My Journey: 7. Early Reflections on Addiction Treatment

In the early 2000s, I saw how different addiction treatment services operated in Wales. Here, I outline the approach adopted by the government-led addiction treatment system, which was heavily influenced by the 1998 UK Drug Strategy, and describe some of its shortcomings. I discuss what I saw at West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea in relation to ideas related to self-healing and the therapeutic process. (2,962 words)

In the last six parts of My Journey I have described various community activities in which I was engaged, both at a local and national level, in the few years after I left the neuroscience field in the year 2000. In this chapter, I reflect on various aspects of these activities and on the environment in which I now worked.

1. Early Reflections on Addiction Treatment
‘Step by step that change is happening and Britain is becoming a better place to live in. But it could be so much better if we could break once and for all the vicious cycle of drugs and crime which wrecks lives and threatens communities.’ Prime Minister Tony Blair, 1998

What was happening in the addiction treatment field was heavily influenced by the UK government’s 1998 drugs strategy, Tackling Drugs to Build a Better Britain, which classed the drug problem as a criminal justice issue, rather than a health/social issue. The UK Government’s priority for drug treatment was to provide methadone, a long-lasting heroin substitute, to people who were addicted to heroin, believing that this would reduce the crime that they perceived was caused by heroin addicts. 

Read More ➔

My Journey: 4. Learning About Addiction Treatment – WGCADA Stories

Three stories from the treatment agency West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea describe a medical student’s experiences during a day with community support worker Dave Watkins; a client’s experiences whilst interacting with Arrest Referral worker Becky Hancock, and a client’s experiences in the Primary treatment programme at WGCADA. (4,644 words)

In the previous part of My Journey, I described some of what I learnt through a small group of practitioners (some of whom were in recovery) at the treatment agency WGCADA in Swansea. During my time at WGCADA, my colleagues and I wrote a number of stories, three of which I include here.

1. ’A Day in the Life of Dave’ by Annalie Clark

The first story is written by my daughter Annalie, after she finished her first year of medical training at the University of Edinburgh and worked as a volunteer for Wired In over a period of the summer. One of her projects involved following around WGCADA Community Support Worker Dave Watkins.

Annalie and I in Kalbarri, Western Australia, 2006.

Dave’s role was to help WGCADA clients with every aspect of their lives that could interfere with progress on their recovery journey. He helped them gain recovery capital, the quantity and quality of internal and external resources that one can bring to bear on the initiation and maintenance of recovery. You can read more about recovery capital in Section 7 of my article Factors That Facilitate Addiction Recovery, and in my article Self-Change and Recovery Capital.

The article Annalie wrote about her experiences with Dave Watkins appeared in Drink and Drugs News (27 June 2005, p. 10), the leading UK magazine focused on addiction treatment

‘Nine o’clock on a Thursday morning and Dave is already hard to pin down. Rushing around dealing with telephone calls, clients and staff, he is unnaturally energetic for the early hour, and in my bleary-eyed state I start regretting volunteering to follow him around for a day. At this rate, I’m bound to lose him and get left somewhere, undoubtedly with some unsavoury drug dealers or the like.

My fears are compounded by the ominous warnings I receive from people around the agency, along with advice not to enter his office in case I get lost amongst the clutter (despite the clutter management course!). This is a man whose reputation as a ‘superman’ precedes him, and I, a naive medical student from a sheltered background, am going to have to do my best to help and not hinder him in his duties.

Yes, I am undoubtedly extremely naive to the world Dave works in. I may live in Scotland, the home of ‘Trainspotting’ and legal street drinking, but I’ve never actually seen or met (at least knowingly) anyone with an active addiction.

What I will learn today however is that I probably have seen people suffering from a drug or alcohol addiction. I just haven’t realised it because they mostly look like normal people and don’t fit into my stereotypical view of what an addict looks like.

Sitting in on an interview where Dave describes his role, I start to get a real understanding of what he does: absolutely everything and anything. From arranging housing, to dealing with debts, to working on the agency’s allotments. He talks of the importance of his network of contacts, which I am to see in person later—he seems to know everyone, from receptionists to magistrates.

What starts to sink in is the fact that Dave hardly ever refers to the person’s drug habit. Not what I would have expected from a drug worker. It dawns on me that Dave’s role is not to just treat the addiction, but to provide the resources an individual needs to support them in beating the addiction and preventing them from being pushed back into it.

It’s no wonder that someone living on the streets needs a bottle of cider before going to sleep—they need something to warm them up. And there’s no point in helping them to recover from their addiction if they are going to face the same circumstances tempting them to drink when they get out of rehab.

The first person we see is a homeless man who is a recovering alcoholic. He had experienced a relapse a few days previously and was feeling hopelessly guilty about it. Moreover, he was desperate to find a flat, because living with his brother was putting a lot of pressure on him.

Dave goes to get his big book of contacts, and I face my first challenge of the day: talking to my first client. Until this point, I had been following him around like a lost soul, feeling hopelessly awkward and unnecessary. And as the seconds tick by, and we sit in silence, that awkwardness increases and increases.

I have no idea what to talk about: whether he feels comfortable talking about his addiction, whether he wants to talk about his addiction, or whether I should just make desperate small talk until Dave’s welcome return.

Finally summoning up the courage to talk, I find that we are united in our mutual love of our mobile phones and PlayStations. What strikes me is his complete normality—he is nowhere near what I had imagined an alcoholic to be like—and his unprompted openness about his addiction, even to a stranger.

Our next stop is Singleton hospital, to visit an alcoholic suffering from pancreatitis. When we arrive, the Sister informs us that he is ready to leave, and that he can’t stay the weekend because they need the bed.

Approaching the bed however, I get a different impression. The man is sobbing and sobbing, due to the pain he is experiencing. Apparently, he is not allowed any pain relief because he is a drug user as well. He tells us that he is depressed and cannot even hold water down. I immediately feel immensely sorry for him, blaming the hospital staff for being uncaring and insensitive.

Dave, on the other hand, knows the client far better than me. He has seen this behaviour again and again and seen the client turn down numerous rehab places, just to return to drinking on the streets. He says he finds this incredibly frustrating, but nonetheless, he makes a number of phone calls, eventually finding a place in a rehab in Weston-Super-Mare.

A few days later he already has him installed. I am hugely impressed by this dedication—Dave makes the effort to give the man another chance, despite the fact that it has been thrown back in his face again and again.

Back at the centre a gorgeous, smiling woman asks for Dave’s help. I am shocked to hear that only seven years earlier Dave had literally picked her out of the gutter, helping her to overcome her addiction to amphetamines.

Her husband has been convicted of aggravated bodily harm, under hugely unfair circumstances, and she came to the centre hoping someone could help. There is clearly little Dave can do however, but this seems to me to be a prime example of people’s faith in the centre, and what they can do to help them—even to the extent of influencing Crown Court proceedings!

It is now that I get to experience the first of many of Dave’s magic tricks. He had talked about his ‘magic trick meeting’ earlier in the day but in my naivety, I thought it must be a key word for some sort of rehab or detox.

But no, he actually meant real magic tricks—and very impressive ones too. Dave explains to me the importance of gaining the trust and confidence of clients, by engaging them, or their children, by performing a magic trick. And from what I see, it really does the trick.

Running late, because Dave’s scheduling encompasses all the problems he encounters regardless of how insignificant, we arrive at Cefn Coed—Swansea’s psychiatric hospital. I am immediately intimidated by the red brick building, which is like something out of a film, and this feeling is far from alleviated when Dave explains that half of the front door is boarded up because someone drove a car through it the previous day.

Inside, the hospital is dark and dreary—some wards are locked all the time and doors are boarded up where people have forced entrance. Despite obvious efforts to improve the atmosphere of the hospital, I feel overwhelmingly uneasy in it—it really doesn’t inspire the most positive mental attitude.

On the secure detox ward, Dave chats about a number of patients who are in, or have been in, the ward. His detailed knowledge of a client’s history regarding their addiction and treatment is amazing, especially considering the sheer number of people with which he deals.

We meet a client who has obviously been self-harming—Dave addresses the subject in a direct yet positive manner, emphasising that it wasn’t as bad as last time. His unfailing ability to say the right things in the right manner and tone is remarkable—he knows exactly how to pitch advice for each individual client, whatever their state of mind, and never seems to put his foot in it.

The next woman we see at the hospital is undoubtedly the most striking case I see all day. She is an alcoholic. If she is let out, she will be on the streets, drink again, be picked up by the police and brought straight back.

So, she has been sectioned for an indefinite length of time because, Dave says, ‘No one wants her.’ She hasn’t got any friends with whom she can live. Her family don’t want to know her and so she will probably be in the hospital in a secure ward, for who knows how long.

Dave Watkins, Community Support Worker at WGCADA.

The fact that even Dave says that nothing can be done for her emphasises to me the gravity of her situation—Dave, the ‘superman’, who does everything and anything he can to help people, even if they don’t want that help. Nonetheless, even though he can’t do anything to help her situation, he continues to visit her. Amazing really.

Next, a quick call to check-up on a client whose friends are worrying about her. We get no answer on the intercom, so proceed up to the flat. At the door, still showing the signs of the last time Dave had to break in, we bang and shout through the letterbox to no avail. She is either out, drunk or dead. Reassured by a neighbour that she wasn’t drunk earlier we leave, although I remain worried.

Our final call of the day and we’re visiting an alcoholic with an eating disorder. She is so painfully thin she looks like she could be broken at the touch of a finger. She moves slowly, as if in a dream, and her speech is confused. From my lack of experience, I assume this is the normal effect of chronic alcohol abuse, but Dave later tells me he suspects she is taking another type of drug.

This perceptiveness amazes me—it hadn’t even crossed my mind. As we sit down, she brings out piles and piles of unopened letters, mostly all from creditors. This is another aspect of the job that I had no comprehension of, but I can now see how quickly financial situations can spiral out of control—a number of deadlines had been missed because she had been burying her head in the sand and not opening her mail.

Despite the daunting size of the task, Dave gets to work, reading, sorting and making phone calls—a hugely complicated job, but another of his talents. Within an hour, the mail has been sorted, Dave has been in contact with her solicitor and has arranged a medical appointment to ensure that she doesn’t lose her benefits.

So, I reach the end of my day with Dave, and to my surprise I’ve survived! My brain is only slightly frazzled and all my previous misconceptions about drug and alcohol addicts have been pretty much thrown out the window. Despite having heard numerous stories and news reports about drug and alcohol addiction, I was completely unable to comprehend the reality of the situation, because I couldn’t relate it to actual people.

But meeting clients today has enabled me to relate real experiences with real people, people who are just as normal as you or me.’

2. Kathy’s Story: ‘They Taught Me To Be Strong’

In 2005/6, I wrote a 181-page profile of WGCADA with Wired In colleagues Lucie James and Sarah Davies. In that profile, I wrote a Story that involved one of the WGCADA specialist workers engaged in one particular form of criminal justice intervention introduced by the UK government.

Arrest Referral schemes were a new criminal justice approach to dealing with offenders who were also problem drug users. The idea was that when an offender was arrested and taken to a custody suite in a police station, the custody officer would inform them that they could see a drug worker if they so wished. If the person agreed, they would meet the drug worker, be given a cursory assessment, and an appointment arranged for a more detailed assessment at a local treatment agency.

The rationale behind the scheme was that when a person was taken to a custody suite, they may be at a more significant part of their lives that they would be more willing to discuss their drug problem, whether they genuinely wanted some help, or if they thought that engaging with a treatment agency might lessen their sentence.

The idea of this Story is not to prove that the Arrest Referral scheme worked—attempted outcome evaluations were fraught with problems—but to show how one person benefited by interacting with an Arrest Referral worker, and reveal some of the themes that likely contributed to the positive outcome.

The worker, Becky Hancock, had previously been an undergraduate in my Psychology Department and had worked with me on the Welsh Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) evaluation in 2000-2 (cf. My Journey, Part 5). Becky became the Deputy CEO of WGCADA in 2014, before leaving in 2021. Although this is a true story, Kathy is not the ‘storyteller’s’ name. I also created the title of this story.

‘My first encounter with WGCADA was via the Arrest Referral Worker, who visited me whilst I was detained for shoplifting. I failed to keep the appointment offered. I had been recently diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, and failed to even attend psychiatric interviews.

Following a second offence for shoplifting, for which I was convicted, this and my drug use seriously impacted on my life and sent into a period of manic and depressive episodes. I received a one-year Probation Order, and my Probation Officer, seeing that I needed and wanted help, referred me to the Arrest Referral Worker at WGCADA who I had met previously. 

WGCADA was the lifeline that I had needed. I didn’t have to stay in this rut—there was hope, but I just hadn’t realised it. I started to slowly feel some sort of self-worth. The first few meetings were about me learning to open up and discuss my life, and see the results of my two years serious addiction. Initially, it was hard to relive those years and be completely truthful. But the more I got to know my key-worker, I realised that she wasn’t sitting there in judgement; she was genuinely there to help with no prejudice attached. 

We went through each drug, including solvents, one-by-one with all the relevant information: How much? When? How often? I was still using for the first months of our appointments, although I had started to make lifestyle changes and cut down my heroin use. Each week, I felt that I could unburden everything that had been worrying about during that period. That helped me keep going, feeling that I could get advice on even the most mundane of issues. 

Fairly soon, I was referred to the Community Drug and Alcohol Team (CDAT) via the Rapid Access Point. The feeble excuses I’d always made, ‘It’ll take too long to get seen!’ and ‘I don’t feel well enough, unless I’ve scored first’, were very quickly buried, as I had an appointment within a week of Becky referring me.

At the CDAT, we discussed various options—residential rehab, in-patient and home detox—rather than a maintenance script. I feared I would relapse after a short-term detox, and decided that a reducing maintenance script was the answer, along with changing my lifestyle. 

Due to my desperation to move residence, I grabbed the only hand out there, which happened to be that of a new friend who was a fellow drug- and alcohol-dependent. He had been sober and clean for one year, and offered me a ‘safe’ refuge away from the estate where I had been living. I though accepting his offer was the best thing to do. My key-worker advised caution, but I went ahead anyway.

The relationship turned sour and I found myself in a dangerous situation. My new partner was determined to prolong my dependency for his own agenda. This was very difficult for me, but my key-worker could see the situation clearly and made it her job to find me somewhere to live.

She took me to the local Council offices and to the homeless charity Shelter, and made numerous calls to hostels and refuges. All this, while I was having numerous meetings with the CDAT to assess my suitability for a maintenance script, multiple appointments with the Probation service, and a difficult home life.

My Subutex prescription eventually started in April 2004. It was the best news I’d had in years. I had to collect my script on a daily basis, and take the drug on the premises, which was great. My heroin use ceased immediately. Then came the news that I’d got a place in a Woman’s Aid Refuge. My life was turning around. I continued my appointments at WGCADA and Probation, and continued to stay out of trouble. It was during this time that I met my current partner Paul.

Slowly but surely, the friendship developed into a relationship. This was something that I would never have recommended to anyone newly sober or clean, but it has worked for me. It so happens that we met when we were both in a fragile state, although I was dealing with past drug problems, whilst he had recently ended a failed marriage and had left two children behind, with whom he was now having difficulty in being given access.

These difficulties brought us together and we supported each other enormously. Together, we found a lovely home, away from my past haunts and faces. Both of our families and our friends helped us greatly. 

Very soon, we got the news we had been waiting for—Paul was given temporary custody of his children, due to their mother’s illness. However, it wasn’t long before we had a setback. Due to my past drug problems, Social Services questioned me seeing the children, and for a moment I thought my world had just fallen apart.  But then I thought, ‘That’s not WGCADA has taught me. They’ve taught me to be strong, and if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try again.’

So, I picked myself up and told myself this won’t be for long. I set about proving that I am the person that I am today—someone suitable for Paul’s children, someone who would have a beneficial effect on their lives. I also went to see my key-worker. She did all she could in the way of speaking to the relevant people, and writing the necessary reports, to show that I’d come as far as I had in my recovery.

The children have been with us for about eight months now and they are thriving. As well as having other prospects, I am attending a Welsh Refresher course to help both children with their schooling, particularly the little one who has speech difficulties. Paul has recently been given custody of the children and we are now building a life together as a family.

I still have regular contact with WGCADA and I am attending a Relapse Prevention course. This course has certainly opened my eyes to all aspects of drug and alcohol dependence. Along with other projects my key-worker has involved me in, it has left me with a strong desire to get involved in this field myself professionally and help others who are in the situation that I was previously in.’

3. ‘A Life So Rich and Rewarding’

This heartfelt story was written by one of WGCADA’s clients and included in the treatment agency profile of 2005/6. The sentiments expressed here capture the sorts of things I heard when I was first visiting WGCADA. [You can learn more about the steps of AA and the Minnesota Model in my article Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), 12-Step Movement, and Minnesota Model].

‘I am writing about an amazing two years in my life. It has truly been a life-changing time. Not only have I stopped drinking (and that in itself I would never have believed possible!), but I’ve really begun to live life more fully and have been able to put my life back together again in a very positive way. Throughout this time, I have had great support and help from WGCADA. I can’t speak highly enough about the organisation and the staff I have been in contact with…. so please read on… 

Starting at the beginning, I came to WGCADA in despair. I had developed a serious drink problem. I never drank alcohol in my youth and only drank socially small amounts until my early 30’s. By the time I was 40, alcohol had become an important part of my life.

But it was fast becoming a bigger part of my life than I could deal with. Initially, the amounts of alcohol were not great, but it was the regular daily drinking and reliance on the alcohol that should have alerted me to the problem to come. Instead, I just drank more and more, and wine and cider became a way of chilling out, relaxing after a hard day, cheering me up, slowing me down, and just about any other excuse going. 

Over time, I became well and truly addicted, physically and mentally, and I was very frightened. But I would rarely admit to the intense fear. It normally sent me straight to the bottle again, and after a calming drink the future always looked easier and the plan to cut down on my drinking seemed much more achievable.

I tried on many occasions to reduce my drinking through my own self-discipline and through a structured programme. These plans were short-lived and failed, and overall the quantities I drank were steadily increasing. My life was a mess, I was off work ill, long-term, from a fairly responsible job. As my condition was getting worse, there was not much hope of going back to work. My family relationships were disintegrating and I had also lost all sense of personal value and meaning in life. The future was very bleak.

I knew my only chance was to stop drinking. I had tried many times to quit, and I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I was able to organise an inpatient detox. After I came out I felt so clean, but I knew there was no way I would be capable of staying that way. My lifestyle and all my impulses were too mixed up in alcohol to stay sober for long.

I had been to WGCADA while still drinking and desperate for a way forward. Now I was sober, was this a resource I could turn to? 

And what an amazing resource! Early on in discussions, I had to make a fairly fundamental decision. Was my personal programme of recovery going to be about controlled drinking or about abstinence? I knew I really needed to stay clear of alcohol. Knowing myself, I was sure moderate drinking and I were not compatible!

That first week, as I heard the counsellor speak to me about abstinence, I remember clearly thinking, “How can this counsellor and anything he can say ever have the power to stop me drinking again?” I was as determined as I have ever been about anything, but I just couldn’t imagine a Programme which could change me that much. 

We started to look at the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous which were new to me, and to work in more detail with the Minnesota programme I found the structure this gave me was so important. Even so, there were weeks when I came to see my counsellor and cried my way through the session in despair.

Like many people in early sobriety, I found life to be very hard. Not only is there coping without drink, but there is facing up to the chaos your drinking has caused you and others around you. The help that WGCADA gave me to feel my despair, and to channel it in positive ways, was immense. The atmosphere was so supportive, and I felt so accepted for being me, a recovering alcoholic.

I began to gradually work through the programme. I had already discovered that I was not alone. Many staff at WGCADA understood where I was at; they had been there in their own experiences in the past. The staff were wanting for me what I willed for myself, that positive sobriety.

There was always someone to speak to if I phoned, on the occasions when life threw me one challenge too much and I needed to hear some sane strong words. And there was always access to weekly help and advice in my counselling session. This was not soft, easy advice, and there were many times that didn’t want to hear those tough words and reminders of what was best for me! 

It is easier to learn in an environment of acceptance. I recognised the unmanageability of my life and my need for sanity. I knew I never wanted to be in that despair and hopeless place again. I also knew I had the beginnings of a new life which was exciting, full of self-discovery.

Working through Step 3 was a wonderful experience for me. I had a faith and had questioned it and doubted in my dark drinking days. I found that faith in such a new and real way and could really understand and accept Step 3, which says, “Made the decision to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understood him.” 

I completed Step 4 and 5 when I made my moral inventory and had the opportunity to share it. I was then very moved by a presentation that was made to me in front of the client group and staff. It was in the form of a letter from my counsellor, and a medallion. I’ll always treasure this to remind me of the hard work WGCADA staff and I put into the early days of my recovery. I now have the opportunity to continue the counselling on a monthly basis, as the initial treatment is over. 

As I write this, I’m almost two years into sobriety and can honestly say that life is so rich and rewarding, and this is the result of being able to digest and apply the lessons of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and its application using the Minnesota programme. I would not be here without the staff of WGCADA and the amazing Programme they helped me to understand and apply. 

I continue to follow the Programme. I’m on a course, which I know I need to maintain and continually progress along, but it is so blessed to have such a strong foundation.’

> My Journey: 5. ‘Start Telling Recovery Stories’

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)

My Journey: 3. Learning About Addiction Treatment – My WGCADA Experience, Part 2

I learn about the referral process, assessment, Pretreatment, Primary Treatment, Aftercare, DOMINO (Development in Motivation In New Outlooks) and community support from a number of the practitioners at West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea. In entering this new world, I learn about a number of key factors that facilitate recovery at this treatment service. (4,367 words)

The late Lawrence Mylan, who ran the Pre-Treatment programme at WGCADA.

In the previous chapter, I described how I started visiting a local treatment agency in Swansea, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Addiction (WGCADA), in order to learn more about addiction, treatment and recovery. After working as a neuroscientist for 20 years, I had closed down my research laboratory because I no longer believed that neuroscience was helping people overcome addiction to drugs and alcohol. I continue to describe what I learnt at WGCADA.

1. WGCADA Referral and Assessment 

People with a substance use problem enter into treatment in a variety of ways. They may refer themselves, realising they have a problem for which they need help, or they may be convinced or ‘pressurised’ into visiting a treatment agency by family and friends. They may be referred by their GP or by other health services, or by social services or a housing organisation. They may be referred by some component of the criminal justice system; in some cases, this may be a ‘forced-choice’ (coercion), with imprisonment being the alternative to attending treatment. 

It is essential that treatment agencies establish good relationships with potential referral sources, and also look at every opportunity for bringing people into the service. The latter is particularly important for drawing in the so-called ‘hard to reach’, those people who have a substance use problem but who do not have easy access to (e.g. living out in the country), or who are not in contact with, mainstream services in the community. 

When clients first attend a treatment agency, they are assessed to determine the nature and extent of their problem in order to help the practitioner plan treatment goals and strategies with the client. The late Griffith Edwards, British psychiatrist and leading addiction treatment expert, argued in his seminal book The Treatment of Drinking Problems [1] that a variety of different forms of information should be collected, only some of which are related to past drug use or drinking, since the client’s problem must be addressed holistically. The information collected should include:

  • Current and past use of different drugs (including form of intake, e.g., injecting) and drinking levels; symptoms of dependence; withdrawal symptoms. Monitoring the latter is particularly important with alcohol and benzodiazepine dependence, since seizures that can occur during withdrawal from these substances can be life-threatening.
  • Periods of abstinence; past treatment, nature of services and what happened.
  • Lifestyle and social stability (e.g., accommodation; vocational and financial background; interests and hobbies); past psychological, physical, or sexual abuse.
  • Family background and social support (e.g., where living, family history of substance use problems, drinking and drug use of significant others, dependent children, marital distress, domestic violence). 
  • Physical health problems, which may require details from a medical check-up (e.g., liver function, blood pressure, nutritional status, viral infections such as hepatitis and HIV, damaged veins).
  • Mental health problems (e.g., depression, anxiety, panic disorder, psychosis), with decision to be made as to whether the problems may be the result of the substance use problem or were present earlier.

The assessment process helps the client and practitioner come to a common understanding of the key issues. Some of these issues may not have arisen because of the substance use problem per se, but have been instrumental in the development of the problem.

For example, a person who started drinking excessively to deal with long-term workplace stress might eventually become dependent on alcohol. The impact of the stress would then likely be greater when the person abstained from drinking, increasing the likelihood of a relapse. In these circumstances, a practitioner would likely encourage the person to learn more appropriate coping methods to deal with the workplace stress.

The assessment process helps the development of a shared language for further conversation. It provides an opportunity for the client to step back and review his or her past and present, and hopefully make sense of what may have been a chaotic array of happenings. It also provides an opportunity for the evaluation of risk, not just risks for the client, but also for their family members (particularly dependent children), the practitioner and other professionals, and the wider public. 

During the assessment process, decisions must be made on the most appropriate help to offer, in what order, and who should be responsible for providing it. These decisions will depend on negotiations with the client and other agencies. The assessment process should lead to a detailed written record of the information collected, and the agreements between practitioner and client that are reached. Ongoing assessment allows the client and practitioner to monitor progress towards treatment goals.

Fred Tuohy, a senior counsellor at WGCADA at the time, emphasised to me that this assessment isn’t just about gaining information about the nature of the person’s problems and, along with the client, determining their needs and wants, and deciding which of WGCADA’s (or a collaborator’s) services would best help them address those needs and wants.

The assessment is the first part of the therapeutic process. It is about developing a rapport with the client, helping him or her gain trust and faith in the practitioner and agency, and feel that the practitioner knows what he or she is talking about. It is about enhancing the client’s motivation, building up his or her self-esteem and confidence, and instilling a belief that recovery is attainable, and that the recovery process will be enjoyable. 

It is important to emphasise that many clients access treatment whilst experiencing considerable shame and guilt about their addictive behaviour, and its impact on their family, friends and other people. They may well be defensive about their past drinking or drug use. Many have experienced considerable stigma and prejudice; heroin users, in particular, are looked down upon by members of society.

New clients are often very concerned how the treatment practitioner will react to them. Some have become isolated because of their addiction and find the social interaction in an assessment to be difficult. Some are ambivalent, sometimes wanting to stop drinking or using drugs, and other times wanting to continue. They may be in denial about the severity of their drug and/or alcohol problem. They are likely wary about what life in abstinence will mean. Will they lose the only friends they currently have? What does a life empty of drink and drugs promise?

All of these factors, and more, make the assessment a challenging proposition for the person looking for help, and for the practitioner conducting the assessment. An empathic, compassionate and courteous approach by the practitioner is essential for creating a strong trusting connection with the person seeking help. The development of a strong therapeutic alliance, a strong relationship between practitioner and client, is essential even at this early stage of treatment.

Fred Tuohy emphasised to me that the first thing he talks about to clients is confidentiality. Doing so up-front helps clients feel more at ease in talking about their drug use and/or drinking.

Fred also tries to instil in the client right from the start of the assessment a belief that recovery is possible. Many clients have lost faith in their ability to achieve goals. He tells them that staff at WGCADA are used to helping people recover from drug and alcohol problems. He and others are in recovery themselves. He also tells clients that recovery can be an enjoyable process; it’s not about ‘white-knuckling it’. 

Fred stressed that clients must be offered choices and that they shouldn’t be coerced into treatment. If the client wants to continue using drugs or drinking, the staff suggest different routes for them, such as reducing their intake and using WGCADA’s harm reduction services. However, they point out to the client that addiction is a progressive condition; the more they use drugs or drink alcohol excessively, the more harm they are likely to cause themselves, and the more difficult it may be to stop using and/or drinking.

Among the options discussed are attendance at AA or NA meetings, or WGCADA’s DOMINO programme (please see below). Clients are encouraged to attend as many AA/NA meetings as possible, in part because they provide a support network that can be used throughout recovery. 

If the practitioner and client reach the conclusion that the latter needs help from WGCADA, the normal course of events is that they access Pre-treatment, with the possibility of moving into Primary Treatment. Assessments continue for the whole time that the person is involved in treatment, to enable both practitioner and client monitor progress and continue to determine what the client needs and wants.  

2. WGCADA Pre-Treatment

Lawrence Mylan, who had been through the WGCADA programme and now ran the Pre-Treatment programme, also emphasised the importance of the ‘therapeutic’ factors described above.

Phase 1 of Pre-treatment, which took place for two hours once weekly for 11 weeks, was basically an education programme. It covered a range of topics focused on addiction and recovery, what different treatment elements were available at WGCADA, the impact of substance misuse on other members of one’s family, and Step one of the 12-Step model: ‘We admit we are powerless over our addiction—that our lives have become unmanageable.’

Like Fred, Lawrence emphasised the importance of the client having hope, choice, and opportunity. Phase 1 of Pre-Treatment gave them the knowledge to make an informed choice about whether they accessed the abstinence-based Primary Treatment, or WGCADA’s harm reduction services (i.e. needle exchange services, substitute prescribing) if they were not ready for the former.

If they choose the latter, they would still have the opportunity of doing Primary later. Lawrence emphasised that whilst many people know they must stop drinking and/or using and want to do so, they are scared of the process. He gently tells clients that the recovery process will likely not be as scary as they fear.

Lawrence gave a series of ‘lectures’ to clients, some of which contained interactive elements. For example, clients wrote down their ‘blocks to recovery’ (factors that impact negatively on the recovery journey) and these were discussed. Lawrence pointed out to me how important it was for clients to participate in these interactive activities. If they were not engaged, their chances of behavioural change were reduced. 

Clients could still be using or drinking during this first phase of Pre-treatment. However, they had to be abstinent for the eight-week Phase 2 of Pre-Treatment, which prepared clients for Primary Treatment. Clients looked at AA’s Step one in much more detail, got used to discussing personal problems and other matters in a group environment, had weekly one-on-one counselling sessions, and completed written exercises which they had to read out to the group. 

Topics covered in Phase 2 included powerlessness, acceptance and moving forward, and social and personal manageability. Lawrence considered it essential that clients realised that their substance use problem was their responsibility—they often did not admit to this. He tried to stop them running away from themselves, and understand that they themselves must bring about the necessary change. 

Lawrence also worked on the clients’ self-esteem. His therapeutic approach was eclectic, in that he used a variety of psychological techniques, as and when needed. He told the clients everyone has a gift, and he helped them tap into their gift and nurture it. 

‘They are special people—they are special the moment they walk through that door. I see a person full of desperation, disillusioned… I say, “But you’ve got courage, and if you’ve got courage we can work on that. We can work on your self-worth. I can help you help yourself. I cannot do it for you, but I certainly can help you help yourself.”’ Lawrence Mylan

Lawrence pointed out to me one major difficulty for clients and the agency itself. Pre-treatment had to be limited to a maximum of 18 people at any one time because of space and staff limits. Given the demand for treatment and the success WGCADA had in attracting clients to their service, waiting lists to access Pre-treatment were long. At the time of the profile of WGCADA that I wrote in 2005, the waiting time was on average ten weeks. Accessing AA, NA and/or DOMINO was very beneficial during this waiting time. 

3. WGCADA Primary Treatment and Aftercare

The Primary Treatment programme at WGCADA used key principles of AA/NA and the 12-Step Minnesota model. It was based on the disease concept and on the belief that the illness of addiction is physical, mental and spiritual. A holistic approach was used to help the person recover from addiction, and clients underwent considerable self-examination during the treatment process. Clients could not be drinking or using illegal drugs when they entered the Primary Treatment programme.

‘The Minnesota Model is the most rigorous form of self-examination in the world, and this plays a major role in its success in addiction treatment’ Fred Tuohy

Primary Treatment took the clients through the first five steps of AA by means of a structured programme with group therapy sessions (a morning and afternoon session, one day a week), one-to-one counselling (one session per week), education classes, and written assignments on topics such as denial, powerlessness, the damage to others caused by their drinking/drug use, and a person’s ability to handle feelings.

Clients wrote a detailed life story which they read out to their peers. This was followed by an in-depth Life Story analysis. Later assignments focused on topics such emotional immaturity, self-esteem, communication, anger management, and controlling behaviour.

While the programme was structured, each client had his or her own treatment plan, and the model of treatment was flexible and orientated towards the individual. However, clients were expected to attend at least three AA or NA meetings each week. Primary Treatment generally took between six and twelve months, on average seven or eight months. It involved groups of eight clients at most, who were expected to support each other.

Clients then accessed the Aftercare programme, which comprised monthly group sessions and one-on-one counselling sessions. They worked through Steps 6 – 12 of AA and any recovery-related issues that may have arisen. They were strongly encouraged to continue using peer support groups when they finished the Aftercare programme. 

The counsellors at WGCADA told me that group therapy was where the real changes take place. 

‘I believe that group is the biggest creator of change in the whole recovery process. It works because they [the clients] are not looking at the world through their own pair of glasses, but are being asked to put on someone else’s pair of glasses and look through these. Group therapy is a vehicle of change. It produces the most dynamic changes. It’s no good just stopping drinking/using. There has to be a massive psychic upheaval.’ Fred Tuohy 

The WGCADA counsellors used an eclectic approach to therapy, employing therapeutic techniques such as Reality Therapy (a form of cognitive behavioural therapy) and Motivational Interviewing. They also talked about their own personal experiences in recovering from addiction. They believed that this helped clients, in that the latter thought, ‘If he can do it, so can I.’ The WGCADA counsellors I met pointed out that what was key to a client’s process of change was their honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. 


DOMINO, run by Keith Morgan, a recovering alcoholic, involved a variety of workshops and activities (e.g. cookery classes, gardening, Information Technology (IT) classes, music lessons, basic skills training, walks, camping, etc.).

The project allowed WGCADA clients—whether they were trying to remain abstinent, use harm reduction services, or had just been assessed—to become part of a friendly, caring group, irrespective of their personal circumstances. The clients could begin to feel valued members of a community, despite the negative effects that substance use problems may have been, or still be, having on their lives. Keith believed that DOMINO played a major role in the treatment process for clients.

‘Once the addiction begins to take over, it’s a natural progression for the drug to take over and become your only friend… and the thought of getting back into society is absolutely terrifying… if I can get anyone to mix with anyone at all then, you know, it’s a start.’ Keith Morgan

DOMINO allowed clients to have fun without drugs or alcohol. It helped them overcome boredom and loneliness. They could meet clients further along in their recovery journey, or clients who were accessing a harm reduction service they were unsure about accessing themselves.

DOMINO provided clients with a safe environment where they could ‘find themselves’, build self-esteem, and experience positive feelings of self-worth. It provided hope, a sense of belonging, and helped enhance motivation. Clients could also acquire skills or knowledge that could help their recovery and enhance their general life.

For Swansea DOMINO, twice-weekly gardening sessions took place in Mumbles, on the outskirts of Swansea. The initial reservations of the local allotment owners were soon replaced by a healthy respect, admiration and pride of what WGCADA clients and staff had achieved on their allotments. I soon realised through my visits that the WGCADA allotment was something very special.

Keith also taught clients to play musical instruments and eventually formed a band, the WGCADA Warblers, which performed at the WGCADA Christmas Party. I will never forget one of the clients, a former heroin user, giving a guitar solo like Eric Clapton. His face showed he was in heaven! The WGCADA Warblers also produced a CD of their music.

Keith Morgan running a guitar class at WGCADA as part of the DOMINO programme.

An annual camping trip to Port Eynon on the Gower Peninsula attracted 20-25 campers, and around 150 people turned up to the trip barbecue. Regular nature walks occurred and Swansea DOMINO produced a fantastic booklet on some of the most popular walks. One client was asked by the National Trust to help them develop their booklet.  

The 30-week cookery class not only taught clients how to prepare and cook food, but taught them about nutrition and how to how to budget so that they and their family ate nutritious meals. It also ensured one wholesome, nutritious meal a week!

A DOMINO ‘Arts and Crafts’ course, run by two volunteer, ex-students of Swansea University, led to clients creating many interesting pieces of work and completing a mosaic for WGCADA’s newly developed garden.

In the computer course at Neath Port Talbot DOMINO, clients were provided with various parts and taught how to build a computer. They used the computer to write their own CVs and practiced interviews, the goal being to motivate them into a possible future in IT. The clients were given the computers at the end of the course. Clients at both DOMINO programmes were taught how to use a variety of software packages. 

A Multi-gym and Fitness course on the Neath Port Talbot DOMINO incorporated many different modules, including circuit training, nutritional advice, and mathematics. Again, there was a focus on writing a personal CV and interview techniques, hoping to motivate clients into a possible future in the leisure industry. As an added incentive, clients were given £250 worth of sports clothing for free.  

For a number of the DOMINO activities, clients obtained an accreditation certificate on completing the course. These certificates were a powerful empowerment tool and helped clients progress into further adult learning or employment.

‘I love the DOMINO projects… Clients in all stages of recovery can meet, talk and have a laugh—usually at my expense! This plays a huge part in motivating them to enter treatment, particularly when they are at the stage of, “I know I’m looking for something but what I am looking for?” They meet others in similar positions, make friends and encourage each other—recovery is infectious, and a huge part of that is belonging. That’s one of the most important parts of my job, just being here to talk to.’ Dave Watkins, Drink and Drugs News (p. 12)

5. Dave Watkins, WGCADA Community Support Worker

Dave Watkins, WGCADA Community Support Worker.

Dave Watkins 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 progress on their recovery journey. This included helping put a roof over their heads, getting their social security benefits, dealing with legal problems, helping clients with issues relating to their children… 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.

‘First port of call when I meet a client… make sure they’re warm, fed and have a place to go. Clients are usually very chaotic, so we need to put some structure into their lives and make sure they receive the benefits [social security] they are entitled to before getting them into treatment. It’s like a game of chess and the longer you do it, the better you get. Next form-filling, the bane of my existence: DSS [Department of Social Security], DLA [Disability Living Allowance]. Another phone call: the gas board. Poor Julie, £2K gas bill landed on her doormat. Enough to give anyone a panic especially as she was on a meter. All sorted!’ Dave Watkins, Drink and Drugs News (p. 12)

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 would step forward and ask for help.

‘Then there’s Sian: sheepishly trying to get my attention, unsure of my reaction to see her back again, numerous detoxes and rehab attempts later. I mockingly shake my finger at her, sighing inside as I wonder what there is left to try with her. I know this much though—never give up, always go the extra mile, or the extra 100 miles as it sometimes turns out. People do get better. We have a quick chat and she tells me her woes of the last few weeks. She’s only been using a little bit, just to get through this difficult time … she’s going to give treatment a real go this time… she means it.

Let’s wait and see I think, almost chuckling at this latest tale of excuses (she can be inventive, I’ll give her that!). But it’s not funny, people die and we have to remember that. It’s so important to be understanding, the illness is so devious and complicated she really believes she can’t live without that hit—or drink, tab, rock, whatever, it’s got her in its grips.’ Dave Watkins, Drink and Drugs News (p. 12)

‘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 (p. 10).

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. Years later, when I was over from Australia, I was sitting in the King Arthur pub garden in Reynoldston with my children and Esther, Keith, and Dave of WGCADA. I was telling a friend what I have described above about Dave Watkins, but he looked at me sceptically.

As we stood up to leave, someone came rushing up to Dave and thanked him for all the help he had given him some years before. He excitedly told us that he was still sober and had such a good life! We all congratulated him.

6. The Warm Welcome: Esther and Angie

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. 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. 

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 for their position each year.

> My Journey: 4. Learning About Addiction Treatment – WGCADA Stories

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)

My Journey: 2. Learning About Addiction Treatment – My WGCADA Experience, Part 1

I used to visit West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea in order to learn about addiction, recovery and treatment from treatment practitioners, and from people who have accessed the treatment service for help with their substance use problem. (1,306 words)

Dave Watkins (left), Community Support Worker at WGCADA.

Last week, I posted the first part of a serialisation of My Journey, my wide-ranging career in the field of addiction, mental health and trauma. This first part focused on my career in neuroscience, which lasted almost 20 years. In 2000, I closed my laboratory, as I did not think that neuroscience research was helping people overcome addiction.

Given that I did not feel that a biomedical approach and the use of drugs were the answer to helping people overcome drug addiction, what were the answers? And what methods were used in treatment services that were successful in helping people overcome substance use problems?

Clearly, I needed to find and listen to people who were in recovery from addiction, as well as people working in a treatment service that was obtaining good outcomes in helping people recover. I also wanted to learn how the treatment system worked, at a local and a national level. 

In 2000, I was fortunate enough to win the tender to evaluate all projects supported by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) in Wales, a new source of funding for addiction treatment services in the country. Conducting this evaluation helped me to enhance my understanding of the multi-faceted nature of addiction treatment, as well as the way that the government-run treatment system worked. I will describe this evaluation in a future chapter. 

In these early years, I also spent a good deal of time in a local treatment agency, WGCADA (West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse), where I had made some good friends.

I was inspired by the passion and knowledge of the staff, in particular Keith Morgan, Dave Watkins (left in top photo), Lawrence Mylan (R.I.P.), Fred Tuohy (R.I.P.), Esther Mead, Angie Welch, and Chief Executive Norman Preddy. A number of these people talked freely about their own recovery from addiction.

I also talked with some of the people who were attending WGCADA’s treatment programmes, which I enjoyed greatly. I soon realised that I was in the right environment to gain an insight into what factors contributed to successful treatment.


Keith Morgan, who ran DOMINO and set up the WGCADA Warblers band.

WGCADA was initially founded and established, as the ‘Alcohol Advice Centre’, in 1979 in Swansea. It was staffed by the Director and Founder Alan Douglas and a part-time secretary, Margaret Morris. Despite struggling to obtain funding initially, the Centre slowly developed over time due to the dedication and determination of the people concerned. Eventually, the Centre was renamed ‘West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse’ and started to receive a level of funding that facilitated its growth. 

At the time I became involved with WGCADA in around 2000, it had grown considerably and had offices in Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend, and HM Prison in Swansea. It operated as a charity and limited company run by a Board of Directors/Trustees. The Chief Executive was Norman Preddy, who first started at WGCADA in the 1980s as a volunteer. 

In the early days, WGCADA only worked with an abstinence-oriented approach based on Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the Twelve-Step Movement, and the Minnesota Model. As the Centre expanded over the years, it developed a range of approaches to help people deal with substance use and related problems.

When I was spending time at WGCADA, these approaches included harm reduction services, a family programme, a young person’s service, DOMINO (Development in Motivation In New Outlooks; cf. Section 8), and a range of criminal justice programmes. Specialist workers operated for various matters, including domestic violence, home detox, tenancy support, and the elderly/disabled.

Lawrence Mylan, who ran the Pre-Treatment Programme at WGCADA.

People who engaged in the treatment programmes at WGCADA did so on an outpatient basis. The agency did not offer accommodation for their clients, but it did refer some clients to residential treatment centres (rehabs) in other parts of the UK. Clients only attended WGCADA for a small number of hours per week.

The discussions I had with staff and clients helped me realise that many people requesting help from WGCADA presented with a myriad of problems, in addition to their substance use problem. They could be homeless, jobless, experiencing problems with personal relationships, have a history of criminal activity, have a physical and/or mental health problem, and/or have experienced traumatic early life experiences. They could present with most, if not all of these problems!

These additional problems often contributed to, or exacerbated, the person’s excessive drinking and/or use of drugs. They often contributed to the development of the substance use problem in the first place. For example, the person may have been physically, psychologically or sexually abused as a child. Heroin is a great painkiller, not just for physical pain, but also for psychological pain. For many people, drugs or alcohol were being used as a coping mechanism to help them deal with the myriad of problems in their life. 

Norman Preddy, CEO of WGCADA, in 2004.

As a result of these additional problems, WGCADA had to address the needs of their clients in a holistic manner. This, in turn, meant that the agency had to offer a range of services, and form collaborations with a variety of other organisations and individuals (e.g. social services, housing, GPs)—who could help clients in one way or other—in the communities where it operated. In my desire to understand the nature of addiction treatment, I was embarking on a journey that would take me over time to various parts of the community. 

I soon learnt that the model for helping people recover from substance use problems was very different to the medical model.

In the medical model of treatment, the doctor or other practitioner is an expert on the nature of the client’s problems and how to alleviate these problems. He or she forms a diagnosis and then prescribes treatment, which consists of applying interventions (e.g. prescribing a drug, or referral to a surgeon for surgery) appropriate to that diagnosis. These interventions hopefully cause change in the client, thereby alleviating the symptoms and underlying problem.

My discussions with staff and clients at WGCADA, and extensive reading, helped me realise that it is the person with the problem who does the work in recovering from addiction. They make the decision to stop using or drinking, and do the (often considerable) personal work that is required before long-term abstinence occurs.

Practitioners don’t make people with substance use problems better; they don’t fix people. Recovery from addiction (and mental health problems) is actually a self-healing process, which can be facilitated by practitioners. Recovery can also be facilitated by non-professionals, such as other recovering people, family members and friends. I’ll talk more about the self-healing process in due course.

So, if treatment practitioners don’t do the recovery, or fix people, what is it that they do to facilitate the recovery process? Why is treatment important for some people? I gained insights into these issues as I learnt more about the different services offered by WGCADA, and later other treatment agencies, and how they facilitated recovery.

Before reading about what I learnt about the services offered by WGCADA in next week’s post, you might want to read two articles I have written about the core underlying approaches that were used by the agency to provide treatment and support in the community. The first article looks at the primary approach underlying WGCADA’s abstinence-based service, and the second focuses on the foundation of the agency’s harm reduction service. 

> 3. Learning About Addiction Treatment – My WGCADA Experience, Part 2

> ‘My Journey’ chapter links (and biography)

Revisiting Old Memories, Part 6: WGCADA Christmas Party (2002)

I have previously written about how after I closed down my neuroscience laboratory in 2000, I spent a good deal of time visiting an addiction treatment agency in Swansea, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGADA). I became good friends with a number of the practitioners there, some of whom were in recovery, and I learnt a good deal about addiction and recovery from them and the people who had accessed the agency for help.

I loved the community spirit at WGADA. It was very special. This community spit was well evidenced in the video I made of the 2002 WGCADA Christmas Party in Swansea.

Read More ➔

Visiting UK Recovery Friends, Part 6 (Angie and Andy Evason)

Whilst on Gower, I caught up with my old best schoolmate in Melton Mowbray, Jeff Zorko, along with this wife Marian and daughter Rosie. Jeff and I spent a number of years working in jobs in different places around the world, only to find we both ended up living on Gower. They have known my three youngest children since each of them were born. Jeff became an invaluable Trustee on our charity Wired International Ltd, which funded Wired In activities. I am very grateful for the charity work he did then and the long-lasting friendship I have had with him and his family.

One of our meetings on this visit occurred over dinner at my former local pub, The King Arthur in Reynoldston. After dinner, we were joined by two former West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) staff members, Angie and Andy Evason. As I have previously described, WGCADA was where I first began to learn about the nature of drug addiction treatment and interact closely with staff members and service users.

Read More ➔

Visiting UK Recovery Friends: Part 5 (Becky Hancock)

I left Ash Whitney’s house in Cilfrew, and headed to Gower (a peninsula just west of Swansea) where I had rented a house in Llangennith for my two boys (Ben and Sam) and myself for four nights. Llangennith is a village on the west coast of Gower which is close to Rhossili Beach, a beautiful surfing beach. I spent my first year renting a house in the village when I took up a position in the Psychology Department at the University of Wales, Swansea in 1992. I ended up living on Gower for 14 years and had such a great time there. I consider Gower to be my spiritual home.

I had closed down my neuroscience laboratory in the university in 2000 because I did not feel that a medical approach and the use of drugs were the answer to helping people overcome drug addiction. I realised that I needed to learn more about the nature of addiction and how it could be overcome by visiting treatment services and talking to practitioners and people trying to overcome addiction.

Read More ➔

Journeys – Making Recovery from Addiction Visible

Huseyin Djemil from the UK has this week launched a new podcast focused on recovery from addiction, which he describes as such:

‘A new series from Towards Recovery CIC – making recovery from addiction visible.

Huseyin Djemil speaks to people who have lived experience of recovery from addiction, people who have been affected by addiction and those working in the addiction and recovery field – in its many contexts. There is a lot of information about addiction, but people get better and their stories need to be visible to give others hope.

Recovery is not a linear path from A to B, it’s more of a winding road and we want to explore those journeys and get those stories heard, because our stories have power.’

Read More ➔

A Life-Changing Time

In an earlier series of blogs starting here, I described what I initially learnt about addiction treatment at a local treatment agency in Swansea, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in the early 2000s. Later, in 2005, I was commissioned to write a profile of the agency, which ended up being over 180 pages long and containing a number of Stories. Here’s is one such Story, of someone recovering from a serious alcohol problem:

‘I am writing about an amazing two years in my life. It has truly been a life-changing time. Not only have I stopped drinking (and that in itself I would never have believed possible!), but I’ve really begun to live life more fully and have been able to put my life back together again in a very positive way. Throughout this time, I have had great support and help from WGCADA. I can’t speak highly enough about the organisation and the staff I have been in contact with…. so please read on…

Read More ➔

Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 4

I’ve spent three blog posts, the first of which can be found here, describing my experiences and what I learnt during my initial visits to a local treatment agency, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea. In addition, my last blog focused on an article written by my oldest daughter Annalie about a day in the life of an addiction treatment support worker at WGCADA, Dave Watkins.

Many of the clients I met at WGCADA and in other treatment services I visited over the years knew what they wanted—a valued and meaningful life. They just did not know how to achieve what they wanted, and they lacked the internal and external resources to take the journey to recovery and the life they wanted. 

My early experiences at WGCADA resonated loudly when some years later I read How Clients Make Therapy Work: The Process of Active Self-Healing, a seminal book written by Arthur C Bohart and Karen Tallman and published by the American Psychological Association. The following quotes are particularly pertinent. 

Read More ➔

‘A Day With Dave’ by Annalie Clark

In my last post, I talked about Dave Watkins and his past role at the treatment agency West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea. Here’s an article that my oldest daughter Annalie wrote in 2005, after spending a day with Dave Watkins. Annalie had just finished her first year of medical training at the University of Edinburgh. She is now a psychiatrist.

What is striking about this article is that Dave’s role resembles what I envisage a recovery support worker (or recovery coach) would be doing today. Annalie highlights Dave’s extensive contacts within, and knowledge of, the local community, which helps the lives of the people with whom he works. In the video below, you can see one of the magic tricks that Dave used to engage the people with whom he was working.

Read More ➔

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.

Read More ➔

Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 2

In this post, I continue the description of what I learnt about addiction treatment by talking with practitioners at a local treatment agency in Swansea, West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA). You can read my previous post here.

The Primary Treatment programme at WGCADA used key principles of AA and the 12-Step Minnesota model. It was based on the disease concept and on the belief that the illness of addiction is physical, mental and spiritual. A holistic approach was used to help the person recover from addiction, and clients underwent considerable self-examination during the treatment process. Clients could not be drinking or using illegal drugs when they entered the Primary Treatment programme.

Read More ➔

Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 1

In my last blog posts, I described how after nearly 25 years as a neuroscientist I decided to close my research laboratory in the Department of Psychology at Swansea University at the start of the new millennium. I wanted to learn more about the nature of addiction and how people overcame their substance use problem.

I spent a good deal of time at a treatment agency in Swansea, talking with both practitioners and people who attended the agency for help with their problem. In addition, I was travelling around Wales visiting treatment agencies, in my capacity as lead on a two-year national evaluation of projects supported by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund. This fund was created by the National Assembly for Wales, or Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament) as it is now known.

Read More ➔

Brain Chemicals to Human Connection, Part 2

In an earlier blog, I described how I spent nearly 25 years working as a neuroscientist in academia. In 2000, I made the decision to close my neuroscience laboratory and focus on working in the addiction field with humans (rather than laboratory rats). I set up an initiative called WIRED (later to become Wired In) and a charity Wired International Ltd. I continued by job as a Professor of Psychology, but when I wasn’t teaching I was engaged in a range of activities in the addiction field. The following section is taken from the last chapter of my new eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

Read More ➔

Brain Chemicals to Human Connection, Part 1

My career has been quite a journey. Some of you will know I initially spent 25 years working as a neuroscientist, studying the role of the brain neurotransmitter dopamine in normal behaviour and in so-called ‘disorders’ such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and addiction.

I had a great time as a neuroscientist and loved my work. I was lucky enough to spend three years (1981-84) as a postdoctoral fellow with Arvid Carlsson, the ‘father’ of dopamine and recipient of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. I had such an amazing time in Gothenburg (Sweden) and our research was truly very exciting.

Read More ➔