‘Getting addicted is not as straightforward as consuming a substance’

PETALING JAYA: The following sounds untrue. Three people can spend a day smoking up drugs in a room, but at the end of it, only one or two will develop an addiction.

The above example flies in the face of what many Malaysians have been led to believe about drugs and substance abuse, but science and history have proven the case to be true.

Counselling psychologist Dr Prem Kumar Shanmugam said this is because getting addicted is not as straightforward as consuming a substance.

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“Just because someone starts using a substance doesn’t mean that it becomes a problem.

“An addiction becomes a problem when your life becomes unmanageable without it,” said Dr Prem Kumar, who founded and runs a chain of treatment centres.

“For instance, some people can’t seem to function when they don’t have a cup of coffee in the morning.

“That is an addiction, although it is not bad as they are still functioning,” he said.

According to Dr Prem Kumar, there are four factors – biological, psychological, social and spiritual – that contribute to addiction.

“Some people’s brains don’t produce enough dopamine – a neurochemical that produces feelings of pleasure – and this makes them biologically more likely to develop an addiction.

“Just like some people are genetically predisposed to getting cancer or hypertension, addiction is the same. Genetics play a role,” he said.

Dr Prem Kumar said the difference between substances that are not illegal, such as caffeine and alcohol, and those that are, such as methamphetamine or heroin, is the intensity of the dopamine hit or high that it produces.

“People who use ice (methamphetamine) say that it is like having 1,000 orgasms. You do it five to six times and the brain sends a signal that you need it. Coffee does the same thing but is not as potent as ice.

“So if you keep exposing your brain to these things – phones, gaming, sex and drugs – over and over again, it will send you a message that your life will become dysfunctional without it,” said Dr Prem Kumar.

He said individuals who suffer from mental disorders such as depression or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are also at higher risk of becoming dependent on substances.

“If you live in an environment where your peers are addicted to substances, such as in some communities where workers abuse stimulants to help them work, you are also more likely to develop an addiction.

Dr Prem Kumar also said religion and faith play a role because a belief system that cultivates good values could heighten self-esteem.

“It is when your self-esteem drops that you start taking drugs to feel better,” he said.

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Anti Drug Agency , substance abuse


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