An Edinburgh charity has started a new service to befriend people suffering from alcohol-related illness while they are in hospital.
A support worker they meet before they are discharged then helps them transition back to life in the community – hopefully without returning to drinking.
The homelessness charity Rowan Alba was awarded £45,000 funding, which goes towards a new service where a hospital link worker will direct patients to the charity’s Community Alcohol Related Damage Service (Cards).
The service will be mainly aimed at those suffering from alcohol-related brain damage. The bulk of alcohol admissions each year involve mental and behavioural conditions – such as withdrawal and acute intoxication.
Tracey Stewart, Cards service lead, said: “When the hospital make a referral, we will go and visit the person in their own home when they have been discharged.
“The time to approach that person would be ideally when they are in hospital.
“Over the last few years, we’ve seen the number of referrals increase and, unfortunately, due to the length of time it takes to reach that person, the window has closed.
“They have returned home to the same isolated, lonely place they’ve been before. They go to the shops and buy alcohol, and the cycle starts again.”
Charity volunteer Michelle Wright has been hired as Edinburgh’s first link worker to bridge the gap for alcoholics moving between the home and hospital.
She told BBC Scotland’s The Nine her job is to “get the ball rolling early” and help tackle loneliness and alcohol-related harm.
She said: “It means that when they come out I can go straight to their home. There is not the whole referral gap that we have at the moment.”
Michelle was dependent on alcohol until five years ago and said she brings her own experience of addiction to the role.
She said: “I think there is an outdated stereotype of what an alcoholic looks like. It is really unhelpful as that can stop you getting help.
“It stopped me for a long time because I thought, well, I still have my family, I still have my home, I still go out and see my friends… So do I have a problem?
“I’m not homeless and I’m not sleeping rough… And that does stop you getting help.”
Amanda was in her early 40s when she became dependent on alcohol. She said she’d always classed herself as a “heavy drinker”, telling The Nine: “I would always have one for the road.”
But over time, her intake increased. She began hiding alcohol and trying to disguise her habit.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m drinking too much. But it’ll be alright, it’ll get better, or I’ll cut down next week.’
“It was always like that.”
Her relationships with her family broke down before she ended up living alone in a flat in Edinburgh, where her life spiralled.
“I couldn’t wait till 10:00 to go along to the shop to get my wine and sit here and drink it. I was back and forwards to the shops, most days on my own.
“When I didn’t have my money for drink, the withdrawals were awful. I would have falls in the house, I would have seizures due to the withdrawals.”
Amanda soon found herself ping-ponging between the bottle and a hospital bed, being admitted on multiple occasion for alcohol-related illness.
“For me, I felt like, ‘Here I go again, this is me back again’.
“I would stay in for two or three days. They would put me on drips and diazepam to calm me down, to withdraw me from the alcohol and then I’d be discharged.
“The drinking would start again. That was my fault because I had nowhere else to turn.
“I would just think, ‘I’ll just have a couple of drinks’, but no. It just got worse and worse every single time.
“My self-esteem was low. I had lost all my identity as a daughter, as a mother. I didn’t know who I was, to be honest.
“It got to the stage where I didn’t know who I am anymore. I’m just this alcoholic mess who ends up in the hospital but then comes back out and drinks and drinks.”
Amanda is now 54 and is a service user at Rowan Alba. She has been sober for 16 months, is volunteering and will start a college course next month.
Rowan Alba secured the funding through a neurological fund set up by the RS McDonald Charitable Trust.
It comes as research from Glasgow and Sheffield universities point to an increase in Scots drinking alone during the pandemic
Meanwhile, alcohol-related hospital admissions in Scotland were down in the first year of Covid.
Experts have suggested this may reflect reduced availability of services during the first lockdown, and could be linked to a reported 17% rise in alcohol-specific deaths during 2020.
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