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A recent survey revealed that 4% of graduate professionals indicated they use substances like alcohol or medication to cope with stress. In light of Drug Awareness Week from 24-28 June, Dr Dominique Stott, Executive: Medical Standards and Services at PPS, says it is important that people understand that drug abuse not only involves the misuse of illegal drugs, it also includes the abuse of legal substances such as alcohol and some medications.
“Medication can be regarded as an abused substance when it is used for purposes which it was not intended for or when a patient becomes addicted to the effects. Such medication may even be obtained over the counter, such as codeine-containing pain tablets and cough mixtures. The side effects of using this medication, can become addictive and require increasing amounts for the user to get the same effects,” she explains.
“For example, it can be easy to become addicted to pain medication when one suffers from chronic pain. Addicted individuals’ doctor-hop to obtain the medicine they want, as there is no central database to record the dispensing of these medications. A doctor might not be aware that their patient also sees other doctors who are providing the same scripts and the patient could be taking vast quantities of tablets, way beyond what is required to treat the illness, but certainly enough to cause organ damage or death in the long term” states Dr Stott.
This sort of substance abuse is far more subtle and insidious and over the long-term can be just as dangerous for the individual, she advises. “It can be incredibly difficult to get these patients to understand that they have a dependence or addiction that will require intensive treatment, before they reach a point where they will suffer serious side effects from substance abuse.”
Dr Stott states that dependence on medication such as codeine, oxycodone and benzodiazepines is said to be overtaking illegal drugs in addiction centres. “It is also established that patients with psychiatric disorders such as chronic anxiety or depression can attempt to self-medicate using alcohol. This becomes a problem in the treatment of the patients as there is not only the psychiatric disorder to treat but also the dependence on an additional substance.”
Among other results of the PPS survey, 41% of the respondents stated they exercise to alleviate stress, 22% said they spend time with family and 18% kept themselves occupied with their hobbies to cope with stress. The study was conducted among almost 6 000 graduate professionals by PPS, the financial service provider focused on graduate professionals.
She says it is concerning to note that only 11% of the respondents indicated that they are not stressed and are coping well with life.
It is important that people do not turn to substance abuse as a method of dealing with the challenges of life and rather employ alternative and healthier habits to relieve stress. Those individuals who feel overwhelmed, even when healthier habits are incorporated into their lives, should seek advice from a professional who specialises in stress management to find an appropriate solution, concludes Dr Stott.