Improving the lives of individuals at risk of Alcohol Related Brain Damage

University of South Wales (USW) research has increased awareness of Alcohol Related Brain Damage (ARBD) both in the UK and internationally, with governments and professional bodies benefiting from the findings.   

ARBD is an under-recognised but treatable condition, which can cause both physical and mental problems. Despite this, few sufferers are diagnosed - due to a lack of reliable evidence of ARBD prevalence, lack of awareness and understanding of the condition, and an inconsistent approach to treatment due to the absence of an adequate treatment model. 

The Welsh Government prioritised the issue of alcohol misuse and, in 2014, Public Health Wales identified a need to address an absence of evidence and understanding around the condition.   

Since 2015, the Addictions Research Group at USW has been researching ways to improve identification, assessment, and treatment of the condition. 

The work has underpinned recommendations in the Welsh Government’s Welsh Governments’ Substance Misuse Treatment Framework (SMTF), which was co-written by USW researchers, and has subsequently been used to support the development of a UK-wide SMTF. 

The research has also been endorsed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales and influenced professional practice and staff awareness training of ARBD in The Pobl Group– which is the largest not-for-profit Housing Association in Wales, employing 2000 staff who support 10,000 individuals, many of whom are at risk of ARBD. As a result, the majority of Pobl staff have reported an increased awareness of ARBD and confidence in supporting individuals with the condition. 

Professor Gareth Roderique-Davies, Professor in Psychology at USW, said: “When you think about the physical harms caused by alcohol, you tend to think about liver damage and not damage to the brain. There was really a general misunderstanding about the brain damage caused by alcohol use and that there was an absence of evidence around it within Wales.”

Huw Thomas, Area Manager Substance Misuse Service, Pobl Group, said: “The learning package has enabled our staff to be more aware of the signs and symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage. 

“Staff are now able to support people to recover from alcohol-related brain damage, whereas previously it was a condition that people believed there was no recovery from. The research that USW has done has been massive to the impact of the people living in our projects.”

Oliver John, Manager, Royal College of Psychiatrists in Wales, said: “We think the application is global. It's really exciting because the way it's delivered, it's very logical, it's very practical. 

“But where we're particularly keen is that this is also integrated into government policy. There's been a development of a substance misuse trade treatment framework, and this work is embedded within that as a principal recommendation.”

Professor Bev John, Professor of Addictions and Health Psychology at USW, added: “What we're doing is facilitating people who are most likely to come face to face with somebody who's potentially suffering from ARBD but not diagnosed.

“For us it is fantastic that our research is directly influencing the policy of the Welsh Government in relation to substance misuse in general but ARBD in particular.”