Drug addiction has become a real problem in Romanian society, especially since it manifests itself especially among young people and starts in adolescence. Casino Inside magazine has launched the invitation to be part of the drug prevention information programs and campaigns carried out by the National Anti-Drug Agency (ANA), in order to contribute to the proper information and education of people who, unfortunately, choose to use drugs to “have fun” or “separate themselves from reality” or who choose to “forget their worries” in this way. We believe we can also contribute to the National Drug Prevention Programme in Romania through an information and awareness campaign. The interview with Ms. Carmen Oprea, a renowned ANA specialist in drug prevention, comes as a first step in our efforts to help stop this scourge that destroys generation after generation of young people.
Ms. Oprea, you work as a specialist of the National Anti-Drug Agency in drug prevention and you have even been rewarded recently with an excellence award for the successful implementation of the Space Safe programme. What is this programme about? Why is it so important to prevent instead of treat? What is the essential difference between the two situations?
Since 2005, when I started working at the National Anti-Drug Agency, I have worked on both levels of our field of activity, both in prevention and assistance to drug users. As a psychologist my work is mostly oriented towards helping people who use drugs, but I can say that the experience I have in the area of prevention helps me in setting benchmarks when dealing with adolescents who have a problem with drug use. Starting in March 2022, the National Anti-Drug Agency is implementing the national prevention project SAFE SPACE, which aims to counsel minors who use drugs and their families and refer them to other specialised services, in situations where drug use is only one side of a complex of problems (depression, suicide risk, alcoholism, other mental disorders). The project actually came into being in 2019, following requests from public institutions (DGASPCs, emergency units) that were besieged by cases of psychoactive substance abuse. The National Anti-Drug Agency already had integrated addiction care centers providing services for opioid-dependent users, but the profile of drug users has changed significantly in recent years. As the age of first use has decreased and the types of drugs preferred by users have changed, services have had to adapt to the specific needs of users. Psychological counselling is the only therapeutic alternative for addiction induced by other drugs, except alcohol and opioid addiction. The difference between the two levels of our work is made by the type of beneficiaries in the first place. According to national and international prevention standards, prevention activities take place 2 years before the average age of onset. This means that beneficiaries of prevention programmes have not yet started using drugs, and those who are at risk or have only experimented are addressed through selective and targeted prevention programmes. People who are already using drugs are assessed and included in support services at the request of themselves, their families or the public institutions responsible for this.
You said in a recent press article that the main group of people who fall prey to this scourge, drug use, are teenagers, especially those in difficult situations. But we know that this life-destroying addiction can influence a person’s destiny in their 20s, 25s and 30s. How can we prevent this? Through education, self-control or how?
Adolescence is the period when drug use usually starts, because this is when the process of separation from parents, oppositional and risk-taking behaviour occur. For a teenager who uses psychoactive substances or has other potentially addictive attitudes, the risk of developing further addictions after the end of this stage is very high because a series of mental mechanisms are already in place that favour addiction and can be triggered later in similar circumstances. Prevention must take place before experimentation or exposure to substances through coping skills training programs first. Long-term effectiveness is predominantly on these types of interventions, and information on the effect of substances, especially if exposure has already occurred, is minimal.
Every young person says “let me try…”, “what can happen?” before they get “serious” about drugs. It all starts with someone suggesting that we make this life-changing gesture. What do we do when we are in this situation? How can we extract ourselves from a bad environment?
The obvious answer is not to try. Some psychoactive substances can be addictive from the first doses. In terms of social environment, it is important to understand that teenagers tend to get into groups of people who engage in risky behaviour. Until ‘pulling out of a bad crowd’ we need to teach teenagers how to enter into friendships that benefit them. Friendships are often formed on the basis of shared interests, but a teenager with low self-esteem will seek out the company of people who appear to engage in adult-like behaviour, such as smoking and using alcohol or other drugs because they seem stronger. The moment we realize that we are in the wrong environment, we must learn to set boundaries. Accepting the suggestions of others at the expense of one’s own needs or interests indicates an impressionable personality in constant need of external validation.
Drug users often find themselves in a vicious circle. They are not aware that they really have a problem, and do not ask for help, and then gradually denial of the problem sets in and the general situation rapidly worsens. What do we do? How can we help (us/them)?
Motivation for change is extremely important when talking about substance addiction. Many consumers try to quit just to avoid disappointing their parents or because peer pressure is too strong. But this kind of motivation is not enough to bring about long-term change. Specialised services, especially those offered in an integrated system (medical, psychological and social), can provide an appropriate framework for assessing motivation to change behaviour, and constant therapeutic support, regardless of the time chosen, is sufficient to ensure psychological and medical balance.
When is it time to ask for help when we realize we have a problem? Because we are often ashamed to do this, we don’t accept the fact that we have a situation we can no longer control…and we put off asking for help for a long time, during which time we continue to consume, continue to degrade our bodies and minds…
Any time is a good time to seek expert support. Addiction (mental and physical) is difficult to address without adequate support. There are many public, private, free or discounted resources available that can be accessed when we become aware that this behaviour is becoming a problem.
How can we spot someone in our group of friends who has a drug problem? How can we test ourselves to find out if we are prone to this vice?
A person who has a problem, especially if they are part of our entourage, will certainly behave differently, a change will be noticed. They often distance themselves from old friends, passions or things they once considered important lose importance, seek new friends and new situations, may experience sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, neglect of clothing or personal hygiene, significant mood swings for no apparent reason. Addiction is a disorder that is based on a complex of often interrelated reasons. It may be a genetic predisposition, it may come as a result of a pattern taken up by imitation, it may come as a result of the alleviation of unpleasantness due to anxiety, depression, eating or sleeping disorders. In other words, even if there were a test that told us the degree of risk for addiction, it would be irrelevant because it is a choice and it is in our control whether or not we become addicted or what we do from the moment we become addicted.
And our magazine is defending its work in an area where many people are letting their lives be changed by the addiction of gambling for money, not understanding that you can’t get rich in the casino floors, just have a good time. Unfortunately, they are two similar areas in some ways and there are situations where a person struggles with two or more problems at the same time. What should we advise gambling operators to do when they encounter a situation like this? Who should they turn to? How to do it?
Gambling addiction is often linked to drug addiction. It is less important whether a person has only one of the two addictions or both, the important thing is to seek specialist help and to go to specialists who have experience in addictions. It is important to remember that a person can only be helped if they want to be helped. Operators can provide leaflets, information booklets and contact details for available resources, and people who want and feel they need them can access them at the appropriate time.