Substance Abuse and Addiction

Illicit drugs are used by more than quarter of people in their 20’s each year. Addiction is a physical or psychological need to use a substance, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her. Drug abuse is often associated with illicit drugs such as speed, ice (crystal meth) or heroine, but prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicine, as well as alcohol can also be abused.

Addiction is a disease, not simply a weakness. Drugs can change how the brain works, and can cause mood swings, memory loss and even impair decision-making.

Signs and Symptoms of Substance Abuse or Addiction

  • Regularly or continued substance use to cope emotionally, socially or physically
  • Neglecting responsibilities and commitment to work, study, family, friends and hobbies
  • Participating in dangerous or risky behavior as a result of substance use (e.g., drink driving, unprotected sex, using dirty needles)
  • Relationship problems (e.g., arguments with partner, family, friends, or losing friends)
  • Increased physical tolerance – needing more of the substance to experience the same effects
  • Physical and mental withdrawal symptoms
  • Losing control of your substance use – being dependent or unable to stop even if you want or try to
  • Substance use takes over your life (e.g., spending a lot of time using, finding to getting the substance, and recovering from the effects)

Factors that increase the risk of addiction

No single factor can predict whether a person will become addicted to drugs. Risk of addiction is influenced by individual biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction.

  • Biology: The genes a person are born with, in combination with other environmental influences account for about half of the addiction vulnerability. Other factors such as gender, ethnicity and the presence of other mental disorders may influence risk for drug abuse and addiction
  • Environment: This includes family, friends, socioeconomic status and quality of life in general. Other factors such as peer pressure, physical and sexual abuse, and stress can greatly influence the occurrence of drug abuse.
  • Development: Genetic and environmental factors interact with critical development stages in a person’s life to affect addiction vulnerability. Although taking drugs at any stage can lead to addiction, the earlier that drug use begins, the more likelyit can progress to serious abuse. This poses a special challenge to adolescents because the areas in their brain that govern decision-making, judgment and self-control are still developing, adolescents may be especially prone to risk-taking behavior.

Treating Addiction

The Mind Faculty adopts an integrated continuing care approach to treating addiction.

Psychotherapy: The practitioner will help the patient understand his or her self and identify any triggers, as well as addressing any accompanying concerns such as depression and anxiety.  Relapse prevention strategies will help patients modify their attitudes and behaviors to drug use and increase healthy life skills.  

Group Therapy: This can be a useful source of education and information, giving individuals the opportunity to meet others with similar problems. This can decrease the sense of isolation, help them re-develop interpersonal skills and boosts motivation.

Art Therapy: This can help a person with addiction connect to their more authentic self, raise self-esteem and provide an opportunity to create new experiences beyond habitual and painful emotional patterns. It fosters a renewed ability to relax without drugs or alcohol.

Mindfulness-based Therapy: This combined mindfulness with standard relapse prevention skills. Rather than fighting or avoiding the difficult state of mind that arise when withdrawing from a substance, this combination helps participants to name and tolerate craving and negative emotion.

Source: Health Direct Australia, National Institute on Drug Abuse