Those caring for someone with an addiction are largely hidden, due to concerns about stigma and shame. The effects of which can be further amplified for those who are younger carers, like *Maddie.
Maddie was 10-years old when she first learned about alcoholism. She remembers coming back from school and seeing her mum “grabbing wine out of the fridge”, whilst her dad, who would have normally just returned from work, would quickly set about trying to sort out supper for the family.
Because of the family situation at home, Maddie found it very difficult to understand what “normal” family dynamics were and found it hard to make friends with her peers because of the shame connected to her mum’s addiction.
“I never had friends over as it wasn’t easy to explain the situation to other people. So, we avoided inviting people over to the house.”
No one at school had asked questions that may have identified Maddie as needing support due to her family’s caring situation.
Maddie felt that she was living “two different lives”. One, where she would go to school and try to pretend everything was fine, and the other at home, where she couldn’t concentrate or focus and had to help her dad look after her mum and keep an eye on her younger sister. Her time at school was therefore significantly disrupted, but there was little understanding from her teachers when Maddie was not able to complete homework on time. No one at school had asked questions that may have identified Maddie as a young carer needing support.
It was a family secret, so it was hard to know who outside of the family could be trusted to help. The family found it hard to watch a loved one change so much, to the point that they were unrecognisable because of the effects of the addiction.
“It was like a Jekyll and Hyde situation. If you met my mother, you would only see an extremely sweet and kind person. This is the person she truly was and could be when she was sober.
However, when she drunk, she became an entirely different person – completely unrecognisable. She transformed into a loud, angry, aggressive, violent, abusive, and destructive person whom I didn’t recognise as my mother. I found this hard because I knew there was a good person hidden underneath that we were never getting to see”.
Maddie’s mum’s health started to deteriorate quickly, around the same time Maddie had her GCSE exams, and in 2016, her mum sadly passed away.
The bereavement of her mum, and the impact of the pandemic, resulted in Maddie finding herself in a caring role all over again, this time for her dad.
The loss was hard to cope with, and even though Maddie had started a new course at college, she found it wasn’t working for her. Devastatingly, Maddie found herself in a caring role again, when her dad, who “struggled with the loss of his soulmate”, also began to misuse alcohol. Although Maddie’s dad was able to go through recovery and remain sober, the impact of the pandemic was hard, and her dad was drinking again.
“I found the powerlessness of it all difficult. I love my dad and when he is sober, he is the funniest, most amazing man, but there is nothing we can do to stop his drinking. I’ve learned to pick up on small changes in people’s behaviour and it’s made me anxious around people as I keep preparing myself for the worst to happen. He would usually drink in the morning and then be asleep by the afternoon. I had to care for my little sister during this time and didn’t want to stress her out during her exams and so I kept quiet. He would wake each day and the cycle would repeat like nothing had happened, I tried to ask him why he was doing this, but he said his craving for the alcohol was too much. I thought if I wrote him little messages before he woke up, he might choose not to drink but unfortunately this never worked, it was so infuriating”.
Maddie had researched support for her dad, and called rehab centres and helplines to see what, if anything, they could do to help. But Maddie realised that it was up to her dad to ask for help, and this was difficult to come to terms with.
Slowly, Maddie began to have a life outside of caring, and found a new job that makes her happy. However, with the effects of her dad’s addiction affecting his mental health, Maddie’s work-life and caring balance was disrupted. That is when Maddie decided to confide in her manager and share that she was a carer for her dad. This was one of the hardest things she has done as she grew up with feelings of stigma and shame around disclosing her caring situation to others. Thankfully, her manager was understanding, and Maddie was given some time off work to look after dad.
Maddie’s caring journey has been a rollercoaster, and there days even now when she struggles to balance her person life with her caring responsibilities. Maddie is often asked why she does it and why she doesn’t “just walk away”. But it’s not so easy, as Maddie explains “…my dad, he’s all I’ve got. I would feel guilty about walking away, so that’s not an option”.
Maddie was referred into carers support through her local Social Prescriber, and since being registered, she has been able to have benefits check with our Carer Benefits Advice service, for both her and her dad, to ensure she knows what eligible benefits they may both be able to access. Now that Maddie is linked in with our service, she is more informed about support available around her caring role.
To find out more about the campaign or to make a donation, visit the Carers Support West Sussex JustGiving page here.
The impact on the lives of family and friend carers, who are supporting a loved one through the effects of their addiction, can be devastating on a practical, financial, and emotional level.
If you live with a parent who has alcohol or other drug issues, you might be looking for some ways to support yourself and your siblings, if you have them.
There are services available to help, including registering including registering with Carers Support West Sussex as a Young Adult Carer (18-25) or being referred to the Young Carers service if under 18.
We also have further information on our Drug & Alcohol webpage about support services for those affected by someone else’s drinking and/or drug use. As well as information for other carers looking after a family or friend who could not manage without their support.
*Name changed to protect identity