3 years ago

Around 1 in 20 Australians have an addiction or substance abuse problem. Aside from causing long term damage to the brain and other important organs in your body, addiction can also have a significant emotional impact, with substance abuse a leading cause of mental illness. 

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of addiction early can help you identify when your relationship with substances is becoming unhealthy and if it’s time to seek help.

What are the symptoms of addiction? 

The reasons why we drink or take substances are complex and can vary significantly – from simply wanting to relax or be social with friends right through to trying to escape or dull emotional or physical pain. While the use of substances to get away from difficulties you may be facing in life may work in the short term, this type of use can cause more serious long-term issues when your body begins to need more of the substance to experience the same effects or you begin to have cravings. 

Some common signs of addiction include, but are not limited to: 

  • Withdrawing or not enjoying activities that you previously would – ie work, sports, socialising. 
  • Unable or struggling to meet day-to-day responsibilities 
  • Experiencing conflict with a partner, family or friends. 
  • Feeling depressed, anxious or paranoid. 
  • Struggling to reduce or stop substance use

Who is most at risk?

Substance abuse doesn’t discriminate between male, female, or across age groups, and there is no single factor that determines if someone will experience an alcohol or drug addiction in their lifetime.   

However, there are some factors that put some people more at risk than others. Struggling with substance abuse is a result of a combination of personal and complex experiences, such as unstable housing, trauma and poverty, according to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation (ADF). 

There are some common factors which may make someone more susceptible to addiction, these include:

  • Genetics
  • Personality
  • Biology
  • Social and environmental characteristics

Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) identified ‘priority populations’ among those who use alcohol and drugs and who are either more disadvantaged, more likely to suffer serious health impacts from alcohol and drug use or are more likely to engage in risky use. These include:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
  • People experiencing homelessness
  • People in contact with the criminal justice system
  • People who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex or queer

When are you most at risk? 

Similar to determining who is at risk of addiction, there’s no one factor or circumstance that can prompt the onset of drug or alcohol addiction. 

There are, however, some environmental circumstances that may lead to heavier use of drugs or alcohol. One example is coping with a significant global event, like COVID-19. According to research by the Australian Institute of Health and Wellness, 1 in 5 Australians reported increased alcohol use during COVID-19. Of those, almost half had 1 to 2 extra drinks per week and almost a third (28%) had 3 to 4 extra drinks. The most common reason for increased consumption was spending more time at home. For males, the most common reason was ‘boredom’ and for females it was ‘increased stress’. 

While increased use of substances doesn’t mean addiction, it’s important to be aware of your relationship with substances and if you start experiencing symptoms listed above, seek support. 

Getting help 

The misuse of alcohol and drugs can have a significant impact on you, your family and friends. If you or someone you know needs support to manage alcohol or drug use, give us a call to book an appointment with one of our experienced GPs on (02) 6654 1282. 

Photo credit: Towfiqu Barbhuiya via unsplash.com