Bristol Addiction Recovery Agency marks 25 years of helping addicts
As the Addiction Recovery Agency marks its 25th anniversary, David Clensy takes a look at the Bristol-based charity's important work to get people on the path to recovery
WHEN an addict hits rock bottom – whether their demon is drink, drugs or even gambling – they can feel as if they're alone in the world.
But for the past 25 years, thanks to the Addiction Recovery Agency (ARA), here in Bristol and North Somerset at least, they have never been without help when it comes to getting on to the path towards recovery.
Each year, the charity helps more than 700 people to get to grips with their dependency – the majority of the people served by the organisation have hardened opiate addictions.
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"There are a lot of organisations out there that work very hard to get people off drugs, but during the years of the Blair Government the emphasis was on shifting dependencies – getting people off illegal drugs like heroin and on to prescribed substitutes like methadone," says the charity's chief executive Peter Walker, as he leads the way into his office.
"Where we're different, is that we're not just here to get people off illegal drugs and on to legal ones – our work is all about getting people free of all their dependencies.
"In fact methadone is often more toxic and more addictive than heroin, and because it's a sweet-tasting liquid, there have been some tragic cases where children have been killed after drinking their parent's methadone."
Peter believes in structured programmes for easing addicts off the physical and emotional dependencies, whether from drugs, alcohol or gambling.
"There are different types of emotional dependencies that we accept as a society – people talk about being a workaholic, for example, but it only becomes a problem when it starts to affect our lives, damage our relationships with our family or our social life.
"But where drugs and alcohol are fundamentally different, is that you're dealing not only with emotional dependencies but also physiological dependencies. So all our programmes aim to combine both medical therapy for easing off the addiction, as well as emotional support and counselling to ensure the emotional dependency is also being overcome.
"It's absolutely no good coming off a drug medically, if you're going to go straight back to it the next time you're feeling depressed.
"As part of our programmes, we aim to find other things to make people's lives meaningful – to replace the drugs with work or training opportunities and improved relationships and family contact.
"If you get those right, often the dependency can be overcome."
The charity has 50 units of accommodation in the city, so recovering addicts on the ARA programmes can live in a safe environment, surrounded by supportive people who are going through, or who have been through, the same process of recovery.
"That's how the organisation began in the city 25 years ago. A group of recovering alcoholics realised it would be a good idea to create a safe house where people could go to concentrate on their recovery in an atmosphere of mutual support.
"The founders bought a property in Stapleton Road, and we have been growing ever since."
The King Street-based charity, funded largely by Safer Bristol, now employs 64 people, as well as having 30 volunteers, and has an annual turnover of £3 million.
Peter is currently planning for a royal visit, which will happen next month, to celebrate the charity's quarter of a century.
"I'm not allowed to give too many details at the stage – I can't say exactly when it's happening, or which member of the royal family is coming, but it will be a great reward for all the staff and volunteers here that work so hard to help people with their recoveries every day of the year."
For more information on ARA visit: www.addictionrecovery.org.uk
Richard Duhaney, 40
"I have a 25 year history of addiction around drinking and taking drugs. This got progressively worse from 2003 to 2008. By 2010 my drinking and using had increased to such an extent that I became homeless.
"A friend suggested the Addiction Recovery Agency (ARA). I moved into St Vincent's, where I did a course in Recovery Dynamics, and then was recommended to come on to the structured treatment course with ARA. This was the best decision I ever made.
"Since completing my treatment with ARA I have started volunteering for the charity. Life is now so much better for me – I have loads of opportunities for the future and I am giving back to the community."
Silva Kreienkamp, 33
"I spent the last 15 years prior to coming into recovery in active alcohol and drug addiction. Alcohol and drugs were the great remover – but in the end they even removed my children from my care.
"I finally drank myself into hospital in March 2010 – suffering from internal bleeding. Then I moved into a day-house in Bristol and started detoxing, while attending an ARA group.
"I was introduced to a 12-step fellowship while I was on the structured day programme and on completion continue attending to this day.
"Now I am reunited with my children, had a baby while in recovery and am doing a diploma in counselling – hoping that my experience may benefit others."
Steve Priest, 42
"At the age of 13 I started drinking and using drugs. This progressed into other addictions. I did not know any different as my family were addicts and alcoholics.
"Family members died through addiction, and this only fuelled my addictions as I did not know how to deal with it.
"It was only when I hit rock bottom and tried to kill myself that I realised I needed some help.
"I first came to ARA in 2008, when I managed six months clean. I then lost two more members of my family, and I relapsed.
"In 2010 I returned to ARA. I had lost everything and had nowhere to go. I started treatment, realising that this time I had to make it. I am now two years clean and sober. I now volunteer for ARA. My life has been transformed, and I feel positive about the future."