SINGAPORE — For those of us who associate addiction with illicit drugs and bad behaviour, it might be surprising to know that those treating addicts see the term from a different perspective.
“The clinical definition doesn’t use the word ‘addiction’ at all. In my field we talk about mental disorders,” said addictions psychotherapist Adrew da Roza during his appearance on Yahoo News Singapore’ “On The Mic” podcast.
“We define, for example, alcoholism or addiction to alcohol as an alcohol use disorder. Just as we define cigarette use as a tobacco use disorder, or substance use disorder if it’s another kind of drug,” he added.
During the interview, da Roza also touched on the types of addiction cases he has seen in Singapore – ranging from gambling to sex addiction – based on his work in private practice with Promises Healthcare and as chairman of We Care Community Services, a charity-based addictions treatment centre.
Here are five things we learnt about addiction from our conversation:
1. Cultural barriers
From his experience practising in Singapore, da Roza said that the stigma surrounding being labelled an addict is a big factor that hinders people from seeking treatment for their addictions.
“Within society, particularly within families, there’s a great reluctance to go see a therapist. A great reluctance for their children to go see a therapist…
“So when people come in (to my clinic), they’re carrying a huge amount amount of shame and a lot of unwillingness to communicate and get behind all that shame.
“There’s also somewhat of a social problem here in Singapore, where people are reluctant to express their feelings anyway… That’s a cultural barrier,” he said.
2. Pandemic’s impact
While the COVID-19 pandemic may have led some drug addicts to seek treatment as their supply of illegal narcotics dried up, it has also led others to develop addictions while spending more time at home, said da Roza.
“People who are confined are going to be smoking more, and drinking more, and using the internet more. So that means internet gambling, and pornography and over-shopping.
“They use these activities because they are trying to manage their stress, manage boredom, manage their fear and anxiety and also manage the friction of relationships within their households...
“Now I thought that the flow of clients would slowly dissipate as we opened up. That just has not been the case,” he noted.
3. Porn, a global problem
Highlighting how addiction to pornography sometimes goes under the radar, da Roza pointed to an earlier study from Japan that showed how 30 per cent of heterosexual males aged 18 to 25 had “no desire to have a sexual partner”.
“They are so steeped into porn, they don’t even have sexual functioning... That statistic is totally mirrored in the US and Europe,” he added, while also speculating that the same could likely be true in Singapore.
“The sexual dysfunction (arising) from pornography is a global problem. As is the inability to connect with the opposite sex, if you’re heterosexual, or same sex, if you’re not. This is a major public health problem, no doubt,” said da Roza.
4. Are people slaves to addiction?
Asked about whether sex addicts who end up committing crimes have any control over their behaviour, da Roza said, “If someone is acting out, as we call it, and it’s illegal – voyeurism, frotteurism, exhibitionism – I’m compelled to do it.
“Now I may compartmentalise the fact that there are victims, I may convince myself that there are no victims if I don’t get caught... but it’s not that I can’t figure out that this is a crime, that I could get caught, that the repercussions could be horrible to me. I just do it anyway.”
5. What can be done?
On how the authorities in Singapore can do more to tackle addiction, da Roza pointed to public education as a key factor.
He noted that this includes educating people on the responsible use of alcohol; better instruction in schools about sexuality, sensuality and healthy intimacy; as well as having more parental engagement in sex education.
Pointing to the government’s See The True Me campaign, which encourages people to see past others’ disabilities, da Roza suggested that this be expanded to those suffering from addiction issues as it could help erase some of the stigma blocking them from seeking treatment.
“I think the final thing is that we can’t continue to keep ratcheting up laws and making things more punitive. Because people with addictions do not respond to punitive measures. They have a proclivity not to respond to punitive measures...
“(We) have to find a much better solution than just ratcheting up laws and throwing people in jail for long periods of time for upskirting and so on,” he added.
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