The Impact of Illicit Drug Use on Non-Using Siblings in the Vietnamese Community

Article excerpt

This paper examines the ways in which Vietnamese young people are affected by a sibling's illicit drug use (2). The aim is to explore the changing reactions of Vietnamese young people and parents and the changing strategies they employ as they seek to cope with the situation. The focus is on the siblings' reactions and experiences as the family system changes and adapts.

Families of Drug Users

Drug overdoses are a major cause of death among young people and crimes associated with drug usage are high (Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee, 1996; 1997). With the increase in illicit drug use has come a corresponding increase in the demand for health and drug treatment services as well as legal and counselling services, a demand that is also being complicated by changes in the profile of the typical drug user (Lambert and Marsh, 1999; Gerstein and Harwood, 1990). In the context of a dramatic increase in heroin and other illicit drug use, the profiles of those using and requesting a range of services have also shifted (Horn, 1998; Hunter, 1996; Lennings and Kerr, 1996).

There is a myriad of drug intervention, prevention, education and rehabilitation programs, most of which provide programs informed by research that draws on the best practices and knowledge of practitioners and researchers (Report on the Premier's Drug Advisory Council, 1996; Drugs and Crime Prevention Committee, 1996; 1997). Family involvement in treatment of substance misuse has been a major focus of international research (Mitchell et al., 2001).

Research clearly indicates a relationship between illicit drug use in adolescents and a number of factors including: family functioning, low academic and social skills, peer and sibling influence (Hawkins, Catalano and Miller, 1992). Research also indicates that there is a relationship between parental control and support and adolescent substance abuse (Foxcroft and Lowe, 1995; Denton and Kampfe, 1994). However, although families are involved or included in many harm reduction strategies, the focus is often on the ways in which the individual drug user can be helped, with the specific concerns about the impact of drug use on parents and siblings taking second place (Dear, 1996).

Research is focussing increasingly on the effects of illicit drug use on the user's own family (Newcombe, 1992). Three essential areas of parental concerns have been identified: lack of emotional support, the impact on their mental health and lack of information (Victorian Government 2000). Authors who have addressed the issue of helping families of drug addicted members include: Levin, (1998) who deals with couple and family therapy of addiction; Rubin (1996) who presents a survival guide for parents of drug and alcohol addicted children and Lockley (1996) who writes about working with drug family support groups.

Many parents and family members face harrowing experiences when confronted with illicit drug use by family members (McConnell and Schwartz, 1996). The family system and associated sub-systems are stressed when one member is not coping and this can have a flow on effect to other members, which may result in family breakdown and dysfunctionality (Hawkins et al., 1995). There are numerous 'symptoms' that may be present in a sibling of an illicit drug user including: grief, loss, jealousy, resentment, deprivation of parental attention, fear of domestic violence, property theft, stigma and fear of discovery (Mitchell et al. 2001).

Dear (1996) claims that a paradigm shift is required that focuses on the needs of the family itself, which will have a flow on affect for the user, as parents and siblings change aspects of their own behaviour 'such as developing more effective, self protective and pre-emptive coping responses' (1996:354). While some issues cut across race, other factors are specific to particular ethnic communities (Williams et al., 1999).

Drug Use in Vietnamese Families

It is difficult to gauge actual drag usage in most ethnic communities but it is estimated that there is considerable under reporting (Turning the Tide, 1998). …