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Helping Professionals to help themselves

Every year, reports reveal an increase in drug use and harmful levels of alcohol consumption in most sectors of the UK’s population. The 2004 Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England estimated that alcohol misuse cost £20billion per year and up to a third of all attendances at hospital A&E departments were alcohol-related. A report by the CIPD and People Management highlights the cost of absenteeism from work due to addiction, four in 10 employers believing alcohol misuse is a significant cause of absence and lost productivity, and a third reporting drug misuse having a similar effect.   

Recent statistics report a higher increase in drug and alcohol dependency among professionals – doctors, lawyers, accountants, investment bankers, etc, along with those in highly-pressured positions – the self-employed, managers and directors. Working in demanding environments compounded by stress triggers such as meeting deadlines and managing clients and staff, as well as, in most cases, being the breadwinner for the family; their salary essential to pay for the mortgage, school fees, holidays and the cost of living; all creates additional pressure. An increasing amount of people deal with this by succumbing to the short-term escapism of alcohol or drugs.   

At whatever level, addiction affects performance, with impaired observations, conclusions and perceptions. This is especially serious where there are health and safety risks as in the case of driving, and at senior level, where crucial decision-making is affected. With temporarily inflated self confidence and daring, the decision-maker has a shortened attention span; slower reaction times; trouble understanding or remembering; will often give mixed messages and conflicting instructions, creating feelings of confusion, unrest and low morale within the workforce; and is likely to make irrational judgements.

In most cases, the addict is in denial until something happens to make them recognise their problem. Employers have the unique ability to influence their people. With appropriate support, employees have a greater chance of kicking the habit. Scientific evidence shows professional treatment also substantially increases the chances of abstinence, so suitable arrangements should be made with employers, and professional help sought in the form of education or treatment.

Dr. David Bremner, MB.BCh.MRCPsych, is Clinical Services Director at Winthrop Hall, an exclusive residential addiction treatment centre in Kent. A member of the Royal College of Psychiatry and Addiction Psychiatry Specialist, he has extensive experience in the treatment of addiction in both inner city environments and across the Home Counties, within the NHS and independent providers in the UK and abroad.   

David explains that there is a massive difference in the level of support offered by employers in various professions. He said: “The level of support varies greatly from profession to profession. For example, in my work with The Sick Doctors Trust, I see doctors and dentists who, because they are governed by the General Medical Council, are afforded a high level of support and return to work after treatment, subject to spot checks, urine tests, etc. Due to this level of support, they are more likely to sustain their abstinence and continue to work productively and valuably within the profession they trained so hard for. Pilots are similar – thanks to the stringent regulations of the Civil Aviation Authority, there is also a support network in place, both in terms of treatment and long-term support thereafter.

“Companies are more inclined to try and ignore symptoms, and it usually results in highly qualified and experienced professionals losing their employment. Following treatment and support, many of these professionals are not only able to return to work, they are often more productive than before they were addicted, with a fresh approach and positive outlook. Companies falling into this category really need to put measures in place, or they stand to lose some of their best performing and loyal managers and employees.”  

Jon Moulton, venture capitalist and managing partner of Alchemy, agrees that substance abuse – alcohol, drugs or prescription drugs – tends to be at its peak in high stress professions and that employers need to tackle addiction head on.

Mr Moulton personally invested £12million to pay for the newly-opened Winthrop Hall, predominantly to tackle the increasing levels of addiction among business people. He says: “I believe the worst users are those who hold high profile positions, where the stress levels and hours are unprecedented. The drink or the snort of cocaine after work seems to have become a cultural norm and a coping strategy for some people struggling with boardroom stress on top of normal family and relationship issues. However, support systems need to be in place for all employees, not just for those at the top.”

Both Dr Bremner and Mr Moulton stress that businesses could see reduced staff absence of sickness, increased productivity and valuable loyalty from employees to whom they have provided support. HR professionals should ensure that mangers are trained in recognising the symptoms of addiction and the various ways of offering support. Policies relating to addiction in the workplace should be introduced and if necessary, formal testing or assessments should be arranged.

Providing information on local services and allowing time off during working hours to attend support programmes or counselling sessions have proven effective with the introduction of flexitime, which means the cost can be kept at a minimum. For those needing additional or intensive support, the clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses and therapists at Winthrop Hall have combined proven methods of rehabilitation within individually-tailored, continually-assessed and constantly-evolving programmes of therapies and activities in a residential environment.

This approach gives every client the best chance of success. Complementary therapies form a key part of withdrawal management to enhance comfort and assist with relaxation. The 12-Step Programme is used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which helps clients identify behavioural patterns and learn strategies to break them. To maintain sobriety, a family or support network is vital so it is incorporated into the treatment programme, as is pursuing leisure activities and re-establishing interests.

With an allocated personal trainer, state-of-the-art gym and fabulous grounds, clients adopt an exercise regime to fit their abilities while the nutritionist and in-house chefs help them adopt a healthy diet. At the end of their stay, clients leave Winthrop Hall in better health – emotionally, physically and spiritually. If further support is needed, its Recoverycare programme supports each client for a full 12 months in their normal environment.

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