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AOD Clinic

Mr Steven Emery is a registered psychologist with over 10 years’ experience in the provision of drug and alcohol assessment and treatment services. Mr Emery has a wealth of experience in the AOD landscape and we are excited to welcome him to our practice.

For clients with a Mental Health Care Plan (MHCP), our AOD clinic will bulk bill those with a pension or health care card. Those who are employed will be required to pay a gap fee.

Mr Emery welcomes both affected individuals and their family members who are experiencing difficulties with alcohol and or substance addictions.

For further information or to make an appointment please contact our friendly receptionist Ann on 92744877.

The Road to Addiction

Life is stressful. Unfortunately, most of us were not taught positive ways to manage our emotions and to successfully cope with life’s challenges. This is even more important for those who experienced trauma whilst growing up. Some key issues which can be triggers for drug/alcohol abuse;

  • Childhood emotional/physical/sexual abuse and neglect
  • Bullying at school or in the workplace
  • Unstable family of origin relationships
  • The death of a loved one
  • Feeling like the “black sheep”, never quite feeling they fit in or belong
  • Difficulty coping with the daily demands of life, particularly true for working mothers who have to manage so many demands every day
  • Mental health issues such as depression and anxiety

It can be hard for many of us to understand how people become addicted. Many In the past it was a common view that alcohol/drug users lacked willpower and were simply not trying hard enough to stop. The reality is that addiction is complex, and it usually requires more than a strong will to stop. Addiction can change the brain making it very challenging to recover.

It is very easy for the nightly glass of wine or teenage initial experimentation to turn into addiction. Here’s why:

Humans are designed to engage in behaviours that make us feel good. Think food and sex. These are natural rewards which flood our neurological reward circuit with the neurotransmitter dopamine, allowing us to feel pleasure. These pleasurable feelings mean we will repeat these behaviours, which are essential for our survival. However, there are also artificial rewards such as alcohol, nicotine and illicit substances, which stimulate our reward circuits in the same way. These substances interfere with our natural reward circuit, releasing between two and ten times the quantity of dopamine that natural activities would generate. When your brain realizes how much it gets rewarded for taking drugs, the motivation to use drugs becomes greater than the motivation to engage in activities that would normally be pleasurable, such as eating or socializing.

Dopamine rewards make us feel great, but our brains are not designed to cope with significant amounts that substances bring. In order to minimise the effects of significant amounts of dopamine, the brain reduces the amount of dopamine being released from neurons. So as a person starts to use drugs regularly, the brain adapts by reducing the ability of the cells in the reward circuit to respond pleasurably to normal activities. It knows it should expect another surge of dopamine at some point, so it prepares itself by not contributing to the surge.

In time, the overall euphoria produced by the drug is reduced and it takes a higher and higher doses of the drug to achieve the same level of pleasurable feelings compared with when the drug was first used. This is known as tolerance. Consequently, the affected person needs more and more of the drug to replicate that initial euphoria. Another unfortunate side effect is that the affected person also derives less pleasure from natural rewards such as food, sex and social activities.

Once addicted, the brain pushes for more of the drug. The more changes your brain makes to compensate for your use, the less it wants to change back. It becomes a stand-off, with your brain waiting for you to give in, and give it the drug it wants and you are waiting for your brain to stop craving and go back to normal. Ultimately, people become addicted because their brain is trying to protect its ordinary functioning.

Once addiction has been established, the brain only functions normally when in the presence of the drug. It is also thought that long-term drug use on the brain can also result in neuropsychological difficulties, including;

  • Reduced capacity to learn
  • Reduced judgment and reasoning skills
  • Poor decision-making
  • Less capacity to cope with stress
  • Weakened memory
  • Reduced behavioural inhibition

These neuropsychological deficits makes it even harder for the affected person to regain control over their addiction. Moreover, neuroimaging studies of individuals addicted to alcohol/drugs and shown decreased activity in the pre-frontal cortex when compared with non-addicted individuals. “When the frontal cortex isn’t working properly, people can’t make the decision to stop taking the drug—even if they realize the price of taking that drug may be extremely high, and they might lose custody of their children or end up in jail. Nonetheless, they take it.” (2015, Dr. Nora Volkow, NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse, News In Health).

 

Perhaps you are worried about your own drug/alcohol use. Here are some warning signs of addiction;

For family members, ask yourself the following questions;

  • Are you affected by your partner’s uncontrolled alcohol/drug use? Are their actions making it increasingly harder to maintain your family and parent your children?
  • Entering the teenage years can be quite challenging – especially with the impact of social media and peer pressure. Are you are worried about your teenagers experimenting and your not quite sure how to talk to them?
  • Do you have an adult child who is using illicit substances. This can create significant stress in a parents life as there is an expectation that most adult children are at a stage where they should support themselves. Unfortunately, parents in this situation are regularly subjected to ongoing requests for financial assistance, having their possessions/money stolen by their adult child, being subjective to abuse and threatening behaviour, many parents often feel obligated to allow the adult child to return to the family home, for fear their child will be at risk of homelessness. This can create significant stress, particularly on relationships with your partner and other children. Moreover, your home should be your safe place, your sanctuary. Unfortunately this peaceful existence is usually shattered.

Have you noticed some of these warning signs?

  • Are you spending less time on activities that used to be important, such as spending time with family and friends, exercising, or pursuing hobbies or other interests?
  • Do you take less interest in your appearance, hygiene?
  • Are you having a lot of sick days at work? When you are at work is your performance dropping off?
  • Are you angry, perhaps even hostile towards friends/family members if they attempt to address your drug use?
  • Do you hide the amount of drugs you take?
  • Have you noticed you need to use more and more of the drug in order to produce the same effect?
  • Do you take risks in order to obtain drugs?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness, trembling, sweating, nausea or fatigue when there is no access to the drug?

If you believe that drug/alcohol addiction is impacting upon your life or your loved ones, please seek help. You are not alone. Psychologists have worked with many people in similar circumstances to yourself, and can help you learn ways to cope with the stress and uncertainty that addiction can bring. If you would like to talk to someone who understands, please contact us. We will welcome you in a confidential, warm and caring environment.

 

Emotional Abuse – The Bruise That Doesn’t Show.

“I feel bad, and it’s your fault.”

Most people know what physical abuse is, but when it comes to emotional abuse, its not so obvious. As a society we are so focused on physical forms of abuse that we too often miss the warning signs of emotional abuse. Given society views physical abuse as the most significant type of abuse, people in emotionally abusive situations often feel that if they aren’t being physically attacked, they aren’t being abused, and therefore have no right to complain.
Some people even query whether ‘abuse’ is the right term to describe their relationship difficulties. They may think defining their experiencing as abusive would be overdramatic. In determining whether behavior is abusive, you need to ask yourself how the behavior makes you feel. If the behaviour makes you feel controlled, belittled, or that you cant even discuss your concerns with your partner, its abusive. If you feel like your partner is stopping you from being able to express yourself, it’s abusive. If you feel you have to change your actions to accommodate your partner’s behaviour, it’s abusive. In this article we will focus on a very subtle form of emotional abuse – known as gaslighting.

Gaslighting

The term Gaslighting originates from a movie titled Gaslight, where a husband tries to make his wife think she is mentally unstable by making subtle changes in the family home. When she comments on these changes, her husband denied them. Consequently, the wife starts second-guessing herself, her feelings and her memories. She starts to question her sanity. This is the goal of gaslighting—to leave the victims plagued by self-doubt and hence, vulnerable.
Gaslighting is an insidious type of emotional abuse where the abuser makes the victim question their own judgments and ultimately their own reality. Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to wonder if there really is something wrong with them.
While gaslighting primarily occurs in intimate relationships, however it can also occur in all forms of other relationships, such as parent-child relationships, friendships, in-laws, co-worker relationships.
Unsurprisingly, victims of gaslighting can develop a range of mental health issues, including low self-esteem, anxiety, panic attacks and depression. For this reason, it is extremely important to recognize if this is happening to you. More significantly, if you have developed these mental health issues, they are then used as a weapon against you, and it provides further opportunity for the abuser to avoid taking any responsibility for their behaivour.

Here are some signs to watch out for;

Invalidates or denies their emotionally abusive behavior when confronted.
You finally have the courage to speak up to your partner about their behaviors, but you are met with complete denial. No matter how many examples you give or the fact that you have evidence, your partner refuses to admit that they have done anything wrong. You know the way they are treating you can’t be right, – or can it? What’s worse, any time you push back or question them, they claim you’re being abusive to them! You tell them you are tired of having to walk on eggshells around them, yet they will say I’m tired of walk on eggshells around you! This is how an abuser often describes any request to recognize or respect someone else’s feelings besides his/her own. They often project their behaviours on to you. You feel completely trapped and confused.
Accuses you of lying or having a bad memory.
Your partner comes home having spent a lot of money on items they wanted. They insist the two of you discussed it prior to the purchase. You know you didn’t. You would never have felt comfortable spending money on something that is just for them, especially when money is tight. But they are relentless in claiming they discussed it with you, and you were fine with it. You start to question your memory. Maybe they did ask you? Maybe you are going crazy?.
You have been so busy lately perhaps you might have forgotten the conversation. You would feel so bad if you were falsely accusing your partner.

Hijacks a conversation to confuse or divert the subject away from your needs/concerns
You finally have the courage to express the pain and hurt you’re feeling about your partners abusive behaviors, but before you know it, you are no longer discussing your concerns, rather the abuser has turned the tables and has embarked upon confusing, long-winded tirades. They start yelling and complaining that you never listen to them and that you only care about yourself. They say you are domineering and overbearing. Your pretty sure you aren’t, you try be a fair and reasonable person…. Or do you? The seeds of self-doubt have been sown. Then enters confusion. You are so busy trying to defend yourself you have completely lost your train of thought.. Ultimately, attempts to communicate became so unpleasant that you walk away feeling battered and bruised and having learnt your lesson, you work hard to avoid upsetting your partner again—and that’s exactly what they want.

Blames you for their abusive behaviour
He says he wouldn’t drink so much if you weren’t so demanding. She says that the only reason she yells at the kids is that you don’t show her enough love. Whatever your abuser’s bad behavior happens to be, you are the cause of it. And the argument your partner presents are so compelling, you start to believe it yourself.

Accuses you of being “too sensitive”
You are told your partner’s snide remarks are all in your head. You are just too sensitive, or you cant take a joke. At least that’s what your abuser wants you to think. By again pushing the blame on you they avoid having to take any responsibility for their own behavior.

Accuses or blames you for things that aren’t true, such as infidelity.
You have given your partner compete access to your phone and computer to your partner to prove your innocence. But nothing will convince them that you are telling the truth. You will continue to be accused and blamed, even when it you aren’t at fault. The truth doesn’t matter to your abuser.

Blames you for their problems, life difficulties, or unhappiness.
Your partner lets you know that all the bad things that happen to them are your fault. If they are depressed, abuse drugs, or can’t keep a job, it’s your fault. If only you were a better partner they would finally be happy and successful. If you hear this enough, you begin to believe it.

Give False Hope
As a manipulative tactic, the abuser will occasionally treat the victim with mildness, moderation, and even superficial kindness or remorse, to give the victim false hope. In these circumstances, the victim might think: “Maybe he’s really not THAT bad,” Perhaps I’m being too hard on him” “Maybe things are going to get better,” or “I’ll give him another chance.” Unfortunately, this kindness and moderation is generally only temporary and is often designed to instil complacency and have the victim’s guard down before the next act of gaslighting begins.
Ultimately, gaslighting is a magic trick. It is used by the abuser to distract you from the reality of the ways in which they are abusing you. Not all abusers engage in all of the above behaviors. They may specialize in just one or two. Either way gaslighting can chip away at the victim’s self-esteem, and sometimes their entire sense of self, leaving significant psychological harm. If you think you may be the victim of gaslighting it is important to seek help as soon as possible.

 

Pornography

The availability of pornography has changed immensely in recent times and we know that while it can seem fun at first, sometimes our pornography use can increase such that it is affecting our lives in a negative way. Indications that your pornography use has become an issue may be:

  • Spending more time than you expected watching pornography online
  • Spending less time with family and friends – isolating yourself to watch pornography instead
  • Finding that it takes you longer to reach orgasm while watching pornography, or that you are more easily bored of what you are watching and will go searching for more interesting categories
  • You are thinking of – or are – watching pornography in inappropriate places such as at work or while on an outing with your family/friends
  • Struggling to work because you are not getting enough sleep due to watching pornography at night
  • Finding sex with your partner not as exciting as it used to be

Seeking help for pornography addiction is essential as it can explore the factors around your addiction how it is impacting your life. We have psychologists available who are experienced in helping people with such addictions and can provide you with tools to help you regain control of your life.