Lancaster, Pennsylvania (GREED) – Is addiction a choice or a disease? It certainly isn’t good, right? So why do addicts keep getting high? Why do they become so cold; how can they care about ONLY getting the next fix? Here is some insight from those who have suffered addiction. My only hope is to help all gain some understanding.
HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
There are many reasons someone may decide to start using. It could be for fun, in celebration, for relief of a feeling, pain, anxiety, or practically anything else. I know of no one that thought, “I’m going to become an addict today.”
There have been many studies done on various aspects on addiction. On a cellular level, studies have shown links between dopamine (a “reward” neurotransmitter) and addiction. This was first noted by neuroscientist Roy Wise in the 1970s. Another landmark experiment is known as Rat Park. Neuroscientist Bruce Alexander found that living conditions and social connection played a major role in the likelihood of addiction.
One recovering addict reports developing a (drug) problem after his parents were prescribed Lortab. He reveals how one substance lead to others. “I did pills, then came heroin and meth, then more pills. I started using out of depression. I had a rough childhood; an alcoholic father who worked away a lot and fought with my mother sometimes violently when he was home.”
Another admitted to using drugs to help get through any given day. “It’s tough working and living when your mind questions everything. Nothing was okay. I certainly wasn’t okay. And after having an argument about my mental illness, I found myself homeless in a depressing town I didn’t know, and moved in with a heroin addict.”
“I was utterly void of any hope. And I simply didn’t see any reason to keep trying. So, I took the syringe and handed it to my roommate so she could inject my vein. I lied to her, saying I’ve done it before. I NEEDED my mind to shut down. I needed to escape it, and to experience a feeling, any feeling. I didn’t care about my future because I already knew I didn’t have a chance at a good one.”
WHAT IS ADDICTION REALLY LIKE?
Imagine a thing that you HAVE to chase. You need it, or you feel death in all its agonizing glory. Your muscles stiffen up, making movement painful. Your nose and throat and stomach rebels against your abstinence, and you can’t quite pinpoint why. Even your breathing becomes painful.
This is the reality for addicts. The mind and body will simply fail to properly function without the drug of choice.
One recovering addict recalls drinking and using drugs for fun. He goes on to say “I tried meth and LOVED it. I kind of started to forget about sleeping… and bathing. I stopped taking care of myself at all. My whole life really became about meth. I wouldn’t do anything without getting high first. I lived this way for about a decade.”
Another remembers: “They ripped me away from familiarity and moved me out of state (for like the 16th time) only this time I was old enough to develop massive depression. The pills helped numb that and then I realized that I preferred being high to misery.”
“I was doing okay until I started hanging with my one friend who loved to share his fibro[myalgia] meds.”
A MOMENT OF CLARITY
In order to get clean, a user must have a devastating moment (or moments) of clarity; the moment when reality bitch slaps him across the face.
One person recalls his wake up call. “One day, I caught my reflection in the mirror. I was like white as a ghost, and the whites of my eyes were a nasty shade of yellow… I never intended on becoming addicted.”
“It cost me my relationship. Which drove me deeper. Living on my own, prescribed Adderall and Ativan, I turned to heroin as well… My life was so depressing to me that being high or dead was better.”
A former heroin user remarks, “Life as an user was meaningless. The only thing that mattered was getting high. Life itself no longer mattered. And my soul had always sought depth. It quickly got to the point where I didn’t see any reason in anything at all.”
I can recall the moment I clearly witnessed the ugliness of my drug use. A couple came over to get high. And they brought their nine year old daughter. My conscience was obviously in some tact because instead of getting my fix, I entertained the little girl. In that moment, I knew I wanted out.”
YOU SHOULD KNOW
In the year 2000, research showed addiction acted as a medical condition. Dr. A. Thomas McLellan found that addiction acts similar to other conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. Choice does play a role, but that alone does not lead to addiction. Genetics and environment factors also play a crucial part.
Every addict has a reason they first try a substance. Addiction never seems like a consequence. Many addicts are self medicating, attempting to deal with trauma in a world that doesn’t give a shit about others. And once in the grip of drugs, it’s incredibly difficult to find a way out. The only choice is getting high or being in pain. That is until we ask for help.
All interviewees wish to remain anonymous.