Settlement Guide

Settlement Guide: addressing drug use with your family

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Part of growing up is to experiment. According to the Australian Drug Foundation, nearly three in ten teenagers have had a glass of alcohol in the past year. Almost 15 per cent of 12 to 17 years old have tried cannabis; while one in 50 has either used cocaine or amphetamines. For many migrant parents addressing drug use can be a daunting task. Experts advise to stay calm and be non-judgemental.

Born in Vietnam, David first settled in Sydney as a refugee when he was eight years old. Like many young Australians, David had his first experience of marijuana when he was in high school. That was the first and last time he smoked "pot"* as he didn't like the taste. At age 19 he was hooked on heroin.

Born in Vietnam, David first settled in Sydney as a refugee when he was eight years old. Like many young Australians, David had his first experience of marijuana when he was in high school.


"Numb the sensations. Relaxed. Nothing bothered you. All your worries all your problems didn't seem to matter so much anymore."
 
When it got too expensive to fund his addiction, David became a drug supplier and ended up in jail 3 years later.
The addiction lasted on and off for nearly 20 years until an epiphany helped David to seek professional help.

"I'm 40 now. I think, I looked at a 60-year-old guy and I didn't want to be that 60 year old and still dependant on drugs. Yeah, its time for a change."


His family didn't know about David's drug addiction for nearly 20 years.


"That would be shameful. To have problem, let alone drug problem. They're pretty straight, pretty law abiding citizens. So certainly, no, they didn't know nothing [anything] about it."
 
Professor Maree Teesson is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of New South Wales' National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre. She says many young Australians will try alcohol or drugs once or twice in their lifetime.

David is currently receiving ongoing counselling.


"So the most common drugs consumed in 12-17 year olds are alcohol and tobacco. In terms of illicit drugs the commonly used illicit drugs used in 12-17 year olds is cannabis. But when I say common its only 1 in 8 kids who will have used cannabis in the last year. And in terms of other illicit drugs like ecstasy or methamphetamine again it's only 1 in 50."

The most commonly used illicit drugs in 12-17 year olds is cannabis.

 
Kelvin Chambers heads the New South Wales-based Drug and Alcohol Multicultural Education Centre, or DAMEC, where David is currently receiving ongoing counselling. He says many young people who experiment with drugs and alcohol won't necessarily become dependant.

Drug and Alcohol Multicultural Education Centre or DAMEC says many young people who experiment with drugs and alcohol won't necessarily become dependant.


"Usually we find kids who develop a dependency is not necessarily because of the drug and alcohol itself. It's a whole range of issues and it's usually used predominantly as an inappropriate coping mechanism. So usually when parents find their kids have been using it at home, usually it's just one bit of a whole big picture of kids having pressure from school, not coping appropriately with friends, finding a range of different sorts of stressors in their lives."

Under-representation of migrants [in data] may be due to the stigma related to substance use in some culturally and linguistically diverse communities.


While one in five Australians speak a language other than English at home, data from nationwide alcohol and drug treatment services shows that between 2012 and 2013, nearly 87 per cent of their clients were born in Australia.
Kelvin Chambers says the under-representation of migrants may be due to the stigma related to substance use in some culturally and linguistically diverse communities. He says the pressures of settling into a new country can cause increased drug use.

The pressures of settling into a new country can cause increased drug use.


"Inter-generational clashes as they come into a new community, there's a whole lot of pressures as they try and fit into a new community, there's a whole lot of baggage they bring from overseas and usually we find that the kids who get into trouble are the kids who haven't able to develop good coping mechanisms."
 
Dom Ennis is manager of the YoDAA or Youth Drug and Alcohol Advice Service helpline. He's been supporting young people and families affected by drugs and alcohol for over 20 years. He's had clients from war-torn countries like Vietnam who were disconnected from their community or had a long history of trauma.

Migrant parents often struggle to come to terms with their loved one's drug addiction.


"Growing up in Australia where they are sort of torn between two cultures of family expectations and culture and at the same time not quite fitting in with family expectations and cultural norms of what their parents and elders felt but at the same time not feeling part of the mainstream."
 
He says there are similar drug use patterns in newly arrived communities fleeing from conflict.

"More recently, this is not universal, but we've seen similar circumstances with young people from Middle Eastern and African backgrounds with very similar migrant patterns and stories. It helps us move away from this idea of drug and alcohol related problems as being individual making poor choices or people not trying hard enough or doing bad things."

If you think your family member may be using drugs, experts advise to consider an open and honest discussion.

 
Theo Chang is National Program Manager and Group Counsellor at Family Drug Support, which guides family members of drug users through difficult times. He says migrant parents often struggle to come to terms with their loved one's drug addiction.

"For many migrant families, coming to a new country is bewildering in itself but they've had to really work and worked really hard to provide for their children things that they themselves may not have had. For many families for that child or that family member to then use drugs in a way that's chaotic and disruptive, it's a big slap in their face."

Experts advise to ask questions if you're noticing that your children are withdrawing from friends and family, of if there's a change in their friends, or a drop in their school work.


If you think your family member may be using drugs, experts advise to consider an open and honest discussion.
UNSW's Professor Maree Teesson says if you see behavioural changes, ask open questions.

"If you're noticing that your children are withdrawing from friends and family, of if there's a change in their friends, or a drop in their school work that there are signs of hostility or depression or they're wanting to borrow lots of money. Don't necessarily assume immediately that drugs are the cause of it. We would suggest that you start with the conversation with I noticed you haven't been yourself lately."

Don't necessarily assume immediately that drugs are the cause of any behavioural changes.


Kelvin Chambers from DAMEC says it's vital to stay calm and non-judgemental if parents find drugs in their home.
This is how he suggests parents could approach the conversation.

"Tell me why? What sorts of feelings are happening that you feel this has to happen? And to start that dialogue in a safe and comfortable way."

DAMEC says it's vital to stay calm and non-judgemental if parents find drugs in their home.

 
The Victorian Government's Better Health program says parents should research drugs so that you have the facts and raise you concerns calmly when both parties are relaxed. They advise not to issue ultimatums, but try to educate children on the health and lifestyle risks of drug use.

Kelvin Chambers says talking about drug problems within migrant families can be a shameful and stigmatising.

"The family tend itself withdraws further and further away from the community contacts they so desperately need. Go and look for help for a range of services that are available in local community centres, local health centres it's confidential and its ways to work within kids and within the family trying to address some of the issues they're facing."

The Victorian Government's Better Health program advise not to issue ultimatums, but try to educate children on the health and lifestyle risks of drug use.


Also the ACT Government's ParentLink offers detailed advice if you think your family member may be using drugs.
They advise to try and separate the behaviour from the person, show them you love and care for them but remind them of your values and what you will allow in your house.

Family Drug Support's Theo Chang says parents often also need support.

Family Drug Support says parents often also need support.


"We've got two opposing forces where the user is probably not ready to stop using and the family are in all sorts of different stages they start with denial and then they become really emotional and they accept there is drug use and now they feel all the pain from anger to fear and anxiety to guilt to grief a whole number of things."

Confidential support for families affected by drug and alcohol is available.

If you're faced with problematic drug use at home, you can ring the Family Drug Support's free 24/7 telephone helpline on 1300 368 186 or talk to your local GP to find out how to access the right services.

You can also get free language help over the phone through the Translating and Interpreting Service by dialling 131 450.

For help in your state visit the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS).

Drugs: the real facts booklet and tips for parents is available in 13 languages.