Taking part in Addicted Australia
We are in a crisis when it comes to addressing addiction in Australia.
Treatment for addiction is more chronically underfunded than any other area of healthcare, largely because it is not seen as a legitimate health condition. This is reinforced by media portrayals of addiction, prevailing community stigma, and entrenched beliefs that patients are to blame for their condition, and that treatment doesn’t work. This collective denial continues despite costs associated with alcohol, drug and gambling-related harms to Australian society exceeding $55 billion annually.
Compared to other areas of medicine, specialist support is under-resourced across Australia, with fewer than 300 addiction medical specialists across the country, many of whom are nearing retirement. We have a whole generation of doctors not trained in addiction (there is limited addiction training in medical schools and during junior doctor training), resulting in an emergency and primary care system that doesn’t know how to respond. This is in stark contrast with other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, heart disease and epilepsy where there are clear clinical guidelines and national models of care. This is not the case with addiction. In combination with a public system that lacks coherence, we have a deeply problematic, unregulated private sector.
Needless to say addiction also has a terrible ‘image problem’. We blame and demonise. Despite the issue of addiction being front page news, we almost never hear stories of success and recovery. The focus is either about the criminality of users or a focus on the lack of residential rehab beds. This presents a bleak and inaccurate picture of what both addiction and recovery looks like.
Crucially the focus on rehab and detox as the ‘only’ answer to addiction contributes to the reason why people don’t ask for help. The thought of residential care is not appealing for many. And, we know that it can take someone with an addiction nearly two decades to seek help. We have to address this by showing what the reality of recovery looks like. In fact, only a minority of people with addiction require residential rehabilitation. The vast majority are better served by comprehensive outpatient care. The problem is, we don’t have the resources to do this.
Most people who have an addiction recover – but very few people are telling those stories, due to the stigma associated with the condition. This means myths are perpetuated, built on a moral conceptualisation of the condition and the media unwilling to have an honest discussion about addiction. Changing this narrative and busting these myths and stereotypes is crucial to bring about systemic change, advocate for appropriate funding and help people recover.
We hope that this documentary series will change community perceptions about the reality of addiction, elevate expectations about what treatment should look like, and alter the narrative such that recovery is not just a possibility, but (like other health conditions) is a realistic goal.