In 2015, our predecessor charity, Alcohol Concern,  launched the Blue Light project manual: Working with Change Resistant Drinkers.   The Blue Light approach challenges the belief that only drinkers who show clear motivation to change can be helped, and sets out tools and techniques that can be used with this group.   

While we recognise that the Blue Light approach may not always be able to make someone change completely, it can help to reduce the harm in many cases.  

However, there will still be a small number of dependent drinkers who continue to place themselves at risk and pose an ongoing challenge to services. Those affected are likely to require the more structured frameworks provided by legal powers.

Cases such as this are seen most clearly in the Safeguarding Adult Reviews (SARs). In 2019, Alcohol Change UK reviewed 41 SARs to identify the role that alcohol played in the lives of these vulnerable people.  The report, Learning from Tragedies, indicated that 25% of these serious safeguarding cases concerned dependent drinkers. This was a figure confirmed by another larger study published last year. This is a significant proportion of serious safeguarding cases.

As a result, over the past 18 months, Alcohol Change UK and I have been working with Professor Michael Preston-Shoot, a network of local authorities and alcohol agencies across England and Wales, to develop a briefing: Safeguarding Vulnerable Dependent Drinkers. The briefing aims to enable professionals in England and Wales to use legal frameworks to manage and protect vulnerable dependent drinkers.

This is an important missing piece in the jigsaw of care for this complex group of people. Its central focus is on the main legal powers which can protect vulnerable dependent drinkers, and how these can be used to best effect: the Care Act (England), the Social Services and Wellbeing Act (Wales), the Mental Capacity Act and the Mental Health Act. It also focuses on a handful of other relevant powers such as the 2014 Anti-social Behaviour Act and the Human Rights Act.

Alongside the central focus on legislation, it emphasises the importance of having systems and processes in place that enable the powers to be used most effectively. It also addresses the myths and misconceptions that hinder work with this group, and challenges the idea that these vulnerable people are choosing to live chaotic lives.

The briefing will be of value to staff in all services who work with people who are at risk of alcohol-related harm. This will include those in specialist alcohol services, as well as those working in health, social care, criminal justice, community safety, housing, homelessness, domestic abuse or other care roles.

A half day training course has been developed to accompany the briefing. This is available at a cost. Find out more about the course.  

We hope this briefing and the information that it highlights will be another important step in improving the care of the most complex dependent drinkers in the community.

Mike Ward Senior Consultant

Alcohol Change UK