Seven signs of drug and alcohol dependence
With the number of drug-related deaths reaching an all-time high among men1, an Australian addictions psychotherapist is calling for the health of boys and men to become a national priority.
Mark Stevens is program coordinator and a psychotherapist specialising in addictions at Wesley Hospital Ashfield, a private hospital in Sydney’s inner west that treats patients suffering from addiction and other mental health conditions. He is seeking to raise awareness about the problems of substance abuse and dependence among boys and men.
Since 2011, there has been a significant increase in the rates of drug-induced deaths, with the majority of drug-induced deaths in 2016 due to accidental overdoses (71.3%), followed by suicidal overdoses (22.7%).1
The social and economic cost of drinking is well documented: alcohol costs Australians a staggering $36 billion every year, according to research by the AER Centre for Alcohol Policy Research. The estimated cost of alcohol abuse by drinkers in Australia is $15.3 billion.
“Without treatment, dependence can often lead to significant problems in a number of areas, including social, physical and mental health, as well as work, study, legal or financial problems,” Stevens said.
Stevens identifies seven signs of dependence on drugs or alcohol:
- Impaired relationships. To hide their addiction, people often become secretive, isolate themselves or lie to loved ones. While a person may succeed in concealing their substance use initially, arguments with a partner, family friend or loved one eventually result. For example, a person might begin experiencing frequent mood swings and anger management issues, which can cause problems in the home and lead relationships to deteriorate.
- Problems at, or absences from, work. Neglecting responsibilities at work or other commitments is often a sign of substance abuse or addiction. As their drug of choice often becomes the central focus of an addicted person’s life, it can inhibit them from accomplishing the most basic tasks — along with a loss of interest. In extreme cases, it can affect a person’s financial situation, leading to job loss, debt, unemployment and criminal problems.
- Drinking more than four standard drinks (males) or two standard drinks (females) on average per day. Losing control of your substance use is one of the biggest warnings signs of alcoholism — being dependent or unable to stop even if you want or try to.
- Feeling depressed or anxious. When we drink, we narrow our perceptions of a situation and don’t always respond to all the cues around us. For those prone to anxiety, excessive substance use can lead to paranoia. Alcoholism can also significantly impact a person’s mental health in other ways, leading to suicidal thoughts, psychosis and depression.
- Memory problems, including blackouts. There are generally two types of memory loss: partial and complete blackout. While the first can occur with just a relatively small amount of alcohol, a complete blackout refers to a person forgetting everything for a period of time, which is a form of amnesia. If chronic alcohol abuse is a problem, frequent blackouts can lead to damaging side effects — severe memory problems in your later years and Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome, a disorder of the brain, are just some of them.
- Physical health problems. While drinking, even for leisure, affects most people’s concentration, excessive drinking can lead to long-term health problems. It often leads to stress — adding pressure on an already weakened immune system. In the long term, it can lead to weight gain or loss, sleep problems, chronic disease, and liver or brain damage, which can further dismantle an individual’s health.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, even after reduced intake. When excessive substance use stops suddenly, the body may experience severe withdrawal symptoms. These may include anxiety or agitation, vomiting, nervous tremors, inability to sleep or excessive sleep, an inability to concentrate and mood swings.
1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, ‘Australia’s Leading Causes of Death, 2016’: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0~2016~Main%20Features~Drug%20Induced%20Deaths%20in%20Australia~6
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