More and better support and treatment

For hundreds of thousands of people in the UK, alcohol has become a source of profound suffering. They may be individuals feeling locked into a relationship with alcohol that is damaging their lives, or friends and family members struggling to cope with the consequences and unsure how to support their loved one. In these cases, treatment is often the best way to turn lives around.


But treatment services often seem to be low on the list of political priorities. In recent years particularly, funding has been repeatedly cut. Dependent drinkers are often stigmatised, treated as if they have simply brought their condition upon themselves, or considered beyond help. This needs to change.

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The state of alcohol services

Our research has demonstrated the extent to which local alcohol treatment services are bearing the brunt of local authority budget cuts. Over two-thirds of local authorities have cut their funding in recent years, many by over 50%. There is a loss of capacity, skills and accessibility as services merge, staff are moved from one provider to another and local centres are closed down.

The risks of this are enormous: without an effective treatment system, hundreds of thousands of people will be left without the support they need. This not only comes with a human cost, but creates knock-on costs for hospitals, the ambulance service, the police and other social services. These costs far outweigh any short-term savings to local authority budgets. Worst of all, cuts tend to fall hardest on areas with the highest levels of deprivation and the greatest need for alcohol treatment, making health and social inequalities even worse.

Over two-thirds of local authorities have cut alcohol treatment funding in recent years, many by over 50%.

The impact of better support

Among those hardest hit by these cuts are people with the most complex needs, such as those with both alcohol problems and mental health problems. They can find it particularly hard to engage with services, with alcohol services ill-equipped to cope with mental health issues and mental health services not working with them until their drinking has been resolved. What people in this situation need are wraparound services that are able to work on both their mental health and alcohol problems – if not simultaneously, then at least as part of a coordinated plan.

Our Blue Light programme, like other multi-agency programmes that encourage assertive outreach, has shown clearly that such people can be helped and that doing so creates enormous savings to other services. Research has found that drinkers with complex needs are likely to become very frequent attenders at Accident and Emergency units, often because they have nowhere else to go in moments of crisis. Engaging such people in a treatment programme brings an estimated £3,400 in savings for every £1,000 spent, and most importantly can dramatically improve their lives.

Research has also shown that recovery has significant benefits for families affected by alcohol. When a dependent drinker gets help that works, family members feel less stressed and anxious, do better at work, and have improved relationships. Dedicated support services for the friends and family of people who drink too much have also been shown to be effective.

Estimates show that every £1 spent on assertive outreach treatment could lead to savings of up to £3.42.

Our role

Everyone who wants help with their drinking should be able to access the support they need, without shame or stigma.

We do not provide treatment directly, but support those services that do and the people that commission them.

We are an independent voice for all those who are engaged in helping people towards recovery, whether treatment providers, voluntary groups, fellowships, specialist medics or researchers exploring more effective interventions.

We also use our knowledge and research to support practitioners on the ground, service managers, commissioners and national Government to put in place the most effective policies and practices.

We campaign for appropriate funding, share research about the most effective treatment methods, and work to reduce the stigma surrounding alcohol problems so that more people seek the help they need.

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Ac Lauch Report Front Page

The Alcohol Change Report

Read the report for more on alcohol in the UK today, the key changes we need to work towards, and references.

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