Are our addiction and stop drinking campaigns just an ever revolving door?

I really respect people who want to get free from problem drinking or addiction as it takes a lot of courage and strength to face up to what usually is an all consuming habit.  I therefore only work with people who genuinely want to deal with the issues that have led them to these and who wish to break the cycle.  I make it very clear to anyone coming to me as a counsellor for these issues that it may be a battle, it may be bloody, it will take a lot of effort, it may take a lot of time but it will be no worse that it was in getting to the place they are now in.  However I also make it very clear that they can come through it  if they really want to.  Depending on the extent and type of addiction, recovery is not for the feint hearted.  But if clients are willing to work, the rewards are immense not only for the drinker/user themselves but for their families and friends as well.    This all may sound a bit harsh coming from a Counsellor but whilst I adopt a more gentler start to my general counselling clients’ sessions, with addiction there is no messing.  I wouldn’t be doing my clients who come to me for these issues any favours in not setting out how hard it can be at the very start.  I am not interested in helping them to stop drinking or using for a month, a week or a year through sheer willpower.   I let clients know that I cannot do the work for them but I am prepared to stand beside them, roll up my sleeves and get into the muckiness of addiction with them in order that they can break free from the cycle they have got themselves caught up in for the rest of their lives.    However this is IF and ONLY IF they really want to do it. 

So when I read the following article in the BBC News I just knew it would form the basis of my next, and long overdue Blog.  The article reported that: 

“Drug users are to be offered vouchers for things such as gym membership and to pay utility bills to encourage them to comply with treatment programmes. The National Treatment Agency in England is piloting the incentive scheme at 15 sites starting this week.   It will be the first time incentives have been used in such a way. Drug addicts will be awarded vouchers – limited to £200 over the 12-week pilot – for staying drug-free, attending clinics and for getting health care”.    This is because “we are applying the tried and tested principles of a basic behavioural rewards system” so says Dr John Dunn of the National Treatment Agency. 

Whether you agree that this is a good idea or not is probably indicative of where you sit in the scheme of substance misuse.  If you are a user you may think it a good idea and if you are not, you may not.

As a professional counsellor who also works with clients who have problem drinking and substance misuse issues, I am taught to be impartial and non judgemental.  Non judgemental I most certainly am and if a person chooses to use substances or drink heavily I personally and professionally recognise this as their choice.   I do have a view however about whether bribing people to give up unhealthy habits is effective.  In my view most services that are offered for free or which provides incentives to participants will fail.  This is based on my experience of setting up and working with a similar “scheme” in previous years and I believe is especially true of this client base.  

Wouldn’t a much better solution be to have much tougher screening of potential users of addiction services and much more appropriate help than I am aware that there is.  As for being free, for real genuine cases that truly want to make changes, maybe.  But let’s face it drugs and alcohol are not cheap and therefore users can afford to make a nominal fee at least.  If nothing else they would be more likely to show up for appointments with such agencies than they generally usually do.  Also why I have centre stage on my Blog on public addiction services, wouldn’t it also be better not to give Heroin users Methadone free as a substitute but which is just as addictive “when trying to help them get off Heroin” and which many Heroin users use as an additional supply not a replacement for Heroin?   

Most crucial of all however and fundamental to any help programme in this field, is that surely we must tackle the reason why people turn to drink or drugs in the first place and why they continue to use them and then help coach them back into the World again.   This in my view is why individual, appropriate and open ended counselling by trained professional and not volunteers in training is crucial for anyone in recovery.  At the moment and it seems from this report by the BBC that our public services are just tickling the problem of addiction.  But if we don’t start taking it seriously addiction will always be an ever revolving door for a large majority of people.   

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