Addiction in the United Kingdom
Credit: C. W. Wiebe Medical Centre
The mind of a person can be a complex thing. It tells us when to move, when to smell, when to hear and when to feel. It stores memories from the past and creates dreams for the future. It controls every aspect of our lives, so much so that it can be said that the brain actually named itself. It is without a doubt the central hub of every human beings ability to function.
In an ideal world it would be invincible, striving to ensure the body and the person it controls become all that they can possibly be; but as every reader will know, our world is far from ideal.
Anxiety, depression, eating disorders, paranoia, phobias, stress, psychosis and even the want to take one's own life are just a small selection of horrors that our brains can put us through.
Firstly I must ask you to forgive my indulgence, for today I write about a subject that has formed the person I am today, and will no doubt shape to person I’m destined to be. I’ve been surrounded by addiction all my life, and some of my earliest memories are that of the chaos and destruction it often leaves in its wake.
I think back to my childhood and my father, who was seldom seen without a drink in his hand. A once strong, wise and kind man; I watched him drink himself into an oblivion, rapidly losing his grasp on reality and all that had brought him joy in the past.
When I was just fifteen years old, I remember picking him up off of the floor after finding him unconscious next to an empty bottle of scotch. Another occasion, I remember laying on a sofa bed, with nothing to keep me company but his drunken crying screams that echoed through the walls of his tiny one bedroom bungalow.
With regards to help, there wasn’t ever really much to shout about. In March 2012, my family tried their hardest to get my father into some sort of rehab where he might finally get sober, but it was to no avail. Without the money to pay for it, there just simply wasn’t anywhere he could go. He died a few months later from organ failure.
As for myself I’ve been to my General Physician (GP) three times over the last four years with addiction related issues, and all three times I was handed a leaflet telling me to book an appointment with a specialist at the price of £60 a session.
More recently, I decided to go back to the GP to see if anything had changed, and to my surprise the system had marginally improved. I received a bottle of antidepressants along with another leaflet, which this time offered free appointments; though not by any stretch would this be enough.
In school, the education on such matters were minimal. In true British fashion, we were simply told not to do a thing because it was bad. We had nobody teaching us on what it meant being addicted to drugs or alcohol. We certainly had no education on what drugs and alcohol actually were or what it all does to us in the long run.
I left school nine years ago, and since then seven of the kids I learnt to read, write and add up with have lost their lives; all with ties directly back to addiction.
What is Addiction?
There are two types of addiction, physical and mental. A mental addiction is where brain chemicals such as dopamine come into effect. Your body rewards your brain with hits of dopamine, leaving one in a state of tranquility or happiness.
This type of addiction can relate to anything that makes you happy such as falling in love or listening to your favourite song on repeat. Stopping whatever you’re mentally addicted to will not trigger any physical withdrawals.
Physical addictions are triggered by consuming a substance that will impact the body, a prime example being alcohol. Many of us have experienced hangovers; which are essentially withdrawals on smaller scales in which our body attempts to fix itself and change back to it’s original healthier state.
For those who partake in substance abuse daily however, it’s a different story. It’s not just a matter of “pulling up your bootstraps” and getting sober. A physical addict has built up a tolerance where their body physically needs to take in a substance not to get high, but to bring their body back up to a level where it doesn’t feel like it needs to repair itself.
It is with physical addiction that you may experience withdrawal symptoms such as shakes, sweats and even organ failure.
What is an addict?
An addict is usually someone who has been abusing a substance for months, if not years; with their days no longer spent with the aim of getting wasted, but the aim of getting back to what the body interprets as it’s original and healthiest state.
An addict is someone whose body will start to shut down if the substance they’re addicted to doesn’t find its way into their blood system; which is why a lot of alcoholics and some drugs addicts have to go through detox programmes in order to save themselves from doing any serious damage to themselves in the long run.
As any recovering addict will tell you though, you cannot cure addiction. It stays with you like a demon on your shoulder, constantly tormenting you in the hope you’ll crack and slip back into the darkness of whatever vice had hold of you in the past. Each day is a different battle, a different craving or a different sense of reasoning.
Sometimes you think you’ve done well abstaining for so long that you feel it would be ok to treat yourself, just the once. To keep those desires away requires a change of thinking, which more often than not can’t be achieved through a flick through of a leaflet or a quick consult with your GP.
What needs to change?
I don’t like to use the term “raise awareness”. To me it’s always seemed a dirty phrase for certain charities to funnel money through their own marketing companies. However, we need to transform the way think about and approach addiction in the UK. We need to stop treating addicts like they’re criminals and offer as much help as possible to those who both need and want to get clean.
The current system of police crackdowns and substances being outlawed hasn’t done much in the way of helping those already suffering with addiction issues.
Britain is short on not only effective rehabilitation programmes, but also an accomplished aftercare system; and in a society where Britain's binge culture only seems to be growing, it seems to me that we have yet another mental illness being swept under the rug and ignored by the majority.
If you or someone you know is having a problem with drugs, don't hesitate to call the UK National Drugs Helpline at 0800 77 66 00