Intro – why aces in addiction

One of my early clients was a girl who had been abused by her Mum’s new partner when she was 13yo, and when social services told her Mum to choose between the girl and her new partner her Mum chose the partner and Emma was taken into care. There the only support she really got was another resident offering her heroin to cope with her emotional distress, and so began her journey into the criminal justice and addiction services, where she was labelled a ‘problem’. This was nearly 20 year ago and it just seemed obvious to me that Emma needed help not judgement, that she had been let down badly by adults who then made her feel bad for finding a way to cope.

And I became frustrated that addiction services didn’t address the underlying issues cos all my clients had underlying issues driving the addiction.

I then came across the ACE Study which just further supported my intuition, and at that time I was lucky enough to be running my own program so could work in a trauma informed way.

Fast forward to now and for me the evidence for basing treatment on a foundation of understanding about the impact of childhood experience is overwhelming – and not just from those working around ACE awareness. There is plenty of research done separately that also proves the link, and also that building relationships where clients feel safe is the priority if you want to be evidence based.

And yet….there is still resistance! I talk to people who work in addictions who deny the link, or feel it’s not our job to work on the underlying issues, or that we just don’t have the resources to do so. Which is wrong – not only will it make workers jobs easier and more effective – we will hit targets better and have happier staff!

And if we are funded to help people live drug/ alcohol free lives then we are funded to work on the underlying issues – not paper over them.

And it really isn’t that hard to do – it’s about who you are as a person, creating safe places doesn’t require you to be a therapist. It requires you to be human, and supported.

With all the increasing interest in the ACE Study, and so many great people & projects promoting it as a foundation to work from, I am keen to start discussions about how it relates to addiction services.

I also wants to help workers build their confidence and support them to be their best. Staff are the most important resource we have and there is enough evidence out there on how to help people be their best, and yet with pressures and targets this sometimes gets lost.

I hope we can continue to show that this way benefits everyone, and is the way forward, whilst also being mindful of people’s fears about working in this way.

I will explore ACEs in more detail in my next blog…(what it is, and isn’t etc), I will also discuss why we need to focus on ourselves first.


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