21st Jun 2016

Supporting a loved one through injecting drug use and hep C

The I’m Worth… team interviewed Rachael Evans, Policy and Research Officer, Adfam to inform this blog post.

Receiving a diagnosis of hepatitis C when you have a history of injecting drug use can be a frightening time. While a lot of emphasis is rightly put on supporting the person receiving the diagnosis, we can’t forget that the family (and friends) of the individual are likely to need support too, especially if they’re to support their loved one through treatment.

Impact of injecting drug use on the family

The physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing of those close to the individual can be seriously affected when someone starts injecting drugs. Understandably, family members are likely to be very concerned that their loved one may suffer from the consequences of drug use or abuse, become seriously ill – blood borne virus infections such as hepatitis C, hepatitis B or HIV are particularly high in this group – or go to prison. There may also be financial pressures on the family, for example they may need to financially support their loved one, deal with their loved one stealing from them or perhaps they may have to settle a loved one’s debts. At Adfam the team very often hear about the huge range of emotions they feel at this time – worry, guilt, isolation – coupled with concerns about how best to support their relative.

Stigma presents a significant barrier

Stigma may stop families seeking support, either from professionals or from friends and other family members because they may be worried about judgement or negative reactions. A study by the UK Drug Policy Commission found that nearly a quarter (23%) of people thought most people would not become dependent on drugs if they had ‘good parents’. Families often feel guilty or that they’re to blame for a loved one’s drug use, perhaps because they ‘didn’t bring them up right’, or ‘didn’t handle it in the right way’ when they found out. However, rather than being to blame for an individual’s drug use, friends and family should be considered an important part of the support for drug users.

Supporting a loved one living with hepatitis C

Overcoming substance misuse problems can be challenging enough, however if someone is also dealing with hepatitis C they often need more support from ever. While hepatitis C might not seem like a priority when an individual is dealing with addiction, it’s vital they seek care and advice from a healthcare professional. Treatment for addiction should address more than just drug misuse as it affects all aspects of someone’s life. People battling with addiction have talked about the positive effect that being cured of hepatitis C has had and the motivation it gave them to kick the habit. Listen to Kevin’s story about how clearing the virus from his body gave him momentum to address his drug misuse.

As a friend or relative, you’re in the perfect position to offer your loved one the care and support they need to get help. Your friend or relative may be concerned about talking about how they caught the virus however you can reassure them that it doesn’t matter how someone got hepatitis C, no one deserves to live with a potentially life threatening disease. There are several videos on this website from our Ambassadors who have got hepatitis C from drug use, your loved one might find it reassuring to hear their stories of how these people got the help they deserved.

You may like to suggest that you attend doctor’s appointments with your loved one, if they’re happy for you to do so. Finding out more about hepatitis C, how it affects the body and what to expect from treatment may help you and your loved one get the most out of healthcare appointments. Taking notes on the advice from the doctor or nurse and keeping a note of when follow up appointments are scheduled can help your loved one make sure they get the most out of their care. If they’re prescribed treatment for hepatitis C you might like to encourage your loved one to note on a calendar when they need to take their medicine as it’s important that their healthcare professional’s advice is carefully followed.

The organisations listed below offer information and support to people affected by substance misuse and their friends and family. Don’t ignore hepatitis C, seek the help you and your loved one deserve.

  • Adfam provides information and introductions to support groups for families affected by drug and alcohol use
  • DrugFAM offer support to families, friends and carers coping with a loved one’s addiction to drugs or alcohol
  • Families Anonymous is a fellowship family members and friends affected by another’s abuse of mind-altering substances, or related behavioural problems
  • FRANK offers free confidential drugs information and advice 24 hours a day
  • Release provides a range of services dedicated to meeting the health, welfare and legal needs of drugs users and those who live and work with them