Updated: Jun 4
As the world grapples with the unprecedented impact of COVID-19, doctors and pharmacists are beginning to notice a worrying trend that could lead to a further loss of life.
With many forced to stay home and endure the stress of mounting bills with a loss of income, prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication and sleeping pills have risen, prompting the need for caution around the abuse of drugs.
In this blog post, we take a closer look at the stressors prompting an uptake in drugs and alcohol, and offer some healthier alternatives to managing stress and insomnia.
Understanding the human mind
Our bodies and minds have come a long way since the age of the caveman.
From hunting for food and fighting with bears, to avoiding conversations and constantly comparing ourselves to others, the human mind has evolved to accommodate the sheer pace and complexity of modern life.
As Dr. Russ Harris explains, our very existence has been intensified by this idea of a "never-ending to do list", making it extremely difficult to stop every once in a while and smell the roses.
Coupled with the uncertainty and distress of the global pandemic and an economic downturn, it is no surprise that more and more Australians are turning to drugs to help switch off.
“We know anecdotally in our community that people are hoarding prescription medicines...” said Leone Crayden, Chief Executive of The Buttery Rehabilitation Centre in Byron Bay, New South Wales.
"It’s early days yet, but this is what is happening and I just hope governments are aware of it."
Drugs aren't the only substance being abused either.
According to a recent survey by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, a third of Australians are buying alcohol daily and approximately seventy per cent are consuming more alcohol than normal.
The link between stress and substance abuse has been well established for many years, but insufficient awareness and action has led to an increasing number of deaths in Australia each year.
Playing with fire
It would be easy to presume that a drug or alcohol overdose would not happen to you, but the hard truth is that it can happen to anyone; from hoodlums and outcasts to conservatives and white-collar professionals.
Last year, a report commissioned by public health organisation, the Penington Institute, revealed an alarming fourty per cent increase in the number of Australians dying from accidental drug overdose.
The report goes on to say that sleep and anxiety pills are the second most common group found in accidential overdoses and that the subsequent number of deaths has doubled since 2008.
"It's time to call this what it is: Australia's very own overdose crisis," said John Ryan, CEO of the Penington Instiute.
"Make no mistake, it's a crisis that's getting worse."
Australians are also being put on notice for their excessive alcohol consumption.
In fact, a study of almost 80 years of health records, reveals that slashing our weekly intake of alcohol by five standard drinks could reduce the cancer death rate by 12% over 20 years.
That equates to roughly 5,500 people a year!
If this is any indication, Australians are seriously underestimating the danger of substance abuse and are urged to consider healthier alternatives for managing stress and sleep deprivation.
Tips for managing insomnia and anxiety
There are a variety of things we can do to curtail our dependency on drugs and alcohol, starting with a few lifestyle changes.
According to clinical neurophsyiologist and sleep medicine specialist, Minesh Morker, poor sleep hygiene is extremely common for victims of insomnia and anxiety, but can be easily addressed.
Simply turning off our mobile devices an hour or two before bed time, can make a significant difference as it encourages the production of melatonin (the hormone that aids sleep).
Similarly, regular exercise during the day has proven to enhance our sleep quality on a level comparable to therapy and medication.
It's also important to monitor your daily intake of sugar and saturated fats. A diet with high fibre is often recommended for victims of insomnia and may make all the difference to your quality of life.
In many cases, the safest and most effective way to treat insomnia and anxiety will involve a combination of different therapies.
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