Behavioural change is the first step to fighting addiction, says expert

American rapper Malcolm James McCormick professionally known as Mac Miller recently passed on from a suspected drug overdose. His death like many others reinforced the danger that addiction continues to have on society.

Drug addiction is proving to be a societal crisis. Statistics from the World Health Organisation show that the harmful use of alcohol results in 3.3 million deaths each year.


At least 15.3 million persons have drug use disorders.


Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that in 2014, Ndera hospital received over 440 drug addicts and in 2016 that number grew to over 2,800 patients. Research from the Ministry of Youth shows that 52% of youth between the ages of 14 and 35 have used drugs once or more in their lifetime while 7.5 are addicts


But what pushes people into drug addiction even with the evident risks associated with it?

Counsellor Damien Mouzoun says addiction is a disease that affects behaviour. When people are addicted to drugs, they can’t often resist the urge to use them, no matter how much harm the drugs may cause.

Drug addiction isn’t about just heroin, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. One can get addicted to alcohol, nicotine, opioid, painkillers, and many other legal substances, he says.

He explains that at first, people may choose to take a drug because they may like the way it makes them relieve off stress, hopelessness, relationship failure, guilt or loss.

“They often begin with the illusion of control. But over time, drugs change how their brain works. These physical changes can last a long time. They make them lose self-control and can lead to damaging behaviours.”

Mouzoun explains that a person is a drug addict when he or she is compulsively out-of-control drug use, despite negative consequences.

Alain Hakizimana, a former drug addict says that so many people barely understand why people get stuck with addictions.

“Most people see drug addicts as people who lack morals and that it is easy to stop. But this is not the case because the fact is addiction goes beyond willpower and this is why quitting usually takes more than just the will to do so,” he says.

Hakizimana reveals that a person’s past experience and the environment has much to play when it comes to factors that can push one into addiction.

What one experiences in life is the major role that can push them into addiction, some people face sexual abuse, others get pressured with endless demands of life and for them to cope they seek solace in drugs, he explains.

“When I first attempted drugs, I was at the lowest point in my life. I was going through a rough stage and I ended up taking alcohol to forget the pain. Quitting was tough but with support from family and friends I managed to overcome,” he narrates.

Hakizimana, therefore, says that people shouldn’t be quick to judge, but they should instead understand and try to be supportive towards addicts.

The journey to recovery

Mouzoun is of the view that beyond seeking adaptive counselling services, he recommends patients to keep track of their first drug use including when and how much they used it because this gives them a better sense of the role addiction plays in their lives.

He says counsellors do have a big role to play when it comes to recovery of addicts.

“As counselors, our ability to manage feelings and biases that rise when working with clients who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction is very important and equally difficult at the same time. We use a supportive, empathic, and culturally appropriate approach in most of these cases,” he says.

Mouzoun further recommends things that are important to recovering addicts like their partners, children, pets, career or health and how their drug use affects them may lead one to consciousness.

Removing reminders of addiction from home, workplace, and other places of frequentation may also be of help, he adds.

“Once addicts are committed to recovery, it is important to explore their treatment choices. While addiction treatment can vary according to the specific drug, a successful program often includes different elements, such as detoxification, behavioural counselling, medication, long-term follow up among others,” the counsellor commends.

Through her article Understanding The Stages of Recovery From Addiction, Christina Bockisch an advocate for mental health says that when a person is dealing with an addiction, it’s easy to feel alone.

She says that though the decision to enter a drug or alcohol treatment program isn’t easy once a person realizes that they have an addiction they should begin the long journey of recovery.

The first stage begins the moment you seek help for your addiction. Whether you seek help voluntarily or are forced by circumstances to enter rehab, your recovery process begins with you initiating professional treatment, she says.

The second step is early abstinence, Bockisch notes.

For many recovering addicts, this is the toughest stage to overcome because it’s when you experience withdrawal symptoms, psychological dependence, physical cravings and a multitude of triggers, all of which can threaten your recovery, but during this stage, Bockisch says the counsellor begins to teach the coping skills needed to lead a sober lifestyle, she adds.

“After 90 days of continuous abstinence from drugs or alcohol, you move to the third stage of recovery: maintaining abstinence. The focus of this stage of recovery is to maintain abstinence by avoiding a relapse.”

Once an addict has remained clean and sober for approximately five years, Bockisch notes that they enter advanced recovery which is the final stage of recovery. “At this point, you take all of the tools and skills you learned throughout your counselling and put them to use living a satisfying and fulfilling substance-free life.”

Why recovery shouldn’t be a silent struggle

Laban Bizimungu, a youth counsellor says that if society is to win the battle against addiction there is a strong need to address the underlying causes that push people especially the youth into drug abuse in the first place.  

He also adds that society shouldn’t treat addicts as outcasts, because what they need is support.

“This is the only way we can overcome this deadly vice but for us to achieve this we need to stand together as a society because it affects us all.”

Our societies often fail to understand that those under addiction are just like the rest of us normal people who get into a bad influence and need our support and consideration, Mouzoun says.

He, however, notes that “not minding those people in our society is a timely bomb especially for post-conflict and genocide countries with undereducated people who can be manipulated or corrupted to any act and behaviour.”

He is of the view that society at large, government, the private sector, not for profit organization, and the world must invest in preventing any form of addiction for the consequences are beyond imagination.

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