Alcohol Action publish report on Alcohol Treatment Services in Ireland

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  • The provision of national alcohol treatment services must be proportionate to the scale of the problem; Ireland has approx 250,000 people who are likely alcohol dependent. 
  • Latest data shows only 3,500 new cases gain access to some form of treatment programme

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, today (Thursday, 10 June) published a new report ‘Alcohol Treatment Services: A snapshot survey. 2021’ which explores some of the prevailing issues related to services in Ireland. 

This report presents a synopsis of views sought from service providers who were interviewed over a period in 2020, and distils their commentary on a range of issues into four central themes: 

  • Mental Health and Trauma 
  • Reducing the impact on children and families 
  • Gaps in Services 
  • Barriers to treatment  
  • The mental health of clients seeking treatment was a significant and serious concern for those surveyed, as many client users often experience problems with getting adequate treatment for both issues. 
  • Trauma, as result of adverse childhood experience, was recognised by many service providers within its client population, however some expressed caution in addressing its impact. 
  • Children often go unnoticed in the programmes of those seeking treatment; 50% of those in treatment are fathers or mothers, with children having to share the journey to recovery. Providers believe children require a specific response if the intergenerational cycle of dependency and trauma is to be broken. In 2019, there were 5,060 children who had a parent in residential treatment: 23% under 5, 77% between 5 and 7. 
  • Service providers highlight a societal stigma and the inadequate provision of detoxification services as barriers to treatment, while better aftercare supports, and services, are also needed to provide better pathways to those at their most vulnerable. 

Proposed recommendations 

Alcohol Action are proposing a national discussion around a series of recommendations: 

  • Develop a trauma-informed national strategy regarding delivery of the best possible treatment to people accessing alcohol treatment services, including aspects such as models of care and integrated mental health. 
  • A HIQA type inspection regime is established for all residential treatment services providing uniform outcome measurements and monitoring of services. 
  • An investment is made to ensure services have the capacity to adequately address alcohol dependency and unmet mental health needs. 
  • Urgent action is required to address their needs of children affected by parental substance misuse. Over 50% of those in residential treatment services have children; investment is required to ensure there needs are met.  

Research has shown that Ireland has potentially 250,000 people who are dependent alcohol users, and while international norms suggest 10% (25,000) are actively seeking support or treatment, in Ireland the latest data shows only 3,500 new cases gain access to some form of treatment programme.  

This highlights the significant gap between services needed and those available and the additional difficulty placed not only on those seeking services but the added harm on children and family networks. 

The national experience with COVID-19 has brought further strains to this already difficult situation, as many drinkers have sought comfort and coping mechanisms in greater alcohol use, especially at home. The outcome from this shift in drinking pattern has seen a dramatic impact on family life and increased demand for intervention services. A special focus will be required on a trauma-informed recovery plan for children and families post-COVID. 

Commenting on the published report, Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland, said:  

For too long, alcohol treatment services have been something of the Cinderella of addiction services in Ireland – a reflection of the stigma that continues to hinder progressive recovery. By commencing this work, we aim to bring a clarity to the provision of alcohol treatment services in Ireland and ensure that adequate treatment is available not just for those individuals who themselves are victims of a pernicious commercial actor, but also the children and families impacted. 

Professor Joe Barry, board member of Alcohol Action, said:  

This survey of alcohol treatment service providers, and the published report, highlights yet again the need for a comprehensive reassessment of Ireland’s alcohol treatment services. We must endeavour to pursue the advice of the WHO on these matters, who outline that treatment provision must be proportionate with the scale of public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol.  

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