No wrong door: making alcohol support accessible to all

Andrew Misell | July 2019 | 7 minutes

Failing to recognise the complex and diverse needs of drinkers could mean that we’re excluding many from the help they deserve. At our annual conference in Wales we’ll be looking at ways to make sure fewer people fall through the gaps in services.

They say that problems, like buses, tend to arrive in threes. Maybe not always threes, but they don’t tend to come alone. Alcohol problems are no exception. Drinking to excess is often just one symptom of the many difficulties in someone’s life.

We know that alcohol is a “favourite coping mechanism” for anxiety, depression and other forms of mental distress. It may be used to mask childhood trauma, or to cope with autism in a world that’s far from autism-friendly. Drinking may be tied up with a co-occurring eating disorder. It may be contributing to a worsening gambling habit, or offering a temporary escape from it.

There are generally support services to help people manage each of these issues – drinking, gambling, mental health. The trouble is that, for the person seeking help, these are not individual problems to be dealt with one-by-one. They are all happening in one headspace. They can’t necessarily be disentangled and distributed between various agencies. Any one of them may be impossible to solve without due regard to the others.

Specialist services need to know something about other specialisms.

This means that specialist services need to know something about other specialisms. Alcohol services need to know about much more than alcohol alone. And other services – healthcare, social care, the emergency services and others – need to know much more about alcohol. At the very least, everyone needs to know how to recognise the signs of issues beyond their usual field of expertise, and know who they need to collaborate with to address them.

It’s what the Australian Department of Health have called a “no wrong door” policy, in which “every door in the system provides access to the services needed”. They’ve explained this holistic and client-centred approach in an excellent (and enormous) set of guidelines. We’d certainly recommend reading them, but in the meantime we’d like to invite you to our one-day conference at Wrexham Glyndŵr University on 18 September, where we’ll be taking a practical look at how to provide the best support for people who don’t fit neatly into any one category or diagnosis.

We’ll be hearing from, and putting questions to, experts from the University of South Wales Addictions Research Group, the Centre for Applied Autism Research at Bath, Mind in Bradford, the Living Room Cardiff, and more. Plus, we’ll be talking with the award-winning journalist and author Catherine Gray about her twenty years of heavy drinking and the unexpected joy of being sober.

So, if you want to make sure that your local services are focussed more on helping people turn their lives around and maybe a bit less on treatment criteria, this multidisciplinary event is for you. Whether you’re a substance misuse practitioner, police officer, mental health professional, social worker, service commissioner or anyone else, we’d love to see you there.

Find out more about the conference and get tickets here.

Book your place now!