Family members of persons with chronic illnesses – Burden and social support

  • C. Hofheinz
  • R. Soellner


Background: Living together with a chronically ill family member often is accompanied by an enormous burden for relatives. Studies found higher rates of psychological and physiological impairment within family members of problematic substance users as well as within caregivers of people with dementia. However, to date it is unclear whether relatives of substance users are affected more strongly due to special characteristics of problematic substance use (e.g. stigmatizing of addiction, feelings of guilt) than those with non-stigmatized illnesses e.g. caregivers of people with dementia. Methods: N=221 relatives of problematic substance user and N=322 caregivers of people with dementia were analyzed. Depression, anxiety, physiological symptoms, quality of life and satisfaction with social support were assessed in both groups. Mean values were compared by multivariate ANOVAs and the mediating role of satisfaction with social support was explored. Findings: Compared to caregivers of people with dementia, relatives of problematic substance users showed higher rates of depression (p = .005), anxiety (p = .038), stomach discomfort (p < .001), fatigue (p < .001), and a lower quality of life (p < .001). Furthermore, they were less satisfied with the perceived professional (p < .001) and private social support (p < .001), which both mediated the group-impairment relation (all p ≤ .029). Discussion: Family members of problematic substance might be more affected by their relative illness due to the stigmatization of problematic substance users and their families (e.g. co-addiction). This could result in more difficulties in searching as well as receiving of social support.
Oral presentations