Help us to promote the far-reaching benefits of recovery
This year, for the first time ever, in the wake of COVID-19, we have taken the decision to cancel the reunion, our annual event scheduled to take place in June. Until now, every year without exception, hundreds of people from all walks of life have gathered in the splendid grounds of a former stately home in Wiltshire to celebrate the fact that they are still alive. But this is no quaint village fete. All the people there in the tranquil surroundings of Clouds House, one of the best known and longest standing addiction treatment centres in the country, are a testament to the power of stable recovery.
This is no small story. Quantitative analysis shows that for every person who rebuilds their life by successfully completing treatment, another five people will benefit indirectly: loved ones, family members, and perhaps most of all – children. So there is no question that the positive impact of well-managed addiction treatment is huge for our society, given that the range of addictions we are prey to in the modern world – alcohol, online gambling, pornography and opioids, for example – is growing all the time. Everyone knows someone who is affected by addiction, and at Action on Addiction we have experienced a nine-fold increase in enquiries in the last four weeks from people who are on the edge and in the life-destroying grip of addiction, not knowing who to turn to for help.
Our mission is to ensure we reach more people in more places. At Action on Addiction, there is no mission more critical than one that extends our reach and expands our effectiveness, especially during the pandemic. Addiction, like coronavirus, is a life-stopping condition. But unlike coronavirus, addiction feeds on isolation. These two conditions – coronavirus and addiction – make very strange bedfellows, capable of brewing a destructive storm inside people’s homes. The precautionary measures we need to take to protect ourselves and others from the virus – self-isolation and social distancing – are the very same ingredients that foment addiction. Whilst stay at home messages are crucial to tackling the virus, we know from very worrying stories that people who have an addiction need more access to treatment than ever before.
We consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have the unwavering support of individuals, companies and trusts who are helping us through this difficult time. We are also very grateful for the kind messages we are receiving from supporters on a daily basis including our Patron, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge, who sent a wonderful letter of support to all the staff at Action on Addiction, thanking them for everything they are doing to support clients and their families in these unprecedented times.
The COVID-19 pandemic is creating very challenging circumstances for Action on Addiction and other charities in our sector. As other treatment centres close because of COVID-19 and home detoxification services become inoperable, opportunities for people to get help are declining dramatically. We are also bracing ourselves for a surge in demand as more and more people turn to us for help once the pandemic is over. Thanks to the ingenuity and resilience of our teams we continue to be able to offer life-changing treatment to our clients at this time of significant need. As a result of the generosity of our donors we have been able to maintain a bursary scheme which meets the cost of treatment for extremely vulnerable people who are unable to obtain funding from any other source.
But we need more help to ensure that Action on Addiction is in a sufficiently strong position to weather the storm created by COVID-19, as well as enabling us to support clients who are self-isolating, to continue providing treatment at Clouds to those who need it during the crisis, and to respond to the surge in demand as and when things return to normality.
First, we need help to get the message out to people who need treatment now
Addiction treatment sometimes attracts the wrong kind of publicity. Charities like Action on Addiction are still not allowed to advertise the life-saving work they do on Google because of a long-running and well-publicised ‘cash for patients’ scandal. The scandal first hit the headlines a couple of years ago when it was revealed that unscrupulous consultants were referring patients to treatment centres in return for kickbacks. At Clouds House, we never pay for patient referrals, and take a dim view of this practice. As a registered charity, we have strict guidelines to follow. We offer top quality treatment, and also make bursaries available to individuals who cannot afford to pay for treatment. Preventing charitable organisations from advertising the life-saving treatment they offer is severely affecting mission-focused not-for-profit businesses like ours, now more than ever, and denying people with addictions the information they need to access the help they require risks them being left with nowhere to turn.
Second, we need help to adjust to a new kind of normal
Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, the problems associated with addiction were growing exponentially in both scale and complexity. For example, as the Children’s Commissioner for England reported last year, addiction forms part of the ‘toxic trio’ that two million children in the UK experience as part of their family life, alongside serious mental health issues and domestic abuse. All the signs are that, both in the UK and overseas, the problems of addiction – whether physical, emotional, familial or social – have worsened significantly at a time when society’s capacity to deal with them has been diminished. The substance misuse commissioning arrangements that were developed over 30 years ago to deal with a particular set of social problems are anachronistic and out of step with the growing and complex problems of addiction that communities face today. As the impact of COVID-19 on individual and families affected by addiction deepens and becomes more apparent, these inadequacies are likely to be exposed at an alarming rate. We cannot operate under the illusion that the current system will work to address an addiction-related public health crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic – it will not.
We have to find new ways, through cross sector collaboration, of developing and funding treatment and helping people find long-term, stable recovery from addiction, irrespective of the form that addiction may take. After many years of cuts in public spending there is an urgent need for new planning and commissioning frameworks which leverage the involvement of voluntary sector organisations as well as the involvement of philanthropists, business leaders and social investors. A sharper focus is also required on self-help and peer-to-peer support, as well as on community-led funding models. We also need much greater investment in treatment provision for children and young people, as well as in evidence-based, family-focused preventative programmes that will improve the prospects of individuals and families, both now and for future generations.
Third, we need help to look beyond service delivery
Whilst top-quality, evidence-based, intensive and extensive treatment is often necessary to kickstart an individual’s recovery from addiction, lasting recovery cannot happen without self-help and participation in a recovery-focused community of some sort, such as one of the 12 Step fellowship groups or some other form of mutual aid. One of the unexpected by-products of COVID-19 is the catalytic effect the pandemic has had on the development of recovery communities online. It has to be assumed that we will experience a surge in digital interventions as a positive adjunct to – if not an essential component of – any future addictions treatment, and it is hard to imagine a return to solely former ways of working.
Finally, we need help to change the conversation about addiction
We must focus on talking more about the widening problems of addiction as part of the public health narrative. The more people talk about the different facets of addiction, the more we will be able to tackle the stigma associated with it and come together to find solutions that give people the opportunity to find freedom from this hugely destructive condition.
Help us to promote the far-reaching benefits that recovery brings to individuals, families, and society at large – the people who will be at our reunion party in 2021 will be the living proof of that.