Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 6

I earlier began a series of blog posts (starting here) describing what I learnt about addiction, addiction recovery and addiction treatment after I had closed down my neuroscience laboratory in the early 2000s. I started visiting a local treatment agency, local treatment agency West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA), in Swansea, South Wales. At the same time, I was conducting an evaluation of projects supported by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund in Wales.

I continue this series of blog posts by describing what happened, and what I learnt, after I first visited the treatment agency BAC O’Connor in 2004. Here is the start of a new story, one where I saw recovery literally oozing out of the walls of a building.

Kevin Flemen of KFx first suggested I get together with Simon Shepherd, then Chief Executive of the Federation of Drug and Alcohol Professionals (FDAP), the professional body for the drugs and alcohol field that worked to improve practitioner standards [1]. Kevin thought that more people outside of Wales needed to hear what Wired In was doing and he considered Simon to be a perfect person to help with that.

When we first met early in 2004, Simon asked if I would attend a FDAP Management Group meeting in the Houses of Parliament, where he started to introduce me to some ‘movers and shakers’ in the field.

The first of these people I visited in their ‘treatment setting’ was Noreen Oliver, Chief Executive of Burton Addiction Centre (BAC; now BAC O’Connor) in Burton-upon-Trent. Noreen later asked if I would conduct an evaluation of her treatment programme, so I headed up to BAC with Wired In team member (and former psychology student) Sarah Davies (now Vaile).

Noreen Oliver is one of those incredible people who overcame a very serious addiction to do some truly extraordinary things. And continues to do so.

For years, Noreen was a functioning alcoholic who held down two jobs. She had her first alcohol detox treatment when she was 25 years old. By 1992, at age 31, she was drinking a bottle of gin a day and was hospitalised with cirrhosis. She was malnourished and weighed just 6 stone (38kg). At one point, she was so ill she was given the last rites by a priest; after surviving, she vowed to turn her life around. Noreen’s family then arranged for her to attend a rehabilitation clinic in Nottingham. She recalled:

‘I shared a room with a female crack addict who also worked the streets. This was a completely alien thing to me and, at first, I was horrified but soon realised she was not so different to me.’

Noreen stopped drinking completely in 1993. She sought doctors’ advice on how she could help others and ultimately founded her own treatment centre, BAC, which started in two rooms in Burton-on-Trent in 1998. She re-mortgaged her home and the Centre started to grow. A sister organisation, The O’Connor Centre, opened in Newcastle-under-Lyme in 2002. (You can see a short documentary focusing on Noreen’s life in a blog I posted in May  2013).

Both Centres provided rehabilitation to people with a drug and/or alcohol misuse problem in their own community via an abstinence-based, structured day care programme, which involved a central role of supported housing for some clients.

At the time of our visits, the accommodation was just outside the town centre, but BAC O’Connor were later given four large houses by Coors Brewery for which they paid a peppercorn rent. This meant that accommodation for the clients was in the same location as the main Centre in Burton-on-Trent. [I’ll now refer to both Centres as BAC O’Connor, even though our evaluation in 2004 only focused on BAC.]

Providing a rehabilitation programme in the community in which addiction has developed, allows clients to face life without drugs/alcohol in an everyday setting that is proactively geared to protect them at all times. They can learn to take up life’s challenges, and be supported in doing so, in the environment in which they are likely to continue their lives.

BAC O’Connor recognised that rehabilitation necessitates addressing the client in his or her entirety. Trying to deal with the ‘whole’ person requires a variety of different forms of expertise, beyond what can be achieved by a single agency.

Therefore, BAC O’Connor set out to develop partnerships in the community that would allow them to provide various components of the rehabilitative process, and be able to signpost people and make referrals where necessary.

The organisations also hired an in-house team which, as a whole, comprised a multitude of skills. A wide range of therapeutic interventions were available to clients. Along with their professional qualifications, a number of staff members had ‘walked the walk’ and travelled their own personal journey into recovery.

When Sarah and I visited BAC in Burton-on-Trent in 2004, the structured day-care programme involved a number of therapeutic and educational interventions for five and a half days a week, for a minimum of twelve weeks. There were normally two groups of 12 clients going through the programme at any one time. The main programme was followed by an aftercare programme which was available for at least two years after graduation.

Whilst the programme had some small roots in the 12-step based philosophy, staff at BAC O’Connor had changed some of the principals, since the former was considered too rigid.

For example, ‘powerlessness’ was not emphasised; the Centres talked about ‘loss of control whilst in active addiction’ instead. Whilst it was recognised that ‘living one day at a time’ might be a useful approach in the early stages of abstinence, staff believed it had more limited value later in a person’s recovery journey. The person needed to move forward and plan for the future—’that is where they are going.’

The Centres empowered clients to take responsibility for all aspects of self.

[1] Simon Shepherd is now Director of the Butler Trust, an organisation that celebrates and promotes the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice.

> Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 7