When my colleague Patricia Meyers got clean in 1997 after years of alcohol and drug use, she wanted to tell the whole world. Her father, however, urged silence. “I remember on a trip when I was in early recovery, he said, ‘You need to know if something happens, if something goes missing, you are going to be the first person they look at.’”
If you were a teen in the 1960s or ’70s, odds are good that you know your way around marijuana, even if you didn’t inhale. So who can blame you for being intrigued now that the drug is being sold in a way once unimaginable – legally.
Oregon and Alaska just approved recreational sales, and in Washington State and Colorado, anyone over 21 can already stroll into a retail pot shop and buy marijuana buds and cannabis-infused cookies, tinctures and sodas. A medical marijuana card gets you access to the same in close to half the states. And because the majority of us now back legalization, polls show, availability of the drug can only be expected to increase.
Drug and alcohol abuse do ugly things, not only to our insides but to our outsides. And the effects on our appearance can have the power to move us. Tell us that alcohol damages our liver and brain, and we nod. Tell us that it may make us fat, well, now you have our attention.
Most families have been touched by addiction. Many have been forever altered by it. And though most people are affected by it, few understand it. This is because addiction is not a logical disease. The selfishness, the repeated mistakes despite devastating consequences – none of it makes sense, not even to the person living it.
The recurring tumult – ER runs, bail requests, evictions – can lead the addict’s family members to make sweeping assumptions: “He doesn’t love me anymore.” “We’ve lost him forever.” While this may turn out to be true, it’s a story that is being written and the ending is far from certain. The hopelessness that sets in makes the entire family sick and makes it more difficult for the addict to seek the help they need.
One of the most fundamental components of a healthy childhood is a child’s attachment to their parents. But children whose moms struggle with prescription drug addiction get a less than idyllic start. They learn that Mommy’s too sick to drive or too tired to play. Or Mommy goes through long periods when she’s “just not herself.”
Growing up in a home where fighting and instability are the norm can be devastating for children. Studies show that children of addicts are more likely to be neglected, abused or placed in foster care. The children are also at high risk of addiction later in life, and are more often exposed to dangers like riding in the car with a parent who is driving under the influence.
When the makers of OxyContin reformulated the drug to minimize abuse in 2010, the sudden unattractiveness of one of the most widely abused painkillers prompted a dramatic surge in heroin abuse. Onlookers expected OxyContin to lose its huge following, but few expected such a widespread shift to heroin. Yet studies show that’s exactly what happened.
From 2010 to 2012, researchers from Washington University and Nova Southeastern University surveyed over 2,500 people seeking treatment for opiate addiction at 150 treatment centers throughout the country. They further interviewed 103 people who filled out anonymous surveys in an effort to assess how their drug habits had changed over time.
A relationship with an active drug addict is inherently dysfunctional. They love you but then steal from you, lie at every turn and trick you into believing their lies. When they continue to use drugs even though their children are being neglected and the love of their life is threatening to leave, loved ones ask, “Why is he/she choosing drugs over me?” The natural, albeit faulty, conclusion is that the love is no longer there, or at least it isn’t strong enough to overcome addiction.
The Illusion of Choice
Although understandable, the question misinterprets the nature of addiction. In truth, the addict isn’t choosing anything. Their behavior is reflexive and automatic, based on a physical and psychological need for a substance. Drugs flood the brain with dopamine, training the brain to rely on the relief they provide and to assign greater value to drugs than other things needed for happiness and survival. Over time, addiction changes the chemistry and function of the brain, robbing the user of control and thus taking away the possibility of choice.
In this age of political correctness, even the most tolerant among us looks at criminals, homeless people, addicts and other “outsiders” with an air of consternation. It’s “them” versus “us,” and somehow it feels safer that way. But if you take a closer look behind the stigma, you may be surprised to find that you have more in common with a drug addict than you think. Do any of these traits sound familiar to you?
We all know someone who drinks every night and swears they can stop any time they want. Is it just an excuse, or is the person truly in control of their drug use? Not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol needs rehab; at the same time, not everyone who needs treatment recognizes the seriousness of their problem. How can you differentiate controlled, moderate use from out-of-control drug use?
Here are four degrees of drug use and what to do if you or someone you know falls into each:
People experiment with drugs for all kinds of reasons. Some are curious about a particular drug’s effects, others are pressured by someone else. Most people who experiment with drugs or alcohol do not become addicted. Still, just one use can cause harm (especially if the individual makes poor decisions such as drinking and driving) and, in someone who is predisposed to addiction, can set in motion a pattern of drug abuse and dependency.
Indeed, good friends are something to toast. Having a close social network, studies have found, can help you ward off everything from depression to colds. You’ll even live longer.
Why? We are programmed to thrive in groups. It’s in our genes. Stress levels are lower when we have friends to provide support, and that leads to better heart health and fewer immune problems. Researchers also theorize that friends discourage us from unhealthy choices, such as smoking and excessive drinking.