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Can you recall years ago when substance abuse was called ‘addiction’? 

The World Health Organization, in the year 1964, concluded that the term “addiction” was unscientific and substituted the term “drug dependence.” As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), substance abuse is the use of illegal substances such as cocaine and/or overuse of legal substances such as prescription painkillers and alcohol. In other words, substance abuse is the use of Psychoactive substances (mind-altering) leading to self-destructive behaviors. Psychoactive substances can lead to dependence syndrome (which we commonly refer to as abuse or addiction) characterized by:

  • An intense desire to use the drug
  • Difficulties in controlling the use of the drug
  • Despite the adverse effects, persistency in the use of the drug
  • In comparison to other activities and obligations, drug use is given a higher priority
  • Increased tolerance to higher dosages of the dependent drug
  • Leads to a physical withdrawal state, permanent damage to physical health or even death

Substance Abuse may lead to Mental Health Challenges:

Once dependency on drugs develops, it is associated with several mental health issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and even psychosis given the hallucinogenic effects of the drug. According to definition by the DSM V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), substance use disorders can cause cognitive decline, irritability, anger issues, and difficulty concentrating and focusing. Furthermore, addiction to substances leads to job absences and interpersonal issues.

I wish to share my story with you.

I am a medical student. It is hard to tell my name and even the medical specialty within which I practice. I am not able to do so because I have been shamed, embarrassed, and stigmatized.

It is a story of hope, support, and recovery. Until my high school graduation, I had never tried alcohol or any illegal substances.

One evening, as I was finding it difficult to stay awake for an organic chemistry test, a friend of mine told me about stimulants that could help keep me awake to get through my preparation for the test. In an urge to excel in the test, I thought to myself that no harm will come if I just try the drug once. However, as the pressures of tests and medical school schedules got hectic, I began to use the stimulants (more of recreational drugs) more frequently until it became a habit I could no longer withdraw from.

After graduation, I entered into medical practice, determined to be the best doctor. I had no experience running a business (Clinic). Given my competitive nature, I spent long hours in the office trying to keep up with the increasing caseload and building a profitable practice, until I was no longer able to manage the growing workload. To take the pressure off, I continued my drug use habit. However, I was able to practice with a flourishing practice that provided quality care and satisfied patients. Both my professional and personal lives were successful and the envy of my extended social network. No one suspected my drug use.

Trouble started with the onset of the pandemic, when I had to shift all my patients to be seen remotely, needing more time, focus and money to establish virtual care capabilities. Suddenly my flourishing practice came to a standstill, and I was also unable to acquire the drugs easily, leaving me stressed, anxious and easily disturbed. I used to wake up feeling irritable and unable to control my drug cravings after sleeping more than I normally do. I became withdrawn and paranoid. This prevented me from paying much-needed attention to evolving my virtual practice. Nobody understood what was happening to me until my symptoms got the better of me, and it became obvious that I was demonstrating drug withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully, my wife understood the predicament and, with the help of other family and friends, created a strong support network and sought professional counseling to gradually help me come out of the dependency. This was a tremendous commitment from my wife to help me build my life back, away from any drug use.

Given the pandemic and virtual care model for counseling, the support of the family became predominant in the healing process. I surrounded myself with supportive people, found new hobbies like reading and cooking that could occupy my time and keep my mind off drug cravings. Additionally, incorporated an exercise routine that adds structure to my daily routine, reducing the chance of relapse. Started journaling my thoughts and my emotions, and this allowed me to see things from a different perspective as I read back through my entries. Meditation was a simple yet powerful technique that helped me in the recovery process. With meditation practice, I was self-aware of my thoughts and sensations. I learned how to Stay in the Present Moment that helped me combat the symptoms of withdrawal, triggers, and cravings. Over time, I learned to accept responsibility for my actions, while acknowledging that I had been sick and could certainly get better. Following several months of virtual therapy, I was able to fully recover from substance abuse.

My experience with substance abuse taught me that addiction can be a lifelong condition if left untreated, but not a lifelong disability. Through my story, I hope my colleagues and friends can have a better understanding of the human impact of addiction, the tyrannical grip it has on people, and the freedom and confidence I have gained through this disease.

Talking always helps to clear your mind. You can always talk to us on Doctorite with our On-Demand Empanion. If you feel you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to help, talk to a therapist that can help you out. Click here to connect with our “On Demand Empanion” and be heard by our empathic Listener, who understands the root cause of your substance abuse and can help you make real connections and bring a sense of purpose back into your life. Doctorite offers you a customized self-help module to be with you anytime, anywhere.

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