“IF alcohol was introduced to the government now, they’d classify it as a class A drug”.

Those were the words of Jill Fidan, who has battled alcoholism for more than 25 years and after almost losing a loved one to the disease, it’s a sentiment that resonated.

I met Ms Fidan at the opening of Middlesbrough’s Live Well Centre, a pioneering facility bringing together a host of health and social care services under one roof.

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Sober for 12 years, she’s using her experiences to help others but at one stage would think nothing of drinking cheap cider before heading out to work.

She lost her job to alcoholism and everything she deemed important, losing herself to a cycle of dependence for decades.

The middle aged, middle-class woman doesn’t fit the lazy stereotype of an alcoholic – she’s not wandering the streets clutching a can, she’s a respectable mother, a woman whose battle with the booze was hidden behind a professional, well put together façade. “Nobody ever asked me”, she said, “Nobody ever knows how to ask if someone’s drinking too much”.

And it’s true – it’s hard to interfere, to intrude, to question the legal and socially acceptable choices of someone you care about.

Alcohol’s the only drug you have to justify not using – it’s so embedded within British culture that we accept its presence as easily as we do the food we eat.

A friend of mine slipped easily into alcoholism, from social drinking to drinking to be social, to drinking to get through the day, the hour, the minute.

It wasn’t easy watching from the sidelines, knowing she had to help herself before anyone could help, knowing I couldn’t stop the slide, stop her becoming unrecognisable.

My vibrant, positive friend became increasingly unpredictable as she fought a battle I’ll never know the half of. I watched her turn in circles seeking help from service after service only to be turned away, told she would have to deal with her drinking problem before she could deal with her mental health problems, that she would struggle to quit drinking if she didn’t fix her mental health problems.

She was driven to ever more drastic measures in her attempt to get the help she needed, conflicting services, the gaps between them and the lack of a cohesive, joined together service meaning she was forced to climb out of crisis alone.

Knowing she had friends played a huge part in her recovery, our attempts at distraction, our efforts to drag her away from growing isolation contributed to her rebuilding her life.

If there’s anything I’ve learned as a result of almost losing my friend to addiction, it’s the importance of a safety net, one knitted so tightly no person could fall through.

Not everyone has supporters able or willing to see their fight through with them – addiction’s not easy, it’s not glamorous and it’s often devastating for all concerned.

By bringing together a variety of agencies tackling addiction, mental health issues and lifestyle changes the team behind the Live Well Centre hope to stitch together a societal safety net for all who find themselves struggling. It promises to fill the gaps between the services, to catch those who would too often fall. Its existence is overdue.