It is common in our society to see and hear about addictions to do with alcohol and recreational and prescription drugs. Australian society has always had an ongoing historical acceptance of alcohol as part of our culture.
The current way sport and alcohol are associated via sponsorship and marketing, is just one way in which alcohol has been normalised into socialising and being “part of the Australian way of life”. Drugs have grown since the 1960’s to be an adjunct or option to alcohol for many people going out socialising or when with friends.
The impact of just alcohol alone is alarming. The Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation researched the effects of alcohol on Australian society and found that drunkenness and alcoholism is costing the community $36 billion a year.
The tangible costs were put at $24.7 billion and the indirect costs at $11.4 billion. The report found that more than 10 million Australians a year experience some negative effect of a stranger’s drinking.
Almost 70,000 Australians were reported victims of alcohol- related assaults every year, including 24,000 domestic violence cases, and over 20,000 children were victims of alcohol-related abuse. Alcohol also contributed to almost 14,000 people a year going to hospital.
Many people are able to take such substances only occasionally and without interference to their relationships or general wellbeing. But there have also always been people who have had difficulty moderating their use of alcohol and drugs, and it is these people who may go on to suffer from addiction.
We work with addictions where we see humans as having “addictive personalities”, and so bring the addiction back to an issue within the person, often related to trauma or abandonment. There can be a resulting anxiety that can be treated and overcome.
The use of alcohol and drugs starts to cross the line of free-will use and into addiction when the person either starts to have a dependency on their use, and when increasing time, money, resources, are devoted to their attainment, use and recovery afterwards.
There is a resulting impairment in key relationships with family, partners, and friends who come to experience their drug use as a hindrance to the quality of their everyday life. This interference to one's life may come in many forms, but often involves an experience of depression or anxiety, for some people issues with violence or loss of control, for others loss of good judgment or a loss of a significant relationship.
Some personalities are more likely to be vulnerable to a drug or alcohol addiction. This can stem from genetic, childhood abuse, trauma, or other undiagnosed deeper level issues such as mental illness, anxiety, shame or depression issues.
Some of the key known dynamics that can create an addictive personality who may medicate their reality with alcohol and drugs include:
- Adult children of alcoholics/drug addicts
- Adults who experienced childhood sexual abuse
- Mothers with Postnatal Depression
- Parents experiencing difficulty bonding to their children
- Adults prone to unsatisfactory or abusive relationships
- Adults who experienced childhood physical or emotional abuse
- Adults who experience childhood abandonment, neglect or loss of a parent
- Adults with low self-esteem
- Adults with depression
- Adults prone to shame
The addiction to drugs rarely happens in isolation or instantaneously. Rather, the process of drug addiction is generally a slow one which builds up over time, and which may involve another addiction in place already such as alcohol, or the mixing of drug and alcohol cocktails.
People might, initially, use drugs only in a recreational way or after work to help unwind from the day. Some people maintain long term boundaries and resilience with use of drugs and alcohol at this recreational level, whilst for others it is the start of a slippery slide downhill into an addiction
Normally as people cross the line between recreational and an emerging physical or emotional dependency on drugs or alcohol, there is a form of denial taking place with the addict that they have changed their relationship with the substance from free-will use to a deepening need.
The pursuit of alcohol is easy and comparatively cheap and there are countless legalised outlets for its purchase in our society. The alcohol impact starts to show more in the impact on behaviour, relationships, and work, and then later on physical and mental health.
Drug addicts typically have an additional overhead to deal with. Drugs are not typically legally or readily available at all times, and they typically cost more.
This creates a pre-experience tension and ritual for drug addicts that becomes normalised as they start to spend a lot of time (and money) thinking about, purchasing and taking drugs, until the process of buying and taking drugs becomes the central interest in their lives.
Other pursuits and responsibilities, such as work, study, friends and family, often fall by the wayside. Jobs get lost, exams failed, and relationships fail.
The onset of a full alcohol or drug addiction has key behavioural and lifestyle impacts that tend to worsen over time. Depending on the person, their resources, interactions with others, and any enablers to their addiction in their life, we often see:
- Increased alcohol and drug use that leads to increased physical dependence, and users may find that they get sick if they do not take their drug, or keep drinking as “a hair of the dog” remedy.
- Increased alcohol and drug use leads to increased tolerance to either, and users may find that they need to take more of the drug to get the same effect or ‘high’ that they used to get from far less, or their tolerance to alcohol increases and they correspondingly drink more and claim they are in control. Neuroscientists have proven how the opiate receptors in the brain which react and create the pleasurable effect from drugs and alcohol, build tolerance that then requires greater levels of drugs and alcohol to get the same “high” in the future.
- Risk behaviours increase while “high” or drunk, and users may harm themselves or others whilst intoxicated. Drug use via injection has its own risks (e.g. catching or passing on an infectious disease such as AIDS or Hepatitis through shared needle use).
- As a normal and functioning lifestyle become compromised, alcohol and drug users may divest their assets and wealth, and stop working. This is normally only a short term solution to the cost of maintaining their addiction, and longer term there will be a need to fund their addiction. Crime starts to become an option as does prostitution or borrowing from friends or family with no possibility of repaying the loaned monies.
- The resulting shame, isolation, risks and criminal lifestyles, and possible crisis in getting the next “fix” can sometimes trigger suicidal impulses, whilst drug addicts also might overdose or die of a drug related disease.
The advent of recreational drugs got its momentum in the 1960’s “flower power” age of experimentation. Now that this generation is moving into their late 50’s to 60’s age grouping, there is evidence that the long term drug use has come at a cost of brain degeneration, and early onset Alzeihmers and forms of mental deterioration.
This group of users are being shown to now suffering a sharp loss of mental and physical health which can be attributed to the effects of long term drug and often combined with alcohol use.
The recent advances in Neuroscience are showing an alarming similar trend in more recent drug users who are using more powerful and harmful drugs such as Cocaine, Ecstasy, and Methyl-Amphetamine based drugs such as “ice”. A University of Western Australia study, led by Professor Daniel Fatovich, found 1 in 5 young amphetamine users have sustained brain injuries, including one brain which has shrunken to the size of that of a person in their 70’s.
Most of the damage is occurring in the prefrontal cortex, through frontal lobe lesions, and this area of the brain assists us in cognitive skills such as judgement, memory. These lesions also increase the risk of the person suffering a stroke.
Of those involved in the study, 23 were serious drug addicts who smoked, snorted, or injected methamphetamine. On average they used 2.5 grams a week. The users of other modern drugs such as speed, ecstasy, cocaine, and methamphetamine as a group underwent MRI scans which showed up the harmful effects the drugs were having on their brains.
The long term effects of these class of drugs can include symptoms of memory loss, aggression, erratic behaviour and psychotic episodes and breakdowns. The drug user also appears to age faster than normal, which corresponds to the aging brain effect seen by Neuroscience.
The exact process by which the drugs damage the brains of users remains unknown, but the measured effects are clear and real.