Saturday, September 28, 2013

I Just Don't Get It

I saw a post by someone on Facebook about addiction and just not getting it.

I just don't get it, I've used pain killers before and I never got addicted. I just used them while I needed them and when my recovery was over I wasn't addicted I just stopped taking them.

How many of you have heard that before? I sure have, in fact when I was first involved with this stuff and my son I said it many times. It took a long time to come up with logic that I could understand for myself to grasp addiction versus the beneficial use of many drugs that destroy so many lives.

I come to a personal understanding slowly but it finally sunk in after much heartache and deliberation. Not everyone gets to have that experience and has that much time. How do you explain it to the friend or acquaintance that wonders why, "Why don't they just quit? It's that simple."

Once I was having this discussion with a friend who is a retired professional athlete. He questioned, "I took many painkillers in my professional career. I never got addicted. There were many times on Mondays I could hardly move after a game. I took the pills and I could go to practice and see the trainer. When I stopped playing the game I no longer needed the pain killers like I did when playing and I just didn't take them any more."

I knew that I had a very few words I could use to explain this without losing him. He is a very smart man but no one sits still for a bunch of medical and complicated explanations, not even me. I had to relate addiction to something in my life and his life that made sense to his paradigm.

My friend is a hunter, like me, but his passion for hunting is times ten to mine. That provided the perfect scenario. My explanation went like this:

We both hunt. I mainly hunt pheasant and quail, upland birds. You hunt waterfowl, deer, elk, bears and turkey. Your real passion is turkey's. If you took me turkey hunting before the frost we would never see a bird. I would sit there sniffling, sneezing, wiping my eyes and squirming like a kid in the waiting room of a doctors office. That is because I have hay fever. Hay fever is a recognized medical condition. I am allergic to the pollen. It affects me drastically. But, you can walk in the woods and fields endlessly while the pollen invades your nose, eyes and mouth. Your body has no adverse reaction, it handles the pollen and you go on your way.

Think of the different reactions we both have to the same thing. Now translate that over to those painkillers. You used what you needed and it was over. Now think of a person addicted to the same pills. That persons body handles those drugs differently than yours, maybe you might say they are allergic to those substances. Just as your body handles pollen differently than mine. Something in their body trips a trigger that makes it nearly impossible to stop using them. They become addicted to the same thing you and I can take and stop easily, they can't live without them. Addiction then becomes a disease just as hay fever is for me and as much as I would LOVE to go turkey hunting with you I know that I cannot go to that place without suffering a reaction that is miserable to me.

That simple conversation was the beginning of my friends understanding that drugs addicts aren't just low life criminals and that they are sick people and need help.

I have used this explanation many times and it seems to work for most people. In fact I even advised my own son when he goes to the doctor and fills out the long medical questionnaires when it asks if he is allergic to any medications, I told him to put down any type of opiate based painkiller as his answer.

Our friends, family and aquaintances don't need long winded scientific explanations about addiction and the disease model. We must find ways that allow them to discover our reality without suffering through the special hell we all know so well.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron, most of the people who get addicted to the pain killers were not using them for legitimate pain they were using them to get high in the first place. There are some that have become addicted as a result of having to use the pain killers long term, not a week or two but for over a month, the doctor will wean them off of them.

My son never had any pain he used the pills to get high as did most of his friends. If you use an opiate at super high does you will get addicted, no one is immune to that. A person like you and me would take it as prescribed and of course we wouldn't get addicted.

I don't believe that is a brain chemistry issue when you abuse an opiate for months on end addiction is the end result. Period the end. Choice - then consequence.

Dad and Mom said...

Anonymous,

I agree with you that many begin using to get high. But there are many, many people become addicted under a legitimate doctor's care. My explanation is for illustration that addiction is a recognized disease.

There are no absolutes. I've known people that have used cocaine recreationally and not become addicted but with others become addicted nearly immediately, the same with most drugs.

I believe that the first times it is a choice but there are "switches" in us all that can be flipped by many things not just drugs that can cause an addiction and you do suffer from recognized and diagnosed mental illness.

Your last statement bothers me the most. Maybe because I saw addiction in that way for so long. Once I began investigating the scientific info on addiction, looked at countless pictures of brain scans of addicted and none addicted brains you could see evidence that things were changing in the brains. Regardless of the cause there was an illness and abnormalities.

Then I begin equating it the cancerous lungs of a smoker. I didn't doubt the disease of lung cancer no matter if the person smoked or not. I saw pictures of heart disease and clogged arteries and did not question the why, I recognized it as a disease no matter if the person was overweight or smoked. Diabetics, many from birth or a young age or some with adult onset diabetes maybe from lifestyle or genetics, I do not doubt the disease classification.

I may see smoking, overeating, lack or exercise and a whole host of things we do to ourselves as a moral choice but I do not doubt the disease aspect of the "moral" choice.

Just my opinion.

phyllis said...

Very well said. I think the hay fever analogy is a good one. I've known people who partied every weekend (which included drug use) and never became addicted. They walked away and were just fine. Then there were those who couldn't walk away, show up to work on Monday, or move past the party....and it's sad. Addiction is baffling!

Anonymous said...

Hi Ron, I do agree that many become addicted under a doctor's care, like I stated, they are prescribed opiates for chronic pain and take it for months and their body becomes addicted, that would happen to you or me if we were on opiates for months. I also am well aware that doctors overprescribe these medications.

As for the difference between an addicted and non-addicted brain, I too have seen the differences but at one point the addicted brain was a non-addicted brain so I am not too sure what that information really proves.

I know that addiction is a disease but unlike cancer, and other diseases I feel like that the individual made bad choices and the end result was the disease of addiction.

I too know many that have used cocaine and not become addicted, you cannot become physically addicted to cocaine just mentally, same story for acid MDMA and many other recreational drugs.

The opiate family is a different beast once you use it consistently you will become addicted there is no way around that.

I do feel compassion for my addicted loved ones and totally am supporting their recovery.

In my opinion, my son used drugs to manage his life his pain, reality. As he said it feels so good, like having a warm blanket wrapped around you, and all your problems go away........ I believe that if the root cause was addressed before he chose to use drugs then he would not have become addicted.

These are just my opinions, I totally agree with you that there are no absolutes.


Dad and Mom said...

Anonymous,

This still troubles me:
"I know that addiction is a disease but unlike cancer, and other diseases I feel like that the individual made bad choices and the end result was the disease of addiction."

Many people make a decision to do things that directly and indirectly result in cancer, heart disease, diabetes, HIV etc. My feeling is from your position that they deserve what they get just as the consequence of abusing drugs is their consequence and deserve the scorn people have for addicts.

Please tell me I am misunderstanding your comment.

Mental illness is something that can afflict people at any time regardless of the persons physical contribution. Addiction is a mental illness. It reminds me of the TV show "Hoarders". More than once I have heard family members explain after so and so died something switched and they just began hoarding anything and life went to hell.

Mental illness needs treatment not judgement.

Anonymous said...

I am not saying that they deserve any scorn or any judgement dear Lord I do not judge my son for his choices nor do I judge any addicts. I'm not saying hey you did it you deserve what you got that sounds awful. There are consequences to all of our choices though, I don't think that stating that there is a consequence when you choose to use opiates means that I feel they are a lesser human being or not worthy of respect. I love my son and I love my sister who is addicted to pain killers and I have never and would never say to them hey you got what you deserved nor do I feel that way.

I agree that mental illness can afflict people at any time, and that many times people with mental illness turn to drugs to manage their symptoms.

I don't believe that addition is a mental illness though.

I'm sorry if you felt my comments were scorning anyone with mental illness, I would never ever do that.



Lisa said...

Ron:

This is an excellent post. I agree with you completely.

To anonymous I would suggest that they attend some open AA lead meetings. I agree with anonymous that it is a choice the first time, but I have heard too many AA leads describe that all it took was that first time and they knew they had found the holy grail. For the unfortunate individual with the right brain chemistry, this first experience creates the perfect storm. They are off and running. A choice? Sure the first time. But don't you think it is unreasonable to expect young people to refrain from drinking for their entire life?

As the granddaughter, sister, niece, cousin and mother of loved ones who struggle with addiction, I cannot blame this on poor choices. Sorry

Mrs. Dubose said...

This is an interesting discussion. Four years ago I had four broken bones in my back and had a brutal back surgery and a very long recovery. I was on very high level opiates. I reduced my dose throughout my recovery but ended up being very sick each time I lowered my dose. I was very dependent on these medications but I never, not one time, abused them. I took less and less as time progressed but I eventually became too sick and did a medically supervised detox. I was dependent so therefore medically I was addicted.

I have a daughter who is a drug and alcohol abuser. She is 6 months sober and continues to live in a halfway house. She ABUSED opiates like crazy. She apparently stole mine for a bit until I locked them up and then she got them on the street. She never took them for pain.

One of the differences between the two of us was that I never felt good when I took the opiates. It wasn't that I had more willpower, I honestly felt kind of sick on them, but needed them for pain. Now that I am off of them, I feel so much better. My daughter still craves the high of them.

We just have different brain chemistry so we responded differently, just like if she had hay fever and I don't. She was an alcoholic from the first time she took a drink. She reacted differently. Her poor brain never stood a chance.

Here's the thing: Now that she realizes this, she always has the choice for the FIRST drink. THAT, she can choose. After one, she can't. So, yes she is responsible for that.

It's just the luck of the draw.

Addiction is a scary thing. I NEVER thought I would be part of this club of parent's who worry about their children. I am glad there are other people out there who are willing to share their story. I have written quite a lot about my own health struggles and my daughter's addiction on my blog. I hope you can stop by for a visit sometime.

Take care.

Tori said...

I know my son and many of his friends who started off partying only on the weekends - then months later it was more and more and now here we are. A few of his friends never went further and a few including my son did - and then everyone they associated with changed. My son never wanted to be a "junkie" and I believe it has changed his brain chemistry through reading endless books on addiction I read trying to understand this horrible disease- but that is my opinion.

Dawn McCoy said...

The funny thing is I am a smoker. I will most certainly die from one of the consequences of my bad choice to start, and continue to smoke. I am most certainly an addict to cigarettes. Under your definition, my switch was turned on and I no longer had control.

Yet, I will bet any amount of money that at my funeral, not ONE person will blame big tobacco. Not one person will say "there should have been compassionate free programs to lock her up and detox her, and then halfway non smoking houses to keep her clean".

When the back side of my heart blows out, or I drown because my lungs are so filled with fluids from ruining them with smoking.....

They will just stand around my casket and say

Why didn't she just quit? Its her own fault....

Rea de Miranda said...

People don't have the first idea about addiction. Just like they don't understand depression. They are still under the illusion we bring things like this on ourselves. That's why we need to educate society about drug addiction. Great post.

Anonymous said...

One last thought, Mrs. Dubose stated she didn't feel good when she used opiates for her pain, neither did I after my knee surgery I felt sick to my stomach. I asked my son about this, saying that I didn't feel any good feelings or high and he reminded me that I was taking them at the prescribed dose, when used to get high they are taking at least three times the amount of a normal dose (at least) to feel the "high."

Both of my parents were alcoholics, my father the entire time I was growing up. My mother wasn't she would have the occasional glass of wine at night. She did not become an alcoholic until I was 24 years old. So for the theory that once you have that drink the switch is activated, I'm not so sure that is true. If that were the case she would have become an alcoholic many many years earlier. I believe she started drinking because she could no longer handle dealing with my Dad, this was her way of managing her pain. They both recovered thank God.

There are permanent changes to the addicted person's brain chemistry once they have been using opiates for years, my son's doctor told me this, he has forever altered his brain chemistry. His brain chemistry was no different from mine before he started using.

I do not believe there are any absolutes, most of what we all believe including myself is based solely on opinion not facts. The only thing that is factual is the change in brain chemistry after the addict has become addicted.

I know for me it made me feel a little better saying my son has a disease and oh well he couldn't really help himself. For my son it was just a progression to numb himself from the pain he was feeling and he also said there were times when he just wanted to get really fu**ed up.

My only regret in all of this is that I wasn't able to find someone who could address his root issues, his pain, his depression. I still believe that if we were able to find the right therapist before he turned to drugs things may have been different. Maybe not though.

Anonymous said...

One last thought, Mrs. Dubose stated she didn't feel good when she used opiates for her pain, neither did I after my knee surgery I felt sick to my stomach. I asked my son about this, saying that I didn't feel any good feelings or high and he reminded me that I was taking them at the prescribed dose, when used to get high they are taking at least three times the amount of a normal dose (at least) to feel the "high."

Both of my parents were alcoholics, my father the entire time I was growing up. My mother wasn't she would have the occasional glass of wine at night. She did not become an alcoholic until I was 24 years old. So for the theory that once you have that drink the switch is activated, I'm not so sure that is true. If that were the case she would have become an alcoholic many many years earlier. I believe she started drinking because she could no longer handle dealing with my Dad, this was her way of managing her pain. They both recovered thank God.

There are permanent changes to the addicted person's brain chemistry once they have been using opiates for years, my son's doctor told me this, he has forever altered his brain chemistry. His brain chemistry was no different from mine before he started using.

I do not believe there are any absolutes, most of what we all believe including myself is based solely on opinion not facts. The only thing that is factual is the change in brain chemistry after the addict has become addicted.

I know for me it made me feel a little better saying my son has a disease and oh well he couldn't really help himself. For my son it was just a progression to numb himself from the pain he was feeling and he also said there were times when he just wanted to get really fu**ed up.

My only regret in all of this is that I wasn't able to find someone who could address his root issues, his pain, his depression. I still believe that if we were able to find the right therapist before he turned to drugs things may have been different. Maybe not though.

Love My Sons said...

As the Father of a recovering Heroin Addict and a searching Alcoholic and Prescription Drug Addict I can tell you that while it is a disease it can be managed.

Like any chronic disease Addiction can be managed. Yes it is difficult, yes it takes dedication and assistance but it can be managed IF the addict submits.

It is that submission and reliance on others advice that is critical to any success.

These people are all of our sons and daughters. Addiction touches so many lives and causes so much destruction but I will never cease fighting the addiction nor loving my children.

No matter the cause, no matter the drug, love and support with a dose of reality are the only weapons against this vicious disease.

Unfortunately some never win the fight, just like cancer or diabetes or heart disease. We still love, fight, argue and hold our children close.

Syd said...

I have read that addiction is due to genetics as well as poor coping skills. I know that there are certain conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD that predispose someone to coping with drugs or alcohol. Blame, judging, or wishful thinking won't help the addicted person. It is truly a complex issue that requires a lot to overcome.

Nurse Jon said...

For those who don't understand, well, it is like having a baby. Unless you did, you cannot know what it is like. Just because you don't know what it feels like to have a baby does not mean that women do not give birth.