A Way Out of the Black Hole of Addiction
Isle of Wight
By Ross Findon
THERE can be few families not touched by the tragic consequences of addiction.
Despite the warnings of doctors, social workers and experts and the sentences handed out by courts, nothing has stopped the sad spiral of drink and drug abuse faced by so many communities.
But on the Island, a new programme, developed by the IW Youth Trust and funded by The Royal Hotel, Lloyds TSB and the National Lottery, with accommodation provided by the IW Council, is leading the way in a tackling addiction through abstinence.
Unlike other rehabilitation programmes, The Works does not ask people to cut their use of drink and drugs but helps them to stop entirely ó helping them tackle not only the potentially life-threatening health effects but the devastating social and psychological consequences.
The Works is open to anyone, aged 18 to 25, from any background, who feels they need help. They can refer themselves, walking in off the street, calling or e-mailing, or go through their doctor.
Even those who have tried and failed in the past will be given the chance.
"If someone has tried and failed, it shows they still have a desire to change. We can give them the tools to stop and stay stopped," said project manager John Elford.
The project has three years of funding thanks to The Royal Hotel, which annually donates tens of thousands of pounds to the IW Youth Trust.
Participants on The Works undergo an intensive 12-week programme, based on the well known Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step Minnesota model, the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuseís Routes to Recovery tools and the Straight Ahead approach from the Institute of Behavioural Research .
"It runs five-days-a-week, from 10am to 4pm, for 12 weeks. It is a big commitment. But if someone has been using drink or drugs for years, you cannot turn them around without it taking time," said John.
The project launched earlier this year, after months of development, and the first clients are nine weeks into the programme.
"Once they graduate they will have a peer support group. It is really important, they stay in touch with us.
"If you look at the evidence about relapse, people can go through a three-month intensive programme like this and be very successful but if they go back to how they were living before and donít stay involved with a group of peers, they will relapse within nine months," said John.
The importance of peer support can be vital in helping people leave behind the lifestyle, including old friends, that led them to addiction, according to John.
"People have to be able to leave behind parts of their old life.
"If you are dealing with an alcohol problem, then going to the pub to meet your friends is probably not a good idea. But people come here because they recognize they need to change.
"The message we want to get out is that people dealing with drink and drug problems do not need to think they are stuck, there is a way out.
"You see stories of young people who have got into trouble with legal highs, drink and drugs and it has ended in disaster for them. It doesnít need to be that way. There is help out there," he said.
In the past, this type of help was reserved for the celebrity victims of addiction and those with the cash to pay for a private centre like The Priory.
In the world of state-funded therapies, the focus has been on controlling behaviour, reducing the use of harmful drink and drugs, without necessarily stopping outright.
That could be changing, however, as the government announced recently it wanted to shift towards abstinence-based approaches, meaning the IW Youth Trust is leading the way in what could become a national protocol.
Among the team of support workers involved in the IW project is John Wood.
"I came to this from life experience and from my own experience I know abstinence and this type of project can work.
"Sometimes you get someone who expects it on a plate. We can give people the tools they need but itís for them to do the hard work," he said.
Trish, 22, was one of the first people to sign up to take part.
"I went to the Youth Trust for counseling and they told me about The Works and said they thought it could help.
"I was smoking £40 to £50 worth of marijuana a day. I have a young daughter and my partner was telling me I needed to change or he would leave me. I knew I needed to change.
"This project has been brilliant. I tried to stop on my own so many times before. Itís easy to give up the drink or the drugs to some extent, itís all the other stuff that comes with it that can be the hardest thing to deal with.
"Your mind plays tricks and you tell yourself you can deal with it on your own and you can cut down but I have learned you canít. You feel like youíre in a black hole but finding this has been fantastic.
"Everyone has been so supportive, the support workers and the other people taking part. They have been through the same thing. You can talk to them about things you didnít think you could tell anyone else about without them calling you a weirdo."
But with her time on the course due to end soon, Trish admitted she had fears about the future.
"I am nervous about what will happen. I look forward to coming here every day.
"The peer support group is very important to me. I have built up some friendships and that will help me in the future."
Rob, also 22, is another of those who started with the project nine weeks ago.
He started using drink and drugs aged 13, becoming an alcoholic, drinking up to 25 units a day ó the equivalent of about eight pints of beer.
On top of his regular drinking, he would go on benders that could last a week.
"My girlfriend was heavily pregnant, my family were trying to support me but everyone was getting very frustrated.
"I was making life intolerable for everyone around me," said Rob.
"I went into detox after a particularly bad Christmas and new year when I ruined a lot of things.
"I did an 11-day detox. I was dealing with the physical problem but when I came out of detox, I didnít do what I should do, I didnít put my recovery first and I didnít go to AA meetings.
"I thought I would be OK, I could do it on my own," he said.
After his baby was born, Rob lapsed badly back into his old habits.
"I went out to have a drink and, five days later, there I was in Parkhurst."
Rob spent a short spell in jail on remand for something he said was a direct result of his drinking but which he did not want to talk about further.
He has yet to be sentenced for the offence but The Works could help ensure he does not return to jail.
The judge was told of Robís intention to take part in The Works and agreed to defer his final sentencing until after he had finished.
If Rob has made good enough progress, he will not be sent back to jail.
"It doesnít scare me finishing here. I have learned so much.
"I spent so long, out of control and drinking and taking drugs since I was 13, I didnít realise life could be like this.
"I have so much to lose if I went back to how I was. There are so many good points to life," said Rob.
He and Trish, and others nearing the end of their time at The Works, start to help the new people who join.
"I think it is essential that people see it can be done.
"It is a motivation to me to know there are people looking at me as an example. I know people going through some really tragic things because of drink and drugs and if I can help even one or two out of that, then itís a fantastic opportunity."
The news the government is moving towards abstinence approaches to tackling drink and drug abuse is welcomed by Rob.
"I canít believe these courses arenít everywhere. There is such a big problem out there.
"This has pretty much saved my life and made it worth living. Anyone out there in a similar situation needs to know there is help out there, there is a way out."
Anyone who would like to contact The Works can call John on 07580 023323 or e-mail him at [email protected]
From the July 1, 2011 County Press Online©
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