Advocacy is not commonly available to people who have a substance use problem but there has recently been more focus on this. This has involved some confusion by what is meant by the term advocacy.

In the mental health field, under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003, independent advocacy is available to people engaging with services and is in place to ensure their wishes as well as their needs are delivered and met in circumstances in which their health may prevent them communicating their needs and desires, fully participating in decision making or ensuring their rights are protected in a relationship with services which involves a crucial power imbalance between those providing and those receiving the service. It is important to note that independent advocates therefore take instruction from and act on behalf of their clients – not in pursuing a pre-determined end supported by the advocate or the service-providing organisation.

The Scottish Government drugs strategy document Rights, Respect and Recovery mentions a plan to invest in ‘independent advocacy’ to ensure a rights-based approach for people with a substance use problem in engaging with services. It is presumed that independent advocacy as used in the mental health field provides a model for this.

However, in the substance use field, advocacy is not legally defined. The term ‘advocacy’ is sometimes used to describe something closer to supporting people towards a particular end, specifically abstinent recovery. Thus ‘recovery advocacy’ has become a more commonly used term. Advocacy, in this circumstance, does not necessarily mean advocacy on behalf of a person in pursuit of their rights nor, necessarily, their stated wishes but on behalf of a process supported and promoted by others.

Explore further:

SIAA (2010) Available for All? A report on independent advocacy for individuals with problem drug use in Scotland

Scottish Executive (2004) Advocacy for Drug Users: A Guide