This article was originally published on Vocal, by me. I have opted to republish here to have all of the Addiction series in the same place. I have made some changes to the original version. To read the original, you can go here- “Addiction: Why You Should Care”
Addiction tears you apart.
You can almost give it human personality traits. It’s so complex and unique to each addict. Like people, the basics are pretty much the same. Humans all have a body of some sort. Most have hair, skin, eyes, etc., but not everyone has all of these things, and even if they do, they can be dramatically different.
Addiction is similar because everyone has their “story,” or reason why/how their addiction started. Some are as basic as they just wanted to fit in with a certain crowd; others are much darker and tragic, but there is always a reason. Addressing that underlying cause must be done to ever gain control of it
Like a new, but toxic, relationship, the first interactions with the drug are fun and exciting, or sometimes even relaxing.
With addiction, once you’ve made it to a certain point in your dependency, the “why” doesn’t really matter anymore, because your drug of choice becomes the “why.” Like a new, but toxic, relationship, the first interactions with the drug are fun and exciting, or sometimes even relaxing. It feels sooo good to just let reality be on hold for a little while when the drug is in your system.
If you’re using recreationally–when you first start out, you only do it occasionally, and you feel just fine the day after, or whenever the high wears off. Maybe you only do it on the weekend at first, and you’re still able to go to work all week without any problems. You’re keeping up with your responsibilities, and all is well.
After all, you’re just having fun.
When It Changes From Fun To Addiction
Then, you start feeling anxious during the week and can’t hardly wait until your weekend “relaxation time.” Pretty soon, the yearning for the drug starts consuming your thoughts, making you distracted. The yearning gets worse, and the drug starts affecting every decision you make, and you decide you need to start using daily.
Sometimes, this part starts out subtly at first, and the addict doesn’t even consciously realize they’re letting the yearning for that drug affect their thinking.
Once they do realize, they’ll find ways to justify their actions (i.e. “Work is so exhausting, I need something to keep me going,” “There’s so much housework, I have to keep up.”) Everyone does this when they notice behavior in themselves they don’t really like–whether it’s drugs, a shopping habit, overeating, or something else. Addicts become masters of rationalizing their drug use. Every addict thinks they have it under control, and sometimes they do–until they don’t.
For recreational users, their “fun and relaxation” use will eventually add more stress and tragedy to their lives. For the ones who aren’t in it just for the fun, many times, it starts out as a way to keep up with life, or deal with anxiety, so they’re able to work. Rarely, if ever, does anyone start taking a drug thinking, “I want to be a drug addict.” They’re usually either trying to find a solution to a problem (i.e. anxiety, exhaustion, back pain, etc.,) or trying to cover up their emotions, but don’t want to go to a doctor, because of the stigma related to their issue, or they can’t get a doctor to prescribe what they really need (or want, in some cases,) so they get it elsewhere.
They take it as a solution, then they start becoming dependent on that solution, and eventually the solution can turn into the problem, and create a destructive cycle.
If you’re addicted, the urge for the drug WILL eventually make you start lying to friends and family. Even if it’s just lying about using the drug, or how much they’re taking. They start as little white lies at first, but they always end up as major, out of control lies that hurt everyone around them.
When It Starts Getting Bad
As the addiction gets worse, they start hanging out less with their “normal” friends, and more with people associated with the drug of choice, or people who can give them the money they need for their habit, or encourage their drug use. As they go deeper and deeper into addiction, they’ll do anything for the next fix, because the need for that drug is motivating every move they make. It has changed the way their brain does problem-solving, and other critical thought processes.
As many addicts get far enough into their dependency, and start running out of earning and borrowing options, they’ll resort to stealing what they need from whoever happens to have it. Friends and family will start distancing themselves to avoid the destructive behavior. It destroys all of the healthy relationships and leaves only the bad ones that are usually drug-based somehow.
When an addict is really dependent on an illegal or controlled substance, and has children, the potential for hurting them while drugged up is very high. Whether they intend to, or not, they will almost definitely neglect them at some point, even if it’s something they would never dream of doing sober, because, again, critical thinking is affected, and it’s not just THEM making decisions–the drug has a huge influence on them, and eventually the drug will their your mind to focus on it, when they should be focusing on the kids. Once noticed, CPS will get involved, and the kids could potentially be put into foster care, taken away from everyone they’ve ever known.
As a drug addict, you lose everything that matters in life, but most of the time, you can’t even care, because you’re focused on how to get more drugs.
Once you’re THAT dependent on something, it starts becoming less of a choice and more survival instinct. They need more and more just to get high. Eventually, they aren’t even getting high–they’re just getting well.
Then they start chasing stronger and stronger drugs, and doing more, trying to get that feeling they now need, just to function normally. Eventually, they end up doing so much that they overdose and either die, or get “narcanned” back. Yes, it can take years to get to that point, but it can also take just a few weeks or days depending on the drug, family history, and other risk factors.
If you’re interested in reading about how seriously your family history and other risk factors can affect addiction, you can go here- “Why It’s Crucial To Know Your Family History: and How NOT Knowing Could Destroy You Life”
It can happen before you realize
Maybe they didn’t become addicted due to recreational use, or by getting things to control medical issues without going to a doctor. Maybe they DID go to a doctor. In that case, things can look differently, but the end result can be much the same, if the person doesn’t realize what is happening, or isn’t capable of controlling themselves, or no one ever emphasizes the risk factors to them.
For addicts with a traumatic injury or chronic illness, it usually starts with a prescription for pain medication after the injury or diagnosis. In the beginning, they listen to everything the doctor says, and take the meds sparingly, and only as needed. They feel like they are helping, because it allows them to be able to function almost normally again, or at least better than before.
One problem that develops when taking opiate pain medicine for an extended period of time, is tolerance. After awhile of the same dosage, have to increase your dosage. How quickly can vary from person to person, but at some point, you find yourself needing to up the dosage and frequency of your medicine. Most patients just seeking relief do this through the doctor at first, still following the directions on the bottle.
Once the doctor has worked them up as far as they are willing to, that’s when the dependency on the drug can turn into a full blown addiction, instead of just a tool to increase the quality of life for chronic pain patients.
It starts out slow. They start taking them more as directed than as needed to keep them working. After a while of that, they have to take them more often than directed. Eventually, they’re running out before the next refill, because the meds just don’t work as long, or as well, as they used to. It can take only a couple of months to get to this point, or it can take years. It just depends on the person, their pain, and their doctor.
However long it takes, once they’re there and feel like they just can’t get any relief with what the doctor is prescribing, they start getting desperate. Desperate for any type of relief, from both the pain and withdrawals from the meds. At this point, they aren’t just sick because of the physical dependency to the pain meds. On top of that, they have to deal with the pain they were trying to get relief from in the first place, AND horrible nausea caused by the severe pain, and so many other symptoms- it’s just ridiculous.
When the pain gets horrible
You get desperate when it’s that bad, and no one has a workable solution. More desperate than you can imagine. The result is pain patients turning to street drugs to get relief for multiple reasons. Either they can’t get the doctor to give them the pain medicine they believe works the best, can’t find, or afford, to get the actual medicine on the streets, or they think they need something stronger than what is available legally, because their body is telling them nothing is working. It’s a vicious cycle that creates a very real dilemma.
When authorities realized how opiates had created such a problem, they decided to change, and/or eliminate, the strongest of the pain medications. Their intentions were to curb the opioid crisis, but instead, they pushed the addicts, who had become addicted truly because they were trying to control pain, to start using heroin and fentanyl. Both drugs are powerful, readily available, and cheap, compared to purchasing pills on the street. Switching over to heroin turns the addicted pain patient into a full-blown junkie, and any sliver of their “normal” life goes out the window. These kinds of addicts will only grow in number and severity if they keep making it hard for chronic pain patients to get appropriate medication for managing their pain. I will be releasing an entire piece on this subject very soon. I will link here when it’s available.
People want to lump all drug addicts together, and many even want to write them all off. “Let them die,” is a phrase I’ve seen in far too many comments on articles concerning drug overdoses lately. It disturbs me, because every single one of these addicts are people with families. They are someone’s child, sibling, and possibly even parent. Aside from that–they are human beings. Just that one fact alone should mean we all need to have compassion, and work to help get them in treatment. Not laugh at them, or look on in disgust while watching them die.
If you’re one of those people who believe all drug addicts are worthless, I challenge you to go actually hang out with a few people who are in active recovery, and those who have managed to maintain their sobriety for an extended period of time. Go to a few meetings they have for friends and family of recovering addicts, and talk to the ones who regularly help with those things.
Ask if they know of others willing to speak with you and just listen to their stories. Then ask what they’ve accomplished since they’ve been sober. You’ll be surprised at some of the answers you get. Yes, there are plenty of addicts who relapse, and some that resist recovery completely, but there are so many who make it out alive, and go on to do wonderful things. Many dedicate their lives to helping others get out of active addiction, because they know that people who haven’t experienced it can’t truly understand.
The newest “solution” by authorities to curb the opioid epidemic is to now try to talk pain patients into not using opiates. They want them to switch to non-narcotic pain medications, physical therapy, and pain acceptance. That last one really gets me because most of the people saying these things don’t have chronic pain. It’s easy for them to say that when they don’t have to live it.
Basically, they’re saying that because they aren’t willing to make stricter monitoring programs for patients, pharmacies, and doctors, and enforce them, educate people starting in elementary and continuing through adulthood, and put in the time to retrain physicians, the quality of life will be greatly reduced for many in the disabled community. That is just going to INCREASE the current heroin and fentanyl problem, whether authorities understand that, or not. There simply isn’t a quick fix like society wants. It has to be a cultural shift in the way we approach the subject.
Whether they’re addicted because of recreational use, or because they were trying to get out of pain, it can still lead to the same conclusion–once to that point, an addict will get their fix, no matter what they have to do. Take away their drug of choice, and they’ll find another until the reason for their addiction is addressed and they decide they are ready to be clean.
We Need Real Solutions
Focusing on treating the underlying causes of addiction, seriously educating our society at all ages, revamping the way the entire industry handles pain medicines, and how they are monitored and prescribed, and focusing on getting addicts into recovery, is how to fight this epidemic. Authorities think they understand the problem, but they don’t really.
Yes, they have made some changes in the areas mentioned, but they all seem centered around eliminating drugs, and that has proven that it just isn’t a reasonable solution. They’ll get them whether it’s legal or illegal. You can ban whatever you want, someone will find a way to get it on the black market. The only way to fight it is to treat the underlying issues causing people to use the drugs, so they don’t need them anymore. Poverty, abuse, pain, mental issues, homelessness–everyone has their reason. You’ll still have your partiers and all that, but it will be a reasonable percentage of the population rather than the majority.
I have separate pieces discussing the pain patient aspect in far more depth, functioning addicts, changes needed to recovery programs, and whether addiction is a choice or disease & the impact of your family history (that one is posted above- the rest are in the editing stages & coming soon,) so I won’t go into those anymore here, but you do need to understand that addiction literally changes thought processes and how your body works.
No simple answers
There is NOT a simple answer to the choice or disease debate, just as there isn’t a simple answer to anything concerning addiction. Do some research. Keep an eye out for my other pieces, and read them. Educate yourself on the recovery community in your local area, and figure out where you can help. Blaming, shaming, ignoring, or neglecting drug addicts will not do anything to help the problem that is affecting so many people in this country.
If you think you don’t know anyone addicted to drugs, I can almost guarantee that you are wrong. There are many people able to hide their addiction from friends and family. These are usually the ones who started using in order to continue functioning at the level others have come to expect of them.
People such as professors, scientists, parents, law enforcement, and yes, even doctors tend to be the types who fall into this trap. It can affect anyone. Many of those people start out with a lower level version of their drug of choice such as Adderall or Lortab. After a while of using those things, they become ineffective, so the user has to find something stronger, and that’s where they get into the cocaine and methamphetamine. See, it can start with good intentions, just a little partying, or a legitimate need, and end in death.
That’s what addiction can be, and why we, as a society, need to stop hating, and start caring. I understand all the problems caused by drug addicts, and the anger people have towards them, but if people ever want the problem to really be affected, we have to start working together as a society to rehabilitate and prevent. Ignoring, blaming, even punishing will not solve the drug crisis.
Addiction is stronger than all of those things. We have to make our society strong enough to fight it, and it will likely take a decade to see the real benefits of making the changes mentioned before, but it’s the only real way. You’re always going to have a black market. All the law enforcement in the world will not prevent that from happening completely.
Every time one supplier is taken down, another moves into place. Every time they ban a substance, people find something else. Until you correct the things causing them to use, it won’t be under control. Laws only matter to a person in their right mind. Active addiction is not being in your right mind. The drug controls your mind, and says you absolutely must get more.
Punishing rarely has an impact on that state of mind. If you can get the addicts into a treatment program instead of jail, they may have a chance, as long as the rehab isn’t too lenient. Many times, you can get drugs just as easy in jail, or rehab, as you can on the streets. This must change. We have to care more about that issue and tighten security specifically against it anywhere that hasn’t already. There are plenty of changes that can be made to make both jails and rehabs better at what they are intended for, but that’s an entire piece of its own, so we’ll save that for another time.
Making the necessary, and sometimes drastic, changes to our education system (at all levels), our rehabs and prisons, the medical industry, and things that will majorly affect the quality of life for people in areas especially impacted by the drug crisis, are the only ways we can make an impact that will last. We need deeper studies behind addiction, and what changes can be implemented to start preventing the reasons why people start. It’s going to take a long hard look at everything, but it has to be done from a place of understanding, and the willingness to change our entire perspective as a society.
The government can put together one of their committees, or even a whole task force, but then they need to go on a hunt for recovered addicts who are already making a difference working quietly in their communities. They need to listen to these people and their ideas WITHOUT trying to modify them to mesh with their own ideas of what to do.
Officials have spent decades fighting against drugs, and haven’t made nearly the progress they could if they would concentrate more on taking the need for the drugs away. It’s time to put most of our effort into correcting the issues that are causing people to turn to drugs, because putting most of the effort into punishing people hasn’t really worked. You can’t continue doing the same thing and expect it to have a different result.