There are various online resources and written materials available on how to tackle addiction and how to help family and friends care for persons with addictions. There are some pointers that we can adopt when we encounter these challenging situations. Typically, we refer to persons with addictive behaviour as “users”.
- Do not delay getting the help you need for yourself (if you are using drugs, or other substances glue, alcohol) or your loved ones (if you realise, they are using). Pick up the phone or text to get advice from the organisations listed below. Adopt an open-mind to get help.
- SANA (Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association) hotline- 1800-733-4444.
- NAMS (National Addiction Management Service) hotline – 6-7326837 (6-RECOVER)
- WE CARE Community Services hotline – 6547-5459
- AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) hotline – 6475-0890
- NCPG (National Council on Problem Gambling) hotline -1800-666-8668
- CCS (Credit Counselling Singapore) hotline -1800-225-5227
- Understand that when you make that difficult decision and take drastic action to get yourself or your loved one help in tackling addiction, you are not “giving up” on yourself or the person with the addiction. In fact, your decision to do so, stems from caring immensely for that person and hoping for that person to be freed from bondage to drugs and compulsions, and hence you have to bring in professional help. Addiction is a complex medical condition and you cannot hope to do everything by yourself.
- Try not to bail the person from that difficult situation (e.g. settling debts after a huge loss from gambling). This only solves the issue at hand, and it does not address the primary addictive problem. It may worsen the addiction as resolution of the crisis did not deter or put the brakes on the compulsive behaviour. Remember that addiction robs the person of rationality once compulsion sets in.
Plan sufficient amount of exercise per day per week. Ensure a good balance of recreational activities. Maintain healthy eating and sleeping patterns.
- During your abstinence journey or caring for your loved one, be mindful of internal or external triggers or cues that may set off addictive thinking or behaviour, sending one down the slippery slope. These cues may appear in the form of stress, unhelpful or negative emotional states, a period of joblessness, sustained duration of financial duress or even the presence of other users whether in sobriety or not. Occasionally even taking the same route just to get from one point to another, may trigger memories of past venues where the addiction took place. It is vital therefore to re-create new habits, new routines, and avoid the old structure.
- Remember relapse warning signs can insidiously surface when we ignore triggers. Some of us may find ourselves submerging into addictive thinking patterns: “just one stick won’t hurt…”, “you have worked hard to deserve this…”, etc. Some of us may find ourselves repeating certain behaviours without any meaning e.g. returning to old neighbourhoods to seek out ex-users or re-routing to past venues where access is available. We may even find ourselves losing rationality and succumbing to the idea where abusing the substance is the only way forward. These signs should be detected by ourselves or people who care for us and we should address these immediately.
- Reconstructing a new structure and schedule during abstinence are also important. There is no necessity to cram too many things to keep yourself occupied or get your loved ones busy cracking their heads to come up with new activities. Simple and practical healthy living at a good pace is good enough. Plan sufficient amount of exercise per day per week. Ensure a good balance of recreational activities. Maintain healthy eating and sleeping patterns. Practise relaxation activities such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness techniques.
- Re-connect and build healthy personal and social relationships. This helps refocus and keep away from unhealthy relationships from our past and gives new meaning to current connections, learning socialisation and attaching non-drug significance to interpersonal relating.
- Learning techniques to identify and manage emotional states is also encouraged. These should include using appropriate ways to dissipate anger, recognising unhelpful emotions and dealing with them in different ways. Counselling may be useful if the notion of shame and dealing with the past may be difficult.
- Most importantly, we should celebrate one day of sobriety at a time and remember milestones in our abstinence journey. Recalibrate the balance between looking forward to the future and not dwelling in the past excessively.
The contributor is a Consultant at the Department of Psychological Medicine, National University Hospital (NUHS), and an Assistant Professor at Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore.