Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 3

I continue describing my experiences at the local treatment agency West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) and what I learnt about how treatment facilitates recovery from addiction. You can read the earlier parts here and here.

‘Dave Watkins was a Community Support Worker for WGCADA. He was originally an engineer, but changed career after a member of his family suffered a substance use problem. In simple terms, Dave helped clients with every aspect of their lives that could interfere with their progress on their recovery journey. This included helping put a roof over their heads, getting their social security benefits, dealing with legal problems… and sometimes involved painting walls or cleaning up vomit! Dave immersed himself in his clients’ lives. He worked with some of the most chaotic substance users you would ever meet.

Dave worked closely with the courts, police, probation, social services, solicitors, the Community Drug Team, hospitals, rehab centres, housing services, GPs and more. He had an extensive contact list. He persevered through thick and thin with his clients, sometimes over a period of years. Dave believed that everyone deserved a chance and if they were willing to try to improve their lives by accessing WGCADA, then everything possible should be done for them. He also believed that if he could help some of the most chaotic users and drinkers find recovery, then others of the same ilk in the area who would step forward and ask for help.

‘It’s like being a fisherman. I cast my net with tasty bait and see what I can haul in. Some of my catch is ready to move on, some are not and I have to let them go. But they might be ready next time round.’ Dave Watkins

Cheryl Hancock, mother of Becky Hancock—a former psychology undergraduate who worked with me on the Welsh DATF evaluation—asked if she could do some voluntary work for Wired In. I suggested that she follow Dave Watkins for a week—hoping she could keep up(!)—and then write a report. It was a most stimulating piece of writing!

Two years later, my daughter wrote an article entitled ‘A Day with Dave’, which appeared in the magazine Drink and Drugs News [pp. 10-11]. Both Cheryle and Annalie mentioned that whilst they were ‘tracking’ Dave, people would come rushing up and thank him for helping them in the past. I saw that happen as well.

As they worked in reception, Esther and Angie played a critical role in the initial connection of clients to WGCADA. Knowing how much courage it had taken for some clients to approach the agency, Esther and Angie knew the importance of giving clients a warm welcome, and ensuring they felt wanted and cared for from day one. They had to instil hope, and reassurance to the client that they had made the right decision in coming to WGCADA. Even now, I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a ‘warm welcome.’

Angie and Esther spent a lot of time with clients (in-house and on the phone), giving them the chance to offload and share before, during and after treatment. They were very much part of the therapeutic process operating in WGCADA. My two boys Sam and Ben used to love visiting Angie and Esther and seeing other friends like Dave and Keith. Ben’s school was almost next door to WGCADA.

Angie and Esther also had to deal with the frustrations of clients who were on the waiting list to join one of WGCADA’s services. One of the downsides of running a successful service, with good positive outcomes, was that more and more people wanted to access WGCADA, numbers that the organisation could not cope with due to insufficient funding and staff. One thing I found particularly galling was that some of the staff, people like Dave Watkins, were not in a permanent job. The agency had to apply for funding each year.’ Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Copyright © 2021 by David Clark

What I learnt about addiction and recovery from the practitioners of WGCADA was certainly very different to what I learnt as a neuroscientist. I must emphasis though that the approach used by different treatment agencies varies—here, I have described what goes on in one agency. One which I could see how good success at facilitating recovery at the time.

If you want to learn more about the nature of addiction treatment, why not read my article ‘Treatment of Substance Use Problems‘.

> ‘A Day With Dave’ by Annalie Clark