Chemical dependency: how to treat it
Posted on 2 June 2023
Chemical dependency is a complex disease that changes lives forever – but help is possible. At Mediclinic Crescent Mental Health Services, a dedicated team helps patients find answers.
Mediclinic Crescent Mental Health Services, a primary care facility that was recently acquired by the Mediclinic Group, has a dedicated unit and multidisciplinary team to help patients in the initial phase of their recovery from chemical dependency – earlier known as drug addiction or drug dependency. Dominique Maclou and Imraan Muscat, the two social workers on the team, each have nearly 20 years’ experience in treating chemical dependency. They share some insights into starting the journey to recovery.
First signs of addiction
Loss of control is one of the biggest signs that a person has a chemical dependency, and this will be noticed either by themselves or their family, says Maclou. “You’re definitely seeing an overall deterioration in the person’s ability to function. They aren’t able to complete tasks or do things as they usually would. Their whole life is centred on their using.”
Initially, a person uses the substance because it feels good. But over time, they’re no longer able to go without it. “And they’re willing to go to whatever lengths, breaking down their own morals and values to get the substance,” she adds.
This can look like a change in mood, energy and responsibility, and in more extreme cases, money and valuable items going missing, car accidents, a drop in performance at school/college, or phone calls from employers wanting to know where the person is.
You can’t fix chemical dependency on your own
“Addiction changes the way we think – it takes our brain filters and reshapes them,” explains Muscat. “The real issue around addiction is that it becomes a coping mechanism for life. The addict believes, erroneously, that if they don’t have the substance, they’re not going to survive.” He says the only way a person can address this is with the support and guidance of a structured programme.
“If someone is saying, ‘I can do it on my own’, they’re not ready to stop,” agrees Maclou. “For example, people often use the term ‘functional alcoholic’. There’s no such thing. That’s denial talking.”
“When we’re dealing with addiction, we’re not just dealing with the individual, but also what the individual brings in,” explains Maclou. At Mediclinic Crescent Mental Health Services, Maclouand Muscat oversee the addiction element of the programme, which uses the 12-step model employed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). “We help the person understand what it means to be an addict, what addiction looks like as a disease, and what recovery looks like,” explains Maclou.
Other members of the team include a medical doctor to oversee the detox, an occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, psychologist and a psychiatrist, who may be called on if the patient is struggling with a particular problem. This might include psychosis brought on by the substances they’re using or an underlying issue, like depression. Which members of the team the patient spends time with will depend on their individual needs. Sharers also come from AA and NA to share their experiences, strength and hope with patients.
You become a new person
When someone goes through the recovery process, they’re not going to go back to the person they were prior to developing chemical dependency. “We want them to be different to what they were before because what they were before took them into addiction,” explains Muscat. This transformation can be daunting for patients, but it’s also liberating – and that’s what has kept these dedicated social workers doing this job for so long. “When you see someone getting better and they are doing their recovery for themselves, that is the most beautiful part of the process,” says Maclou.