Addicted Australia - Episode 4

1 Dec 2020

In this episode, we watch the participants in the final weeks of their bespoke treatment program. We see that the road to recovery isn’t a straight line, and observe that addiction, like other health conditions, can be characterised by periods of improvement and vulnerability. What is great to see is that each participant has made positive steps forward, to improve their health and wellbeing.

episode 4This recap of Addicted Australia explores the treatment and support provided to documentary participants, and the themes covered in Episode 4.

Turning Point wishes to thank SBS and Blackfella Films for inviting us to take part in this ground-breaking, Australian-first, documentary series.

Turning Point would also like to thank and acknowledge the ten participants, and their families, who have bravely shared their stories to change the conversation and break down the stigma associated with addiction.

It’s not magic

“I think the community and government’s expectation is [that] somehow we can magically fix people. If we were running a treatment program now for diabetes, stroke or heart disease the expectation would’t be that we could fix everyone. The same’s true here in addiction.” Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.

A widely held but damaging view is that people struggling with addiction should just be able to stop, and that they are personally accountable for their health problems. However, we don’t expect people with other health conditions to recover without treatment and support. This difference speaks to the significant stigma and inequity faced by people affected by addiction.

Another issue is that support services and treatments available for addiction are often underfunded, and not necessarily connected with one another or available through an integrated program. This can make it difficult for people to stay on track and maintain positive changes. The treatment program featured in the documentary series has been unique in this regard, with wrap-around and holistic treatment and support available to participants throughout.

Lapse and relapse

We see several of the participants experience lapses during the episode, which is not unexpected.

When Matt has a lapse he comes to his next counselling session concerned about what the team will think.

However, rather than being judged he finds that they just want to keep helping him:

“I feel positive, I felt like I let a few people down. But they don’t seem to think so, it all seems to be a part of it, I’ll keep it going.” Matt, 33, in recovery for alcohol addiction.

While of course we all wish that lapses or relapses don’t occur, they are a core part of the condition and provide an opportunity for the person to learn about their addiction and its drivers, and to keep moving forward.

“Relapse is part of recovery, it’s certainly not a failure. It’s that willingness to make mistakes and the critical thing is to have the courage and resilience to get up and keep on going. Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.

Medications for addiction and outreach support

For some of the participants, medication is prescribed to help them manage their cravings and substance use.

The participants also continue to receive counselling and peer support as part of the program, and some receive additional outreach support. Outreach support, which enables people to be supported where they are at in the community, is a highly useful service that can help people experiencing addiction receive care. Unfortunately, outreach support for people affected by addiction is typically not available through most mainstream public health services.

Judgment and stigma

We know that the stigma around addiction and people’s perceptions of who is affected by addiction can be a huge barrier for people accessing support. Stigma can also be a stumbling block for people who are in treatment, as they can feel constantly judged by others, which can put a huge amount of pressure on them.

In a peer group session, Sarah says:

“It’s the judgement that comes from other people, like are you an addict or whatever. I work on myself every single day, I don’t think a lot of the community can say the same about themselves, yet they are so quick to point the finger… I’m just a good person that’s trying to do the best I can. It’s exhausting though being an addict.” Sarah, 42, in recovery for ‘ice’ (crystal methamphetamine) addiction.

For some people, the shame and stigma is so overwhelming they don’t feel they can tell anyone about their struggles. For most of the treatment program Heidi still hadn’t told anyone about her addiction, however when she finally does tell her mum, the relief seems profound.

“She had no idea what I was going through, she just listened. She didn’t do any of the things I had imagined in my mind, she wasn’t angry, then I just cried. Then she said thank you for telling me.” Heidi, 31, in recovery for alcohol addiction.

People accessing help for addiction are strong

As we have found out more about the participants in the program, it’s become clear that many of them have experienced mental and physical trauma, with addiction developing as a result of using alcohol, drugs or gambling to cope.

“I think the stereotype is that people with addiction are generally weak in some way and what I think’s really been demonstrated by this group is they’ve had to overcome some incredible struggles in their life. They get up every day and they try to make themselves better and that takes enormous strength and resilience.” Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.

What the participants demonstrate is that they are extremely strong with their ability to survive adversity, and their desire to work through the hardships in their life and find other ways to cope beyond their addiction.

Burden and relief for families

Ruben expresses considerable guilt for the impact his addiction has had on his family. When he tearfully talks about his mother, being so scared it is an incredibly raw moment.

“First thing she does when she wakes up is come to my room, she just comes to see me move, you know. Because she doesn’t know if I will be alive or dead.” Ruben, 48, in recovery for heroin addiction.

Later in the episode, we see the impact that the program has had on the whole family. Ruben, his sister, son and mum can all see a future that is much brighter.

“We always say don’t lose hope but there was a point that I was thinking…is he ever going to do anything, is he ever going to get better? But now I can see the difference, yeah. I’m proud of him and I think he will make me more proud.” Dora, Ruben’s mum.

The impact of COVID-19

Towards the end of the program COVID-19 restrictions have started to be implemented, and the face-to-face aspect of the treatment needs to be shifted to telehealth. Unsurprisingly this is difficult for the participants who are quite vulnerable and are concerned about being isolated.

As Victoria goes into its first lockdown Heidi says,

“All of us will kind of be struggling at the moment and I think even more so if you have an addiction. It just plays on anxiety and uncertainty and that’s what this time is right now.” Heidi, 31, in recovery for alcohol addiction.

One advantage of shifting to telehealth is that this has helped some people who have traditionally struggled to attend healthcare services face-to-face. This difficulty attending services could be for many reasons, including geography, privacy concerns, financial barriers, time constraints, access to transport and childcare. It is envisioned that in the coming years that a mixed care model will be broadly be adopted to provide treatment, including in the addiction treatment sector.

Connectedness is crucial

In the final peer support group, we see the progress made by the participants and the crucial role their connection to each other has played during the treatment program. They are supportive, understanding and encouraging of one another, and will even call each other out when they see someone not being truthful with themselves or others. Importantly, they support and interact with one another to try to help each other make positive changes.

Lucas reflects on the peer group saying:

“It gave me for the first time ever a sense of community. Throughout this whole journey I had never found a community and that’s what I have got out of it. Its just having that back up for the first time in my life and I can’t thank you all enough!” Lucas, 38, in recovery for gambling addiction.

Recovery is possible

As the series wraps up, we see incredible progress from the participants and the recovery that are possible for anyone affected by addiction. While addiction might still be part of who they are, it’s not the thing that defines them:

“My name’s Sarah. I’m currently a full-time student studying a Diploma of Community Services, I’m also a daughter, I’m a sister, I’m an aunty and I’m a dog lover. And I’m currently recovering from addiction.“ Sarah, 42, in recovery for ‘ice’ (crystal methamphetamine) addiction.

“My name is Ruben and for the longest time I believed that heroin had broken me. But today I strongly believe that you know I have a chance to finally be normal again and I have tomorrow and the next day and you know the day after that.” Ruben, in recovery for heroin addiction.

"My name is Dawn [and] I started drinking when I was 13. I’m about to turn 63. People can get on top of this addiction at any age you know. You don’t have to be 20 or 30 or 40. It’s never too late to stop, never." Dawn, 62, in recovery for alcohol addiction.

Things need to change!

In reflecting on the program, Professor Dan Lubman points to the lack of integrated treatment and support options and the evidence-based treatment for addiction available:

“I think what’s really unfortunate is addiction isn’t seen as a health disorder, because of that it doesn’t have the attention, the resources, the commitment to actually put in the treatments we know that work.

I think what this program has shown is if you meet people where they’re at, if you look at where they want to go and you put the right supports and structures around them and provide them with what we know works in terms of treatment we see people flourish, we see people get to where they want to be.” Professor Dan Lubman, Executive Clinical Director, Turning Point.

We need to talk about addiction!

“My name is Heidi and I’ve had a problem with alcohol for about 5 years now. I am currently sober thankfully. As a society, we don’t want to talk about addiction. Why, why are we not doing this, what is there to be ashamed of, because I can promise you that you know someone who has an addiction and we need to talk about it.” Heidi, 31, in recovery for alcohol addiction.

Now that these incredible people have shared their powerful stories and recovery journeys with you it’s time to take part in the conversation and become part of the campaign to #RethinkAddiction.

You can do this by:

We hope you found the final of Addicted Australia to be empowering and insightful.

Remember if you or anyone you know is affected by addiction and needs support, help is available:

For alcohol or other drug support: 1800 250 015 or Counselling Online

For gambling support: 1800 858 858 or Gambling Help Online

For support relating to sexual assault, domestic or family violence: 1800 737 732 1800 RESPECT.