Luke Chester-Master
Drug and Alcohol Expert

Luke has 22 years of involvement in the substance misuse field as coal face practioner, trainer, supervisor and consultant adviser to organisations in both public and private sectors. His wide and diverse experience means he is ideally suited to understand the difficulties faced by many single parents whether assessing their own misuse issues or indeed those of their children. He is currently on the board of trustees for the Nelson Trust, a Stroud based organisation offering cutting edge rehabilitation and leading the way in specialised treatment for young people.

Luke loves the wild places and is happiest when walking or fly fishing, whether close to home on dartmoor or in the high himalaya.

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Q.

My ex partner has my two children, 1 and 3yrs old. she does cocaine and other recreational drugs alongside alcohol. she won't even tell me where she's taken my children. what can i do?

A.

I'm sorry to hear about this difficult situation. Legal advice is imperative as is making your views and feelings known to social services. Try to back it up with as much 'evidence ' as possible because if your concerns are too general they may be side lined (and at worst dismissed) as sour grapes. Any incidents should be noted - what happened, who was involved, what were the consequences etc - and of course ,any examples of actions that in your opinion were bad for the kids.

There probably is not a lot more you can do right now other than get some support for yourself ( check out families anonymous or alanon). . .at the very least you will encounter people who have gone through similar stuff.

Luke Chester - Master

Q.

Hi, i have a 3 month old boy who lives with his mother. I have been getting access on a regular basis but i am concerned that she is taking drugs,(coke,e's cannabis etc) + drinking on regular basis (normally when i have him). she turned up at my house to pick him up about a month ago and she had clearly had quite a bit to drink, so i refused to let her have him, she went mental, i managed to get her out the house and she carried on going mad screaming the place down and trying to smash the door down. I threatened to call the police and my neighbour managed to calm her down and she agreed to go home and i took him back to her in the morning. Her mother knows what she is like and sympaphises with me and on the whole seems to be on my side. The concerns that i have are that she will be using drugs when i am not there as she has had a problem with them for years and her mother has taken her to the doctors before to try and get her help but she wont admit she needs it. She stopped breastfeeding shortly after i confronted her with my suspicions of her drug taking.

What should i do, is it advisable to try and get some sort of recorded evidence on her when she is on drugs/drunk with the baby. should i report her to SS? i dont want her to stop me seeing my boy.

A.

Cliched it is, but Denial is a major problem. If your child's mum does not recognise her problem she will be unlikely to agree to talking with you alone or in mediation. It sounds as though her behaviour is increasingly unpredictable and that you are increasingly desperate.

Sometimes after yet another crisis the problem drinker will promise to change and seek help, but you know such declarations are hard to trust.

If talking fails you really might need to speak with social services as they have the freedom and authority to intervene if they feel your child is at risk. You are going to need to be strong, assertive and consistent. Try and predict a 'sober moment' to talk to her about your concerns. . . . .maybe suggest mediation as a way forward, if all else fails you have the social service option. If you can talk try and arrange for your child to be elsewhere. . . . .suggest a neutral venue or maybe a long walk. . . .it is worth trying hard and best to view the other option as a last resort. recording her might help your case, and it might also be a way of shocking her into action, but you need to check with the legal department that there is no issue with 'entrapment'.

I suggest you go back to OnlyMums or OnlyDads and ask their legal team for some advice. They can also advice you on mediation.

Q.

I am 7.5 months pregnant the father broke up with me very early on in the pregnancy and i have seen him occasionally but every time i have seen him he has been on drugs. We have just met to discuss maintenance payments and visiting, I have said hat i would feel uncomfortable letting him alone with my little baby as his behaviour over the past 8 months has not filled me with confidence. A few years ago after breaking his back he started to use heroin and crack im not sure if recently he has been using these drugs but i know he has been using cocaine and ketamin. when i told him that i would not be happy with him taking the little one on his own he kicked up a huge fuss saying that he had heard me saying i was going to go to a festival and get "off my face" im not saying that im an angel but i feel that going out with some friends and having a few drinks at a festival is quite different to be out of it at 4 o'clock on a wednesday afternoon. Am I being two faced as he says or am i right to feel apprehensive about letting him care for my little one on his own

A.

Just as you are scared of his ability to be responsible he will be scared of being shut out. fear tends to ignite defensive behaviour and that seldom helps anybody.

Of course you are right to be concerned,  and if at all possible you might instigate a meeting to express your anxieties in a non confrontational atmosphere, but as I suspect you have found out, this might be easier said than done. have you considered asking a third party to be present, or suggesting mediation ? Unfortunately  break up is recent and feelings will be running high. it might be unrealistic to expect calm, reasoned communication, and a bit of help could be invaluable. it is crucial that he knows that your motivation is to protect your child rather than to punish him. . . .I know this seems obvious, but sadly its a common enough occurence. Try and find a way of assessing the level of his drug use and if he is prepared to get help your support would be a very good thing. otherwise you will need to state very clearly behaviour that you are not prepared to tolerate and will need to be assertive and consistent . You have social services to fall back on if communication proves to be impossible. Please go back to OnlyMums or Onlydads if you want details on mediation or other support agencies that might be able to help.

Q. Please can you give msome advice. My 19 yearold son is in serious trouble and I cannot cope anymore. From being a caring, kind and sociable little boy he has turned into a thin, spotty and reclusive young man. I know he has been smoking weed but whatever he is using now is more serious. I don't know what he is up to and I can't trust him to tell me the truth, he lies, I think he is gripped by whatever he is taking. And now with all the publicity around the use of Mepehdrone I am worried sick, I am at my wits end, I can't alk to him, he refuses to communicate with me unless he wants
money, I feel desperate for him and worst of all powerless.
A. I'm sorry to hear that you are in such a difficult situation and not at all surprised to hear that you feel so powerless.

If all communication has broken down you should consider getting some help for yourself. There will be others in the same boat and a problem shared is a problem halved - not a 'total 'solution, but at least supportive. Speak with your local Drug/Alcohol service and ask what they recommend in your area. If you can't find them social services or citizen's advice will put you in touch. You can also contact 'Alanon' or 'Families Anonymous' (all info on web) - they will put you in touch with their local contact who will , in all likelihood, have a similar experience. Alanon run regular support groups that are free with tea, coffee and company.

Keep talking with your son if you can and try to retain some 'power' at home. You might feel manipulated and controlled - most people in your situation do - try not to give in to demands for money, and remind him that if he wants to be in your home he has to contribute and respect your rules.

If he wont talk to you ,he might just be prepared to talk to the drug services himself, but that will depend on whether or not he recognises his problem (or the extent of it)

Do your best to stick to your boundaries and don't be afraid to use 'tough love'. Sometimes its imperative.

Good luck.
Q. I've been getting in arguments with my mum freinds. At christmas, I allowed my 12 year old son to have a glass of wine with us at lunch. My parents allowed me to as a child, and I thought it was wonderful and "grown up". But when I have mentioned this to friends, they say that this sort of thing only encourages children to drink...they arguament they use, is that because I have made it out to be in some way "special", he will go on to want to drink more and more... Am I right, or my friends? Thanks
A. Suggesting that you are either right or wrong is probably unhelpful and - a straw pole would find plenty of support for both views.

When and if you chose to introduce your child to alcohol is your decision, but 'how' you do it is probably of greater significance. Certainly other cultures ( southern Europe is often put forward) introduce children to a sip or more of wine at an an age that might shock people here. We hear that this enables a child to respect alcohol within the confines of a secure family setting and it is quite possible that this reduces the 'big deal' factor associated so often with young (and not so young!!) people of Britain.

Alcohol is a powerful drug, and it makes great sense to educate children so that they can make informed choices as they grow up. If you promote it as a 'special' treat you should be equally clear about its dangerous side and the need to respect it. Be sure not to glorify it.

Some twelve year olds are more grown up than others. You will know what he is ready for.

Thanks for writing in and good luck.
Q. Hello. I am a single (never married) mum since I asked my partner to leave. He is addicted to marijuana (one of the 1 in 10 actually addicted - intensive detox failed). All of the apathy and inability to support me or the baby (now 22 months) was difficult enough, but when he left a joint in reach of the child it was the final straw. When I asked him to leave, he left his really good job. He now lives in a broken down van, on land next to my rented home without permission, which i find this very intrusive. He has almost no money, no heating, only food his mother gives him, no proper job and will not go for professional help. He does small jobs sometimes to earn enough money for his marijuana. He complains constantly about his situation. He does not contribute towards our son's upbringing, and I do not want him to, as he has always been dreadfully unreliable and dishonest and I need stability. He sees our child almost every day which is nice, in my house, but the problem is, that when he is in the house, he always wants something, like a bath, phone calls, food, money, tobacco, laundry. He likes the warm and likes to watch the tv. He also manages to be quite moody and nasty towards me at the end of each visit. I don't know if this is because he is angry at having to go, or whether it is his mood swing which happens as part of marijuana withdrawal. Either way, I find his company very unpleasant and almost threatening and controlling. Therefore, I need to find a solution - how can I help him access the child, but not in my house, when he has fallen out with his family and he has no home of his own, and won't claim benefits or go on the housing list? I have suggested that he sees the child at the local children's centre, where it is warm and there is room for play and a kitchen and bathroom, but he says that this is unfair as it will stop him seeing the child. The children's centre is a mile away, he can walk there and I would drop of and pick up the child. Am I being unreasonable? Has anyone got any others ideas for managing this? I have been vulnerable in relationships before, and I do not have good abilities to see when someone is hurting me, or taking advantage, in this case I cannot see what would be reasonable and sensible. Please help.

A. Your ex partner's reliance on marijuana and subsequent mood swings are likely to make this situation increasingly difficult for you both to manage. Establishing clear ground rules and boundaries would seem to be crucial, but you may both need help to get these up and running. Making contact with your local mediation services and working to a plan (to put your 'unfinished business ' to one side for the sake of your child) would be a big step in the right direction. 'Only Mums' will help you identify a mediator in your area

Are you being unfair? No , of course not, but it may very well seem that way to your ex who is probably feeling sorry for himself , rejected and resentful. It is always worth remembering that you cannot change him but you can change how you are around him. Boundaries are critical ,and without them you run run the risk of continued manipulation. Once/if you can agree to an access plan you will need to be extremely consistent and at times assertive. Easy to say but often hard to do. If you feel your child is at risk you have the option to contact social services . I would suggest this as a last resort.

Best of luck.
Q. Hi, I was chatting with another single dad mate of mine and we discussed how easy it was just to carry on drinking wine after the kids have gone to bed. With no "wife" to help us with boundaries, we both realise that we are drinking too much. I certainly feel I am on something of a slippery slope and wonder if I should have a chat with my GP. Any other advice?

A.

The best news is your willingness to take a good look at your drinking patterns. Awareness is of great significance.

Many people drink more and sometimes progressively when adjusting to changes - alcohol is (in the beginning) an effective anesthetic but as you know can end up causing its own problems with dependence and behaviour change.

The doctor is of course an option though you should be aware that most have only a working knowledge of alcohol dependence and all too readily prescribe medication (anti depressants, sleeping pills etc). These might help in the short term but tend to 'paper over the cracks'.

G.P's can refer to the practice counsellor if there is one.They might even have access to a counsellor specialising in alcohol . Talking things through (as you are doing now) is a pretty fine idea. It will give you time to assess what is really going on and the extent of any underlying issues that may be contributing to the 'slippery slope 'that you have identified.

Why not try and reduce your intake or better still have a total break for a while to see how things go. This does not have to be permanent but is a great way of finding out whats what and how you really feel about things.
Most people who use the drug alcohol do so with enjoyment and success, but some (about 30%) struggle with the balance of power, and about 10 - 15% might go on to develop serious and debilitating dependence. There are programmes and support groups (including Alcoholics Anonymous) dedicated to supporting drinkers with both moderate and chronic drinking patterns.

Have a break and a think, figure out if possible a level of consumption that might work well for you in the future, and be aware that help is available through regional Drug and Alcohol Action Teams . You can access these services should you so wish via G.P referral or social services.

A useful question to consider is ' Am i using alcohol, or is it using me'. Social drinking is about being in control.

Good luck.
Q. I've tried so hard to give my children the opportunity to have a relationship with their dad after we split 4 years ago. He is an alcoholic deeply in denial and he began to turn violent, hence the split. I've always given him the opportunity to see the kids every other weekend and they stay the night. He has let them down constantly and goes out drinking on the nights they stay, leaving them with his parents. A few weeks ago, he came home drunk and started a conversation with my daughter (9) she said he got very emotional crying etc. He used to keep me for hours on end discussing his issues, failures etc when we were together. My daughter was so upset when she got home and said she didn't want to go there again (something both my children have often said). I called him to ask if he could make sure that he didn't do that again as diplomatically as i could but came up against his very defensive behavior. He even suggested that it was the other way around and that my daughter was lying. I haven't heard from him scince, that was 3 weeks ago. I sent a text to see if he wanted to srt it out but, no reply. I want to do the right thing for my kids and knowing him as i do, i'm finding it so hard seeing any benefit from him seeing them. I just don't know how honest to be with my children (9 and 7) they know that drinking is a big part of him and they are less than convinced that he cares at all about them. I truly don't want to bad mouth him to them, he is their dad but part of me wants to tell them the truth. What can i do? My boyfriend is the opposite to their father and is a very positive influence in their lives which is a blessing but it doesn't help with the confusion they feel about their dad. What can i do?

A. It is best to be honest as much as you think is appropriate - your children probably have a pretty good idea any way and may even be protecting you in some way. . . . they are stuck in the middle of the two most important people in their lives.

If you talk to them you might consider putting it in a way that is quite simple for them to understand e.g '' Daddy is ill. . . alcohol is bad medicine that does not agree with him ''' etc etc. An analogy often used is ' sick person trying to get well rather than bad person trying to get good '

Sadly it is par for the course for alcoholics to break promises and deny the truth. . . at this moment he is likely to love his alcohol before all else even if he hates himself for doing so in his more lucid (sober ) moments. It is unrealistic to expect him to be reliable and consistent whilst still drinking as his loyalty is to his drug of choice - consistency is the key word here as he may well be able to keep to his promises on occasions and this might leave you feeling all the more confused. promises made by frightened people are often heart felt and genuine, but unfortunately when push comes to shove the alcohol tends to hold the power.

Some people find organisations like AL-ANON very helpful. These are local groups set up to support people in the same boat as you, and can offer considerable comfort as well as practical support.You can google them and find a meeting in your area - wont change your ex, but might change how you deal with him.

Your local DAT (Drug action tea) might offer support also. You should access them via social services or G.P

You may have to be extra assertive and consider setting out clear boundaries. perhaps you could meet with your ex on a 'sober' day to discuss what is best for the kids. A neutral venue might be helpful.

Good to remember you cant change your ex's behaviour, but you can change how you are around him.

All best wishes and good luck.