Alcohol has a ripple effect. It can be devastating.

Why supporting someone with an alcohol problem is never just about alcohol

In the past year Addaction has helped thousands of people with an alcohol problem.

But it’s never just about alcohol.

Treat the person

From supporting older people through our Drink Wise Age Well programme to going directly into schools, we see how alcohol problems can affect people from all walks of life. Meanwhile, our webchat service helps people who are less likely to reach out for support in person.

Any front-line worker will tell you that it’s almost never just about alcohol, there are often multiple issues, and the root cause is frequently pain and trauma. Our recent YouGov polling gets to some of these issues.

YouGov (Fieldwork 28 Sep — 1 Oct 2018)

We found that people with an alcohol problem are 50% more likely to have experienced anxiety/depression, twice as likely to have self harmed and are twice as likely to have had had an eating disorder.

They’re also over four times more likely to have had experience with illegal drugs, three times more likely to have had a problem with prescription drugs, and four times more likely to have had a gambling problem.

The Mental Health Foundation state that “alcohol can temporarily alleviate feelings of anxiety and depression and people often use it as a form of self-medication” . This is backed up by our Drink Wise Age Well report which found that stress is the strongest predictor for being a higher risk drinker.

It can be really tough for people, especially people in crisis, to figure out where one problem starts and another one ends. This is why we say we treat the person, not just the substance issue.

Support their loved ones

Our polling also found that 6.3 million people in England, Wales and Scotland have personal experience of an alcohol issue. That’s a huge number.

Yet it’s still shocking that over half of the population as a whole (55%) said they knew someone who had experienced a problem with alcohol. These are not niche problems, they touch and affect millions of us every day.

Supporting someone with an alcohol issue can be an incredibly trying and stressful experience. A family member of one of our service users described how isolating it can be:

“I had stopped seeing friends. I didn’t really call my family anymore. I didn’t know what to keep secret or what to say.

This is why we offer friends and family support services to help people understand and cope with a loved one’s addiction and give them the opportunity to talk to others going through similar experiences.

Studies have shown that compassionate, non-judgemental support from family and friends is key to helping someone reduce their drinking. But this can be really tough for the caregiver too. That’s why if we’re serious about helping people with alcohol problems we muOK st go the extra mile with the people close to them too.

See the bigger picture

We believe we have a good idea of what works when someone reaches out for support for an alcohol problem. Yet, as a nation, we aren’t helping anywhere near enough people.

Between 2013 and 2018 the number of people entering treatment for alcohol fell by 19%. This means we’re at a stage where four out of five dependent drinkers aren’t receiving treatment.

When people come forward for help about alcohol it can be the start of an incredibly important journey. In many cases the most acute crisis, the person’s drinking, is the first thing on the agenda. But the hope is that it’s a step towards working through other issues. This might be a problem with gambling, or addressing childhood trauma, or even identifying and making changes with a job or a relationship.

The positive effects ripple through that person’s life and their network of relationships.

And when we set out to do this on a mass scale it doesn’t just have a positive impact on the person seeking help, it makes a difference to everyone.