I’ve known Mark for about a decade and hold him in high regard. I know he is inspired by what we are trying to do and by what Indigenous people can teach us about healing and recovery.
‘Mark Gilman is from Bury in Greater Manchester, UK. He left school at 16 in 1972 with few qualifications. A decade of odd jobs and worldwide travel followed. At the age of 25 he entered higher education as a ‘mature student’. He gained a first degree in Organisation Studies and a Masters in Crime, Deviance and Social Policy.
The following 30 years have been spent working with addictions and crime, addicts and criminals. Of course, these are often the same working class people in the same social networks. Mark has worked in research, policy and practice.
Mark was one of the first researchers to report on the unprecedented growth in the use of heroin in the 1980s. He monitored and reported on the growth of “rave” culture and “dance” music and the attendant drug use in the 1990s. He has been studying “recovery” for the last ten years. He was involved in setting up some of the first needle and syringe programmes and methadone clinics and was closely associated with the International Harm Reduction Conferences from 1990 to 1995.
He has worked as an adviser to several UK Government Departments (Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and Department of Health). Mark worked for The Lifeline Project drug treatment project for many years in a variety of capacities.
He is currently employed as the Strategic Recovery Lead for Substance Misuse in Public Health England. He is also assisting NHS England and the UK Ministry of Justice in the implementation of the substance misuse elements of a ‘Through the [Prison] Gate’ programme.
Mark is also working on a programme (“Well North”) designed to improve the health of the poorest people (in Northern England) fastest. The “Well North” programme takes a much wider view of “addictions”. Alcohol, drugs, tobacco and food (e.g. sugar) addictions are seen in the context of a range of other health problems and chronic conditions. These include obesity and Type-2 diabetes.
There are a range of biomedical and clinical responses to these problems that can alleviate some of the symptoms of long-term conditions. The best treatment programmes will also introduce patients and clients to the ideas of medication assisted recovery and the 5 ways to wellbeing: being active, giving; keeping learning; taking notice and connecting.
Mark believes strongly that life-changing solutions to addiction problems are not medical or clinical. They are fundamentally social. They require a change in identity and social networks. He emphasises that, “Only you can change yourself and choose the social networks you engage with. This is how mutual aid works. It is also how “desistance” from crime and criminal careers works.”
Mark also says, “Asset and strength-based approaches can be linked to the social processes of recovering from addiction. Two of the most important elements of your recovery are identity and social networks. Who you are and how you see yourself and the people you spend time with are crucial in recovering from alcohol and other drug addictions.
One of the biggest ‘assets’ that we have are the experts by experience found in the mutual aid rooms of 12 step fellowships such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). The only real ‘experts’ in recovery are those people who have done it or are doing it.
The challenge to professionals who are paid to help addicts is one of humility. Can we find the humility to accept that people recover outside of treatment centres and outside the hours of 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday? The very best addiction treatment professionals know this and act on it.“'
Why not check out an interview of Mark by recovery advocate Bill White, and the slideshow from one of Mark's talks?