SETTLEMENT GUIDE

What is drug and alcohol addiction and how to get help?

Source: E+

In Australia, one in twenty deaths are caused by alcohol or illicit drugs. Nearly one in five adults drink at risky levels and 16 per cent of the population has tried an illicit drug in the past year.

Julio was just experiencing the freedom of adulthood as an eighteen-year-old when he had his first taste of an illicit drug.

Little did he know that his curiosity would gradually escalate into a 13-year battle with addiction to methamphetamine?

“Out of that curiosity and just wanted to have fun."

Not everyone develops an addiction to alcohol or illicit substances.

However, Julio believes that an inability to control cravings or regulate emotions often causes a person to become reliant on harmful substances.

In his case, it took 10 years, hitting rock bottom multiple times, and almost losing his life, before Julio decided that he needed to seek help.

"Denial plays a huge role in this and you still believe within yourself that I can still get out of this."

“Denial plays a huge role in this and you still believe within yourself that I can still get out of this, you know, I came in with this way, I am still gonna get out on my own, and there is a lot of this type of myths and lies that we go through, addicted to these substances that keeps us in this loop. For me, 10 years, was, you know, I think a wakeup call.”

The most frequently used substance by Australians of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is pharmaceuticals for non-medical use.

They form 3.4 per cent of the multicultural population. The other most commonly used drug is cannabis with users comprising 3.3 per cent of this community.

Hoa Nguyen is a drug and alcohol counsellor at Community Access and Services South Australia (CASSA).

She says that whilst people may use drugs for social or one-off occasions, regular usage could spiral into substance addiction.

"Many people get into drugs to maybe relax and help cope with problems or increase energy and motivation, enhance performance or maybe just for the feeling. It could be also to be able to socialise or be part of the group so there are many reasons."

“Many people get into drugs to maybe relax and help cope with problems or increase energy and motivation, enhance performance or maybe just for the feeling. It could be also to be able to socialise or be part of the group so there are many reasons. I guess, also, with the non-English speaking background, the last per cent of people who get into drugs have underlying other issues such as mental health in regards to trauma, also maybe family problems, especially in regards to the different culture clashes.”

Research shows that in 2016, the most commonly used drug in Australia was cannabis followed by cocaine, ecstasy and methamphetamine.

Vanessa Tate is a clinical nurse consultant at the Logan Adolescent Drug Dependencies Early Response Service, also known as LADDERS.

She says a telling sign that people may be addicted is the experience of unpleasant physical symptoms when they try to stop or reduce their usage.

"They may be violent towards their family members."

“Many people may not be addicted to drugs or alcohol or may use drugs without any problems but some others find themselves experiencing issues relating to their drug use. For example, they may use money on drugs instead of buying food. They may be in trouble with the police. They may be violent towards their family members.”

People are more likely to become dependent on alcohol rather than illicit substances in Australia.

Recent findings from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that only 5.4 per cent of people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds drink on average more than two standard drinks a day, compared with 18.6 per cent of primary English speakers.

Hoa Nguyen recommends drinking within the national recommended guidelines to prevent drinking problems.

“Normally, with drinking, there is a standard guideline where you can assess, for example, it will be 2 standard drinks a day for everyday but it’s recommended that you have say a couple of days off drinking, but once-off occasion, it could be just up to 4 drinks that's normally the standard and if you’re going over that limit that might actually lead to dependency.”

It takes a lot of courage for someone to admit that they have an addiction problem and to actually take actions.

Nguyen advises that people who notice substance abuse in their loved ones refrain from judgemental and negative emotional languages when addressing their concerns.

‘I’m worried that lately you've been presenting this way’

“Try to have an open conversation, no blaming. Use ‘I’ word instead of you. For example, like, showing your concern, like, ‘I’m worried that lately you've been presenting this way’, those kind of helps a person open up a conversation if they feel that you are helpful and that's where you can start to go into moo re discussion.”

Vanessa Tate advises taking the initial step by discussing your situation with your GP or ringing drug and alcohol helplines as your first point of call.

 "We don't report substance use to police, immigration or other community members.”

“Support is available by discussing these concerns with your GP or health clinic, settlement services and community mental health or addiction services. Most of these services are free and translators are usually available. Most of these services support families affected by drug and alcohol use as well as offering support to the individual. Most services are free of charge and most times the things that you talk about are confidential. We don't report substance use to police, immigration or other community members.

Having helped many former addicts make positive mental health and lifestyle changes, Hoa Nguyen says recovery requires recognising the problem and committing to working through it.

It is important to set realistic expectations for a gradual recovery.

“Addiction is a long journey. It’s prone to relapse as well meaning the person can come back depending on what’s happening in their life. So, if as a family, if we can just have that open minded and not have too much expectations in regards to the person giving up straight away and they will be cured. It’s about supporting them through the whole process and it’s going to be a long process and accepting that.”

After spending one year at a rehabilitation centre in the Philippines, Julio has finally overcome his decade long addiction.

He has moved to Adelaide, become a pastor, and now working as a drug and alcohol worker to help others.

It starts with a desire for change.

 "I started to investigate a way out in a very hard and dark world that I used to live.”

“It was just a light bulb moment that I’d been living 13 years of this kind of routine in my life that you hang out with drug friends all the time, you know you’re not improving your life, and then, you know, one day I said, surely there is life outside of this and then that willingness for me to change brought me actually to another space where in I started to investigate a way out in a very hard and dark world that I used to live.”

If you're experiencing issues with drug or alcohol, you can call the Family Drug Support's free 24/7 telephone helpline on 1300 368 186 or talk to your GP to find out about the services available.

You can also get free language help over the phone through the Translating and Interpreting Service by dialling 131 450.

For help in your state visit the Alcohol and Drug Information Service (ADIS).

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