ACCESS ALL OPTIONS – so people can access help more easily
About one in 13 adults in the UK need help with alcohol dependency – but there are less than 1,000 beds dedicated to treating them. Is it possible to help the medical profession and people suffering from this disease or its fallout become more aware of alcohol rehab and its success?
No celebrity can truly be described as cool nowadays without the requisite, and much publicised, spell in alcohol rehab. The good news is that media coverage of this has made most of the general public aware that treatment does exist. However, it has also created the sense that treatment for addiction is a luxury that can be afforded by only the super-rich.
This is not helped by the fact that doctors in general practice spend little more than six hours learning about addiction treatment during their seven years of medical training – despite the fact that it affects such a vast percentage of their patients, and the families of those patients. Few GPs are aware of this option themselves. Fewer still understand how it works. It does not have to be like this.
Having spent the last 10 years in the healthcare sector, after a financial background, I realised that it was possible to deliver cost-effective services without having to compromise on quality.
When experiencing alcoholism in my family, I was astonished by the lack of services for people with this disorder. The few facilities on offer to the general public were of a very poor quality. The National Health Service seems to have an incomplete and emergency reactive approach to alcohol rehab: stick someone in detoxification for a week, get them sober and then put them back onto the streets or into society without giving them any real understanding or assistance with the behavioural or cognitive aspects or remedy for their problem. We have to recognise that the NHS has a tough job to do with limited budgets and other priorities. But in the long term, this is not the best use of funds.
Celebrities are fortunate to be able to take a month or so out of their schedule with seemingly no impact on their income or employment and personal obligations. Few ordinary people coming into alcohol rehab treatment have this luxury. While a four-week stay is recommended, our centres are not the only ones working with patients to provide treatment around the demands of their job, family and life.
Correctly structured, clients can achieve recovery through a two-week treatment programme followed by a further fortnight at a later date. A two-week absence from work is easier to explain away as holiday, for example.
It should also be recognised that treatment seems to be more acceptable to patients at this first crucial stage of seeking help if they find they are being treated in a group of patients with the same primary addiction. Certainly, this is a principle my own centres apply for people seeking alcohol help. The ethos is that this helps the clients to settle into treatment more quickly and to feel comfortable with sharing issues with fellow alcoholics. It is possible to offer a service that is cheaper. Keeping costs down does not have to mean compromising on quality, safety or the standard of premises provided.
Sadly, even in this day and age, most people still think of an alcoholic as someone who sits on a park bench, wearing a dirty mac secured with string and swigging from a can of Special Brew. There is a real need to get rid of the stigma associated with alcoholism. This can only be done via a prolonged programme to educate the media, the general public, the legal profession, the judiciary, healthcare experts and other stakeholders as well as government departments dealing with issues of addiction.
Everyone who knows someone, who has a family member or suffers from a drink problem themselves, should know that there is a solution. In the case of the alcoholic, if they recognise and accept they have an issue with drink, this is the first step on the journey to recovery. So, if society no longer views alcoholism as shameful and is aware of the solution, more people are likely to admit to the problem and seek treatment.
As more people accept that rehab is one of the best ways to start an alcoholic on the road to recovery, so there will be a need to cater for different sectors of the community. For example, we plan to widen the scope of our services to include a mother-and-baby unit and a centre for adolescents, both of which are too rare in the UK. We will also open a centre dedicated to aftercare.
There is a wealth of evidence telling us that it is better to treat a person for their illness than to let it deteriorate to the point where they are hospitalised or, worse, they drift into criminality and end up in prison where their criminal skills are honed. Their illness has not been treated, so they will re-offend. The cost of hospital beds and keeping an addict in prison far exceed the cost of treatment. There is no ‘one solution for all’ answer. But the problem could be addressed much more effectively by making rehab a widely-available and widely-known alternative to hospitalisation or imprisonment for those who want to get better.
Abridged and updated from an article originally published in Addiction Today issue 107.