Barriers to Alcohol Treatment Services

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Make the Change: Addressing Barriers to Alcohol Treatment Services in Ireland

Guest blog: Niamh Foley, Community Response


In 2019, The Health Research Board noted that Irish people aged 15 and over drank on average 10.8 litres of alcohol per year, equating to 113 bottles of wine or 436 pints of beer, classifying over half of Irish drinkers as ‘hazardous drinkers’ .

Alcohol in Ireland plays a complex cultural and social role and contributes to a range of social and health related harms on a national level. Alcohol is one of the leading forms of substance misuse, and whilst many people may cut down or make changes on their own, for those regularly consuming large amounts of alcohol and experiencing negative consequences as a result may need to engage in medical or social support. Unfortunately there can be challenges for individuals or professionals seeking help, such as being unaware of the different treatment options available, or knowing how to access them.


Treatment Options

Alcohol treatment in Ireland is generally provided through statutory and non-statutory services providing residential and non-residential treatment options. In the public health service, addiction treatment provided by the HSE and voluntary community based services are free of charge, there are also private options available.

There are a range of public and private residential treatment services in Ireland varying in the supports they provide. It will generally involve staying in a treatment centre for a period of time for detoxification and rehabilitation and engagement in a range of therapeutic interventions.

Non-residential treatment involves reducing alcohol in-take at home and may involve engagement with outpatient or community based services providing interventions such as: counselling, key working, peer supports, group supports, family supports, aftercare supports and other interventions. These supports sometimes may be combined with medical intervention known as Community Alcohol Detox. This is a process where an individual is prescribed medication that helps them to manage withdrawal symptoms as they cut down their drinking through the medical supervision of a GP with support from a community organisation. Not everyone who is alcohol dependent will require medical intervention but it is always recommended to explore options with a GP who may be able to advise on the best treatment plan.


The Community Alcohol Detox Project

The Community Alcohol Detox (CAD) Initiative launched in 2019 under the Ministerial fund, is one of many aimed at tackling drug and alcohol misuse around the country. The aim of this project was to engage with individuals facing barriers in entering residential treatment and seeking support in making changes in their drinking. Community Response, a primary alcohol service in Dublin 8, in collaboration with four local Drug

and Alcohol Task Forces, hosted the project with the aim of addressing barriers to alcohol treatment in specific Dublin areas.

This project aims to create awareness about the range of supports available for individuals and their families looking for support around alcohol. Individuals in most cases access community alcohol detox or non-residential supports through their GP or referral/self-referral to community based supports. One of the primary aims was to enhance relationships between healthcare providers such as GP’s, Primary Care Centres, and Hospitals etc. with community based addiction services/NGOs. This is to ensure that all relevant professionals are aware of the supports available within the local community to facilitate referrals and sign post individuals to appropriate services when they seek support.

Service user involvement was integral to the development of this project. We initially consulted service users who had first-hand experience with Community Alcohol Detox or reducing their alcohol use in a non-residential setting. We also engaged with a range of service providers, and social and health care professionals providing support to individuals around alcohol. This provided the opportunity to identify the main barriers individuals and professionals faced in relation to accessing alcohol treatment. They key needs arising were:

1. Both service users and professionals noted lack of awareness of the supports community organisations/NGOs provide.

2. Professionals noted the lack of a relationship and referral pathway between GP’s/Health Care providers and community organisations/NGO’s.

3. Service users noted particular barriers around stigma in accessing services.

4. All stakeholders, particularly healthcare providers and service users noted the lack of a resource that outlines treatment options, a directory of services and information on referral pathways.


Make the Change: An Alcohol Reduction Resource

Over the course of the project and in direct response to feedback, “Make the Change: An Alcohol Reduction Resource” was developed. This refers to a manual, website and video resources aimed at addressing barriers to improve referral pathways and create awareness around alcohol

treatment options.

The Community Alcohol Resource Manual: offers a best practice framework for alcohol reduction for individuals, family members, and professionals. It provides information, guidance and workshop questions to prompt individuals and professionals supporting individuals to explore their drinking in addition to guidance for family members and concerned others. The manual is available to view here

Make the Change Website: offers information and guidance for individuals and their families who are looking for support around alcohol in addition to information and guidance for professionals supporting people around alcohol. It covers the following topics:

● Alcohol Treatment Options

● Service Directory & Referral Pathway Information

● Information on Alcohol Reduction

● Video Resources

● Alcohol Toolkit & Manual To find the manual and all resources, please visit If you would like physical copies of the manuals or other resources and for additional information, please contact Community Response at 01 454 9772 or visit