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Drug misuse – in the river or on the bank…

By Kaelanne Jordan,


Families in Action (FIA) is on a campaign to educate society on substance use and highlight the importance of language. The FIA has renamed its Addiction Group programme to the Substance Use/Misuse (SUM) Programme. Gerard Baptiste, Counselling Lead, explained that a significant reason for this change was the language used.

He referred to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition: DSM-5, a book that guides FIA’s profession.

“What would have happened is years ago, when it first came out, substance use fell under a personality disorder. And therefore, the language followed suit. So, we talked about addiction and that sort of thing. As years of research went by, we found that it’s not a personality disorder, it’s a brain disease, and therefore they started to look critically at the treatment, how you’re treating people. Part of what is happening is that there’s a stigma attached to the word addict.”

As such, the DSM-5 no longer classifies it as addiction; it’s now termed substance abuse, which has three categories: mild, moderate, and severe.

He gave the example of someone who consumed 14 cups of coffee a day. “And I tell you ‘you’re addicted’ and you say ‘no, no, that’s coffee’…but perhaps if I tell you, you have an unhealthy relationship with this and I show you why and how, then that’s more palatable,” Baptiste said.

Most of FIA’s clients come from referrals from companies as they are an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider. “So, nine out of ten times people come in kicking and screaming because they were caught…they failed a drug test. So, the first question I would always ask is why? Why are you taking this drug in the first place? Then that starts breaking down the walls. Some people say, ‘well when I was 12’….so then you start to go into giving people education, to get people to understand that if putting a foreign substance into your body every single day, something must happen to you,” Baptiste underscored.


Misconceptions of success

Meanwhile, Vincent Best, FIA facilitator for the SUM programme, observed that clients perceive success as going from smoking ten joints a day to now five.

“You think that’s an achievement. So, it’s a very deceptive thing. So, we have to bring them to the point where there’s no middle ground. Yuh either in the river or on the bank,” he said.

Adding to this, Baptiste emphasised that substance use is a behaviour. “Behaviour is anything that you can observe and measure. So, if you say to me, I drink one cup of coffee. Frequency, a day. And I say okay cool. Caffeine is one of the drugs listed on the DSM-5 as is nicotine, alcohol, and cocaine. If you start telling me you’re having one at 9.30, 9.45, 11, and 12.30, now I’m going to say to you, ‘isn’t it interesting that between 8 and 12, you’ve consumed seven cups of a beverage? What do you think about that?’”

The FIA utilises six criteria to ascertain substance misuse. Among the questions are: Are you craving it? Is it affecting your social relationships? Is it affecting your ability to work? Are you using it, despite the effects?

“Once you meet the six, then we’d say you’re severe, we probably need to send you for inpatient treatment, and if it’s maybe two or three, then we can work with you one-on-one,” Baptiste said.

Responding to clients who resist treatment, Baptiste said that is an everyday occurrence. “What we do is wait for the effects of the marijuana or drug use to kick in and then we may have a talk in three or four years. I leave you to be because it will, it must. There are very few people that take a drug for an extended period of time with no effect,” he said.

Baptiste outlined certain bodily changes from using drugs, with people attributing these changes to old age. “What you’ve done is accelerate the ageing process with the drugs,” he noted.

Best observed an uptick in drug use, especially during Covid-19. “The marijuana use is one of the biggest coping mechanisms. You can’t go outside so you buy in bulk and have it home,” he said.

Both agreed that treatment is a journey. The journey , they said, depends on the client, how long they’ve been using, and their attitude toward using.

“This journey is a never-ending journey,” Best said. “Breaking new ground can be pretty scary,” he added.


If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, contact Families in Action:

  • Telephone: 622-6952,


  • Helpline: 628-2333
  • Email: