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I'm in the stress reduction business

1 November 2023

Most of us are occasionally asked the question “So, what do you do?” I usually jump at the opportunity to radically reframe illicit drug use. Why not? Sometimes I say “I work with adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse." This makes space to explain the trauma origins of most chronic illicit substance use. Other times I say “I’m in the stress reduction business.” This makes space to explain how it is that we help people at First Step.

November 1st is International Stress Awareness day. Stress is a factor in all our lives, bar none. Babies stress about contact and food. Elderly people stress about health and mortality . . . and maybe contact and food. In between, well there’s plenty else to stress about. And how does that stress manifest? In our clients, because of the adaptations they have developed to survive things like childhood sexual abuse, stress often leads to increased substance use (quantity and variety). Now, of course there are actual evidence-based ‘treatments’ for substance use disorders, but they are unlikely to succeed if you can’t help a person with their stressors. If however, you meet the many needs on Maslow’s hierarchy (an oldie but a goodie), then stress is inevitably reduced, and harmful substance use almost invariably reduces.

Who would not function better with secure housing (and no risk of incarceration), an income above the poverty line, your physical health (and substance use) being well supported, a safe place to seek help where you are welcomed and respected, a hope-filled perspective that draws on your strengths and the supported opportunity to take control of your life. However, achieving all those things, for many people, requires the dedication of a trans-disciplinary team of empathetic professionals. In our case: GPs and nurses focussed on addiction medicine, psychologists/psychiatrists/mental health nurses, care coordinators, lawyers, group therapists and family therapists. Now there’s a team that can reduce some stress.

Yes, there’s detox and rehab and methadone and cognitive behavioural therapy. But a smiling face, a listening ear, and a person-centred response to your specific needs. That’s priceless.

Patrick Lawrence
Chief Executive Officer