Noreen Oliver MBE
BAC O'Connor Centre

She now provides a source of support for others at the BAC O’Connor centre in Staffordshire and a means to move on from their addiction.

"I left home at 18 and moved into a flat with my friend. At the time I worked in a bar at night, and this is where the heavy drinking began. When I was 23 I started working in pharmaceuticals sales. Alcohol was forever present, away from home and let loose in the evenings which was in my case one big booze up. By this time, my whole timetable was worked around alcohol. After a very brief marriage I bought a maisonette and a friend moved in with me, and we spent all our spare time clubbing and back at home drinking until the early hours, although I was the only one who did not know when to stop.

"The danger of alcoholism is your tolerance levels go up and up and the damage is going on inside. By the late 80’s I was on a downward spiral; work was suffering and bills were unpaid. By 1990 I was in relationship with someone who owned a pub, so from the moment I got up until the moment I went to bed I had a drink in my hand.

"By late 1992 I had had numerous hospital admissions for detoxification. Yet despite the obvious damage and consequences of my alcoholism, I wasn’t told to stop, I was told to cut down – an impossible task for someone dependant on a substance. Sadly the alcoholic really does believe they have everything under control and believes no-one has noticed they have a problem.

"I’m not sure how or when I started to turn the corner, but on 30th July 1993 I was transferred to a residential specialist drug and alcohol treatment centre in Nottingham, and for me this really was the last chance saloon."

Making a difference
"A year after I left treatment I made up my mind that I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to give something back and enable people to get out of that black hole. I went back to work voluntarily as an outreach worker for the treatment centre where I got well and to university three nights a week.  I was determined to make a difference for individuals, families and communities doing something I could relate to and understand."

Gaps in the support system
"I already knew how difficult it was to get drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation and how expensive it was. Treatment then was hidden and scarce and rehabilitation was for the chosen few, so I founded the BAC O’Connor in 1997. I had spent enough time with users to understand the gaps in the treatment system. Sticking plasters only masked the problem for a short time, and treating part of the problem was not enough. If we were going to rehabilitate substance misusers we have to deal with detoxification, rehab and resettlement, so people can lead independent fulfilling lives.

"Today, BAC O’Connor is the vision I had back then, a seamless service promoting independence from begin to end and breaking the cycle of addictions in families. My agenda is open and honest; my objective is to enable people to get out of the vile world of substance misuse, and change the negative and often consequential impact it has on self, family and society and give people a chance."

Support for rehab services
"I’m also chair of the addictions group working on the Breakthrough Britain II report for the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ). This report lays bare the reality of substance abuse and addiction in Britain today, the ongoing challenge and the huge costs. Alcohol abuse costs taxpayers £21 billion a year and drug addictions cost £15 billion. While costs matter, it is the human consequences that present the real tragedy, and the scale of the problem is shocking. One in seven children under the age of one lives with a substance-abusing parent, and more than one in five live with a parent who drinks hazardously.

"Alarmingly, some commissioners are withdrawing support for effective services. Some 55% of local authorities have cut funding to residential rehabilitation centres whilst harm reduction services that maintain people in their addiction have been preserved. Rehabilitation centres, which the Prime Minister has rightly backed in the past, have proved time and again to be an effective way of breaking the cycle of addiction and must be supported.

"The move to a recovery-oriented system is important to ensure that harm reduction is only the first step along a path to abstinence and full recovery."