:
The main stressful events for children are:
Some other things can have a big impact on children as well:
The things we go through as children can shape our chances of using drugs in the future.
Knowing about adverse childhood experiences can help us to provide support that young people need to adapt to their changing lives.
It can also help you to think about why you might feel very stressed or upset in your own caring role.
Hypervigilance means being very alert all the time, even when you don't need to be. You may feel like you are looking for any hidden dangers, either from other people or the things around you. Sometimes these dangers are not real or do not exist.
Trauma means "severe and lasting emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience". You can have trauma based on things that happened in your own life, but carers can also experience vicarious trauma. This is when someone helping another person with trauma starts to experience trauma themselves.
This is a normal response to being exposed to other people’s trauma. It is common for people who support others who are dealing with trauma to feel traumatised themselves. This “snowball” effect may have an impact on you and other aspects of your life.
One of the best ways to help someone else is to take care of yourself first. When you feel mentally and physically strong, you are better able to provide care to others.
Follow the safety instructions
Every flight attendant says before take-off, “put your own oxygen mask on before you help others". This is because helping others before you help yourself could put you in danger.
Unless you are safe and okay, you can’t help others. This is the perfect example for how we should try to support young people.
There are a number of pressures in your caring role that may affect how you feel.
Be aware of things like:
There will be plenty of times in your caring role when you need to seek support. This will help you to understand your own reactions. It will also allow you to ask for advice about how to manage them in the best ways.
So far, we’ve talked about the issues of caring for someone else. The aeroplane example reminds us why we should be looking after ourselves. But how well do we do this when we are caring for others? When it comes to self-care, carers are often the last to look after their own needs.
As carers, we must do some of the things we would do to care for others, for ourselves. Be kind and have empathy for yourself; it can help to reduce even the strongest symptoms of stress.
Self-compassion is being kind to yourself when you’re having a hard time or when you feel like you’ve failed.
You may have heard the saying, “We are our harshest critic.” Put simply, it is about treating yourself like you would treat a close friend.
How we think and feel will affect how we speak and behave. So, self-compassion is about being aware of our own pain. It is about understanding that this is a hard, but normal experience.
If you wouldn’t say it to them, don’t say it to yourself
Look at your thoughts and feelings without judging them as “good” or “bad”. They simply exist.
Don’t try to push it away, but don’t overthink it either. Your feelings do not define you.
Making mistakes is part of being human. When you make a mistake with someone else, you will usually apologise and they can forgive you.
We rarely do this when it's a mistake that affects ourselves. Say sorry to yourself if you have to, but forgive yourself too.
The more we compare ourselves to others, the worse we feel about ourselves.
Focus on your strengths and what is best for you, your family, and your goals.
"They had the compassion to be kind to themselves, because as it turns out, we can't practice compassion with other people if we can't treat ourselves kindly."Read more: What is Self Compassion by the Centre for Clinical Interventions
- Brene Brown, TED Talks: The power of vulnerability
Empathy is the ability to share someone else's feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person's situation.
Empathy matters because it goes hand in hand with compassion - for yourself and for others.
Empathy helps us to understand how others are feeling so we can respond in a supportive way. Research has shown that greater empathy leads to more helping and less conflict.
You can help a young person practice empathy. Ask them what effect their choices might have on others.
For example: "If you decide to try smoking, how do you think I might feel?"
When we try to imagine how other people are feeling, we listen deeply. We are better able to express how we feel without judging them or feeling judged ourselves.
It also helps us to ‘separate the person from their behaviour’. This can help reduce conflict and stigma. Try to think about why a young person might decide to use drugs: It's not because they’re trying to hurt you. It’s because the substance ‘does something’ for them; it has a purpose. Young people use drugs because they want to feel better or different.
When talking with the young person, try to separate their behaviour from who they are as a person. Ask yourself what might be leading them to make those choices and what they are trying to achieve.
Most of all: Love them for who they are, rather than what they do. It is the greatest gift any adult can give.
While conflict is a normal part of human relationships, it’s how you work through it that matters.
You can show young people empathy by focusing on their issues, staying calm and using helpful language. Showing them how you would like them to act is the best way to teach them the skill.
If you are in a discussion where everyone is starting to get upset, you can try:
Many carers struggle to look after themselves. Sometimes it's because carers have very little time to spare. Sometimes, carers feel guilty about taking care of themselves, or think they are too busy.
It is important to remember: self care is health care. You deserve to be healthy and well.
Some tips that may help you to look after yourself:
Get your body moving in ways that you enjoy. Anything counts: walking, stretching, jogging or playing a team sport are all great options.
Are you eating enough? Are you getting all the vitamins and minerals you need to be healthy? Make sure you have enough food each day. Eat fruits and vegetables - they can be frozen or canned too. Don't forget to give yourself a treat every now and then!
Get your body moving in ways that you enjoy. Anything counts: walking, stretching, jogging or playing a team sport are all great options.
Make sure you get enough sleep! It is easy to become overwhelmed and stressed when you aren't sleeping enough. Try going to bed and getting up at the same times each day. This can help set a pattern your body will get used to.
Reach out and chat with friends and family members. Spend time with people who can encourage you and offer you support.
Try putting aside a regular night (once a week, fortnight, month - whenever you can) to go out and have some fun (you could see a movie).
It doesn't have to cost a lot of money. It doesn't have to take a lot of time. But try to make sure you have something to look forward to regularly.
Do you have a hobby that you like to do? Put some time aside each week to do just that.
If you don't have a hobby, or your hobby won't work for you right now, try something new! Cooking, reading, and music are always good places to start.
Support groups are places where people get together and talk about what they are going through. You can hear stories from people who have been through similar things to you.
You can hear from people who are starting at the very beginning. You can just listen, or you can share your own story: you might be able to help someone else while getting help too.
Don't be afraid to find help if things are too hard. You don't have to go through hard things alone.
One thing that can really affect your mental health and the way you look after yourself is stigma.
'Stigma' is the disapproval of a person based on something that sets them apart from others. In the case of drug use, stigma is often caused by false beliefs about addiction.
When it comes to drug use, it is often due to untrue beliefs and thoughts about addiction. Some people might think that someone who uses drugs is dangerous, or not able to look after themselves. When other people express these sorts of beliefs, they can make others feel shame. This can make their problems with drugs worse and makes it harder to stop using drugs or seek treatment.
But people who use drugs aren't the only people who experience stigma. Carers can experience it too.
It could be that friends think badly of you because of what your family member is doing. Or maybe you hear what people say on TV about people who use drugs, and it feels bad. Or maybe other family members are acting poorly towards you or the person using drugs, and you are stuck in the middle.
Stigma is a real problem, and you don't have to go through it alone.
“Next to people who use drugs themselves, I don’t think any other group is affected as much as families.
People see us as someone to blame, that we have done something wrong; we already carry that burden of guilt. In the community, we commonly hear that assumption that if anything bad happens, such as a crime, then it must be someone who uses drugs—people say it without even thinking.
If you hear that as a family member, at work or in a social setting, it hits you hard and you feel such a sense of shame and hurt.”
- Tony Trimmingham, CEO of Family Drug Support
“My son is 17. He is addicted to cannabis and takes alcohol and other drugs. My husband and I are health professionals with three talented children that were living a privileged life.
The last 18 months has been a humbling experience, and I don’t fully share with friends or family who I don’t think will respond in a way that supports me.
I feel less shame as time goes on as there is no way forward with shame.”
- Anonymous family member
We share and spread stigma with our words, body language and actions. We can start by thinking about the words we use when we talk about drugs and their effects. Our own words can change what other people say and think.
The good news is that there are places that you can find support. The catch is that you must be willing to ask for it. Being aware of what supports you are able to access is important and helpful for a caring relationship... with yourself, and with others.
You might need one or more of these types of help:
Knowing where you can find help will help you manage the hardest parts of caring for a young person.
Thankfully, there is lots of help available.
Research shows that carers who seek support:
It is helpful to build a network of people around you who can provide you with support. Try to take time out for yourself. Make sure that you move your body, eat well and make time for things that bring you joy. It will go a long way to make your time as a carer a little bit easier.
Remember: You deserve help and support just as much as anyone.
Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break and manage as best you can. That’s all anyone can do.
The Family and Friend Support Programs are a set of online interventions and support packages designed by experts to help families and friends supporting a loved one who may be using ice, alcohol and/or other drugs. They also offer information and support for people who may be experiencing domestic and family violence, as well as people who are living in rural or remote regions.
Family Drug Support Online is designed to provide support for families and friends of people using drugs and alcohol - to help them become more resilient and better able to cope on their journey with the user.
The site offers different support for different circumstances. Where the drug use has been going on for some time, the site presents a series of video chapters about a family support group. The chapters are designed to be viewed in order. The group is led by family drug support specialist Tony Trimingham, OAM.
On the site, 'drugs' also includes alcohol, and 'families' includes friends of drug users.
What is substance misuse, and what are the signs it is happening? How common is it? Find the answers to these questions and more in this factsheet from Lifeline.
Positive Choices is an online portal to help Australian schools and communities access accurate, up-to-date evidence based alcohol and other drug education resources.
Youth, Family & Community Connections Inc. (YFCC) is a not for profit, community organisation that provides a range of services to young people, families and individuals in communities across the North West Coast and West Coast of Tasmania. YFCC envisions a community where individuals and families have the opportunity to achieve their goals and to seek positive change.
For more information on specific services, please visit the YFCC website.
The Salvation Army provides a large array of spiritual and social services throughout Tasmania. Our state office for Tasmania is located in Derwent Park.
The Salvation Army Australia is an international Christian movement, united by faith and giving hope where it’s needed most. Across Australia – in cities, country towns and rural communities – our work touches every demographic and age group. As both a church and charity, we can preach and speak about justice, compassion, and other issues that support the welfare of others and see them as a whole person – body, mind and spirit.
We're one of Australia’s largest providers of alcohol and other drug treatment services. If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or drugs, we can help.
The Bridge Program uses the Community Integration Model. Our comprehensive intervention package is specifically tailored to the individual's needs and focuses on multiple problem areas targeting social, recreational, familial and vocational reinforcement.
We offer both residential and non-residential components to the treatment journey which will be individually negotiated with you according to your needs. Our day and residential programs are both 10 weeks in duration and are supported by outreach and family programs. All aspects are included in all three locations - Hobart, Launceston and Ulverstone.
Holyoake is a leading counselling service for people whose lives are adversely affected by alcohol, drugs, gambling or other addictive behaviours. Holyoake provides a range of specialised, research based therapeutic programs for children, adults and families facing these challenges. Our team of highly skilled counsellors have extensive experience in the treatment of addictive behaviors.
Who we help
Holyoake supports individuals and their families to manage the challenges of any addictive behaviour which can include:
Holyoake supports people who have an addictive behaviour as well as people who are affected by another person’s addictive behaviour.
Holyoake has programs to support people of all ages, all communities, and in all circumstances – children, adolescents, adults, parents, families, couples, students, workplaces, victims of abuse and people in the criminal justice system. Holyoake will make no judgements about you or your circumstances.
Cornerstone Youth Services Inc. (CYS) delivers a range of services to young people aged 12 – 25, their families and friends, in North and North-West Tasmania. We focus on health promotion, education, early intervention and prevention, advocacy, case management and developing help-seeking behaviours.
Anglicare Tasmania is a not-for-profit organisation providnig a range of support services to the people of Tasmania. In response to the Christian faith, Anglicare strives to achieve social justice and provide the opportunity for people in need to reach fullness of life. We are guided in this mission by the values of compassion, hope, respect and justice.
The Tasmanian Alcohol and Drug Service offers a range of information, education, treatment and community-based supports for Tasmanians affected by alcohol and drug use. Our services are free, voluntary and confidential.
We provide a number of programs to help people and their families with alcohol, tobacco and other drug issues.
Our services include:
We are located in Launceston, Hobart and Ulverstone with services provided to rural areas.
To access services we require an Intake and Referral form to be completed. For any queries please call Statewide Alcohol and Drug Service, phone 1300 139 641.