Addicted Australia - Episode 2
Our recap of Addicted Australia Episode 2 explores the topics and treatment seen in the documentary and various support options available to people being affected by alcohol, drugs or gambling.
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.
In this episode we learn more about the participants and their families, gaining further insight into what it's like to receive addiction treatment and support.
Drinking, other drug use and gambling in Australian culture
“My parents’ encouraged me to start drinking when I was 13”, Dawn, 62, addicted to alcohol.
Dawn’s experience of drinking with her family and with work colleagues is not uncommon in Australia. Many people perceive drinking to be harmless because it is legal, when for many people alcohol use can become problematic and harmful.
The problem is much bigger than many people know - one Australian dies every 90 minutes from an alcohol-related illness and more than four million people drink at levels that can cause disease or injury.
We need to have better conversations about the real harms of drinking, other drug use and gambling, to know their potential impacts and recognise what harmful levels can look like. Educating ourselves about how addiction works can help us all understand how and why people become addicted, along with the early signs to look for. The earlier people seek help, the easier it is to make a change.
People want to stop, but it’s not that simple
“We don’t see anyone here who doesn’t want to reduce their drinking or drug use or gambling… they all want to quit. The problem is they haven’t been able to, they’ve struggled. They’ve got lots of advice, everyone’s told them to stop, but it’s not that simple.” Professor Dan Lubman, Turning Point Executive Clinical Director.
As Dan explains, nearly all of the 10 people in the program have sought help before. But for one reason or another it just hasn’t worked for them. This is a really common experience. Getting addiction under control is tough and accessing treatment the way it’s currently structured makes it even tougher. The treatment program provided by Turning Point in the documentary series was specifically created to demonstrate what wraparound support can achieve for people when delivered through the one treatment service.
Addiction in secret
“I'm still in the grips of alcoholism and I value the group sessions because they’re almost the only people that I can tell. It is becoming quite draining, not being able to tell anybody that I know who is close to me and I think that's starting to affect me,” Heidi, 31, addicted to alcohol.
Many people share Heidi’s experience of trying to keep their addiction secret because of the shame and stigma associated with it. This can be hugely draining for people in recovery, as the secret is an additional burden for them. Often when people do tell their families, it’s still kept as a secret to the rest of the world, which can also take a huge toll on people as it isolates them from the communities they are a part of.
In this episode, some of the families attend a family peer support group run by Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC) for the first time. We are hugely appreciative of the work SHARC undertook on this program and the positive impact their service had on the participants and their families.
“It’s a really big step that you are taking and one that families are so reluctant to do, yet we know that families getting support can actually change the length and severity of the addiction,” Angela Ireland – Self Help Addiction Resource Centre (SHARC)
For every person suffering from addiction an average of seven people close to them are affected, often the family are at the centre of this and can be hugely involved in supporting someone affected by addiction.
Unfortunately, our current system doesn’t particularly cater to families; in fact sometimes it pushes the family away. This is significant because families and other loved ones can be a very important part of the recovery journey and it is also important that they are able to access reliable information and support for themselves.
Angela also explains in the meeting that for all the families it’s time to recognise the toll that their loved ones’ addiction takes on them, and that they need to take time to look after themselves. On the Gambling Help Online and Counselling Online websites (two online alcohol and other drug support services) are some useful family support options and articles that may be helpful for anyone in a similar situation.
In this episode, we see several examples of high-pressure situations for the participants and their families, including Stephen’s birthday party and the festive period.
For someone in recovery, situations where there is high pressure or additional exposure to their substance or activity of concern can be particularly difficult. Craig, a peer support worker featured in the show, has written a helpful blog about Christmas and why it’s difficult, plus what you can do to make it easier.
Stephen’s family did many things to try to take the pressure off on his birthday, including not having alcohol, meeting in the morning and keeping it to a small group of people.
We see the participants continue with counselling with the psychologists and psychiatrists from the treatment team. We also see the peer support group continue.
For some addictions, there are medications that people can be prescribed to help withdrawal symptoms and/or reduce craving – this is called pharmacotherapy.
Many people know about methadone as a treatment for heroin, but a barrier to this treatment is that people need to attend a specific pharmacy for dosing every day. We see Ruben commencing long-acting injectable buprenorphine, a treatment instead, which has the real possibility for making his life easier:
“So we see this medication as a real game changer for people who are addicted to heroin or any other opioids… it opens up the opportunity to not think about your addiction everyday and also to get on with your life and to do other things,” Dr Shalini Arunogiri, Addiction Psychiatrist | Deputy Clinical Director.
However we also see Ruben’s concerns about this as it’s a challenge psychologically and emotionally to move away from something that is perceived to have made your life more manageable for so long, even when you are at a stage when it is doing you harm.
To safely manage withdrawal from alcohol and other drugs people can attend detox where they can be supervised and receive medical care through the process. In this episode, we see Matt preparing for and attending detox. On the morning that he attends, he has some final drinks, earlier and in greater quantities than he would usually consume. This is not unusual and the team at 1 East have written a blog about why people do that and what effect this can have on the detox process.
Matthew leaves looking well and clearly invigorated from the experience. Dr Armstrong reflects on the fact that he hopes it will be his only detox but that he will never be turned away:
“It has been a pleasure looking after him. I don't want to see him again but if he does come back he will be more than welcome,” Dr Ferghal Armstrong, Fellow of the Australasian Chapter of Addiction Medicine.
We hope you found episode 2 of Addicted Australia to be empowering and insightful. If you would like to help us change the conversation about addiction, you can join the Rethink Addiction campaign.
Remember if you or anyone you know is affected by addiction and need 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