GUEST COLUMN: People don’t understand what addiction is


By Daily News • Last Updated 11:15 am on Monday, July 09, 2012

Editor’s Note: This is the first of four first-person accounts written by an area woman who is participating in Adult Drug Court of Ionia and Montcalm counties. The woman’s identity won’t be revealed, but her life of addiction and recovery is an important story to tell in her own voice. Anyone interested in becoming involved with adult drug court or a court mentoring program may contact Kristi Jeffrey via e-mail at kjeffrey@ioniacounty.org for more information.

People today use the word “addicted” so flippantly, so carelessly. They say they are addicted to a game, to Facebook, to their cell phones. They say it as if it were amusing, as if being addicted equated to happiness, to enjoyment.

For me, it does not, and never will. I am a 32-year-old mother of two, with a fulltime job, a place to live, a vehicle, a healthy relationship, a high level of education and a supportive, wonderful family. I am a drug addict. My name isn’t important, because I could be anyone. The Realtor who sold the house you live in, the clerk at the grocery store, the accountant who handles your taxes. There is no way to distinguish an addict on sight, nothing to make us stand out in a crowd. But we are individuals, with our own story to tell. This is mine.

My addiction started later in life, at the age of 29. I was prescribed low grade narcotic medication as a solution to back pain caused by scoliosis and arthritis in my spinal cord. Ironically, I was petrified of taking them, because I’d heard how addictive they were. Eventually, I was convinced by someone I trusted that it would be fine.

Within a month, those pills didn’t work anymore. I had developed a tolerance. So I found stronger pills, then stronger yet. The addiction consumed me, it was all I cared about. I needed to get high, needed it like oxygen, in order to function through the day. I spent money I didn’t have, money for bills, for rent and borrowed money I couldn’t pay back. I soon started to steal, to fund my addiction. I neglected housework, my children, any and all responsibility in the pursuit of a buzz. Because I was addicted, I became a monster, filled with an uncontrollable rage and anger directed at anyone around me. I could see nothing positive in my life, everything was colored by negativity and anger. I had mood swings, I was depressed, I snapped at people when they spoke to me. I isolated myself from anyone who didn’t do drugs, I had no use for them. Instead, I surrounded myself only with people who could help me get high. Those were my real friends, and I trenched myself so deep into denial that I was convinced this was a normal lifestyle.

Addicts do not become addicted because they don’t have certain possessions, a  lack of a structured family life, or a simple lack of self control.  For me, my addiction was both genetic and environmental. I have what’s called “abnormal biochemistry,” passed to me from my father, who was an alcoholic. To explain it simply, my body and my brain do not process stimulants the same way a nonaddict does. The pleasure center and dopamine receptors in my brain are stimulated differently than a nonaddict’s, which sets off “cravings” for more of the drug that gave me the “high.” Basically, my brain likes it too much, and when it’s rewarded, it wants more, in a way that is uncontrollable.

Humans are creatures that learn from our peers, and mimic those around us. My environment at the time consisted of people who engaged in drug abuse and didn’t think there was anything wrong with it, accepted it as normal. Therefore, I did, too. That’s not to say I blame them. I made my own choices, set my own course. It became instinctive to behave that way, because of the outside influences I had. Because of this and my genetics, I began to fight a losing battle.

Today: “People don’t understand what addiction is”
July 16: “Finding rock bottom in the Montcalm County Jail”
July 23: “Addicts need motivation to keep fighting”
July 30: “Sober, proud and lucky, but the journey is far from over”

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