There are many definitions out there of what a drug is, simply drugs are substances that change a person’s physical or mental state.
The term 'drug' includes legal and illegal substances such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, heroin, kava, amphetamines, anabolic steroids, cannabis (marijuana), psychoactive pharmaceuticals and inhalants
People use drugs for many reasons—for fun; to feel good, better or different; to block out negative feelings; because they are bored or curious; because their friends or family do it; or because they have a dependence on the drug.
In order to understand the underlying reasons of why Aboriginal people may take drugs we must also understand past histories that are still impacting on generations today.
We must recognise past trauma, grief and loss that Aboriginal people have experienced and still continue to experience today. There were many past government policies such as the assimilation policy, the Stolen Generation, The White Australia Policy, The Aboriginal Protection Boards, the lack of citizenship recognition up until the 1967 Referendum and more. These past policies impacted immensely on Aboriginal way of life and resulted in many circumstances of abuse, poverty, dislocation and disposition, loss of culture and languages, removal from family and kinship ties, loss of identify, social exclusion, inequity and prejudice and much more.
Today, Aboriginal people are still dealing with either the direct or trans-generational trauma of the past and this can have huge impacts on why Aboriginal people consume alcohol or drugs in harmful ways.
Different drugs affect people in different ways. Each drug can be grouped into three main types:
• ‘downers’ (sedatives or depressants),
• ‘uppers’ (stimulants’) and
• ‘sideways’ (hallucinogens).
• Sleeping tablets (benzos)
• Heroin and other opioids
• Some designer drugs like GHB
This group of drugs can slow a person down, make them feel calmer, and may make them sleep better. But downers also carry the risk of slowing a person down so much that they overdose and their breathing slows down or stops.
• Amphetamines – speed, ice
These drugs can make a person feel more lively and awake.
• Magic mushrooms
These types of drugs can change the way a person sees or experiences the world. The person often sees, smells or hears things that aren’t there.
For information about the effects of each drug go to the A – Z of Drugs
A person who is dependent or ‘hooked’ on a drug finds it very hard to stop using. They feel a strong desire to use (cravings), even though they know this is harming their body, their mental wellbeing or their family and community.
A person who is dependent on a drug usually has at least 3 of the following. They:
• have a strong desire (craving) to take the drug
• have given up or are spending less time with family or friends or at work and the drug is becoming ‘number one’
• continue to use the drug even though they know it is causing them harm
• want to cut down or control their drug use but haven’t been able to
• need more of the drug just to feel its effects
• suffer symptoms of withdrawal when they stop using the drug.
If a person repeatedly takes a drug their body becomes used to working with a certain level of the drug in the bloodstream. The body adapts to the drug; that is, the person develops a tolerance to the drug. The person then has to increase their intake of the drug to get the desired effect.
When a person who has been using a drug stops taking it, or reduces the dose, they may experience a physical and/or psychological reaction. This is called withdrawal.
When a person stops taking the drug, they may experience the opposite to the highs the drug originally gave them. Withdrawal can be different for each drug. For example, if a drug like alcohol or benzos makes you sleepy, then in withdrawal you will have trouble sleeping. If a drug like heroin relieves pain, then you are likely to experience pain in withdrawal.
Withdrawal can be very unpleasant, producing symptoms such as tremors, sweating and vomiting, as well as extreme craving. For some drugs and some individuals, medical supervision during withdrawal is necessary.
The strength of the withdrawal varies, depending on:
• the individual person
• the drug they have been using
• how much they have been taking
• how long they have been taking it.
Bad withdrawal symptoms can make it very hard for a person to stop or reduce their drug use.
See Treatment & Support section for information and contact details of services available in NSW.
The material on this page was adapted from:
“Handbook for Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Work”. Download a copy for free at http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/addiction/indigenous/resources/
“A Quick Guide to drugs and alcohol”. Download a copy for free at http://www.druginfo.sl.nsw.gov.au/about/quick_guide_to_drugs_and_alcohol.html