Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Can I Offer Anyone a Small Sherry?

North East councils are meeting tonight to debate the far reaching effects of alcohol misuse in the region. They want to introduce minimum prices to stop alcohol being so accessible, particularly to youngsters.

If their plan is successful then they're hoping that the next generation of kids shouldn't (in theory) spend their days pissed
up in our local parks. Winner!

That's all well and good, however I'd still like to know what they plan to do to help those people ALREADY struggling with alcohol addiction RIGHT NOW.

We have some of the worst documented problems with addiction in this region, yet the services here in the North East are woefully inadequate and policy decisions are usually made by people with absolutely no real idea of the kind of help people need.

A three day physical detox in the local hospital is all well and good to prevent seizures from alcohol withdrawal but there's no therapeutic intervention and, despite the revamped NICE guidelines, waiting lists for psychotherapy in this area can still take up to TWO YEARS.

That's always assuming you're lucky enough to be allocated to a psychotherapist who understands addiction of course, as opposed to someone who opts for that cop out diagnosis of 'borderline personality disorder'.

Labels aren't helpful at the best of times but BPD has to be one of the most damaging of all in my opinion and all it usually means is that the psychiatrist/psychologist simply didn't have a clue what else to label you with.

I have a LOT of experience with addictions, both in my personal life and also, with my involvement with local organisations dealing with addiction and the issues that stem from it, so I'm not just a member of the do-gooder, woolly jumper brigade.

I'm involved with it first hand & I see the devastating effects on the wider community, the family, the kids being taken into care, the women (and sometimes men) being beaten by their partners, the thefts to fund a spree, the evictions from homes & subsequent decline from B&B to hostel to park bench.

I see the way people bounce around psychiatric units and A&E departments and I've also seen people die; either through accidents whilst drinking, physical illnesses associated with drinking or very often, good old fashioned suicide, so the idea that all of these problems can be solved by a three day physical detox in a hospital ward is laughable.

The healthcare professionals I speak to scratch their heads in despair as they see the same people bouncing around the same inadequate system. They think it's self inflicted and their patient CHOOSES to drink when in fact, most addicts hate the way their lives are turning out but have absolutely no mental defence against picking up a drink again.

Nothing will ever change without the addict being allowed a safe place in a therapeutic environment with (preferably) psychoanalysts or psychotherapists who can help them to pick apart the reasons they drink and help them to create their own strategies for keeping themselves safe in future.

The economic effects of the current 'treatment' cycle on an already overstretched healthcare system must be horrendous. Just take a moment to consider the costs that spring to mind immediately, apart from the hospital detox...

Think about hospital treatment following drunken falls, fights etc., social services intervention, costs relating to children being kept in care, the next generation of costs from the well documented issues arising from adults who grew up in care, crime, policing, prison. I could go on forever really.

Isn't it better, both from an economic perspective but also from a social perspective, to get the addict the treatment they ACTUALLY need? To help them recover so they can break the cycle of destruction and go on to lead useful lives and become valuable members of society like the rest of us?

People often say that mental health services are the 'poor relation' in comparison to acute, clinical service provision. Well if that's true, then addiction is the Great Aunt twice removed in terms of mental health service provision.

You all know great Aunt (insert your own choice of name here). That weird woman you only ever see at Christmas? The one who comes for Christmas lunch, talks gibberish, sucks the liquor from your Christmas chocolates & puts the empty shells back in the box?

The one who drains the sherry bottle before falling asleep in front of the TV, her toothless mouth gaping open to allow the rumbling snores to escape and vibrate around the room until you can't hear the soundtrack of the film you're trying to watch?

The one who wets herself on your best, most expensive chair before she's quickly dispatched home in a taxi and you can thank your lucky stars that it's over, that you've done 'your bit' but there's no way you're doing it next year and you're going to force your sister to take her turn for once.

Sound familiar? Well that's exactly what's happening with addicts in this region. The only difference is that their health issue is supposedly being TREATED and WE are paying a fortune for these desperate souls to keep repeating the same inadequate, ineffective cycle time after time after time...

I hope the councils are successful with their 'minimum price' alcohol strategy tonight. It won't stop anyone buying booze but it'll certainly raise more money and I hope that money comes back to the councils who, for once, may choose to consult with people who truly understand addiction and can advise them how to use that money for practical, useful, often lifesaving, intervention.

I hope...

PS - If any of this has touched a nerve with you, you may find the following websites useful.