The links between addiction and substance abuse

It’s a startling fact when you think about it; one in five Australians will experience an alcohol, drug or gambling disorder in their lifetime. Furthermore, one in seven will go on to develop an addiction - the severest form of disorder. When you couple that with the fact that 40-80 per cent of Victorians who seek help for mental illness, also experience issues with substance abuse, you’ve quite often got a relationship that ends in what’s called dual diagnosis.

14 Oct 2021

Mental Health Month  

In many cases, it's hard to tell which problem came first - did the mental illness lead the person to misuse drugs or did the drug problem cause the person's decline in mental health? Whatever the case may be, when we apply these stats to our lives and the people closest to us, it's likely that we have a number of people in our close friendship circles or in our families who suffer from not only mental health issues, but addiction as well. This chronic health condition occurs when someone is unable to stop consuming a drug or activity, even if it is causing physical or psychological harm and affecting their lives.

Addiction is a leading preventable cause of injury, illness and death in Australia and affects all age groups, across all communities, so it's unlikely that six degrees of separation exists between yourself and people managing addictions in their everyday lives. An evolutionary psychologist from Oxford University, Dr Robin Dunbar, ascertained through various studies that humans are only capable of maintaining up to 150 friends and acquaintances before big groups of connections split off or collapse. That means it's highly possible that 30 of the people you connect and socialise with are either suffering (or have suffered) from an alcohol, drug or gambling disorder at some point in their life.

If we drill down further, Dunbar has determined that we tend to have a cluster of about 10 close friends who are part of our most important support network and five very close friends who round out our inner circle. That means it's possible that one of your closest friends is experiencing a disorder and if you widen that scope to your support network as well, you'd likely find at least one other friend is suffering from an addiction disorder.

Scary stats when you personalise them. What's more remarkable is that if addiction and alcohol, drug and gambling disorders are so common among our friendship groups why does the stigma surrounding this disease remain?

While other health disorders such as depression and/or anxiety have made headway as far as widespread acceptance and demystifying the concept, little progress has been made in removing the taboo around substance use disorders-largely due to the public perception that addiction is a result of moral weakness and flawed character. Simply, often people living with addiction are blamed for their disease despite the consensus among medical professionals that their condition is a complex brain disorder with behavioural components.

Ironically, the stigma that exists can actually enhance or reinstate drug use and plays a key part in the vicious addiction cycle. Even when people overcome their disorders or addictions they are under constant surveillance and judgement for relapse. Other chronic health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure have equally high rates of relapse and yet society doesn't shame a person with high blood pressure for eating a French fry or a person with diabetes for having chocolate cake.

"It's important to know that there are resources available to help you or a loved one combat a substance use disorder or addiction," explains Dr Muhammad Usman Riaz, an addiction psychiatrist at St John of God Health Care's Pinelodge Clinic - a mental health facility in Dandenong which provides wellness and recovery options for people with acute mental health and addiction conditions. "The first thing to understand is that a person with a substance use disorder is unlikely to seek help if they don't recognise that they have a problem or are not ready to confront it."

Usman recommends seeing your GP for a referral to an appropriate drug and alcohol addiction program if you or your loved one needs some support. "At Pinelodge we have both inpatient and outpatient programs that are designed to help you address the physical, emotional and social factors associated with substance abuse or drug and/or alcohol addiction."

Led by experienced therapy teams which may include, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, registered nurses and other allied health professionals, treatment programs aim to understand individual triggers, equip patients with the skills and techniques to control their addictions, learn how to handle stress and develop a capacity to deal with life's challenges. "Families are also included in the treatment and recovery program so that they have access to the appropriate information and support sessions that will enable them to help better manage their loved one's recovery journey," says Usman.

Inpatient programs at Pinelodge include a 21 or 28-day stay in hospital and provide a patient with the opportunity to access a mix of individual and group-based therapies. To access the inpatient program, a GP referral is needed with costs covered by most private health insurers depending on a patient's level of cover.

The clinic also offers ongoing support through day group programs which focus on relapse prevention after discharge. Based on cognitive behaviour therapy, the day programs are designed to equip patients with the skills needed to beat addiction through therapies such as mindfulness, and acceptance and commitment therapy.

"We acknowledge that the treatment of addiction can quite often be met with relapse, which is a normal part of recovery," admits Usman. "However one does not have to be alone on this journey. As an expert mental health provider, we at Pinelodge are here to support our clients as they work through addiction and relapse, and onto the brighter, healthier and happier side of recovery."

To understand how Pinelodge can help someone with a substance use disorder, contact (03) 8793 9444 for more information and additional resources.