The following stories of addiction are just like the ones we see in treatment every day. While the details were changed to maintain privacy, these stories represent the struggles of so many strong, tough, and resilient people.
A Professor’s Accident That Changed Everything
I can remember the accident like it was yesterday. It replays in my mind often. It happened on my way to campus, where I teach as a professor. I pushed down on the gas pedal right when the light turned green. A driver going the other direction decided to push his luck with the yellow light. And then, the collision. It wasn’t my fault. But that didn’t matter. I still needed emergency medical care for multiple broken bones, which required surgery, and a concussion. My wife and two children were terrified. I can still remember their look of concern as I was wheeled into the operating room. With my injuries, it wasn’t a surprise when I was prescribed Vicodin, a form of hydrocodone. They made sure I knew it was an opioid and that it should only be taken as directed. But once I was home, I quickly started to take more than I should because the pain was so intense. I couldn’t get through the day without it. I started to develop a tolerance without even realizing it. I just kept taking more and more in order to get the same results. I wasn’t able to function without it and became less aware and responsive. I knew it was starting to impact my wife and kids. I just felt like I couldn’t talk about it and had to act tough, even through the pain. I mean, people like me didn’t get addicted, right? That was something that happened to impetuous teens or those living with economic hardship. I knew I was smart and resilient. I had to be to make it so far in my career. I worked my way through school while spending countless late nights studying. If I weren’t smart and resilient, I wouldn’t be able to deal with hundreds of kids every day. How could a respected professor with a doctorate in economics possibly become addicted, or so I told myself. I could tell my wife didn’t know what to do or how to cope.
Couples Get Addicted, Too
When the kids and I saw him after the accident at the hospital, I struggled to keep myself from breaking down. I had to be strong in front of my children. I thought everything would be better when he got home and healed. I didn’t realize how traumatic the experience was or what he did to dull the pain. Until I kept seeing him passed out. At first, I thought he was resting and recovering. Then I’d catch him just nodding off. Sometimes he’d even be responsive but wouldn’t remember what he’d said. He kept reassuring me that I had nothing to worry about. That it was just a side effect of his medication. I didn’t know what I should do or how to help. I started hanging out with my friends more. I needed support that I wasn’t getting at home. I figured I could also get advice on what I should do. They invited me to a weekly wine night, where I felt like I could decompress. I started adding wine to my grocery list regularly. I liked to always have a bottle cold and ready in the fridge waiting for me. It helped my worries fade. I grew more and more dependent on those glasses of wine. Eventually, I felt as though I couldn’t function without them. Now, my husband wasn’t the only one the kids worried about. When I started to notice that neither my husband nor I could be fully present for the kids. They were taken care of, clean, and healthy. But I wasn’t there emotionally like I should have been. I knew something had to change. I decided to find a treatment center for my husband and I. My parents gladly watched the kids as we took the time needed to heal and recover. I learned just how strong and resilient my husband and I truly are. We proved that with our determination to overcome our struggles with substances. Through treatment, we learned that we weren’t alone and were both able to overcome our addiction and establish healthy habits. Despite the unnecessary stigma placed on men to toughen up and hide their feelings, my husband was able to open up, be vulnerable, and heal. Here at Vertava Health, we hear stories just like this all the time. In fact, from 1999 to 2018, over 232,000 died in the United States alone from overdosing on prescription opioids. Substance use disorders, especially after trauma, are more common than most people realize.
Addiction Doesn’t Discriminate
Anybody can struggle with addiction. While there are stereotypes in popular culture about what a person suffering from an addiction may look like, the reality is much different. So, if you or a loved one is overcoming a substance use disorder, remember how strong you are for working on your recovery. It has been found that men tend to be more likely to use illegal substances or misuse prescriptions while women tend to be more likely to experience cravings for substances of their choice. When looking at gender-specific rates of substance use disorders, both men and women can and do develop disorders. Men and women, young and old, wealthy, or those struggling financially. It doesn’t matter. Anybody can develop a substance use disorder. Demographics don’t determine drug use. However, there are certain factors that increase people’s likelihood of forming a substance use disorder. For example, trauma increases the probability of developing a substance use disorder. This is because people tend to self-medicate to lessen the symptoms of trauma. Out of a survey of young adults getting treatment for a substance use disorder, 70 percent had a traumatic experience. Some of the other risk factors that increase the probability of developing a substance use disorder include:
- Environment: how your friends and family view and use substances can influence your own perception. This can also include situations such as neglect or peer pressure.
- Mental illness: when someone has both a substance use disorder and a mental illness, it’s called a dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorder. Those with mental illnesses often self-medicate to deal with the symptoms of their mental health issue. About half of those with a mental illness also have a substance use disorder.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger
Those who recover from substance use disorders face and overcome more than the average person. The next time you think of someone struggling with a substance use disorder and recovery, someone with determination, strength, and courage should come to mind. A common misconception is that overcoming an addiction isn’t possible. But it is. And most people are successful in recovery. For example, in a study of 4,422 people with an alcohol use disorder, just 25% still met the diagnostic criteria in the DSM (the most used manual by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders) for alcoholism a year later. As much as 10 percent (23.5 million) of all of the people in the United States have recovered from a drug or alcohol addiction. And that is of the entire population of the country, not just those with a substance use disorder. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, remember that you are not alone, there is hope, and recovery is possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can you tell if someone is taking drugs? Common signs that a family member may be struggling with an addiction to drugs include:
- Issues at work or school. This can include absences, becoming less interested in these activities, or a decline in grades or performance.
- Physical signs: weight loss/gain, less motivation, red eyes, and/or neglecting personal care, hygiene, and appearance.
- Behavioral changes: extreme efforts to hide things, being secretive, or other extreme changes.
- Money problems: stealing, missing items, and asking for money without reason.
What qualifies as an addiction? Addiction is characterized as a chronic, treatable condition involving factors such as brain chemistry, genetics, a person’s environment, and experiences. Those struggling with an addiction experience compulsive substance use or behaviors that can withstand consequences. What are the 5 characteristics of addictive behavior? Characteristics of addictive behavior include having a tolerance for a substance, experiencing withdrawal in the absence of the substance, lack of control over substance use, being consumed by the substance, and experiencing denial or justifying the use. If you or a loved one is struggling with a substance use disorder, recovery is possible. Here at Vertava Health, we understand that anyone can develop a substance use disorder and view our patients as strong and resilient. At Vertava Health, you will be met with a compassionate staff that will help you on your road to recovery. Call us at 888-601-8693 to get started with treatment.