Alcohol and drugs: Know the signs of addiction, dependency

About one in 20 Australians has an addiction or substance dependency disorder.

However, the meanings of dependency and addiction are often misconstrued.

So what is an addiction; how can you tell the difference between it and dependency; and what are the warning signs?

With over two decades of experience in the field of addiction and substance dependency, I have seen how quickly substance misuse can become a detriment to an individual's health and wellbeing.

I have also witnessed repeatedly the benefits of multidisciplinary health care when it comes to recovery.

Dependence usually refers to a physical reliance on a substance and is often characterised by the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal.

As a general term, dependency is the state of craving or physically needing something to function or survive.

When applied to alcohol and other drugs, dependency is characterised by a need for repeated doses of the drug to feel good or to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

It is also possible to have a physical dependence without being addicted.

However, addiction can quickly follow dependence with impairment in psychosocial functioning.

Addiction is the next step after dependency and comprises a significant change in behaviour that often results in a failure to meet work, social, or family responsibilities.

Addiction is the next step after dependency and comprises a significant change in behaviour that often results in a failure to meet work, social, or family responsibilities.

This altered behaviour occurs as a result of biochemical changes in the brain stemming from continued substance misuse.

The substance becomes the main priority, regardless of the harm caused to an individual or others.

As time goes on the addiction causes the person to act irrationally when they don't have access to the source of their addiction.

What most people might not be aware of is the fact that addiction does not originate from one cause.

It is the result of numerous biological, psychological, and social factors.

Genetics, biology, mental health concerns, trauma, social norms, and availability all contribute to the risk of someone developing an addiction.

Recognising dependency or addiction can be as simple as being concerned about the level of substance consumption along with the frequency of consumption, but it is also important not to disregard your intuition.

Dependency and addiction can cause problems in relationships, both in the workplace and in personal lives, so being proactive in addressing such an issue is vital.

When it comes to friends or family, it's important to be non-judgmental.

Talking about the issue from a health perspective and using an empathetic approach is vital.

It's not always easy but keeping the person's overall health interests in mind will help support them through the recovery process.

The first step in the recovery process is speaking to a GP, who can provide an initial assessment and offer the next referral steps.

They may recommend a referral to a rehabilitation clinic like The Banyans Healthcare Group, which provides outpatient, day and residential treatment programs for individuals experiencing depression and anxiety, chronic stress and burnout, drug and alcohol dependency, eating disorders, and other co-occurring conditions.

Each pathway - outpatient, day, and residential - offers a different mode of treatment for someone who is living with substance dependency or addiction, but each mode is based on providing multidisciplinary health care through a biopsychosocial framework in order to maximise the chances of successful recovery.

This framework incorporates physical care (think management of symptoms), mental health care (exposing the underlying causes of dependency), and social care (bolstering employment, housing and family relationships among other factors to support a patient during recovery).

The advantage of this approach is that patients are empowered to be a part of their own recovery as they work with psychiatrists, addiction medicine specialists and general practitioners, allied health teams across psychology, nutrition, nursing and exercise physiology, and other therapeutic teams.

Patients rarely feel helpless or out of control - a good thing when trying to reduce sources of stress that might drive substance dependency or addiction.

National Alcohol and Other Drugs Hotline: 1800 250 015. Family Drug Support: 1300 368 186.

  • Dr Christian Rowan is the chief medical officer and addiction medicine specialist at The Banyans Healthcare Group.
This story Know the warnings signs of dependency, addiction first appeared on The Canberra Times.