‘30 days sober’: one woman's journey to beat substance abuse

  • Greg Brylski, Calvary Riverina General Manager. Julie Redway, Acting CEO of Murrumbidgee PHN.
    Greg Brylski, Calvary Riverina General Manager. Julie Redway, Acting CEO of Murrumbidgee PHN.

Since 2018, rural and regional women living in southern New South Wales communities who are pregnant or have young children, and are struggling with substance use issues, have been supported by the Calvary Riverina Drug and Alcohol Centre’s Women’s Wellness and Recovery Program. It’s a non-residential program where building relationships and social networks is at the cornerstone of success for the women.

‘Through the program, one woman with a drug dependency and history of violent relationships and incarceration was able to access clinical and practical supports, and education on a range of topics, while still maintaining relationships with those loved ones who were supporting her recovery,’ Calvary Riverina General Manager Greg Brylski recalls.

‘Now this young woman has developed new skills and coping strategies to assist her in stressful times, increased insight into how drug use impacts her family, she is able to care for her children and has been accepted into a residential detox program,’ he added.

The program, funded through the Murrumbidgee Primary Health Network (MPHN), is helping to reduce rates higher than the state average for women who smoke during pregnancy (almost twice the rate nationally) and consume alcohol at harmful levels, among other health indicators. It also provides safe and culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In fact, in the 12-month period between June 2021 and May 2022, nearly 150 women have accessed support through the Women’s Wellness and Recovery Program, of whom nearly one-third identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

‘What makes this program effective is its holistic and collaborative approach to support women accessing these services. While counselling and psychosocial support is likely, as well as access to drug and alcohol stepped care treatment services and withdrawal support, so too are practical social and other health services. This might include antenatal assessments and pregnancy care, education on positive parenting, or linking with other government departments like Communities and Justice or Corrections,’ MPHN’s Acting CEO Julie Redway explains.

Holistic support is providing women accessing the services with better health outcomes. Recently, MPHN learned about Maria* who self-referred to the program after concerns she was having with her alcohol consumption and cannabis use. On commencement of the program, Maria completed a comprehensive initial assessment and acknowledged a long history of substance use. During this assessment Maria revealed she supports a young daughter, however did state she ‘never uses around her’. It was her innate desire to be the best mum she could be that was her motivator for seeking help. Maria disclosed a history of trauma, her daughter’s sexual assault and mental health challenges stemming from a borderline personality disorder diagnosis and low self-esteem. These were identified as triggers for Maria’s alcohol and cannabis use as a way to ‘numb herself’ and escape from reality.

Maria’s long-term goal was to cease substance abuse and, to assist in achieving this goal, she worked towards a short-term goal of completing urine drug screens to motivate and encourage herself to reduce her substance use. Through thorough case management and counselling of harm-minimisation skills, education around substances, and encouragement of motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioural therapies, Maria has managed to achieve her goal of reducing her cannabis and alcohol intake. This was observed through a decrease in her cannabis levels and alcohol abstinence as indicated in screening tests.

Soon, Maria’s support team received heartening text messages from Maria as she celebrated and shared her sobriety milestones.

‘When that first 25-days sober text came through, I was so proud of how well Maria was doing. Then, five days later, she celebrated with a 30-days sober message. It is really inspiring for me as a clinician to see our clients achieve their goals. I am optimistic about Maria’s future. She continues to make effective changes in her life through engagement with our program, and I know she has the skills in her toolkit to continue her sobriety and healthy relationship with her young daughter,’ shared one of Maria’s clinical support workers.

Referrals are open to anyone, including self-referrals, by contacting Calvary Riverina Drug and Alcohol Centre on 02 6932 6800 or by visiting www.calvarycare.org.au.

*Name has been changed for privacy reasons

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