Comment & Analysis
Oct 23, 2015

What Addiction Means to Students

Many university students have a complicated relationship with substance use and abuse.

James ShawDeputy Opinion Editor

Addiction afflicts all layers of our society. There is no small town or village in Ireland which hasn’t faced some sort of addiction issue within the community. It’s a universal problem, found both hidden within families and openly witnessed on the street.

Apart from one Premier League season, the only addiction that has been problematic in my life is smoking. Of course, problematic is a subjective term and what may seem problematic to an outsider may seem perfectly normal to the individual. People tend to associate with those who share similar beliefs and someone who is addicted will often socialise with others who share that addiction. Behaviour that could be considered unhealthy may therefore seem normal within that social circle and the addict sees no reason to stop.

As a smoker, I enjoyed smoking. That was the whole point. It would be futile to do something harmful to your health if you weren’t getting any enjoyment from it. Therein lies a point worth addressing: namely, that drugs can be fun. If they weren’t, why would people keep using them? With this mindset, the user can ask themselves if they are enjoying the activity and whether the pros outweigh the cons. Ultimately, this paves the way for more informed decision making, rather than the reductionist adage fed to kids that all drugs are bad. The key lies in making a personal cost-benefit analysis in relation to one’s patterns of consumption, as one might do to assess their drinking levels. After all, alcohol and tobacco are drugs – as harmful if not more so than a host of their illegal counterparts. Such were the results of a 2010 study published in The Lancet which found that alcohol and tobacco were each more harmful to both users and others than drugs such as LSD, ecstasy and cannabis.

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With college life opening up new experiences and opportunities, it comes as no surprise that a significant number of students dabble in smoking and other drugs. However, as evidenced by the range of addiction services available through the Welfare Office, addiction can quickly become a problem for many people. What spurred me on to quit smoking was witnessing a close family member suffering from a serious lung illness. It made the decision clear in my mind: whatever enjoyment I got from smoking simply was not worth the potential suffering that could follow. And so, at the centre of solutions to addiction must be recognition of the fact that the decision to take and the decision not to take both lie in the hands of the user. This is in sharp contrast with the hopelessness many people feel when addiction takes over. The provision of addiction services, together with the acknowledgement of the positives and negatives associated with the particular activity, makes people more informed about their behaviour, allowing for a rational approach to their decision-making.

The key to overcoming addiction lies with the individual. It comes down to the desire to stop. As soon as that desire is greater than appeal of the substance, it is then that the addict becomes empowered to overcome their addiction.
But what exacerbates the problem is when addiction is stigmatised, be it through denial or open condemnation. Addiction should be treated as an ailment, as one would treat the flu. Fortunately, college is an open and accepting environment where there are resources to help alleviate the challenges that addicts face. Students’ Union president, Lynn Ruane, is someone who is familiar with the problems facing addicts, having been involved in addiction treatment projects such as Bluebell Outreach and Community Addiction Response Programme. This experience formed part of her campaign manifesto and, now that she has taken office, we can assume that the College, or at least the SU, are more motivated to tackle addiction than they have ever been. The Student Counselling Service offers a range of supports, including a drop-in counselling service and the more casual Peer Support programme. Its website contains links for services such as Alcoholics Anonymous and reachout.ie, while it also has courses available to deal with related issues like anxiety and depression. With students being a social group associated with the use of drugs, illicit or otherwise, it is crucially important that such supports are strengthened and maintained.

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