Engaging dependent drinkers

Mike Ward

Pathway to change

Mike Ward talks about a new project that is aiming to engage dependent drinkers with treatment services

Often those of us working in the alcohol field have heard families and non-specialist workers express the heartfelt view that, ‘There was nothing we could do because they didn’t want to change their drinking.’

People believe that if a problem drinker does not want to change, nothing can be done. This is not true, but this negative attitude has hampered the response to many of the riskiest and most vulnerable drinkers.

According to Public Health England, 94 per cent of dependent drinkers are not engaged with treatment at any one time. A small group of these, so called ‘blue light’ clients, are both treatment resistant and placing a huge burden on public services.

Since 2014, we have been working on the Blue Light Project – our national initiative to develop alternative approaches and care pathways for this group. It has challenged the traditional approach by showing that there are positive strategies.

The project has developed the Blue light project manual, which contains tools for understanding why clients may not engage, risk assessment tools that are appropriate for drinkers and harm reduction techniques that workers can use.

The manual also offers advice on crucial nutritional approaches, which can reduce alcohol-related harm, questions to help non-clinicians identify potential serious health problems and deliver enhanced personalised education, and guidance on legal frameworks.

‘The response to the project has been fantastic,’ said Mark Holmes, team leader of the Nottinghamshire alcohol related long term condition team, who worked with me on the project. ‘It is filling a real gap in the health, social care and criminal justice system. For too long we have done nothing about this challenging issue.’

Mike Ward is senior consultant at Alcohol Concern

A free PDF version of the manual is available at www.alcoholconcern.org.uk