Information & Counselling Services
What is addiction?
Health Service Executive defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing
brain disease that is characterised by compulsive drug seeking and
use, despite harmful consequences. One in every 8–10% of people
over the age of 12 are addicted to alcohol, or other drugs
Addiction is chrosnic—but it’s also preventable and treatable
When a disease is chronic, that means it’s long-lasting. It can’t
be cured, but it can be managed with treatment. Other examples
of chronic diseases include asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
It is critical, that treatment simultaneously addresses any co-occurring neurological or psychological disorders that are known to
drive vulnerable individuals to experiment with drugs and become
addicted in the first place. Mental disorders that commonly
co-occur with addiction:
1. Anxiety and mood disorders
3. Bipolar disorder
4. Major depressive disorder
5. Conduct disorders
6. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
7. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Addiction is a medical illness
A disease is a condition that changes the way an organ functions.
Addiction does this to the brain, changing the brain on a physiological level. It literally alters the way the brain works, rewiring
its fundamental structure. That’s why scientists say addiction is a
disease. Although there is no cure for addiction, there are many
evidence-based treatments that are effective at managing the illness.
Like all chronic illnesses, addiction requires ongoing management
that may include medication, therapy, and lifestyle change. Once
in recovery from substance use disorder, a person can go on to live
a healthy and successful life. Addiction is treatable, and recovery
should be the expected outcome of treatment.
How does addiction change the brain?
The human brain is wired to reward us when we do something
pleasurable. Exercising, eating, and other pleasurable behaviours
directly linked to our health and survival, trigger the release of a
neurotransmitter called dopamine. This not only makes us feel good,
but it encourages us to keep doing what we’re doing. It teaches our
brains to repeat the behaviour. Drugs trigger that same part of the
brain—the reward system. But, they do it to an extreme extent,
rewiring the brain in harmful ways. When someone takes a drug,
their brain releases extreme amounts of dopamine—way more
than gets released as a result of a natural pleasurable behaviour. The
brain overreacts; reducing dopamine production in an attempt to
normalise these sudden, sky-high levels the drugs have created. And
this is how the cycle of addiction begins. There are many reasons
why you might use drugs and alcohol. Some people use them to try
and deal with their symptoms of their mental illness, this is known
as ‘self-medication.’ Drugs and alcohol can make the symptoms of
your mental illness worse. Some drugs may make it more likely for
you to get a mental illness, and they may make it harder to treat.
Mental health, and drug and alcohol services should work together
to give you the support you need. People use drugs, and drink
alcohol for lots of different reasons. Whatever your reason, using
drugs or alcohol may have a long-term negative effect on you. The
possible long-term effects include the following: Needing to take
more to get the same effect; feeling like you must use the drug or
alcohol (‘dependence’); withdrawal symptoms including feeling sick,
cold, sweaty, or shaky, when you don’t take them; having sudden
mood changes; having a negative outlook on life; loss of motivation;
doing less well at work, school, college or university; problems with
relationships; borrowing, or stealing money from friends and family;
being secretive; and having episodes of drug-induced psychosis. It
may take longer for your mental health to get better if you use drugs
or alcohol. Drugs can make you more unwell and more likely to try
and harm yourself, or take your own life.
What does psychosis mean?
If you have psychosis, you might see or hear things, or believe things
that other people do not. Some people describe it as a ‘break from
reality’. You may also hear terms such as ‘psychotic symptoms’,
‘psychotic episode’ or ‘psychotic experience’ describing the same
thing. It can be a symptom of mental illness and can also be a shortterm effect of some drugs.
Drugs and effects
In this section we have listed some of the different types of
substances that could have an impact on your mental health. Please
be aware that this list is not exhaustive. Taking any substances can
be dangerous. They can also have bad interactions with any medications. or, other substances you might use.
Cannabis is one of the most commonly used drugs in Ireland.
According to one study, about 6.5 per cent of people aged 16-59
measured, had used it in the last year. This was around 1.2 million
people. Among 16-24 year olds in the study, around 15.8 per cent
had used it in the last year. Some people take cannabis because it
makes them feel relaxed or happy, but it can also make you feel
anxious or feel paranoid. Some people may experience things that
aren’t real. This is a sign of drug-induced psychosis. Some studies
have shown that the risk of psychosis may be higher if you: use
cannabis for a long time, use it frequently, or use ‘high-strength’
cannabis, like skunk.
Some people with a mental illness have a difficult relationship with
alcohol. Alcohol is legal, which means it
is easier to get. It can make the feelings of
some mental health issues feel worse, and
for some people it could cause their mental
health to relapse, if they have struggled in
the past. The long-term effects of alcohol
also depends on how much you drink, and
how regularly you drink it. If you drink
too much on a regular basis then you could
cause yourself serious physical and mental
harm. Drinking may also make it more
difficult for you to recover from your mental
illness, and may reduce your quality of life.
New Psychoactive Substances (NPS)
These are drugs that contain similar
ingredients or chemicals to other illegal
drugs. Some of the drugs classed as NPS
are known as ‘legal highs’. This is a common
term that people use. It is used because
some NPS were legal before 2016. However,
the name is now wrong, because since 2016
they have been made illegal. Some NPS
that are now illegal include: Stimulants
such as mephedrone (also known as meow
meow, mcat, plant food). Sedatives such
as liquid ecstasy (also known as GHB,
legal E). Hallucinogens such as N-bombs
(also known as smiley paper, Bom-25,
2-C-I-NBOME), and synthetic cannabinoids such as spice and black mamba.
The short-term effects of an NPS depend
on what you take. No one knows exactly
how NPS will affect you in the long-term.
However, as with all drugs, they may have
a bad effect on your mental health. Some
NPS can be very dangerous and can cause
risk to life especially when taken with
alcohol or other sedatives. Many mental
health medications have sedative effects.
Amphetamine and methamphetamine In
the short-term, these drugs can make you
feel wide awake and alert. This can make it
difficult for you to relax or get to sleep. They
might cause you to have a drug-induced
psychosis. In the long-term, amphetamines
might make you anxious and depressed.
They can also be addictive. When you stop
taking the drug, you may feel depressed and
you might find it hard to sleep.
There are two types of tranquilliser. Major
tranquillisers are often antipsychotic
medications. Minor tranquillisers are drugs
that may make you feel unaware of your
surroundings and can be highly addictive.
One example of a tranquilliser is ‘benzodiazepines’, or benzos. Sometimes a doctor
will tell you to take benzodiazepines to
help you with anxiety. People also buy them
illegally because of their relaxing effects.
They can be addictive, and so doctors only
give them for a short time. In the shortterm, these drugs can make you feel calmer.
Depending on the type you take, they could
make you feel confused or moody. In the
long-term, some people become addicted,
which can have a big effect on their
In the short-term, cocaine can make
you feel awake, talkative and confident.
After this wears off, you can feel tired and
depressed. If you take a high dose there is a
risk to your life. In the long-term, cocaine
use can affect how you feel. It can affect
your relationships with friends and family.
Cocaine is also addictive and over time you
are more likely to have ongoing problems
with depression, paranoia or anxiety.
In the short-term, ecstasy may make you
feel energetic, chatty and confident. It can
also sometimes make you feel anxious,
confused or trigger drug-induced psychosis.
In the long-term, ecstasy may make you feel
depressed and anxious, and some people
struggle with memory problems.
In the short-term, heroin can make you feel
relaxed and calm. It takes away pain and can
make you feel sleepy. But there is a higher
risk that you could overdose with heroin
than some other drugs. Heroin can be taken
in lots of different ways, including by injection. However, there is a high risk of getting
an infection if you inject heroin, particularly if you share needles with someone
else. Heroin is very addictive and can have
serious long-term effects. When you stop
taking it you may feel depressed and find
it hard to sleep. You may feel that heroin
becomes more important than other things
in your life. This might make it harder to
keep a job and affect your relationships.
In the short-term, LSD may make you
experience things that aren’t real. Sometimes the experience will be enjoyable, and
sometimes it will be frightening (a ‘bad
trip’). There is mixed evidence about the
long-term effects of LSD. We don’t know
exactly how likely it is to cause mental
- James Robert Milam & Katherine Ketcham, Under The
Influence, Bantam Publications, (1984).
- Katherine Ketcham & Nicholas Pace, Teens Under The
Influence, ‘The truth about kids, alcohol and other
drugs, how to recognise the problem and what to do
about it’ (2003)
St. James’ Camino Network
St. James’ Camino Network, offers a
13-week drug-free therapeutic residential treatment programme for males
with substance abuse issues. It is based
in Enfield, Co. Meath. Our focus is the
complete rehabilitation of the individual,
and the primary nature of addiction. We
also highlight the resultant harmful consequences for the person and their family.
Our programme is designed to enhance
the emotional, physical, psychological, and
spiritual well-being of the addicted person.
We set the foundation the client needs to
stay clean by providing the clients with
daily structure, group therapy, one to one
sessions, gym, walks, family support groups,
NA meetings, doing their own cooking,
cleaning, washing, chores, etc.
Once a client has graduated their
programme at St. James’ Camino, we set
the client up with a day programme to
further facilitate the client’s recovery, and
provide structure to their day. We also
encourage clients to attend regular NA
meetings and aftercare groups. We have
transitional house in Chapelizod, that can
take some clients that graduate from our
centre with the understanding they attend
a day programme. We try to source housing
for our clients, where possible, so that they
don’t fall back into their old lifestyle of
people, places and things.
Joseph Sherwin - M.A B.A MBACP ,CASAC,MACI
Counsellor Psychotherapist ,