Not everyone who takes drugs is an addict. Many users are able to control their substance intake and live a fairly normal life. Although in the long long-term, any level of substance abuse does affect our lives.
If you are frequently using drugs, and are worried about the level of intake, how do you know if your drug or alcohol use has crossed the line to substance abuse or addiction?
Drug abuse can cause a variety of physical disorders and have a negative impact on your mental, behavioural, social and emotional wellbeing.
Drug addiction is an illness. A brain disorder which presents itself through the uncontrollable consumption of a drug, even though the user knows that to do so is damaging their health.
Even though the user knows the abuse will not end well, the impulse to continue is too great to stop. They find substance abuse both rewarding (in the desire for the drug and the short-term high it delivers), and the need strengthens as the abuse becomes more frequent.
A user may become physically or psychologically addicted, or both; depending on the drug they are using.
When mind-altering drugs enter our system, there are a number of ways our body will react and be affected. Firstly, changes will occur within the brain and its chemical composition.
Specifically within the brain’s chemical messengers – or neurotransmitters, which control how we feel and therefore impact on our behavioural pattern.
When we ingest drugs, our neurotransmitter levels – dopamine and serotonin – increase and we feel a ‘high’. Our positive and happy senses are heightened, as these drugs focus on the ‘pleasure and reward’ areas of our brain.
Other characteristics are a loss of inhibition, and therefore our social ability increases. Many drug users who find it hard to socialise under normal circumstances, will feel less inhibited and socialise more after taking drugs.
The negative side is that our decision-making capabilities are impaired, and we don’t consider the consequences of dangerous situations, such as driving while under the influence of drugs, and we become less inhibited by sexual encounters.
Different drugs have different effects on the brain and therefore, will affect us in different ways:
Stimulants: cocaine, ecstasy (MDMA), amphetamines (speed and ice) and caffeine, speed up or stimulate our central nervous system.
They make us feel more aware and confident, but at the same time, they have a negative side, with symptoms including increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature; loss of appetite, stomach cramps, sleeplessness, anxiety and paranoia.
Hallucinogens: LSD, ‘magic mushrooms’ ketamine, cannabis, and PCP. These drugs warp your sense of reality, causing you to see or hear things which do not exist or see real things in a distorted way.
They will also bring on moments of emotional euphoria. The negative side of hallucinogens brings symptoms, such as paranoia, panic attacks, jaw clenching, nausea and gastric problems.
Depressants: alcohol, cannabis, opiates (heroin, morphine, codeine), GHB and benzodiazepines (mild tranquilisers). These drugs slow or decrease the function of our central nervous system. In small amounts, they can help us feel more relaxed and less inhibited.
They slow the messages being sent to our brain, which affects our coordination. When taking in higher quantities, they can cause vomiting, dehydration, and unconsciousness.
There are many reasons why a person may become dependent or addicted to a substance. Most start taking drugs as a recreational diversion to ‘real’ life. We may start taking drugs due to peer pressure, career or financial concerns, or simply because we want to have a go and see what it’s all about.
When recreational drug-taking goes further, research shows that often environmental or genetic factors may be to blame.
Genetics: it’s thought that some people are generally more inclined to develop a drug addiction because they have been exposed to a drug environment during childhood.
Either their parents or siblings were substance abusers, or they suffered childhood trauma. This is not to say that all users with a family history of abuse or trauma become substance abusers, but there is a strong possibility that it can become hereditary, increasing the likelihood of our own abuse later in life.
Environment: scientific research shows that certain environmental factors can make us more likely to become dependent or addicted to drugs or alcohol.
These include poverty, witnessing a traumatic event, dysfunctional family environment and abuse amongst our peers.
The difference between drug dependence and drug addiction can be complicated to decode, but a simplistic way of looking at it is if you are physically dependent on a substance you will be affected by tolerance and withdrawal.
Although some users can be dependent on a substance without being an addict, there is a high possibility that the dependence will become an addiction.
Drug addiction is characterised by behavioural changes which occur when biochemical changes happen in the brain. They come after prolonged substance abuse.
The addiction takes over the life of the user; the next hit becomes ‘the’ most important thing in that person’s life.
The user will act irrationally to get more of their drug of choice regardless of the damage it will do to them and to others.
How do you know when recreational drug use becomes a dependence or an addiction? There are certain signs and symptoms to watch out for, whether you are concerned for yourself or a loved one:
Physical symptoms to watch out for include: weight fluctuation, mood swings, increased heart rate, panic and anxiety, fatigue and insomnia.
Thankfully, drug dependence and drug addiction are both treatable. However, to maximise treatment and minimise relapse, it’s important to choose a drug treatment centre – ideally away from your comfort zone – which offers a good range of care and treatment options which will nurture the recovery period.
It’s essential to choose a specialised centre for substance abuse where the staff understand addiction and the problematic patterns of abuse.
Here at White River Manor Luxury Rehabilitation Centre in South Africa, we are proud to have a world-class team of therapists and addiction recovery specialists with decades of experience, on hand to provide bespoke treatment through holistic and collaborative therapy.
Our dedicated team includes addiction specialists, clinical psychologists, counselling psychologists, a professor of psychiatry, a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) expert and a behavioural specialist.
A dietician and personal trainer look after your health and fitness requirements, and a dedicated team of nurses are on-site 24-hours a day. What is essential is that clients feel safe, supported and connected during their stay.
Our treatment centre is set on a sprawling 100-year-old estate with beautiful tranquil gardens in the heart of Mpumalanga and just 30 minutes drive from the Kruger National Park.
Originally an old English farm, the property has lots of space and fresh air, it’s a wonderfully therapeutic setting. The accommodation has been designed for maximum comfort and privacy, with a choice of luxury shared suites and private individual villas with pretty verandas. The estate also provides a fully secure environment.
Our specialised environment and addiction treatment program will help you to manage and reduce your drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
We provide supportive care for the user and their family, helping to get you back on track and enjoying a substance-free life.
If you believe you are dependent on drugs or a drug addict, please get in touch with us today for a confidential chat. It’s never too late to seek help.Giles Fourie
We have all experienced a bad night’s sleep. Lying there counting sheep in the hope it will send us back to sleep. Or waking up in the middle of the night with a thousand thoughts running through our mind.
The alarm goes off at 6 am, and we’re back up and heading for work feeling like we had less than a minutes’ sleep.
A bad night’s sleep every now and then is fine. But when a bad night, turns into a bad week, turns into a bad month. Sleep deprivation starts to take over our lives. We feel tired all day, our work performance drops and we’re grouchy with our family.
At this point, it’s normal to turn to medication in the hope of improving your zzz’s. Yes, sleeping pills can be beneficial – even life-changing. Waking up after a good few hours sleep, feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day is the best feeling in the world. Why shouldn’t we help that along if needed?
Statistics show that in the UK alone, insomnia affects around a third of the population at any one time. And thousands of people suffer from the effects of sleeping pill addiction.
In fact, a 2012 study carried out for the Economic and Social Research Centre revealed that 1 in 10 British adults regularly take sleep medication.
There is a myriad of reasons why sleep may evade us.
At the start of the Coronavirus situation, the world was so worried about their future that insomnia levels that #cantsleep and #overthinking were trending globally on Twitter.
Which troubles keep you awake at night?
Many different substances have been used to treat insomnia throughout the centuries. And as science progressed, different types of medication were found to successfully aid a better night’s sleep.
In recent years, many different drugs have hit the market, both traditional and natural alternatives.
The pharma industry is continually researching new sleep aids, and it’s no surprise when you look at the global figures of sleep deprivation, it seems we are living in an age of insomnia, and the market for sleep aids is huge.
The choice of sleeping pills available to us – both over the counter and via prescription is turning many of us into sleeping pill slaves.
We call them sleeping ‘pills’ because those that we purchase as consumers generally come in a ‘tablet’ format. However, the correct terms for sleep medication are ‘hypnotic’ or ‘soporific’ drugs. Both types of drug are used to encourage sleep where a sleep disorder exists and also in anaesthesia used in surgery.
Makes them sound a little bit more dangerous, doesn’t it?
We might think the sleeping aids we buy over the counter are harmless, but the most common non-prescription sleeping pills are addictive and should be taken with caution, as they can have seriously damaging consequences and lead to addiction.
Drugs that are prescribed for sleeping problems and severe anxiety are termed as both sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers.
Both are sedatives, which means they have the effect of slowing down your body and brain’s functions and processes, such as our heartbeat, thought pattern and breathing.
In the UK, the are various drugs which are registered to treat sleep disorders or anxiety. Doctors are very cautious about prescribing sleeping pills or minor tranquilisers because of the harm they can cause.
Simply broken down, they include:
These drugs can be recognised under different guises, depending on the reason you are being prescribed them, they will fall under the categories: sleeping pills, minor tranquillisers, sedatives or anxiety-busters. Doctors may also call them hypnotics, sedatives or anxiolytics.
Sedatives are prescribed to calm our nerves and reduce stress and anxiety. Hypnotics are used to improve sleep and anxiolytics are used to inhibit anxiety.
When used in any combination, they can be lethal.
Not all types of sleep medication are habit-forming, but many are. And when taken without caution they can cause serious physical and mental health problems; and lead to an overdose.
A tolerance to sleeping pills can develop very quickly. Whether you have been prescribed a sleep medication or have bought an over-the-counter option, it’s generally recommended that you should take them for 2-4 weeks and a maximum of three months, depending on the type of medication and severity of your sleep or anxiety disorder.
After continued use, the effects can reverse:
When you take them for a longer period, you become reliant on the medication and can become addicted.
If you think you or a loved one may have an addiction to sleeping pills, these are some of the signs and symptoms:
Many people who become addicted to sleeping pills start with a real need to aid a better night’s sleep. They head to the chemist and choose an over-the-counter sleep aid, or their doctor may prescribe a prescription drug for a short period to get the sleep rhythm back on track.
However, sleep is addictive, and once we experience a wonderful night’s sleep, we want more. We worry that when we stop taking these wonder pills, our sleep pattern will once again become irregular. It becomes a craving that we need to keep feeding.
When we take any substance because we ‘enjoy’ rather than ‘need’ them, we call this abuse. And of course, it’s a vicious circle; the longer we take the sleeping pills, the higher dosage we need to maintain the effect. Before we know it, the abuse becomes an addiction.
And, when sleeping pill addiction sets in, we can suffer from extreme mental and physical health problems:
There is another side to sleeping pill and minor tranquiliser addiction. A worryingly high number of people take them for a purely recreational purpose. This poses a very dangerous scenario, as most don’t take heed of the side effects or dosage limits. In which case, they could be taking them in excessive quantities.
If you are regularly taking a sleeping aid, then you need to wise up to the dangers of long-term use. Read through the signs and symptoms in this article.
If you are experiencing a combination of symptoms, it’s probable your sleeping pill consumption has got out of hand, and it’s time decide on a course of action.
At the least, you will need to ween yourself off them and look at natural ways to improve your sleep pattern. If you think that you are past this and maybe suffering from sleeping pill abuse or addiction, for example, if the problem is affecting your work performance, energy levels and personal relationships, then we highly recommend you get professional help.
As many sleep issues come from anxiety and worries, an addiction specialist will want to tackle the root of the problem that is causing you insomnia, together with the addiction itself.
In the last few years, therapists have been trialling Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help chronic insomnia.
We already use CBT to help with substance addiction, but research shows that it can also be effective in helping insomniacs change the way they think and approach sleep itself.
At White River Manor, we offer a five-star inpatient rehabilitation centre for addiction. This is an ideal scenario if you have a serious addiction to sleeping pills.
The tailor-made program will take you out of your normal environment, where drugs are readily accessible, and put you into a supportive environment, where our addiction specialists will take you through to recovery using different therapies, wellness activities, self-care and relaxation techniques.
Getting treatment for sleeping pill addiction will not only help you restore healthy sleeping habits, but it will also lead to more energy, better concentration, higher performance levels and a happier home life.Giles Fourie
They call ecstasy the ‘love drug’ because it ramps up your sensations and people using it feel things at a heightened level; colours, sound and touch. It’s great if you’re clubbing or at a manic music concert because you lose all your inhibitions and can dance and rave all night long. And sex on ecstasy is mind-blowing.
But what they don’t tell you is ecstasy also causes deep depression, confusion, severe anxiety, paranoia and other very scary psychotic episodes. It’s a synthetic drug and the short burst of exhilaration on ecstasy doesn’t last anywhere as long as the depressed slump you go into after your crazy night out.
Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA) goes by a few names; ecstasy, Molly, Adam, beans, clarity, E, hug, love drug, roll, Scooby snacks or snowball. It’s a synthetic drug that acts as a powerful stimulant and a hallucinogen.
People mainly use it for parties, clubbing or music festivals because within an hour of taking Ecstasy your inhibitions or anxiety disappears and you experience an overload of mental and sensory stimulation. That’s if you’re lucky.
It’s a chemical street drug with hectic side effects, the worse being vivid and often frightening hallucination. You see and feel things that aren’t there and if they’re bad things, they’re amplified to a terrifying level.
The problem with ecstasy is it can cause severe emotional damage; either over the long term or even after one-time use. This ranges from chronic depression and confusion to severe anxiety, paranoia and psychotic behaviour.
“Did you know?
MDMA is highly addictive; not so much the chemical dependence but the psychological dependence. They say when you start liking ecstasy, it’s too late; you’re sunk!”
Merck, a German pharmaceutical company, first developed MDMA in 1912 as a pharmaceutical compound that could be used to develop other medications to control bleeding. They soon realised that it had hallucinogenic properties and patented it in 1914, although the drug wasn’t developed further for a few decades.
MDMA was used in the 1950s and 1960s during the Cold War for use in psychological warfare. In the 1960s and 1970s, a few psychiatrists prescribed MDMA to patients to lower their inhibitions during psychotherapy, despite the fact that the drug was not FDA-approved.“Did you know? 92% of those who begin using ecstasy when they’re underage move onto harder drugs including amphetamines, cocaine and heroin.”
By the 1980s, MDMA was on the street being used by the party people at music festivals, raves, concerts and clubs. It’s listed as a Schedule III drug meaning it has a high potential for abuse.
More recently, studies have been conducted to see if it’s effective for treating anxiety in people with a terminal illness as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Ecstasy works by boosting the activity of three ‘feel-good’ chemicals in the brain; dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These chemicals control a variety of functions including your mood, energy levels, appetite, trust, sexual desire, emotions and sleep.
Positive effects of ecstasy include:
Negative effects of ecstasy include:
The problem with ecstasy is the feeling of complete freedom and heightened sensations you get when you take Ecstasy is soon replaced by very unpleasant feelings. These range from feeling tired and irritable to having panic attacks and nightmares. These side-effects can last up to 3-4 days which is a lot longer than the amount of time you feel good on the drug.
People with an ecstasy addiction may lose weight and start feeling weak. They become moody and aggressive and in serious cases, develop long-lasting psychotic issues such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
Ecstasy is not a harmless party drug. It’s a potentially fatal drug if you have a bad reaction on it and with regular use, can cause serious brain and heart problems. At the very least, you risk hyperthermia, a heart attack, impaired mental clarity, risky and dangerous behaviour and an overdose.
The big risk is that the majority of MDMA produced today is laced with extremely dangerous compounds found in bath salts, cocaine, LSD and PCP aswell as steroids and pain killers. In fact, what you take probably includes almost no MDMA. It may also be cut with soap or detergents.
This is dangerous because you don’t know what you’re ingesting and how your body will react. Whatever is in that ecstasy pill might also react with other substances in your system such as alcohol, caffeine and other medication.
Hyperthermia is one of the most dangerous side-effects of taking ecstasy at clubs and raves. How it works is MDMA limits your body’s ability to regulate your temperature so you can overheat when your temperature becomes sky-high.
Hyperthermia needs to be treated immediately because it very quickly leads to muscle breakdown which causes kidney, liver or heart failure.
Ecstasy is dangerous for people who suffer with irregular heartbeats, asthma, epilepsy, kidney disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue or any psychological disorders.
People who regularly use ecstasy are at risk of developing cardiovascular problems because the drug causes your heart to stop working efficiently. This is big problem if you participate in strenuous activity, which includes wild dancing at clubs and music concerts.
Within an hour of taking ecstasy, you can suffer from memory loss, impaired concentration and your capacity to judge motion. This is very dangerous if you’re driving but worse, you could make a bad decision because you’re not thinking clearly which could cost you your life.
It’s important to drink water and/or non-alcoholic liquid if you have taken ecstasy because of the risk of dehydration. MDMA raises your body temperature and if you’re dancing at a club or music concert, you need to keep hydrated and replace lost minerals from sweating.
On ecstasy, you lose your inhibitions and your feelings of trust and emotional warmth increase. You’re likely to drop your guard and have unsafe sex with a stranger or someone you don’t know well. The result could be a sexually transmitted disease or worse, HIV.
Your body quickly absorbs MDMA but it battles to metabolise the chemical in your system. The risk is you take more ecstasy because you’re not feeling the desired effect. Coupled with alcohol and marijuana, this is a life-threatening scenario.
Symptoms of an overdose of ecstasy include:
You may feel anxious, restless, irritable and depressed for up to a week after taking ecstasy. You may experience gaps in your memory and have problems concentrating and your interest in sex might disappear for a while.
If you regularly take ecstasy, you might suffer from heart palpitations, insomnia, aggression and severe anxiety. MDMA can cause brain damage, which may only be noticeable several years after you first take ecstasy.
Studies show that ecstasy damages the neurotransmitters that secrete dopamine and serotonin. The neurotoxicity of MDMA is irreversible.
“Did you know?
Ecstasy comes in tablet form in all shapes and colours, with designs stamped on them such as hearts, stars, butterflies and cloverleaves. This creates the impression they’re innocent and pure, but that’s a big fat scam!”
Yes, you can! Well actually, it’s not so much addiction but a high tolerance for ecstasy that develops rapidly with repeated use. It becomes almost impossible to experience the same stuff you felt when you first took it so you take more ecstasy and that puts you at risk of overdosing.
You’re more likely to develop a psychological dependence on ecstasy rather than a chemical dependency. Like alcohol, you feel more confident and festive on ecstasy and you come to depend on this feeling of euphoria when you’re out at clubs or raves.
Ecstasy is what is known as a ‘designer drug’. The making of ecstasy has gone underground and who knows what they’re putting into it these days; definitely other drugs that are highly addictive. So the chances are it may not be ecstasy that you become addicted to but the other nasty stuff they put in the tablets.
Your brain releases a flood of ‘feel good’ hormones when you use ecstasy. This depletes your body of these hormones which is why you might feel extremely anxious, sad or restless afterwards. You’ll experience this slump in ‘feel good’ hormones as unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
You might feel confused, dejected and extremely tired as well as battle to sleep, concentrate and think clearly. The temptation is to use more of the drug to deal with the negative symptoms or substitute it with other drugs such as marijuana or cocaine.
If you’ve got to this point, you need help to stop using ecstasy and treatment to restore your body’s natural physical and emotional well-being.
When the party or love pill starts destroying you or someone you love, it’s time to get help. You’re not on your own.
White River Manor works closely with medical practitioners such as psychologists and psychiatrists who have years of experience in dealing with alcohol and drug addiction as well as a team of highly experienced counsellors who understand the intervention process and are strong counsellors.Giles Fourie
That’s a question many people are asking now that dagga is legal for private use in South Africa. There were a lot of funny memes doing the rounds on social media when the news broke in September 2018 but the bigger debate is, “is South Africa courting the devil”?
Marijuana, weed, cannabis, dope, dagga… whatever you call it, tends to be used as a social drug and it’s seen as a ‘soft drug’. Supposedly, it’s harmless and not addictive, and certainly less harmful than hardtack alcohol and less addictive than cigarettes.
Or is it a gateway drug that leads to harder and more destructive drug addiction?
The Gateway drug theory claims that so-called ‘soft drugs’ like weed set naïve users on a path to experimenting with other drugs such as cocaine, meth, heroin and opiates. Most people who develop an addiction to these drugs say they started off smoking weed.
Weed provides a safe ‘high’ experience which lures users into a false sense of security when it comes to trying other drugs. If they hadn’t started with a soft drug like weed, the thinking is they may not have progressed onto harder drugs.
This is based on the notion people who use illegal substances progress along a linear path from “socially acceptable and legal substances” like alcohol and nicotine; to soft drugs like weed; and then onto harder illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin.
What’s the reason for this?
Firstly, experimenting with weed increases the taste and perceived pleasure for other drugs. And secondly, there’s an increased likelihood you’ll be exposed to harder drugs if you hang out with people that have a free association with drugs in general.
The science people say that weed isn’t any more or less of a gateway drug than alcohol and nicotine is when it comes to kickstarting a drug-taking habit. If you have a genetic predisposition (the addiction gene) to drug use, the springboard could be booze, cigarettes or dope. In fact, regular cigarettes are far more addictive than weed.
It’s impossible to say that someone who experiments with weed is likely to go on and experiment with harder drugs, mainly because the vast majority don’t get addicted. The latest research stats show that between 10 to 30% of regular users will develop a dependency on weed, while only 9% develop a serious addiction.
A study by The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia found that children who used marijuana, alcohol and tobacco were 266 times more likely to use cocaine than children who used none of the gateway drugs.
The same was true for adults. Adults who used marijuana, alcohol and tobacco were 323 times more likely to use cocaine than adults who used none of the gateway drugs. Adults who used all three were 104 times more likely to use cocaine than adults who used only one gateway drug.
The fact is marijuana has been around since ancient times. The earliest recorded use as a drug was 2 737 BC in China. It made its entry to the New World in 1545 when the Spanish brought it and produced it as a commercial crop to make hemp fibers.
Marijuana is not necessarily the problem; the habit is. In other words, smoking weed can lead to a drug-taking habit. This is where a person enjoys the experience, feels withdrawal symptoms when not taking the drug and seeks out the drug to relieve the cravings; repeat!
It’s known as ‘marijuana use disorder’ and it becomes addiction if you cannot stop using weed even when it starts having a negative effect on your life. Marijuana dependence occurs when your brain adapts to large amounts of the drug.
Marijuana often makes you irritable and moody, affects your sleep pattern and decreases your appetite. About 1 in 10 frequent marijuana users experience anxiety, hostility, insomnia and depression after the intoxicating effects of weed wear off.
If and when you try to quit, you’ll battle with mild to strong cravings, restlessness and different forms of physical discomfort. This is proof weed is not completely harmless and is addictive in the same way people become addicted to the habit of smoking cigarettes as well as the actual nicotine.
The big problem with weed today is its potency. It’s been steadily increasing over the past few decades. In other words, the weed you smoke in 2019 is a lot stronger than the weed your folks smoked 20 years ago. And the scariest problem with smoking weed in South Africa is it’s not always pure and clean. In other words, there’s a good chance it’s laced with something like Tic or Mandrax.
The verdict is still out whether weed is a gateway drug or not. One side says it’s a scare tactic and the other side says it is a gateway drug.
What we know for sure is; if you have a genetic predisposition to drug use, the springboard could be booze, cigarettes or dagga. If you develop an addiction, you can’t say for sure whether weed was the main culprit or whether there were other factors at play. If you have the addiction gene, something will ignite it.
If you or a family member need help with drug or alcohol addiction, all you need to do is call us. You’re not on your own.
White River Manor works closely with medical practitioners such as psychologists and psychiatrists who have years of experience in dealing with alcohol and drug addiction as well as a team of highly experienced counsellors who understand the intervention process and are strong counsellors.