There is a lack of literature around the links between caregiving and substance misuse issues. This is problematic considering it is not only carers who are caring for people with substance misuse, but rather carers may find themselves turning to substances as a way of coping with their caregiving role. While it is known that the caregiving role can result in a significant caregiver burden, it is critical that the issues resulting in carers turning to substances such as alcohol and other drugs be analysed to understand why this is and to identify the links to the caring role. This is imperative so that the carer is given the appropriate supports to help resolve their substance misuse, and in order to best care for the consumer.
Caring for a person with alcohol and or drug (AoD) misuse is a unique caring role in itself, possessing particular issues that only pertain to that set of carers; just as some issues may only relate to mental health carers. MHCN recommends further research be conducted around carers with and for substance misuse issues, in order to be able to respond appropriately, and to assist and develop initiatives around carer substance misuse support.
When caring for a loved one with a substance misuse problem a number of complex issues may arise, which can be further exacerbated by the issues that carers already face when caring for someone. Common issues may include stress, worry, anxiety, depression, social isolation, financial problems, sleeping problems, frustration, anger, guilt, low self-esteem and self-care issues (Mind 2013).
Where the caregiving role intersects with substance misuse, carers deal with multiple stigmas around caregiving, mental illness and substance misuse. Common false beliefs about substance misuse issues suggest that the person needs to be left unsupported to hit ‘rock bottom’ before they will seek help. This false presumption does not reflect the realities and complexities of substance misuse issues and means that carers are often wrongly labelled as enablers. Carers who use substances as a coping mechanism similarly experience stigmas around their own substance misuse and face questions around what their substance use means for their caring role. It is therefore unsurprising that carer substance misuse is a hidden issue.
There is a dearth of literature around carers with substance misuse issues and why they may use alcohol and/or drugs, and likewise specific issues pertaining to those caring for a loved one with substance misuse issues. It is critical that this is addressed given how commonly substance misuse issues are intertwined with mental illness and the links between caregiving and poorer emotional wellbeing.