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Substance Abuse


Scotland has high levels of drug and alcohol misuse compared to the rest of the UK. While substance misuse affects the whole of Scotland, it particularly affects people living in deprived areas. In 2010/11, there were 10,813 'new' individuals that received a specialist assessment of their drug use and care needs, which equates to a rate of 219 per 100,000 of the Scottish population. Of these:

  • 67% were unemployed.
  • 12% were in paid or unpaid employment (including full time education and training).

In terms of alcohol misuse, it is estimated that in Scotland approximately 1 in 8 men and 1 in 24 women have some degree of alcohol dependence.

Barriers Faced

Substance misusers are a marginalised group and often encounter multiple barriers entering and sustaining employment. These barriers include: 

  • No or low qualifications.
  • Low self-confidence. 
  • Lack of work experience or incomplete work histories.
  • Lack of recent references.
  • Health and mental health problems.
  • Homelessness (or risk of).
  • Criminal background.
  • Perceived or actual discrimination from employers and colleagues.
  • Isolation and lack of social networks.

Policies and Interventions

In April 2009 a joint Framework for Alcohol and Drug Partnerships was launched, signed jointly by Scottish Government, the NHS and COSLA, for delivering action on alcohol and drugs at the local level. The document sets out a framework for local partnerships on alcohol and drugs. It aims to ensure that all bodies involved in tackling alcohol and problem drug use are clear about their responsibilities and their relationships with each other; and to focus activity on the identification, pursuit and achievement of agreed, shared outcomes.

Working for Growth also commits to ensuring that people with drug and alcohol problems are able to access the right services at the right time in order to facilitate their journey towards sustained recovery, self sufficiency and employment. For this reason the Scottish Government has been working, and will continue to work with the DWP in Scotland and local Alcohol and Drug Partnerships to ensure that people seeking help with drug or alcohol problems are always able to receive swift referrals that are appropriate to their needs.

In addition to simplifying referral routes for these clients and ensuring that staff are educated and confident in dealing with issues of addiction and recovery strong relationships between the relevant staff of the DWP and local addiction services are vital. Crucially, in line with our commitment to person-centred care, the clients should at all times play a central role in the planning of their own treatment and support. At a local level, local partnerships need to continue to give full consideration to the varying needs of people with drug and alcohol problems within their pipelines of support.

In supporting people with substance misuse problems, good practice suggests the need to:

  • Adopt a holistic approach where all agencies work in partnership to support the individual. These include addictions, health, social work, education and employability services.
  • Embed an employability culture within addictions services. Employment, education, access to training and voluntary work are no longer viewed as end point goals for individuals, but as key intermediate goals that will promote longer term stability and give additional focus for interventions working towards recovery;
  • Ensure that employability forms part of their core initial assessment work with service users. 
  • Supported people to remain in employment and training by forging stronger working relationships with training providers, colleges and employers. This helps ensure that if people relapse or struggle to comply with course or employment requirements, then they can immediately be routed back for a review of care and treatment.