Addiction articles

Addiction is a psychological and physical inability to stop consuming a chemical, drug, activity, or substance. However, there are lots of ways to start addressing these impulses.

COVID 19 has altered our lives in many ways and is putting a huge strain on our mental health and wellbeing. It’s important that we can recognise and understand the signs that we are struggling in some way and do all we can to support ourselves and others. Early intervention is the key to stopping low mental wellbeing impacting the life we want and avoiding diagnosable mental health problems.  The grief and strain of the last year is certainly apparent and feelings of low mood are understandable. Many of us will also be experiencing high levels of anxiety due to the increasing uncertainty and relentless nature of the situation. Although these feelings are common and expected given what is happening in our world, it’s important to recognise if we are becoming depressed or anxious and when it might be time to seek professional help. What is depression? Whilst it’s important that we don’t diagnose ourselves or others, and recognise that each person experiences depression very differently, common signs of low mental wellbeing might include: Loss of interest in normal activities Social withdrawal A deep unshakable sadness Feelings of despair Loneliness Hopelessness Guilt Tearfulness Physical aches and pains Poor concentration Changes in appetite Loss of libido Anxiety also often overlaps with depression.  Depression is very common and anyone can experience these feelings, it doesn’t discriminate. Commonly, the two questions that are asked to assess whether a person is experiencing depression, to what extent and as part of an overall assessment are: ‘In the last two weeks how long have you been experiencing feeling down, depressed or hopeless?’ and    ‘In the last two weeks how long have you had little interest or pleasure in the things that you would normally enjoy?’  Depending on the answers, questions around feelings of guilt, appetite, feeling bad about yourself, worrying about letting others down and thoughts of self-harm would follow. Men can often externalise their feelings of depression and become irritable and angry, whilst women may internalise their feelings and become sad and withdrawn. However, it’s important not to stereotype, each person is unique and it’s about how much these feelings are impacting your ability to function and whether they are increasing and becoming increasingly painful and difficult to manage.  Whilst depression can sometimes have no observable trigger, it can develop as an understandable response to difficult circumstances. Stress can prolong and worsen experiences of depression but can also be a trigger. If you recognise some of the above symptoms in yourself aim to talk to friends and family first, try to increase behaviours that might help such as regular exercise and eating a healthy balanced diet, and decrease some of the coping mechanisms that are unhelpful such as drinking too much alcohol. Seek out talking treatments or support from your GP or think about contacting the team at CA Support who will be able to explore further options.  What is anxiety? As mentioned earlier, anxiety is often present when people feel depressed as the two conditions can overlap. Whilst it’s worth remembering that anxiety is an understandable response to overwhelming and uncertain situations, it also has a protective quality in terms of warning us that something is threatening. Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense, or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat and helps to mobilise all our resources to cope with that threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Whilst anxiety can often leave us feeling tense and irritable, angry, and frustrated, physical symptoms such as a churning stomach, racing heart rate and breathlessness are also very common. Other symptoms of anxiety include pins and needles, feeling restless or unable to sit still, reduced ability to focus and concentrate, sweating or hot flushes and nausea. Most people feel anxious at times and it's particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life. Loneliness and isolation can also cause feelings of anxiety and low mood so it’s important to keep connected with those you love as much as possible, especially during this time. Sharing how you feel will lessen the burden and may encourage others to speak up.  Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts on your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem for you if: Your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time Your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation You avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious Your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control You regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks  You find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy As with any concerns about your mental health and wellbeing it’s important to talk through your concerns with family and friends and seek out professional help and support if needed. It’s also important to do what you can to help yourself. Written by: Kirsty Lilley (psychotherapist and coach). Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world. For all your wellbeing needs, CA Support are supporting our members and their families always. If you would like to help or if you need help please contact us by email or on 01 637 7342 or 086 024 3294.

Apr 12, 2021

The theme of Alcohol Awareness Week 2020 is change, something that most people find challenging, but change has been ever present since March.  As we spend more time at home it is easy to reach for that glass of wine or bottle of beer. We can easily slip into a pattern of using alcohol as a tool to cope with the boredom, the restrictions and lack of social contact. Perhaps our biggest challenge is to force a change in our mindset and seek alternative tools. Covid 19 has increased our levels of anxiety and stress and put significant pressure on our mental health, however high levels of alcohol consumed regularly can undermine our physical and mental health. The World Health Organisation states that a high consumption of alcohol can compromise your immune system and therefore make it more likely to contract the virus, so being mindful of the amount we drink will ensure we are protected and less vulnerable. If you are finding you are inclined to drink more heavily and frequently, then perhaps it is an opportunity to explore alternative coping strategies. Being mindful and observing a low-risk relationship with alcohol can make a big difference to your anxiety levels and mood. Below are some tips to get you started: Stick to the weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines If you can stick to these guidelines it will reduce alcohol related problems The recommended weekly low-risk alcohol guidelines are less than: 11 standard drinks for women 17 standard drinks for men Drinks should be spread out over the week –no more than 2 standard a day for men, or 1 standard a day for women. Have 2-3 alcohol-free days per week. For more on these guidelines and what is a standard drink check out the HSE site  The Ask About Alcohol  drinks calculator also provides fact-based non-judgmental information about how drinking affects health, wallet and weight. Be aware of your mental health & wellbeing Physical distancing is very different to social isolation, so use the tools available to stay connected with family and friends. By connecting with others is essential as it gives us purpose and a sense of belonging. Get out and about, walking and being outside is so good for our mental health. Keep a routine that works Most of us not only like routine, but we need it, so find a routine that works for you and reap the benefits. Keeping structure to your day and evenings will really help you to stay focused. Find alcohol free alternative tools While working from home or self-isolation we have more time on our hands, so why not explore new options. Reaching for that drink each evening can become a bad habit and one which could be hard to break. Reconnect with hobbies or interests you once had or learn a new skill and try some relaxation or mindfulness. Take a news break Turn off the endless newsfeed for a few hours. Anxiety, depression, and alcohol are linked, so give yourself a break and take sometime out from social media and all news feed. You will be amazed how quickly your mood can change once these distractions are removed. CA Support is here to support our students, members, and their families. Contact the CA Support team on mobile: (353) 86 024 3294 or email:

Nov 12, 2020

For many people, having a drink or 2 with friends or family is an enjoyable experience. But like other drugs, if you drink too much alcohol – whether in the short-term or on a long-term basis – it can seriously harm your health. If you feel drinking is an important, or maybe the most important thing in your life, you could be one of the estimated 7% in Ireland who show signs of alcohol dependence or addiction (alcoholism). Alcohol dependence doesn’t have to involve drinking excessively every night. There are in fact varying degrees of alcohol dependence. You may for instance feel the need to have a drink when you get home from work each night to unwind, or perhaps you feel you can’t relax or enjoy yourself in a social situation without alcohol. Either way, you may be becoming dependent on alcohol both psychologically and physically, and may already be drinking enough to affect your health.  What causes alcohol addiction? There are several things that can contribute to alcohol dependence. You may be drinking more because you’ve been made redundant or suffered a bereavement, for instance, or you could be in the middle of a relationship break-up. In fact, anything that causes extra stress could make you drink more than usual. Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are also linked with heavier alcohol use, since many mistakenly believe drinking will help them with their problems. Often referred to as self-medication, this usually makes things worse if you’re a long-term drinker, since alcohol can affect your brain chemistry. You may also have grown up in a family where drinking lots of alcohol was the norm. Experts know that alcohol dependence can be genetic, but the attitudes of those around you towards alcohol when you were growing up can have a significant impact on your own alcohol habits when you’re older. Are you addicted? The following are signs that you could be drinking too much alcohol: You regularly exceed the recommended weekly alcohol limit You feel you should cut down on your drinking You’ve been criticised by others about your drinking You feel guilty about how much you drink You find it difficult to stop drinking once you start You constantly think about when you’ll be able to have your next drink You wake up needing a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to help you get over a hangover You often can’t remember what happened the night before the morning after you’ve been drinking Your home or work life is affected by your drinking (you may miss events or appointments because you’re drunk or hung over) You only attend social events that involve drinking alcohol You feel nauseated, sweaty or shaky if you don’t have a drink, but these symptoms disappear as soon as you have some alcohol If you’re dependent on alcohol, your risk of developing health problems may be higher than it should be. Drinking heavily in the short term (binge drinking) can make you more likely to have an accident, and you’re also more likely to have unprotected sex. Your behaviour may become more violent or more reckless (or you may become a victim of violence). Your risk of getting alcohol poisoning will also be higher than normal. Meanwhile, misusing alcohol on a long-term basis can increase your risk of having a serious health problem, such as liver disease, heart disease, stroke, liver cancer, bowel cancer, mouth cancer or pancreatitis. Health problems aside, long-term alcohol misuse can affect your relationships and your quality of life too, and may lead to things such as unemployment, financial difficulties, divorce, domestic abuse and homelessness. What can you do? If you’re dependent on alcohol and you suddenly stop drinking or cut down significantly, you’ll usually experience one or more withdrawal symptoms, such as shaking hands, hallucinations, depression, insomnia, sweating and anxiety. Instead of trying to manage by yourself, it’s a good idea to see your GP to find out what services and treatments are available. Depending on your needs you may be offered medication that causes nausea, vomiting or dizziness when you have alcohol (this aims to deter you from drinking) or a course of medicine that reduces your cravings for alcohol. You may also get the opportunity to take part in a detox programme, where one or more health professionals supervise you while you stop drinking. Other help may include counselling or going to self-help groups. How to stay safe If your drinking hasn’t reached a harmful level, there are things you can do to avoid it. First, stick to the government’s alcohol intake guidelines, which advise not regularly drinking more than 17 units of alcohol a week for a man and 11 units for a woman (spread your units evenly over 3 or more days rather than all at the same time). A single unit of alcohol is the equivalent of a pub measure (35.5ml) of spirits or a half pint of normal strength beer or lager. A 150ml glass of wine contains around 1.5 units of alcohol. Not sure whether you’re drinking too much? Try using the online self assessment from Drinkaware. The charity has also developed an app to help people track how much alcohol they drink. Meanwhile, there are several charities and support groups if you need support and advice about alcohol dependence, including Alcohol Ireland, Al-Anon, Alcohol Forum and Alcoholics Anonymous. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jul 05, 2019

We use it to network with business contacts, keep in touch with friends and family, find and share information, express our opinions and even for entertainment (comedy cat video fans, you know who you are).  But there’s evidence to suggest many people who use social media fear they’re addicted to it. Should you quit? Quitting social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may have a number of benefits, including the following: Your mood may improve Research suggests that the more time you spend on social media, the greater your risk for depression.  You’ll feel less isolated While you may have hundreds (or possibly thousands) of Facebook friends, if the only time you spend with them (or at least the ones you actually know) is when you’re online, chances are you’ll end up feeling disconnected rather than connected.  You’ll have more self-esteem    Constantly comparing yourself to other people on social media who appear to have the perfect job/relationship/house/body/family is hardly going to be good for your confidence. Indeed, studies have shown people who spend a lot of time on social media experience low self-esteem as well as increased anxiety. You’ll feel more positive    With so many people using social media as an outlet for their anger and frustrations, there’s a risk all that bad feeling could rub off on you. Getting things off their chests online may help many people feel better, but in reading their comments you could risk absorbing some of their negativity. You’ll have more free time Everyone knows how time flies when you’re engrossed in social media. Even when you promise yourself you’ll spend just 5 minutes checking out your Twitter feed, chances are you’ll still be scrolling an hour later.  You’ll be more productive All that extra free time you could have by quitting social media can be put to good use. Instead of being glued to your smartphone for hours on end, imagine what you could do? Realistic approaches Quitting sounds tempting, doesn’t it? But giving up social media altogether may not be the answer.  Set some boundaries Instead of swearing off social media for good, there are other, arguably more realistic options. You could for instance make it a rule to stay off social media when you go out to dinner, when you’re spending time with other people or before going to bed and when you’re in bed. You could also give yourself a time and a time limit for checking your social media, for instance 20 minutes at lunchtime and resolve to stick to it. Give yourself a timeout But it may be simpler to make a habit of staying off social media for 1 day a week. You could also take things a step further and take a 1-day-a-week break from all your digital devices. Unplugging has become a real trend these days, with many people taking breaks, not just from social media but also from the internet and their smartphones on a regular basis. At the very least, an entire day away from your computer or smartphone screen each week could help you remember how good life was before you became a slave to those annoying beeps and alerts. Find out more about taking a break from technology by reading our article Smartphone addiction – do you need a digital detox? Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 25, 2019

Did you spot the news story about the man sitting on his sailing boat off the coast of California, who was so glued to his smartphone that he missed a female humpback whale and her calf swimming past just a few feet away? The man was snapped by professional wildlife photographer Eric Smith while spending the day taking shots of the whales. Screen addiction is fast-becoming the ultimate modern phenomenon. After all, when were you last on public transport where the majority of your fellow passengers weren't glued to their smartphone screens? Indeed, a recent survey confirms many adults are becoming addicted to their smartphones. According to the Deloitte mobile consumer report, a third of smartphone owners check their phone within five minutes of waking up. One in six also checks their mobiles more than 50 times a day (younger users use their smartphones more often, with 13 percent of 18-24-year olds checking their devices more than 100 times a day). Children are spending more time in front of screens too, with teenagers clocking up to six hours a day. Adults may not be setting the best example, with a study last year suggesting 70 percent of children believe their parents spend too much time staring at their smartphones. Health issues Screen addiction also has health experts worried. Some studies claim there may be links between prolonged screen time and serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes, simply because when you're stuck behind a screen, you're inactive (and the more inactive you are, the greater your risk for a wide range of potential health problems). Other experts believe prolonged screen time is also linked with changes in the brain that involve emotional processing, decision making, attention and cognitive control. Then there are the problems it could be storing up for your eyesight and posture(for instance, a modern postural problem known as text neck - where your head is tilted downwards and shoulders rounded forwards - is thought to put up to 60lb of extra pressure on your spine). Do you have a problem? There are many signs you may be digitally addicted, including the following: Spending more time on your device than you thought Putting work and other activities aside to spend more time on your device Becoming annoyed if you're interrupted by someone when you're trying to check your device or do something online Spending more time on social media websites or through messaging than socialising with people face to face Making checking messages or emails a priority, even when there's something else you should be doing Becoming defensive about your behaviour, or hiding what you do on your device If you or someone you know has a screen addiction that's starting to affect your or their day-to-day life and possibly health, there are ways to get a better life-tech balance. Here are some tips you can try today: Draw up usage guidelines Establish when and how often you and your family can use your devices. For instance, you could put a time limit per day on using your screens, and once the limit has been reached you must all agree to switch off (or, if available, use the parental controls on your children's devices to limit the amount of time they can be used daily. Similarly, you could create a timetable of activities, and include not just screen time but active and family time too. Tackle boredom If your children complain they're bored without their tablet or games console, organise plenty of activities to keep them occupied, such as sports and other outdoor games. If the weather is keeping you indoors, try getting the whole family involved in board games, take them to a museum, tell stories, or nurture their creative side by organising art or craft based activities. Try to keep yourself busy around the house or in the garden, as it could help you to resist the lure of your smartphone or laptop. Impose tech-free times Try to get into the habit of having set periods of time away from your screens on a regular basis. Perhaps you could make it a rule that mealtimes are smartphone-free periods, or why not have a tech-free day every week (Sundays would be ideal)? Even better, think about having a tech-free week . No screens before bedtime Studies suggest the longer you spend on a smartphone or other digital device before going to bed, the more likely you'll take a long time falling asleep and get less sleep than you need. That's because the bright light of your screen is thought to trigger chemicals in your brain that keep you awake. So think about setting a sensible time to switch off, at least an hour or two before bedtime. Go on a tech-free holiday Digital detox camps - where you hand over all your personal digital devices when you check in - are gaining in popularity in the US. There are no phones, no computers and no tablets, the idea being to forget about the busy life you left behind so that you can relax completely. Why not organise your own digital detox camp? Or simply take a break and leave your devices behind. Your mind and your body may thank you for it. Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.

Jun 25, 2019