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Total abstinence refers to complete abstinence from alcohol, drugs or any other substances which alters one’s behaviour. The key word ‘abstinence’ might scare away a lot of people, especially those who are still in the early stages of their recovery. It is normal for both the body and mind, to feel as if you would do anything in the world, except stopping your alcohol or drug addiction.

People who drink or use excessively do this for several reasons, however those who seek out help have one problem in common, they find it hard to stop using. For a lot of people, it is not simply learning how to resist the temptation to drink or use, although this is indeed imperative, but also learning about how to manage their life, socially, psychologically and emotionally rather than rely on substance use.

Perhaps one question a lot of people ask themselves is why is total abstinence necessary? Why cannot a person have just one drink or use once?

What we know is that after someone develops addiction, which is a chronic illness, the simplest and most effective way of treating it is total abstinence. It is much easier not to use rather than to punish yourself by trying to moderate or control your use. Studies back up this idea and mention that the number one success factor when dealing with addiction, is a permanent commitment with yourself. One would be ready to take this pledge only after facing enough consequences themselves and actively decided that they want to change.

One important feature that helps total abstinence to be successful is not to commit yourself until you truly are committed on staying on the sober life journey. Moreover, the person must also acknowledge that commitment towards sobriety is not an easy endeavour and therefore, it cannot be perfect. The reality of addiction is that there could be relapses along the way. Others might not go through relapses. Commitment also refers to a certain perspective both in times of happiness and growth but also in times of trouble.

Relapses are not all doom and gloom. They could serve as life lessons for the future and are not equivalent to failure. One way to learn from relapses is to ask oneself what has made it easy for this relapse to happen. In this case, commitment has not been necessarily thrown out of the window, but rather, needs to be reset.

It also helps to analyse what will be gained from living a life of total abstinence, especially, when compared to the misery and pain, addiction will bring to one’s life.

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The 26th of June commemorates the Word Day Against Drugs and Illicit Trafficking. This day has been established by the United Nations, with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) director issuing a message each year to direct efforts related to the eradication of substance abuse and illicit trafficking. The motto for this year is “Share Facts on Drugs, Save Lives”.

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Honesty means being aware of the truth. For a person to implement honesty into their life, they need to admit, accept and respond to the truth around them. It is also an essential part of an addict’s recovery process as its effects can help people leading them to a clean and sober lifestyle.

In the same way honesty is integral to recovery, denial is just as an intrinsic aspect in active addiction, which is, when a person is still using drugs and alcohol.  Although lying and denial may sound as though they are the same, they are actually two distinct notions. When a person lies, they are doing so intentionally and consciously but when a person is in denial, they believe that they are telling the truth.

Denial is primarily a defense mechanism, meaning that its function is to protect the person from becoming aware of something that may cause them pain and emotional turmoil. Since this defense mechanism is unconscious, unless a person becomes aware that they are in denial, they would not be able to start working on it during their recovery process.

Accepting that you are an addict can be a very difficult process because you might be afraid of the stigma related with addiction or that people will perceive you as weak-willed. A person might also be hesitant of accepting their addiction because the idea of total abstinence and accepting that they have no control over their addiction is too difficult to accept. Denial plays a major part in addiction, which is why honesty is equally as important in recovery.

While being honest with the people around us is important, being honest with ourselves is even more so. In order to do this, one would need to be objective and rational. A person will achieve self-honesty once they are able to accept and love themselves in their true nature. Self-honesty is not an easy thing to do as it requires us to acknowledge the things we would much rather forget. It is also not something that will take place overnight and in order to do it, one needs to put aside all the things they wish for themselves because this will enable them to see a clear picture of who they truly are as a person.

The principle of honesty is also the foundation of the 12 Step Program as several of the steps focus on honesty with ourselves, with others and with our Higher Power. In fact, honesty is crucial in the First Step because this is when the addict admits that they have become powerless over their addiction and life has become unmanageable. The saying that “we’re only as sick as our secrets” also has a significant purpose in the 12 Step Program because keeping secrets and being dishonest is a big impediment in recovery.

Unless a person truly looks at their addiction with honesty, they will not be able to realize that their addiction has grown beyond their control. By being able to admit this, a person will be able to start moving forward and regain control over their lives as they break through the cycle of denial and addiction. This is the first step towards recovery.

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Stigma is driven by the pejorative words, the labels, that are used to describe us.

Until we are seen as people, until we are provided the same respect and dignity as everyone else, we will continue to die.

Addiction is far more complex than people make it look like – do you call a person who is suffering from a chronic illness a bad person? No. Every day, we come across people who are finding it hard to ask for help leading them to more consequences in life, to a point where they see no hope in life anymore. The words ‘addict’, ‘clean and sober’, and ‘recovery’ does not reduce the stigma, unless society start seeing the addict as a person, with a mind, body, and soul.

Why the comparison with chronic illness you say? Addiction is not a choice; a person does not wake up in the morning and decides to be an addict. Addiction is a chronic disease and should be viewed in the same way as we view any other chronic disease.

Addiction is a disease that crushes the soul and is often accompanied by deceitful and irresponsible behavior, taking a toll on relationships. Society is very easy to judge and blame the addict for such radical behavior instead of focusing on the disease that is causing the behavior. Being shunned and disowned by family, friends and society only contributed to greater shame, guilt, and self-blame. Addicts continue to be blamed for their disease, even though, long ago, medicine reached a consensus that addiction is a complex brain disorder with behavior components, having a genetic predisposition, as well as a ranged of environmental factors, especially those that occur in early childhood.

Let’s change the stigma around addiction and the addict, and start helping the person rather than degrading them more. Yes, we all do mistake but some of us do seek help and we try to make amends for our wrongs. We do our best to help people develop a deeper understanding of themselves, to accept and love themselves. But we need society’s help in this as well! Our work is not enough if society keeps marginalizing them. “It’s not the drugs that make a drug addict, but the need to escape reality” so let’s not make reality hard for them but instead become more accepting.

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On Saturday 26th of June 2021, a thanksgiving ceremony, presided by the President of Malta, H.E. George Vella and the First Lady, was held at the OASI Centre to commemorate the OASI Foundation’s 30th anniversary. The 26th of June is also the International Day against Drug Abuse. The President awarded the Director General Fr Emmanuel Cordina with the OASI Foundation award, for his years of service towards OASI and society.

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OASI Foundation is not against the person who uses any kind of psychoactive substances.

OASI Foundation does not agree with the use of any psychoactive substances for the socialization, relaxation or feel-good purposes.

OASI Foundation has been promoting healthy and natural approaches and methods to gain satisfaction, relaxation and long-term life enjoyment rather than reverting to drugs and addictive behaviours.

OASI Foundation views this White Paper in the light of normalization, which is a non-static phenomenon, and hence forewarns that other psychoactive substances will, in due time, be impelled the same route.

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The organisations mentioned express their grave concern about a number of reforms proposed in the White Paper on the 'responsible use of Cannabis'. This White Paper proposes a fundamental shift in direction towards further acceptance of the culture of use of Cannabis.

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Chris Bonnici from the Primary Prevention Team was recently interviewed by Newsbook about OASI's work in the community, the basis of the treatment for addiction offered, and how the pandemic has affected the Foundation and those who seek its help. 

You can watch the interview on Newsbook.

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Here, together, we are issuing this statement as our contribution to the public discussion:

Positive Developments:

  • ESPAD (Sedqa, 2019) indicates that 12% of 15-year-olds said that they have tried cannabis in their lives. This rate has remained stable since 2015. In fact, there has been a slight decrease. This rate is much lower than the European average. This augurs well and indicates that when the policy on the personal use of cannabis was not changed, the rate was maintained.
  • The 2014 Drug Dependence (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act was an effective law and a step forward for persons caught with small quantities for personal use, who now appear before the commissioners for justice and are given a warning or a contravention. Due to the changes in the law there has been a drastic reduction in people being sentenced to prison for personal use unless on a series of other cases. This law has also led to dozens of people with serious drug cases and drug addiction seeking help instead of being sentenced to prison.
  • In Malta there is a wide range and substantial investment by the state and voluntary organizations, on services for drug abusers. These services will be greatly strengthened through the opening of the Tal-Ibwar Therapeutic Center for Adolescents, funded by the Government.
  • Steps have been taken in Malta in the field of medicinal use, through which one already has access for the substance if it can be of help to persons in particular conditions.

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A recent interview with social workers working in the field of addiction, including OASI CE Noel Xerri, focused on the rise in the use of crack cocaine in Malta and its effects.  The interview also looked into how people report starting to use cocaine, and the differences between the use and effects of cocaine powder and crack cocaine.

Press Coverage: