Insights into addiction
Mark Stevens heads up the drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit at Wesley Hospital Ashfield and said people often abuse alcohol and other drugs to contain the pain in their lives, but there are serious physical and emotional consequences that develop as a result of continued alcohol and other drug abuse.
The damage caused by drug and alcohol abuse
“The drugs that people with addictions use compromise a number of naturally occurring chemicals in the brain that we need for survival and emotional connection, like dopamine and endorphins,” he said.
“There is a pleasure and reward system in the brain that helps us meet our survival needs and motivates us to connect with other people. The healthy functioning of this system enables us to experience a sense of joy, love, connection, and bonding.
“We need natural endorphins that we get from being loved in a family for a sense of wellbeing and esteem. We also need the neurotransmitter of dopamine for vitality, curiosity and pleasure. Drugs and alcohol overstimulate these systems in the brain, and severely impair their functioning.”
“The staff at the hospital become a supportive family for many patients,” said Mark. “People feel that they are respected and that they belong.”
The need for ‘belonging’
For Mark, it is hard to overstate the importance of that connection and he talks about how people continue to use Wesley Hospital’s After Care programs for many years after discharging.
“There are some people still in our outpatient groups five years later,” he said. “Why would you do that week in, week out for years? It’s exactly because of this sense of belonging, it’s that important.”
Mark said that addiction is often seen as people making bad choices, however we see addiction as a ‘disease of choice’, alcohol and other drugs compromise areas of the brain needed for people to make healthy choices.
The way out of addiction
If and when people do decide to seek help and approach the alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs such as at Wesley Hospital, they are often in despair and certainly at a cross roads in their lives. Mark said that as well as being a physical detox the program is made up of therapy elements that also address a person’s mental and emotional wellbeing.
“At the hospital, we step into that very dark place, shine a light and say, “there’s a way out,’” he said. “We become the guides and let people know they are not alone or worthless and hopeless.
Addicts are suffering an illness.
“Society often tells people in this situation that they should get a handle on their drug and alcohol abuse and just stop. However, we see people as suffering from an illness.” And therefore deserve to be treated as patients not pariahs.
This connection is very much the launch pad for people as they rebuild their lives and often answer some spiritual questions.
“This is where I see people come back to life,” Mark said.
“People re-enter their lives - that’s the resurrection you see.”
Recovery through a connection with spirituality
There’s no denying that in many rehab programs as well as Alcoholics Anonymous, the sense of having the guidance of a higher power is a critical component.
“When people understand that there is something greater than themselves, it keeps them humble,” he said. “They start to soften and accept they don’t have to control everything. It’s a huge relief for them.”
“The story of Christ is an archetypal story for all men and women. Just as Christ surrendered himself to the cross, for people with an addiction, there is also a surrendering required to allow a transformation to take place.”
“Addiction is often defined as an outer reach for inner peace. People realise they need to go inside and that’s where prayer comes in.”
“I like to think we provide our patients the space for that at the hospital.”
For more information, visit Wesley Hospitals.