Addiction, dependency … Call it what you will. At what point do you consider that ‘pleasant habit’ — a glass of wine in the evening, a sweet treat in the afternoon, hitting the pokies or betting on the gee-gees — an addiction?
It creeps up on a person, for many different reasons. I’ve heard of people becoming addicted to something through the death of a loved one, relationship breakdowns, job loss, financial strain, low self-esteem, health issues, and (perhaps the biggest catalyst of all) stress. Before you realise it, those fun habits and occasional splurges become something you cannot function without.
Smoking and drinking are my psychological crutches. Neither is good for my physical health, but for my mental health they became imperative if I was to remain on ‘an even keel’.
For me, the first time it was multiple stressors in my life. I went from being a social drinker (I’d always smoked) to someone who needed alcohol to get through the day. It was an illness that robbed me of at least four years of my life. I’d worked hard for all I’d earned over the years and I lost everything, but nothing was worse than losing my sense of self-worth.
I became dependent again in late-2007. I began to smoke and drink more. These drugs became my ‘support mechanism’ as I tried to maintain my sanity. I was suffering such an insidious level of depression it has become the thing I fear recurring the most — and I’ve had cancer three times. I’m unsure I could survive the depression again.
I don’t drink myself into oblivion — in fact, I’ve not felt the effects of a hangover since my early 20s — and neither of these dependencies affects anyone other than me. I’ve taken considerable steps to lessen my reliance on them. I’ve reduced my smoking habit to less than half of what I was smoking before through nicotine patches. I have reduced my alcohol intake and ‘water it down’ when I do drink.
Sadly, I have many close friends and family members whose situations are much different to mine; their addiction has taken over completely. Their behaviour has a detrimental affect on them and also those that love and care for them. It hurts me daily, not to mention their adult children and partners.
What’s more, anyone under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs loses any sense of care or safety for themselves or others. They will drive a car, abuse their partners, seek sexual gratification … They, effectively, become different people, dangerous to themselves and others. They need help!
I’m not particularly fond of statistics; I feel they can be skewed in their reporting and weighted heavily in favour of a desired outcome. However, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports that illicit drug use has become more common in people aged 60 and older (up 3.3 per cent on figures from 2001 to 7.2 per cent two years ago). It also highlights that our demographic is more likely to exceed lifetime risk guidelines than the general population aged over 14 years.
I’ve needed strength and determination to stay on the road to recovery after struggling with addiction, even more so during the coronavirus crisis. Covid-19 can be a dangerous combination of idle time and lack of support — access to services is often limited to online meetings instead of face-to-face.
Addiction is an illness and requires ongoing treatment and support from the medical profession. But, it also requires a commitment from the individual to accept the advice, act on it, and be responsible for themselves. It’s not an easy road to travel. Many fail, often, but it should never stop them from trying.