Thank you to all our speakers and delegates who attended out Virtual Conference. 132 people registered from 26 countries. It was great success and all the videos are now ready to view- see Conference http://afinetwork.info/afinet-conference/2021-afinet-videos-of-conference-presentations. You can see all the videos in full and as some were pre recorded, there are no technical issues.

Our conference started with Jeff Foote, who clearly was coming from the same pace as the AFINet philosophy:

  • He talked about how important it was to help Affected Family Members from a truly non-stigmatising, non-judgemental way.
  • His description of the Invitation To Change approach took the best from many areas of psychology and helpfully integrated them.
  • And he discussed one of the key dilemmas – the balance between undertaking rigorous research, which takes time; versus ‘getting the help out there’ and not waiting until all the RCTs have been done and the papers published.

 Joel Tremblay described a wide range of fascinating projects being undertaken in Canada, and in Quebec.

  • One involved the development of Forgiveness and Restoration in working with couples where one has a substance problem.
  • And in many ways, there were clear similarities in some of his approaches and some of Jeff Foote’s – the importance of understanding the reasons for a relative’s substance use, and approaching thigs with kindness and not anger or blame.

 Max van Beek described the initial findings from the new National 5-Step Method service being offered in Holland,

  • showing major improvements in the reduction in stress, and in strain, and changes in coping and support, and the reduction in overall burden on Affected Family Members
  • and importantly, he showed that these improvements do not stop once the intervention ends, but that people continue to change and further improve in the 3 months after the end of the intervention.

We often talk about Affected Family Members being a forgotten, invisible group – and Judith Smith made us realise that, within this group, there is another one, even more forgotten and invisible – older people (mothers), with adult children with serious substance problems.

  • She described their huge ambivalence and presented a tremendously interesting theoretical approach related to that ambivalence. 
  • There were major similarities with the field of inter-personal violence / domestic violence, where ‘victims’ are assisted to develop a safety plan but where, due to this ambivalence, they find themselves unable to go through with it and re-place themselves back in dangerous situations.

 Daniel O’Callaghan gave a very powerful, sensitive and compassionate  presentation, full of wonderful quotes, demonstrating the strong impact that drug-related deaths have on the professionals in Ireland who work with those who have died;

and Oyvind Kalsaas described the huge impact that such drug-related deaths have on family members in Norway.

 Day 2 was yet another excellent day, showcasing important research and innovations in practice from across the world, with presentations today from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Scotland, Italy, and Germany, following those yesterday from Canada, the USA, Holland, Ireland and Norway.

 Numerous themes re-occurred across both today’s presentations and over the 2 days:

  • The importance of partnerships and collaborations, between researchers on the one hand; and service providers – either family-led or ‘professional’-led organisations.  These often provide the data necessary for services to then argue for funding.
  • The serious and  significant harm reported by Affected Family Members of having a relative (or close other – a neighbour, a friend, a school pupil, etc) with an alcohol or drug or gambling problem – reported today from New Zealand, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Italy, Scotland, Malaysia, Germany.
  • The importance of availability (of gambling, alcohol, drugs, over-the-counter medications) in fuelling (or temporarily reducing) the addiction problems of their relatives.
  • How long-standing so many people’s experience is,. In being an Affected Family Member – and related to that, how even if things start to change, anxiety does not diminish, and often gets worse, due to the anticipation that things will relapse.
  • How one of the key set of things that AFMs want is “no stigma, no assumptions, no judgement’.
  • The extraordinary commitment that so many service providers have to ensuring that their services run and provide help to those who need it.

 As well as these recurring themes, other issues stood out:

  • How so many people accept technological solutions (eg Zoom delivery) and recognise that there are circumstances where these are either necessary or better; yet how may also far prefer physical face-to-face interactions.
  • How many people are affected by someone’s alcohol, drug or gambling problem – erring on the side of not exaggerating, we often speak of 1 person affected by each ‘user’, or maybe 2 – Justine Murray’s presentation showed that on average, it was ELEVEN who were affected.
  • How those who come into contact with people with alcohol or drug or gambling problems, be it AFMs of those with a professional role, need training and skills in how to deal with their own feelings of upset, anxiety, depression, guilt etc.
  • And how one cannot deal with a relative’s alcohol, drug or gambling use on its own, but need to develop interventions which acknowledge and deal with the person’s role as (eg) a parent or as (eg) a partner.

 One key issue raised was the balance to be struck between a ‘top-down’, policy-driven approach to helping AFMs, and a ‘bottom-up’, family-member-driven approach to ‘making noise’ and insisting on more top-down help (eg money, policies).

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