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Family Drug Help (FDH) is a service designed specifically to address the support and information needs of parents, other family members and significant others of someone with problematic alcohol or other drug use. People with personal experience of the effects of alcohol or other drug use within their family or friendship group are involved at all levels of the service.

Family Drug Help’s mission is to provide peer support and access to reliable information about alcohol and other drugs as well as available treatment options. FDH aims to reduce the alcohol and drug related harm experienced by families and friends of a person misusing these substances and to strengthen families in their support of that person.

Specifically, Family Drug Help aims to:

  • Recognise that support and information can provide ongoing help and hope to concerned families and friends.
  • Empower families and friends to reduce alcohol and drug-related harm to themselves and the person using alcohol or other drugs through a process of mutual support and self-help.
  • Reduce the isolation and stigma often associated with a family members misuse of alcohol or other drugs by bringing families in contact with others who share these experiences.
  • Provide non-judgemental, empathic support, as well as accurate information on alcohol and other drugs and current available treatment options.


Family Drug Help delivers a variety of services, including:

  • Family Drug Helpline  – a state-wide 24 hour helpline available for immediate and ongoing support
  • Action for Recovery Course (ARC) – a six week family education course to learn skills and strategies in coping with a loved one’s addiction
  • Support Groups – available across Victoria where family and friends can gain support, educational resources and share their experiences with others
  • Family Counselling – provides a supportive environment to help families develop their relationship by building upon their skills and strengths
  • BreakThrough – ice education for families and the community
  • Siblings Support – interactive online support and information.


Interview of the story of how Family Drug Help came to be

 Family Drug Help (FDH) was established in the year 2000 with the financial support of the Department of Human Services. Drawing together the skills, passion, and expertise of three existing organisations – Parents for Drug Information and Support (PDIS), the Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC), and Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre – FDH was the innovation of three passionate and committed individuals; Brenda Irwin, Gordon Storey, and Margaret Hamilton. The FDH program is a flagship for the SHARC model of care and continues to represent the efficacy of the self-help paradigm for families and individuals affected by drug use.


After the death of her daughter to a heroin overdose in 1996 Brenda Irwin went searching for information about drug use and its effects. Inspired by a radio piece in which she heard Dr. Alex Wodak, the then head of Drug and Alcohol Services at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney interviewed, Brenda Irwin became passionate about fighting stigma, and resourcing and supporting parents of drug users. Brenda Irwin made contact with Dr.Wodak who in turn connected her with other families engaged in law-reform and advocacy. Through these networks Brenda Irwin received an invitation to speak, alongside two other parents, about her experience at a public forum in the Melbourne Town Hall, under the auspices of then Lord Mayor, Cr. Ivan Deveson, which led to her joining drug and alcohol working groups with both the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Yarra City Council. Around the same time Brenda Irwin established Parents for Drug Information and Support, holding the first group meeting in 1998 at North Yarra Community Health Centre, with local GP Dr.David Jacka as keynote speaker and supporter. Parents for Drug Information and Support grew rapidly and by the end of their first year of operation, PDIS facilitated a forum attended by one hundred and fifty people. Professor Margaret Hamilton, fellow co-founder of FDH and then director of Turning Point Drug and Alcohol Services, was an invited speaker at this forum.


After more than thirty years as a social worker Margaret Hamilton was acutely aware of the inadequate engagement with families in the drug and alcohol service system. Attempts to integrate family focus into the Turning Point model, which had not borne fruit in part due to financial constraints, meant Margaret Hamilton was keen to support alternate initiatives that put family participation on the treatment agenda. Margaret Hamilton’s clinical experience had repeatedly shown that family engagement was a crucial component in effective treatment, and that mutual support groups could be highly beneficial for people dealing with drug and alcohol issues. To this end, Margaret Hamilton began to support Brenda Irwin’s organisation through the provision of group facilitator training for PDIS members, which was co-delivered by Brenda Irwin and staff from Turning Point.


Brenda Irwin’s advocacy efforts had increased by this time and, through a series of meetings with DHS, she began lobbying for the establishment of a dedicated peer support phone line for families affected by the drug use of a loved one. Around this time Brenda Irwin came into contact with Gordon Storey – the third founding member of FDH – who was also consulting on one of the DHS working groups. Gordon Storey was then CEO of SHARC, the organisation that would later become the lead agency in developing and managing FDH. Michelle Keenan, the Turning Point Staff member who had been assisting at the PDIS meetings and a former colleague of Gordon Storey’s, formally introduced him and Brenda Irwin shortly afterwards. Alongside a host of other invited professionals, Gordon Storey attended and spoke at several PDIS meetings during this time. With the emergence of evidence on the efficacy of family inclusive practice in the late 1990s, the gap in service provision for families affected by the drug use of a loved one was identified and prioritised. The Department of Human services allocated funds for the development of a targeted family service and put the job out to tender. Brenda Irwin, Margaret Hamilton, and Gordon Storey saw this as an opportunity to formalise and develop a specific service for families within the context of the existing service system. Based on the provision of accurate information, the philosophy of self-help and mutual support that underpinned the flourishing SHARC organisation, and a commitment to meeting callers where they were in their respective processes, the three formed a consortium that tendered for the service delivery contract, under the fiscal and philosophical direction of SHARC.

 The three organisations provided the perfect mix of professional and experiential expertise, coupled with the infrastructure and passion required to establish the service being called for. In late 2000 the consortium was named as the preferred provider and Family Drug Help was established as an integrated program area of the SHARC service. Drawing on the technical and organisational support of Turning Point, the inspiration, energy and passion of family members, and the conceptual narrative of self-help underpinning SHARC, the PDIS group established by Brenda Irwin developed into a state-wide Victorian service consisting of a resource centre/knowledge dissemination service, a telephone helpline, and facilitated mutual support groups for families and friends of people with drug problems.


Family Drug Help began operating as an integrated program of the SHARC service, co-located at the Glenhuntly Road site. Staffed by a mix of peer volunteers and paid staff, and supported by a Steering Committee of people with both professional and experiential expertise, FDH operations were managed by Gordon Storey with the support of Brenda Irwin and others. Importantly, the Steering Committee played a pivotal role in the development of the ethos, spirit and role modelling that has come to define FDH. Margaret Hamilton facilitated technical support from Turning Point, specifically in the provision of after hours care via Direct Line for the FDH helpline, and acted as a consultant on organisational issues. The new program was promoted widely amongst Victorian alcohol and drug agencies, with referrals coming from inside the existing service system and via word of mouth. Whilst there was a significant amount of verbal support initially, the referrals from existing agencies were less than had been anticipated. Despite this fact the initiative stabilised and became a program in its own right on the strength of the founding members’ passions and the strong structural foundations, under the auspices of SHARC. Operating from a base of self-help philosophy coupled with a commitment to provide accurate information the service flourished as trained family volunteers on the helpline made the shift from helpee to helper. Volunteers began to experience their own empowerment whilst concurrently modelling this to helpline callers. Family Drug Help continues to operate as a vital service and source of empowerment for families and friends of loved ones affected by drugs and alcohol.


Interview conducted by Suzi Hayes for SHARC with Margaret Hamilton, Brenda Irwin and Gordon Storey

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