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Clair: From homelessness to university

Clair grew up in a family where everyone had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Clair* is a young Aboriginal woman aged 21 years old who presented to youth detox program, David Martin Place (DMP) in 2017 with chronic alcohol use disorder. For two years she had been consuming more than 20 standard drinks a day, up to three litres of wine. She had been smoking cannabis for five years and had 40 cigarettes a day.

She was referred to DMP by her Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Counsellor. Clair had a history of domestic violence in her family and reported that “everyone (in her family) drinks”. This made her environment unsettled and resulted in homelessness. Clair used alcohol to manage anxiety, leading to agoraphobia. Her mental health decreased so much that she felt she “can’t function without alcohol”.

Clair would need to “be drunk to feel normal” and would not leave her house unless she was under the influence of alcohol.

When admitted to David Martin Place Clair told staff that her last drink was 12 hours prior and her blood alcohol level was almost 3 times the legal limit. This level of use had severely decreased her liver function and meant that she needed extra attention with her detox.

Initially Clair was withdrawn and did not engage with the team or the other young people in the unit due to mental health concerns. As Clair’s confidence grew, she began engaging with counselling and social activities and enjoyed making jigsaw puzzles. After being in the unit for two weeks she was able to have a visit from family and this positive interaction helped motivate Clair to continue to engage in the program.

After 18 days she had completed detox and was picked up by her father, also an alcoholic, who stopped at the bottle shop on the way home. During her time out of the program, a total of 10 days, the young person consumed three and a half 5 litre wine casks and two cases of beer. This relapse led to a re-admission for alcohol withdrawal.

Clair completed detox for the second time and stated it was “much more difficult this time because I didn’t have a drink for 18 days while I was in here, the toll on my body this time is worse.” Clair reported that her physical health is a motivating factor for her to be able to give up drinking alcohol. She wants to do go to university and one day have a family.

Claire decided to move into rehabilitation at Triple Care Farm. Despite struggling with her cravings and missing her family, she was able to stay for about 4 weeks. Staff were then able to support her through the aftercare program when she re-entered the community, where she was assisted in attending counselling in the community.

Clair has now been accepted into a university degree, something that she has been hopeful of achieving and never thought possible due to her alcohol misuse.

*Name and image changed to protect identity.

*Name changed to protect privacy; stock image used.