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'I have seen the increase in cocaine and alcohol addiction with the return of money. It's frightening'

The Rutland Centre is seeing shifts in the people it treats, and is emphasising how anyone can recover from addiction on its 40th anniversary.

Image: Shutterstock/vchal

THE NUMBERS OF people seeking help for drug issues who also have alcohol and other substance abuse problems is rising, as is addiction to recreational drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines.

Furthermore, there has been increasing diversity in people presenting for drug addiction across different social classes in recent years as the economy has improved following the recession.

That is according to addiction counsellor Austin Prior, who told TheJournal.ie last week that the “lines have blurred” between the addictions people who seek help have – regardless of if it’s alcohol, drugs, gambling or something else – where their addiction to one substance feeds into an addiction for another.

Up to 2013, for example, alcohol was the most common additional drug reported. Since 2014, benzodiazepines have become the most common. So people who have problems with one drug, are commonly having problems with another.

Similarly, Rutland Centre CEO Maebh Leahy told TheJournal.ie that its work sees it come into contact with a “myriad of addictions” which has made it “a lot more complex to treat”.

Both were speaking as the Rutland Centre marks its 40th anniversary with Recovery Month, a series of events aimed at encouraging the narrative that people with addiction issues can and do recover when given the right support and when they themselves resolve to take the necessary steps to get better.

Distinct lines

Prior first began working at the Rutland Centre in the year 2000.

At that time, he said there were “fairly clear lines” in terms of what someone was addicted to.

“There were alcoholics, there were drug addicts, and there were a few gamblers,” he said. “While they were all treated together, there were definite lines between them.”

While the Rutland Centre is just one addiction centre among many in the country, Prior’s comments are borne out by the stats.

According to figures released this year by the Health Research Board, just under two-thirds of cases of addiction treatment that were reported (63%) recorded problem use of more than one drug. 

Leahy said that these varied combinations of addictions – away from the common trope of the alcoholic or the drug addict – complicates treatment considerably.

She said: “Anecdotally, I’ve heard that 40 years ago when we started it’d have been alcohol and alcohol only, or drugs and drugs only… It presents a challenge. People are coming in, they’re using alcohol but also drugs. It could be alcohol and gambling.”

“Over the years, the lines have blurred,” Prior added. “Particularly between alcohol and drugs. If you think, in a way, one was the social divide. Back in 2000, heroin was the main drug and definitely on the lower end of the social scale.

Over the years, cocaine came into the mix, amphetamines, all the other drugs came in. Even heroin came in across the social divide. Maybe most people with drug issues now certainly have alcohol problems too. That’s a big factor.

Surge in cocaine

As the Celtic Tiger gave way to the recession, cocaine use in Ireland went with it to a degree. In recent years, however, as the economy has improved again, cocaine use has becomes more of a problem again.

Since 2014, there has been a steady increase in the proportion of new cases for treatment reporting cocaine as the main problem drug in Ireland, from a low of 297 cases in 2013 to 568 in 2016.

It’s the third most common drug reported by cases presenting for treatment, after opiates and cannabis. It represented 12% of all cases in 2016.

Prior said: “I have seen the increase in cocaine and alcohol with the return of money. It’s quite frightening in a way. There’s this kind of cultural acceptance of it.”

He said that was reflected in the community’s that people presented with cocaine addictions – from working class to middle class and above.

“There’s a kind of a lad culture that seems to make it okay to just get wiped out on cocaine and alcohol,” he said. “The vast majority are able to function, and then there’s always a minority that aren’t. And then they get caught up.

They don’t see themselves as addicts. And we get lots of professionals come in.

The prevalence of cocaine use among young, middle-class men has risen again and this blurring of class lines is also borne out by the latest figures. In 2010, 15% of people presenting for treatment for cocaine use had a job. In 2016, that had increased to 28%.

But it’s not just men for whom cocaine is becoming more of a problem. According to Health Research Board figures, the number of cases of women reporting cocaine as their main problem drug rose from 14% in 2010 to 23% in 2016.

For addiction services, a stigma around the word addict prevent many from seeking help, according to Leahy.

She said: “Words like addict and junkie do have a negative connotation, and certainly serves as a barrier. It can happen in every type of family and every type of community. But it’s important to emphasise it something that can be treated.”

Recovery is possible

Leahy said that the message the centre wants to send out for its 40th anniversary to mark Recovery Month is that it is possible for people to make a recovery from addiction with the right support.

She said: “Rather than families keeping it behind closed doors and handle it themselves, it’s about showing people and giving access to treatment.

Showing them there’s a better life out there. It’s about changing the language, changing the rhetoric we use. Addiction is an illness, it’s a disease. 

This evening on TheJournal.ie, we’ll feature the stories of some people were among some of the first to pass through the doors of the Rutland since it opened in 1978.

Prior said it’s powerful when people do share these stories.

“People might hear me talking and think ‘of course he’d say that’,” he said. “When someone hears a story from someone who’s been in the exact same spot and made that change, it makes a real difference.

With such a large number passing through the doors, Prior said he’s seen plenty make a full recovery from the most dire of situations. 

When asked for one in particular, however, one came to mind fairly quickly.

“I remember one guy,” he said. “He walked out of my office and I half-thought I’d never see him again. That was the pattern with him. He’d come and see me for a few weeks and then disappear. Every time, he’d have gotten worse and worse.

I didn’t see him then for maybe four or five years. One day, I was sitting in a café in my local village and having a coffee when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I swear the hair stood up on the back of my neck. This guy was looking healthy and well. He had a job, a wife and children. People do turn their lives around.
I’m very fortunate I’ve seen that. I never write somebody off. People have incredible ability. It comes down to if they believe it themselves. It sounds like a cliché but it does matter.

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About the author:

Sean Murray

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