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Alcohol and Drug Addiction
Alcohol addiction is best thought of as a person’s inability to control their impulses around any form of alcohol. Typically the addiction has two elements. The first being the inability to refrain from following impulses to drink when they occur, and the fact that these impulses often come from underlying shame or as a self-soothing strategy from some other form of trauma or condition.
The second element is the inability to be reasonable with the amount of alcohol consumed when the drinking starts. The addiction typically manifests either with a binge element where the person may not drink often, but when they do they have no control and no boundaries around how much they consume. This is often labelled in society a being “blind drunk” when consumption reaches an extreme level.
The addiction often then creates its own subsequent set of issues as from the drunken state, a person tends to lose their boundaries and restraints, and may then act-out promiscuously or aggressively or recklessly. Additionally alcohol creates a number of health issues over time which includes cancer and obesity, depending on the type of alcohol involved.
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.
In 2019 the General Practitioners Health of The Nation Report stated that mental health concerns and addictions had surpassed colds and flus as the most common complaint coming before GP’s in Australia.
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.
Social drinking is an accepted part of adult life in our society and when done so in moderation is part of what creates positive experiences for many who drink when socialising. Alcohol addiction is a compulsive must-have driver in the person and that may not be linked to social experiences or as part of socialising in general. Typically a person with an alcohol addiction will consume alcohol excessively in social settings as they lack the ability to self-regulate their drinking.
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 experience the altered state of being and doing of the affected person in a way that creates anxiety, fear, shame or trauma in partners or families concerned. It is not uncommon for alcoholic persons to suffer failed relationships and marriages due to their addiction and its related behaviours.
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:
- Adults who grew up coping with an alcoholic or addict parent
- Adults who were abused sexually as children
- Mothers struggling with bonding to their children or having Postnatal Depression
- Adults who live in traumatising relationships or environments
- Adults who were abused mentally, emotionally, physically or via religious shaming as children
- Adults who were abandoned and neglected as children
- Adults who have not grieved or overcome the loss of a parent
- Adults with a felt sense of constant shame, or who have low self-esteem
- Adults with anxiety, stress or depression
- Adults working in stressful workplaces
- Adults who were bullied as children or whom are being bullied at work or in family
The addiction to drugs rarely happens in isolation or instantaneously. Humans often slide into addictions from a starting point of having it as a social activity, then developing an emotional attachment to it, and which may then start to involve another addiction in place already such as alcohol, or the mixing of drug and alcohol cocktails.
Our society promotes winding down after work with alcohol or as a standard part of socialising. 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 the whole experience of their next hit or satiation.
This type of thinking can become obsessive and make them self-absorbed and isolating from participating in normal activities within relationships and families such that it starts to dominate their lives as a new priority.
The addict by definition starts to neglect themselves and their partners, families and work such that a crisis will often result and they lose significant relationships, resources and support and capability to progress in life.
The onset of a full alcohol or drug addiction has key behavioural and lifestyle impacts that tend to deepen over time. Depending on the person, their resources, interactions with others, and any enablers to their addiction in their life, we often see:
- Neglectful stance to self and others such that appearance, health and caring cease
- Increased consumption in an attempt to get the same buzz or numbing as the body slowly increases its tolerance of the drug so the “high” becomes more elusive. 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, creating possible self or other person harm incidents and criminal sanction for the results of these behaviours
- Contracting and carrying infectious diseases such as AIDS or Hepatitis .
- 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.