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The South African Anti Drug Team




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Drug Dependancy:


If not that serious send me an confidential e-mail: info@thesouthafricanantidrugteam.org.za


Even if you consider yourself an occasional recreational drug user and you don’t think you have any problems, it’s worth understanding what dependency is all about - especially the warning signals. The thing about developing a dependency it that generally you are not aware of the condition until it has developed into a problem.


Dependency is a medical term which is defined as “impaired control of substance use and continuous use despite adverse consequences”. That means the drug use is out of control, despite the damage it is doing to you. Addiction is a more common term, but that refers more specifically to a “physical bodily need that results in withdrawal symptoms if not satisfied” i.e. it’s very hard to kick the habit due to the hectic cravings. There are so many facets and aspects to this dependency thing, not even the medical community can agree amongst itself as to exactly what’s what.


However with drugs that we see, there are broadly two types of dependency. One is a physical dependency which is about those blood-curdling cravings and the other is a psychological dependency, which is more to do with the psychological processes in your brain where the pleasure mechanisms keep calling for more. Generally it’s easier to beat a psychological dependency than a physical one, but that varies from person to person and from drug to drug.


Some drugs are more dependency producing potential than others, but ultimately you can get hooked on anything. Repeated use of certain drugs like Nicotine, Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Speed, Kat, Heroin and others can result in a dependency as described above. Other drugs such as LSD and Cannabis don’t necessarily cause withdrawal symptoms, although you can still develop a habit. With some drugs, we can say that the dependency onset rate is much quicker. For instance, its said by many that one only has to use Heroin a couple of times before the cravings start. It’s also very important to know that the treatment data shows that the full recovery rate of people who have developed severe dependencies is low. There is also the issue of tolerance, that is the more often you use that drug, the more you have to take to have the same effect.


Environment plays a big part - even if you don’t have a dependency as above, some times you will associate use of a drug or substance with a place or social ritual, for instance drinking if you go to a bar, dropping a pill at a rave, snorting lines in the toilets, ... the list goes on. You might feel out of place if you are not doing a certain thing in this social context since you can’t seem to enjoy yourself without it. These habits can form part of, or lead to a dependency, but sometimes it means that the drug use is contained. Problems can really start when you bring the drugs home and they become part of your everday lifestyle.


Alcoholism is the biggest drug problem many countries face, certainly in South Africa yet society generally does not see alcohol as a ‘drug’. What’s different about Alcoholism is that it generally the condition of lifestyle deterioration and dependency only becomes apparent later in life. Treatment data shows most chronic patients are around 40 years old, yet they probably have been drinking regularly most of their lives. You might have heard someone saying that alcoholism is a disease - that’s because it took a while for the medical profession to understand addiction. 


Eventually they came up with the ‘Disease Model of Addiction’.


Then in this case was the American Medical Association (AMA). Ultimately the mainstream medical community has accepted addiction as a disease. This means that these conditions fall within a framework for professional treatment. In the USA, it also means people under treatment have more rights in certain circumstances.


Some people talk about having an addictive personality - perhaps some people are more vulnerable to dependency than others, perhaps its genetic but this where it gets messy. Essentially if you use an addictive drug often enough, chances are that you will end up with a dependency problem. Smoking cigarettes is an example. The odd fag will not mean you are hooked but start smoking every weekend, the hard-toresist cravings will kick in and it will soon become a pack-a-day affair. There are a few people who claim to use drugs like Heroin recreationally - that is every now and again, and perhaps they can, but these people are extremely few and far between, they are the exception rather than the rule, do not take them as role models. Age is also a factor here, perhaps because most people get wised up as they get older. Resisting the urges and cravings for more takes considerable will power. 


But be careful of drug bravado!, just because you can handle one, does not mean you can handle all. Not all drugs are the same!

The bottom line is: KNOW what is transpiring in your life, be honest with yourself at all times, be on the lookout for problems and make changes if necessary.

NB:  Common signs of a drug user:

1.   They do not have strong willpower.

2.   They do not have a stable character.

3.   They tend to live in a tunnel - view life.

4.   They lie constantly to protect their pride.

5.   They do not want to accept that they need help..