Everyone has an addiction. There are little things that if we didn’t do everyday, would leave us with an uncomfortable feeling, a withdrawal symptom of sorts. Some people go jogging or take a trip to the gym, some go shopping for clothes, others tidy their room. I, for one, cannot communicate with the Englishspeaking world in the morning without a cup of tea and a cigarette. And feel mildly perturbed at the possibility that my Frank Zappa collection has not been placed in some sort of order: be it chronological, biographical, or more recently, by colour. But there is no long term problem with my making sure that the shift from the light green of Joe’s Garage, to the midnight blue of Zoot Allures, is a smooth one. Though for someone who has a significant addiction, long term suffering is the result of dependance on short term benefits. Alcohol, gambling, sex, drugs or eating, which to the majority of people are normal elements of life, are used by addicts to cope with feelings or situations which are otherwise too difficult to endure. Stressful environments are a nightmare to people with such problems. Places like Oxford, where living + here = stress, have the effect of accelerating initial use as a crutch, to abuse, the point at which people find themselves suffering from one of life’s most crippling diseases: addiction. So why isn’t addiction a more commonplace aspect of life here? Oxford has to be one of the worst places for any addict or potential addict to be. Like any university, it is a place where initially no one knows your name – you can become invisible. Coupled with the fact that it’s about four times as hard to succeed here, you will find addicts vanishing before your eyes. One of the essential problems is that Oxford relies on addictive tendencies. Addiction to your degree is the goal. Tutors often stress breaks as an important element to study, but if I was compelled to do an hour’s work before breakfast every morning, life would be so much easier. What happens though, when failure to succeed, social stresses or the general burden of life here, cause you to drink before breakfast, get caned, or miss breakfast altogether and go to the bookies instead? The camouflage of an addiction is made more effective in a university: out of a group of drunk students, how can an outsider, let alone the students themselves, tell the difference between someone who drinking compulsively, and someone who, like most students, just drinks too much Alcoholics Anonymous has twelve questions for young people with worries about alcoholism. If you answer yes one of them, then there is a possibility that you may have a problem you need to address. I’m not alcoholic, but I answered yes seven of the twelve questions. Addictions in Oxford, especially alcohol, can become dangerously swallowed up in ‘student life’. I’ve had to ask questions about my own drinking from time to time, just assure myself that my behaviour that of a typical student, and not an alcoholic. It would help if problems with addiction received more exposure. Unfortunately, most of the coverage they receive is based around celebrities who have addictions, go to The Priory for treatment, or lose the cartillage in their noses from cocaine abuse. For people in the limelight addiction is a tough thing to hide. Alex Higgins sitting at the Embassy World Snooker Championship, weeping into his vodka and orange as people politely made their way out, is a heartbreaking piece of footage. But for many hundreds of thousands of people, there is no camera watching. Universities are not only ideal places to gain a habit, but can also serve to hide them. By the time an addiction becomes so advanced that it can no longer dwell unnoticed under the disguise of ‘student life’, it is too late to simply make lifestyle changes. We need to be acutely aware of the fact that Oxford is an environment which not only lends itself to an addictive lifestyle, but is a place which can merge the distinctions between normality and the chaos of addiction. This clouding of boundaries means that almost unnoticed, people can find themselves in the situation where chaos reigns supreme. Facilities for managing addiction go about as far as the Anonymous groups. OUSU does organise workshops, but unless you’re a JCR Welfare Officer you won’t know about them. To any recovering addict who regularly attends an Anonymous meeting, they owe not only their abstinence to the group, but their life. An Anonymous Group is simply a fellowship of men and women who have joined together to do something about their own addiction. They are based on a self help recovery programme, built around the twelve steps that have been in place for over sixty years. As any Anonymous Group’s literature will tell you, the greatest importance of the twelve steps “lies in the fact that they work”. A Gamblers Anonymous meeting started in Oxford two weeks ago, AA groups run here every day of the week, there are five NA meetings in Oxford and also an SA meeting. If your life has become unmanageable due to addiction, help is at hand. The first of the revered twelve steps of the anonymous programme is this: “we admitted we were powerless over addiction – that our lives had become unmanageable”. How many people feel, at this moment in time, that their life is “unmanageable”? I’d be surprised if anyone studying at Oxford said that their life was ever fully manageable. It is when we cannot manage life, when the level of stress outweighs mechanisms for coping with stress, that we fall apart. The likelihood is that often these coping mechanisms are frequently destructive and addictive, it is woefully apparent that we need to be on our guard. To get in touch with your nearest Anonymous Group meeting, ring the respective national 24hr helpline, who will put you straight through to your region. Gamblers Anonymous 08700 50 88 80 Sexaholics Anonymous 07000 725 463 Narcotics Anonymous 0207 7300009 Alcoholics Anonymous 0845 769 7555.
ARCHIVE: 3rd Week TT 2003