I’ve never met a person who woke up and decided to become addicted to a substance. For many people who do develop an addiction, it started as a coping mechanism, as an escape, or social use that became unmanageable. However, we don’t always recognise the maladaptive use until it has spiralled out of control and is now dominating our lives. For some, this will be a private use, and they live with secrecy and shame. For others it’s big, and loud, and public.
Substances in Society
Many people in our society use substances – in some industries and community groups it’s almost a rite of passage. However, just because someone uses substances, doesn’t mean that they have a substance use disorder.
Substance use disorder is where a person:
- is using substances in a way that causes harm to their physical or mental health,
- has dependence on the substance (physically or psychologically), and
- where their substance use negatively affects their functioning.
This can include legal substances (such as alcohol or inhalants), illegal drugs, or over the counter and prescription medication that is being misused.
In many areas of our society it is socially acceptable to use substances and sometimes it is almost expected. This can lead to people using increasingly more and more while not necessarily aware of the patterns and effects of their use.
Substance Use Disorders
Substance use disorders often co-occur with anxiety and depressive disorders – sometimes the person with the anxiety or depression is using substances to self-medicate, and at other times the overuse of substances can lead to or exacerbate anxiety and depression. It is important that if a person is experiencing these disorders cooccurring, they should get treatment for all of the conditions to optimise their chances of recovery.
We often don’t pay a lot of attention to a person’s substance use until it is starting to affect their behaviour. Especially if that behaviour, or their choices, are then affecting us! There is a lot of stigma around substance use issues and people often judge someone as having a weak character or being “a junkie” or an “alco”. It is very easy to see the problem and no longer see the person. Particularly if their substance use is negatively affecting their relationships, and their capacity to care for themselves, or to work and live their usual life. We don’t often show a lot of compassion for a person with substance use issues. It can be complicated because their use really can have such a devastating impact not just on them but also on those around them. If you are supporting someone with substance use issues it is so important to have strong boundaries and supports around yourself. If you choose to you might be able to do this while maintaining empathy and compassion for your loved one who is caught up in their addiction.
Treatment and Strategies
There are various withdrawal and treatment programs available, as well as support groups to assist people who are trying to change their substance use patterns. Treatment might consist of rapid detox and withdrawal by going cold turkey from the substance, or it might involve medications to assist with this process. The goal of the treatment might be to abstain from using the substance altogether, or to use harm minimisation strategies which focus on reducing the frequency or quantity of the substance that the person uses, as well as the method of using the drug or the location that the person uses.
There are three broad benefits of counselling for substance use issues. The therapist can:
- help the person to explore the underlying triggers or cause of their substance use;
- explore with the person how ready they are for change;
- assist the person (and their supports) to determine what type and level of professional and personal support is required to change their substance use.
Many substance treatment programs use the Stages of Change Model of behaviour change. This recognises that people may be at any of the six stages of the change process at any given point and can move in and out of the different stages on the road to their recovery.
When someone relapses, instead of thinking that the situation is hopeless, and that the person will never recover, look for what they have learned from the relapse. Have they learned that they can make changes, even if just for a short time, and feel that next time they can try to beat the addiction? Have they learned what the triggers were that led them to relapse – if so, can they better manage these triggers in the future? Can they identify if they are using a substance to manage other issues (such as depression, anxiety, loneliness), and therefore develop proactive positive strategies to manage these other issues in the future?
Edited excerpt from Bloom, Mental Health and Wellbeing, by Tasha Broomhall. Order your copy here.
There has been significant media attention recently about levels of alcohol misuse, especially amongst women. In my work I observe many men and women report using alcohol as a coping strategy for the stress that builds up managing their multiple roles, and as a way to get through the week. Individuals and organisations can tackle this for themselves, by developing healthy coping strategies proactively.
If you have found your substance use may have crept a little higher than you realised, why not participate in Dry July. This is not a treatment program, so if you are experiencing substance dependence or addiction then you need specialised treatment – go see your GP and get a referral to a service near you. However, if you just wish to reduce your use and do some good at the same time, this might be just the opportunity for you.
More information can be found at the official website: https://www.dryjuly.com/
For Further Information & Resources
Australian Government Alcohol Guidelines
Alcohol and Drug Foundation (lists state and national services)
Western Australia Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (lists services in other states)
National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre (some excellent free webinars available)
Alcohol & Drug Foundation (information about drugs and their effects)
FOR COUNSELLING & SUPPORT IN WESTERN AUSTRALIA:
By Tasha Broomhall