Experiences of family members supporting a relative with substance use problems: a qualitative study

Terence V. McCann, Meg Polacsek, Dan I. Lubman

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Affected family members (AFMs) play an important role in supporting relatives with alcohol and/or other drug (AOD) misuse. However, they frequently lack support and experience considerable challenges to their own well-being. Aim: To explore the experience of AFMs who support a close relative with AOD misuse. Method: Thirty-one AFMs were recruited through AOD helplines and through their social media accounts in the Australian state of Victoria. A semi-structured interview guide was used to inform data collection, focusing on their general experiences, impact of support-giving and support options. Interviews were audio-recorded and conducted by telephone. Results: One overarching theme and six related subthemes were abstracted from the data. The overarching theme was conceptualised as Feeling overwhelmed by, and struggling with, the experience. Subthemes were as follows: Emotionally draining and exhausting, Maintaining constant vigilance: curbing social activities, Grappling with the financial impact, Struggling to cope with harmful family dynamics, Avoiding and containing aggression and Fearfulness and hopelessness about the future. Conclusion: Affected family members experienced wide-ranging harms, which affected their emotional, social and financial well-being, safety and family dynamics, and instilled a persistent sense of fearfulness and hopelessness about the future. The findings have implications for mental health nurses and other clinicians in AOD services to identify AFMs’ needs and provide them with timely, accessible and appropriate support to help sustain their important role.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)902-911
Number of pages10
JournalScandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


  • affected family members
  • alcohol and other drug misuse
  • family relations
  • nurses
  • qualitative research

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