Caring for someone with a drug problem

Looking after a loved one with a drug problem can be one of the most stressful roles as a carer, and few people actually identify themselves as being a carer.

You often have little control over the behaviours and actions of the loved one whom you try to care for. You may also feel immense shame and stigma which can result in social isolation; the complexities of all three can often cause depression. The stress and strain can lead to long term health and well-being problems for you as the carer.

As a carer you may suffer financial hardship, verbal and physical abuse and live with the constant fear of involvement with the criminal justice system. For many carers the only period of respite is when the person they care for is in hospital or prison.

You may live with the fear that the drug user you are close to will die as a result of a drug overdose, so accessing training on identifying and responding to an overdose situation can help to eliminate these fears.

Many carers also have to deal with the additional problem of the drug user having a mental health problem (dual diagnosis). This type of condition can creates barriers for accessing the correct treatment service. For many users the mental health diagnosis cannot be treated effectively whilst there is still concurrent drug use, this causes many users to drop out of services putting more stress and strain on their carer and family.

Derbyshire Carers Association

Derbyshire Carers Association (DCA) offer a support service for carers who look after someone with an addiction. They can also offer a carers asessment for those looking after someone with a drug or alcohol addiction. The assessment will look at the impact that your caring role has on you and will look for support to make things easier for you. You can contact DCA on tel: 01773 833833.

Derbyshire Recovery Partnership

There is a new service in Derbyshire called the Derbyshire Recovery Partnership. The service is a combined drug and alcohol service and provides a variety of services including:

  • advice to drug/alcohol users and/or their carers/family members
  • medical prescribing and detoxification
  • a counselling service
  • group based treatment.

You can contact the service on tel: 01246 206 514 or 0845 308 4010

Getting support and information

Getting support as a carer of a drug user is so important; this can remove your isolation and improve your confidence and self-esteem. The where to start section of this website has information about practical support carers can access. The Carers Directory has details of local carer support groups, information services and advice lines that you can use to get support.

The following websites and services also have information and advice relevant to caring for some with a drug problem:

  • Families Anonymous (adfam) or tel: 0207 4984 680
  • Relate - to find your nearest branch
  • Frank or tel: 0300 1236600
  • Space 4 U - support if you are a young carer in Derbyshire looking after someone with a drug problem, tel: 01246 277422 

Other things you can do

Think of yourself - Your life at the moment is probably stressful and filled with worries and this is understandable. You may feel that there is a conflict between you and the person you care for, this could be related to what you believe you should do to help and what you really want to do. This can be really tough but remember that your own needs are just as valid and important and if you don’t put them first then they may get overlooked altogether. The idea is that you look after yourself so that you can support and care for others.

Share the responsibility - As someone becomes more dependent on drugs they usually become more dependent on their carers, therefore sharing the situation with close family members and friend’s is important. Never feel that the situation is your fault and remember that you are not responsible for the choices and actions of others.

Agree rules and boundaries if at all possible - Carers may want to control their loved one and try to make them stop their drug use. Remember that you cannot change the other person but you can agree rules and achievable boundaries with possible and doable consequences if these are broken.

Ways to cope:

  • Let go of trying to change the drug user
  • Learn to think positively and realistically
  • Allow yourself to have hope
  • Focus on what you can achieve
  • Accept that you have no control over the users choices
  • Make the most of yourself rather than blaming the user
  • Stop and think about what you are being asked to do
  • Be supportive and encouraging of the users recovery attempt’s
  • Access services and information for yourself
  • Respect yourself, your needs and your values

Remember you cannot change your drug user but you can change the effect they have on your life.


If you look after someone with a drug problem it may be useful to be trained in First Aid. The training for carers page has further details on how to access courses.

This information was last updated on 30/07/2018

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