(Jeffersonville, Indiana )
Written by an addict, my friend Sara in helping me understand the loss and addiction of my beautiful son Josh.
For everyone who had ever wondered why an addict does what they do - Finally an honest answer.
Almost every family has been touched by addiction in some way. We are in the middle of an epidemic. And everyone seems to have the same question: why can’t they, didn’t they, stop? For those of you out there with this question I am going to let you in on a secret – They have no idea!
Just like the families, even addicts wonder why. Why do we hock, trade, sell everything we own; why do we steal and hurt the ones we love just to get our pills, pot, our heroin?
Fortunately, science does have an answer for that question. And it is really very simple. You just have to open your mind to understand.
I started using opioids and benzodiazepenes about 13 years ago after some family traumas and physical pains. For about the first 6 or 7 years I used occasionally, only as prescribed, not enough to become addicted. When my addiction started to take over I told myself I would stop. And I really thought I would; until I couldn’t. The last year and a half of my addiction I was practically homeless. The last time I used an opioid was July 17, 2016.
I am sharing this because I want you to know that I understand what you, your child, or your loved one, experiences in their addiction. I have lived it. Through classes at local rehab centers and private research I am starting to understand the neuro and behavioral aspects of addiction.
I believe in medical science and science has shown that addiction is a disease of brain structure and, thus, function. The continual intake of these opioids, day after day, year after year, alters the brain on a cellular, molecular, basis. These alterations are opioid addiction. And they are manifested as behavior directed toward the survival of the individual. These manifested behaviors are referred to as cravings, but let me clarify; to our brain these “cravings” are not cravings for drugs, they are cravings for survival. And for further clarification; the continuous intake of opioids increases the brains alterations, but for some people pre-disposed to addiction, this alteration can occur immediately.
Let’s say that you haven’t eaten for three or four days. You are starving. Really think about what it feels like to be starving. Think about the physical and mental pain you experience when you are starving. What would you be thinking about? Food? You would be needing, craving, food. This craving that you feel, that’s the brain’s mechanism that drives you to survive. Its purpose is to make everything else fall away and to force you to focus solely on acquiring what you must have in order to live.
Now, let’s go even further. Let’s say that oxygen is restricted. Everyone has limited supplies and you are running out. There is, however, a black market in oxygen. But this black market is scarce, expensive, and illegal. What would you do if you were suffocating? Would you break the law? Would you steal to live? How much of yourself would you sacrifice, how much of who you are, what you are, would you let go of, to survive?
The craving for food is measured in days. Our craving for opioids is measured in hours. Four to five hours after our last use, we begin to starve/suffocate, and we CRAVE. Everything but our need for these opioids falls away. And we focus solely on what we must do to survive. We don’t have a choice. We really don’t.
Please understand I’m not trying to excuse our behavior. I am, though, trying to help you to see why we do these things. I know it may be difficult to believe if we have stolen from you, if we have been verbally abusive and maybe even physically abusive with you, that even while we were doing these things, we love you.
We are not narcissistic, hedonists. When we hurt you, we hurt too. We do these things not because we want to do them, but because we must survive. We become desperate, and in our desperation, we do things that we know are wrong; we do things that we know are not us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t care. If you are starving, you still love. What it does mean is that we are so desperate in our starvation that we will hurt the ones we love to end that hunger.
What is sad is that we don’t understand why we are hurting the ones we love. And because we don’t understand, we can’t explain it to you. We can’t explain why we are hurting you. No one told us that these opioids cause changes in brain structure such that they become more important for our survival than food. We don’t understand this, and neither do you. And this lack of understanding can rip a family apart. It can replace love with resentments and anger. On both sides. And in this pain, in this lack of understanding, we lose each other.
The knowledge that I hope you take away from this is that your child or your loved one did not hurt you so that they could go out and buy pills, pot, or heroin. What they bought was their survival. It was not a matter of love, will power, or strength. All the will power in the world could not have helped. You could not have helped. There is no guarantee that even licensed professionals could have helped.
For those of you that have lost a child or loved one to overdose and addiction, I hope this will help you to understand that there is no blame here. Whatever you did, however you tried to help the one you loved, you did your best. Because that’s what love does. And I hope you also understand that your child, your loved one, they did their best. They fought, they struggled, they did all they could to stop. But, ultimately, their disease took their life.
Understanding and knowledge is power. The lack of it is confusion and helplessness. We can not help ourselves or our loved ones without more treatment centers and halfway houses.
We must keep the conversation going. We must educate ourselves and our children. We must have more treatment facilities and recovery houses. We must keep the conversation and education going!