Date of Award

2022

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Medicine)

Schools and Centres

Medicine

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Kylie Russell

Second Supervisor

Doctor Tracey Coventry

Abstract

Worldwide, the impact of illicit methamphetamine use has been increasingly recognised over the past two decades. Emergency Department presentations and physical and mental health effects have led to a focus on developing effective treatments for methamphetamine users. Little research has explored the impact, specifically of methamphetamine, on family members. Methamphetamine itself possesses unique differences from other drugs in both its direct effects and its mental and physical health impact on the user.

To this end, this longitudinal qualitative study used interpretative phenomenological analysis to understand the lived experiences of family members of methamphetamine users. The study was conducted in Bunbury and Perth, Western Australia. Initial recruitment was conducted at a site in Bunbury, and snowball sampling was utilised to complete recruitment. Representatives of 11 families consisting of one to three participants (n = 17) were recruited. Participants consisted of parents, siblings or other adult family members who considered themselves to be in a support role for a methamphetamine user.

Semi-structured face-to-face and telephone interviews were conducted with each participant at three-month intervals over a period of 12 months between September 2020 and September 2021. A total of 53 interviews were conducted. Data were analysed and thematic analysis was completed using the interpretative phenomenological analysis methodology. The analysis yielded four superordinate themes for family members as they observe the changing presentations of the methamphetamine user (the New Lifeguard theme), experience the repeated and damaging impact on their lives (Hit by the Wave), perceive dramatic change to their goals and family structure (Life in the Ocean) and employ strategies to adapt to what can be a protracted journey (Learning to Surf).

In addition, the findings illuminate a nonlinear process of adaptation by family members from a participant focus on the person using the drug, to a change in their focus to their broader family unit. The findings also highlight the participants’ perceived transition from supporter to carer, and often from supporter to patient. Moreover, this thesis highlights the differences in the degree of impact on those closest to the user in the family and those further away.

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