Addiction is a fundamental part of the human condition. People are addicted to all kinds of things, not just drugs and alcohol. Addiction means you keep doing something although you know it's harmful. It may rob you of choice and appear irrational to others, but addiction becomes your sole purpose in life.
The road back from addiction is long, hard and many relapse on the way. However recovery is possible and people do it every day. Every hour, on average, someone leaves a Turning Point service drug or alcohol free. I can think of Ian who was dependent on alcohol but now, after support from Turning Point, has been sober for five years and released his first album of music earlier this year. Another example is a woman we supported who had been using heroin alongside other drugs for years. Now she is clean, her family are coming back to live with her and she is working again.
The challenge of starting life afresh is highlighted through stories told as part of the Recovery Street Film festival which ran throughout September. As part of a nationwide tour, the festival featured films showing a true picture of the determination, commitment and courage required to break free from the demons of dependency. They counter the many misconceptions that still persist in society around substance misuse and other addictions. One myth is that addiction is the lazy way out, that it only affects people with no willpower or backbone. We know from the people we support at Turning Point, often professionals who have been very motivated in their careers, that addiction isn't discriminatory. It can affect anyone.
Breaking the grip is tough. It can involve changing your whole life pattern, even moving to another town to break with your circle of friends who 'love' you because you're an addict just like them. And recovery is never guaranteed. The draw back to the old ways can be very powerful and very few people go from stopping to stop. Relapse comes from the sheer effort needed to maintain the change. Poverty and drug taking are a pretty volatile mix and being on the margins can be a huge contributor to relapse. There will always be exceptions but long-term addiction tends to take strongest hold of the poorest, requiring us to look at the way our society supports those that need it the most.
Support for those who are addicted is out there. Most of the people we see at Turning Point have severe physical or mental health issues as a result of their substance misuse and many are involved in the criminal justice system. For these people, expert intervention is needed by psychologists trained in addiction therapies along with the support of those who have been there. That's why Turning Point has developed its peer mentoring scheme, where individuals who are in recovery from drug and alcohol misuse complete a training programme which enables them to support others who are currently in treatment.
There is always hope though. Figures from Public Health England show that nearly 30,000 people successfully completed their treatment programme between 2012 to 2013. That's nearly 30,000 people on the journey to recovery. Addiction is a complex problem which seeks to be understood as a condition, and recovery requires the ongoing support of friends and family as well as professionals. Yes, I believe that addicts have to realise they are responsible for their own recovery, as we are all responsible when meeting a challenge in our lives, but change doesn't come from stigma, blame or treating someone as less than human. Addiction can affect anyone so we should all look at ourselves before we judge. I've talked to many people who have addiction issues and it's who they are that matters and what they want to do with their lives. They deserve a future like anyone else and that requires support, understanding and tolerance.
To see inspiring stories of recovery go to www.recoverystreetfilmfestival.co.uk