By Dr Matthew Berry DPsych MAPS MCCLP
According to the most recent Australian National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS, 2016), the majority of Australians use mood-altering substances (e.g., alcohol, caffeine, medications), with most people staying within socially and medically appropriate levels. Furthermore, both alcohol and illicit drug use are significantly falling for those under the age of 30 (risky alcohol use by under 19s has more than halved since 2001).
Studies estimate that in any 12-month period, 5.1 to 8.7 per cent of Australians fulfil the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder, however, this may be an underestimation of the problem. The NDSHS reported that one in eight Australians aged 14 and over were regular cigarette smokers in 2016. One in seven used an illicit drug in the previous year and one in five drinks at risky levels. Gambling and other behaviours are recognised as having both behavioural and neurological similarities to substance addictions, and early research and clinical experience suggests that compulsive use of pornography may be a major cause of relationship and sexual difficulties, as well as many other psychological and social harms. The research, therefore suggests that addiction-type behaviours may be the most prevalent mental-health challenge facing modern Australian culture today (whether a particular behaviour should be labelled an ‘addiction’ is more a matter of the specific definition of addiction being applied).
While not necessarily well-understood, addiction is recognised as a complex issue to treat, with strong biological, psychological and social drivers. Despite its prevalence, many university programs provide inadequate levels of training around this presentation, with the risk of oversimplifying the complexities of this problem (e.g., seeing it as an attachment disorder or a neurological disorder). The unfortunate consequence is that few therapists feel able to take on and confidently work with this long-suffering group of clients. Similarly, those that do may lack the breadth of tools needed.
For several years, the APS Institute has been providing workshops to address this shortfall which aim to be holistic and inclusive of the trauma, attachment, systems, neurological, cognitive and peer aspects of both addiction and recovery. The Institute will be endeavouring to further these training opportunities in the future.
Disclaimer: Published in InPsych on October 2017. The APS aims to ensure that information published in InPsych is current and accurate at the time of publication. Changes after publication may affect the accuracy of this information. Readers are responsible for ascertaining the currency and completeness of information they rely on, which is particularly important for government initiatives, legislation or best-practice principles which are open to amendment. The information provided in InPsych does not replace obtaining appropriate professional and/or legal advice.