7 Aug 19
having a coffee

The Counselling Online peer support forums recently hosted a special Q&A with Shannon, our guest alcohol and drug counsellor from Turning Point - a national addiction treatment centre. The community broke down some common things they feel get in their way of seeking and navigating professional support for problems relating to drinking and drug use. 

Seeking formal support for changing substance use can be an overwhelming, confusing process. While there are a lot of great options available, it can be difficult to know what to expect, what’s appropriate, how to traverse the system, and how to access it. For many, the first steps can be the hardest. However they are often the best thing a person does for themselves. 

Shannon gave some fantastic helpful insights in how to get past these barriers, so we thought we’d share them here for you too. We hope that the following insights are useful to you.

To be a part of similar events in the future, or connect with others who’ve been where you are now, join our peer support forums today. 

Hi everyone! My name is Shannon. I’m a drug and alcohol counsellor at Turning Point. Thank you to everyone who put forward their questions and concerns. It’s great to see people engaging with the service. 

Rural and regional living

There seems to be a common theme in the Q & A, which is the ability to access treatment when you live in a rural area or small town. 

There are a range of support options available for people living in rural areas but they will be different depending on where you are located in Australia.

  • Phone Counselling Programs: Depending on which area of Australia you live in, you can access anonymous phone counselling through one of the state phone services. Some of the states and territories even have structured ongoing telephone counselling options, which you can discuss with your appropriate helpline.
  • Counselling Online: Counselling Online is a great support service for people who don’t want to access services in person. There could be many reasons why someone does not want to or is not able to use services in person, such as social anxiety, concerns about anonymity, living in rural areas or any other health related concerns. Counselling Online operates 24/7 and you can speak with a qualified drug and alcohol counsellor any time to get support.
  • Home Detox: A home detox is where a nurse or other health professional will visit your home over an agreed timeframe to help you withdraw from alcohol or drugs safely. Home detox is not available to everyone and your appropriate helpline will be able to help you establish your suitability.
  • Support groups: Sometimes rural or country towns will have support groups, or if not, it may be worth searching nearby towns. There are a number of different groups available, such as Smart Recovery, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA).
  • Phone apps: First of all, apps are not advised to replace treatment but are best used to supplement other supports you may be engaging with. Mobile phone apps can be a great way to learn new skills, gain motivation, manage urges and receive inspiration. In addition watch this space as Counselling Online are revamping their SMS tool.


The common barrier that people who live in rural areas are concerned about is confidentiality.

Firstly, all staff who work in health organisations, such as drug and alcohol counsellors, general practitioners, psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers, to name but a few, are to adhere to strict rules about confidentiality. This means that when you access services for support, they cannot disclose to anyone else any information about you accessing treatment. There are some limits to confidentiality though, such as if you’re at risk of harming yourself or harming someone else. Sometimes this will mean an appropriate emergency service might need to be contacted. However, even if other professionals are called upon, they will still be required to adhere to the strict confidentiality standards. 

Impact on family & children

A further concern about confidentiality relates to how it may affect families, and whether disclosing drug use would result in children being taken away from someone as a result of seeking support. Each state and territory has a different response to these situations but what they all have in common is the priority of keeping children with their family as much as possible. 

If someone is using drugs but accessing treatment, this is seen as a ‘protective factor’ - meaning it is a positive consideration in the situation. This is what Child Protection will take into account if there was ever a reason for them to become involved in working with your family. There are many people who are going through alcohol or drug use issues and it does not automatically mean that Child Protection will become involved. The main reason that they would become involved is if there is an immediate risk to a child.

Medication’s role in coming off alcohol or drugs

Firstly, medication is not for everyone but sometimes people may need a little bit of extra assistance and medication may fill that role. The decision to use medication or to not use medication is an individual choice. A doctor or psychiatrist may recommend a specific medication which could assist you in reducing your use of alcohol or drugs, but it’s still an individuals’ decision as to whether they will follow the recommendation or not. People may choose to start medication for many different reasons. The first place to start the conversation about what medication may be suitable for you is with your general practitioner, or in some cases, your psychiatrist. 

Judgement from counsellors

It’s very normal to feel a level of apprehension about attending your first counselling appointment. The first appointment with a counsellor is usually about gathering relevant information, such as your history with drug or alcohol use and working out what you’re hoping to get out of seeing a counsellor. Each counsellor is different because we’re all individuals and this means that counselling styles may vary a bit. Sometimes you might meet your first counsellor and everything goes perfectly and you’re a great match. Other times, you may not feel a connection with the counsellor and that’s ok as well. If you don’t feel a strong connection with your counsellor, there is always an option to find a different one within that same service or ask to be referred to another service. It can be useful to commit to 2-3 sessions with a counsellor before evaluating the connection as it usually takes this long to become involved with the matter at hand.

Thanks for inviting me onto your forum. It’s been great having the opportunity to reply to some of your concerns. Our journeys are all different, so just because one option works for one person, remember that it might not work for the next person. There can be a bit of trial and error to find what works for you. However, engaging with and continuing to utilise support can be hugely beneficial in your road to recovery. 

All the best, Shannon.