18 Nov 2020

Changing the narrative of addiction in Australia

Australia's addiction crisis is in the spotlight in an SBS series.
CCS and Turning Point's Dr Shalini Arunogiri comments

Australia’s addiction crisis, is in the spotlight, following the release of a new SBS documentary series, ‘Addicted Australia’.

The four-part series follows the personal journeys of 10 clients, their clinicians, peer support workers, families and friends, and lays bare the challenges faced by families and their loved ones who are searching for a different life.

Monash University partner, Turning Point, has designed the six-month treatment program the clients are undertaking.


Australia is in crisis when it comes to addressing addiction, with around one in 20 Australians having an addiction or substance abuse problem, and costs associated with alcohol and drug-related harms to Australian society exceed $55.2 billion annually.

It is still one of the most stigmatised health conditions in Australia, with prevailing community perceptions and entrenched beliefs that patients are to blame for their condition.

Dr Shalini Arunogiri is Deputy Clinical Director, Turning Point and Deputy Head of Department, Department of Psychiatry in Central Clinical School. Her areas of expertise are trauma, mental health co-morbidity and methamphetamine use, treating addiction on women and medication treatments for addictive disorders. She said, “Nearly 3 in 4 people with addiction have experienced trauma at some point in their lives.

“Few people with co-occurring post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction get specific treatment for trauma - which means people often get trapped in a vicious cycle, where the trauma symptoms perpetuate and maintain the addiction, and vice versa.” 

Dr Arunogiri said that one in three people who use ice regularly have experienced symptoms of psychosis; and nearly one in two report mental illness. Yet treatment for ice use doesn’t always address comorbidity. People fall through the gaps between mental health services and drug and alcohol treatment.

“Standard treatments for addiction have been mostly tested in men - we don’t know if they work as well for women. If women try to quit smoking at particular parts of their menstrual cycle, they will have worse withdrawal. Yet we don’t know how our cycles affect other types of drug use, if and how they might affect withdrawal or recovery.”

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