This opinion piece was published by The Mercury on Friday, 20 December 2019 under the title 'Be Smart about withdrawing, it's not Hollywood rehab'
This time of year is when people start to relax and reflect on the year gone and the year ahead. For many, drugs will invariably play a role in their celebrations, particularly alcohol.
Some will be looking forward to this celebration as a special occasion.
For others, it may be no different to any other time of year because their alcohol or other drug use is a regular part of their life.
At all times, please remember to indulge responsibly, stay safe and look after your mates – and I don’t just mean being a designated driver after a night of festive celebrations.
It’s my hope this Christmas that when Tasmanians sit down and spend time with family and friends, relaxing and celebrating that perhaps there may be an opportunity for the topic of drug use to be raised.
Particularly for those who are concerned that the drug use of someone they care for is impacting their health and wellbeing.
I’m not suggesting an intervention, but rather a gentle inquiry into how someone is travelling.
If you are contemplating a conversation, I offer the following insights.
- First and foremost, alcohol or other drug use is a health issue, and like any health issue, the sooner someone seeks support, the better.
- If someone is a regular drinker and they tell you that they’ll stop after Christmas do not encourage them to stop drinking without seeking medical advice. Many are unaware that going ‘cold-turkey’ poses significant health risks.
- If they’re taking prescribed pharmaceutical medication for pain or anxiety, encourage them to be very careful mixing their medications with alcohol. This is so important to reduce their risk of an accidental overdose.
- If they’re thinking about experimenting with illicit drugs like ecstasy, caution them strongly against this. These drugs are unregulated, produced by unknown people in unknown locations, with unknown substances. There is no safe way to consume these drugs.
- Encourage but don’t insist they get support. While it is challenging to watch someone you care for struggle with alcohol or other drugs, nobody can be forced into treatment in Tasmania without consent, including minors.
- Get support for yourself. If you are worried about someone, there are also support programs available for you, your family and friends that can give you the skills and confidence you need to support someone else.
- Going to ‘detox’ is not the easy fix. If someone says to you ‘they just need help to get clean’ they need to understand that withdrawal is the start of a longer treatment journey. Gone are the days when people could turn up to hospital to have a medically supervised withdrawal from alcohol or other substances, in some cases over and over again. Not only does it pose significant health issues to do it repeatedly, it’s critical a treatment plan is in place that can commence immediately.
- Residential rehabilitation is not like what you see in the movies. Some may feel that they ‘just need to get away and dry-out’ but seeking treatment in a live-in residential setting is a significant decision. Unlike what we see in the movies, people are not sitting around a pool in-between counselling sessions for only a matter of weeks before they’re able to go back home. The reality is that individuals may spend weeks, or months in residential treatment, and it’s something people should consider when all other options have been explored first.
- Counselling is an excellent option. For many Tasmanians, participating in individual counselling sessions or group therapy can be really effective. There are different options available for Tasmanians young and old, delivered by highly trained professionals across the state.
- Relapse is normal. If someone you care about who has received treatment in the past is showing signs of struggle over the festive period – don’t lose hope. Relapse is a normal part of a person’s recovery. Encourage them to reach out for support.
- They will receive support. The Tasmanian alcohol and other drugs sector is under pressure just like all other parts of the health sector. However, if someone reaches out and they need help, they will be assessed, and provided with appropriate support. If there is a wait to access a program, they will remain connected and receive alternative support from the treatment provider.
- Treatment works. Everybody’s treatment journey will be different, but if someone is ready to talk about receiving support there is an option available for them.
To anyone considering talking to someone about their drug use, I thank you.
Too many lives in Tasmania continue to be impacted by alcohol and other drug use, and the more people we can encourage to have a conversation the greater impact we can have.
For more information call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
Alison Lai is the chief executive Officer of the Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council of Tasmania