By Elizabeth Zakaim
Over winter break, I volunteered at a detox unit in my local hospital. Though I was only there for a few weeks, I learned so much more than I expected to.
I didn’t know what I was getting into when I was buzzed through the hospital doors on the first day. The long hallways of the unit reminded me of a cross between a dormitory and a prison. Counselors and doctors shuffled up and down the hallways, buried deep in their caseloads.
Patients of all ages paced about the common room, pouring themselves orange juice while trading stories of their pasts and plans for their futures.
I was given more responsibility than I thought I would be given, which I was extremely grateful for. I was able to shadow different counselors and learn about their responsibilities. Each counselor was assigned 10 cases a day — 10 patients they had to meet with to discuss which long term rehabilitation programs they would be eligible for and different medications they could take to help curb their addictions.
I was also able to help conduct intakes, where counselors interviewed new admitants about their history of drug use and their plans for future care.
While there was so much to learn, what stuck with me the most during my experience was the mental illnesses that most patients suffered from alongside their addictions.
A lot of events in these patients’ lives contributed to their unhealthy coping habits, drug use included, as a reaction to the stressors in their lives. Some patients also suffered from anxiety and depression over their current circumstances. While most wanted to move past their addiction, many found themselves forming a permanent cycle –– they would enter detox, move onto rehab and stay clean for a little while only to fall off the wagon over and over again.
But unhealthy habits range far from just drug addiction. Everyone falls into detrimental cycles of their own — excessively eating, shopping and many other activities can hurt us more than they help.
Younger generations are more likely to report experiencing high levels of stress than older adults, according to the American Psychological Association. Whether our stress comes from our relationships, work or school, it’s important that we build healthy habits early on that help us confront our stressors instead of suppressing or avoiding them.
Unhealthy habits manifest differently for everyone, and in order to combat the causes for those habits, it’s important to find coping mechanisms that give us the strength to solve the problems that so often wear us down.