Addiction stories: How I recovered from my addiction to crystal meth

By the time I was done with my addiction to crystal meth, I had racked up 4 arrests, 9 felonies, a $750,000 bail, a year in jail, and an eight year suspended sentence to go along with my 5 year probation period. Though I think education is important to keep getting the message out about addiction and drug abuse, there is no doubt that addiction stories do a great job of getting the message across, so here goes.

My crystal meth addiction story

The kid my parents knew was going nowhere, and fast. That’s why I was surprised when they came to my rescue after 3 years of barely speaking to them. My lawyer recommended that I check into a rehab facility immediately; treating my drug abuse problem was our only line of legal defense.

cocaine linesI had long known that I had an addiction problem when I first checked myself into rehab. Still, my reason for going in was my legal trouble. Within 3 months, I was using crystal meth again, but the difference was that this time, I felt bad about it. I had changed in those first three months. The daily discussions in the addiction treatment facility, my growing relationship with my parents, and a few sober months (more sobriety than I had in years) were doing their job. I relapsed as soon as I went back to work in my studio, which was a big trigger for me, but using wasn’t any fun this time.

I ended up being kicked out of that facility for providing a meth-positive urine test. My parents were irate. I felt ashamed though I began using daily immediately. My real lesson came when I dragged myself from my friend’s couch to an AA meeting one night. I walked by a homeless man who was clearly high when the realization hit me:

I was one step away from becoming like this man.

You see, when I was in the throes of my crystal meth addiction, I had money because I was selling drugs. I had a great car, a motorcycle, an apartment and my own recording studio. After my arrest though, all of that had been taken away. I just made matters worse by getting myself thrown out of what was serving as my home, leaving myself to sleep on a friend’s couch for the foreseeable future.

Something had to change.

homelessI woke up the next morning, smoked some meth, and drove straight to an outpatient drug program offered by my health insurance. I missed the check-in time for that day, but I was told to come back the next morning, which I did. I talked to a counselor, explained my situation, and was given a list of sober-living homes to check out.

As I did this, I kept going to the program’s outpatient meetings, high on crystal meth, but ready to make a change. I was going to do anything I could so as not to end up homeless, or a lifetime prisoner. I had no idea how to stop doing the one thing that had been constant in my life since the age of 15, but I was determined to find out.

When I showed up at the sober-living facility that was to be the place where I got sober, I was so high I couldn’t face the intake staff. I wore sunglasses indoors at 6 PM. My bags were searched, I was shown to my room, and the rest of my life began.

I wasn’t happy to be sober, but I was happier doing what these people told me than I was fighting the cops, the legal system, and the drugs. I had quite a few missteps, but I took my punishments without a word, knowing they were nothing compared to the suffering I’d experience if I left that place.

Overall, I have one message to those struggling with getting clean:

If you want to get past the hump of knowing you have a problem but not knowing what to do about it, the choice has to be made clear. This can’t be a game of subtle changes. No one wants to stop using if the alternative doesn’t seem a whole lot better. For most of us, that means hitting a bottom so low that I can’t be ignored. You get to make the choice of what the bottom will be for you.

You don’t have to almost die, but you might; losing a job could be enough, but if you miss that sign, the next could be the streets; losing your spouse will sometimes do it, but if not, losing your shared custody will hurt even more.

At each one of these steps, you get to make a choice – Do I want things to get worse or not?

Ask yourself that question while looking at the price you’ve paid up to now. If you’re willing to go even lower for that next hit, I say go for it. If you think you want to stop but can’t seem to really grasp just how far you’ve gone, get a friend you trust, a non-using friend, and have them tell you how they see the path your life has taken.

It’s going to take a fight to get out, but if I beat my addiction, you can beat yours.

By now, I’ve received my Ph.D. from UCLA, one of the top universities in the world. I study addiction research, and publish this addiction blog along with a Psychology Today column and a number of academic journals. I also have my mind set on changing the way our society deals with drug abuse and addiction. Given everything I’ve accomplished by now, the choice should have seemed clear before my arrest – but it wasn’t. I hope that by sharing addiction stories, including mine, we can start that process.

Talking to NIDA about addiction research- Nicotine, cocaine, treatment matching and more

It’s not everyday that I get an invite to speak with NIDA‘s director, Dr. Nora Volkow, and so, even though it required my creative use of some VOIP technology from a living room in Tel-Aviv, I logged onto a conference call led by the leading addiction researcher. When my colleagues, Dirk Hanson and Elizabeth Hartney, were introduced, I knew I was in good company.

Addiction research directions the NIDA way

The call focused on some NIDA interests, including a nicotine vaccine, which Dr. Volkow seemed confident will triumphantly exit phase 3 trials in less than two years and potentially enter the market after FDA approval in three years or less. The vaccine, which seems to significantly and effectively increase the production of nicotine antibodies in approximately 30% of research participants, has shown promise as a tool for smoking cessation in trials showing complete cessation, or significant reduction in smoking among participants that produced sufficient antibodies. Obviously, this leaves a large gap for the 70% of participants for which the vaccine was not effective, but a good treatment for some is much better than no treatment for all. For more on the vaccine, check out Mr. Hanson’s post here.

Aside from the nicotine vaccine (and on a similarly conceived cocaine vaccine), our conversation centered on issues relevant to the suggested new DSM-5 alterations in addiction-related classifications. Dr. Volkow expressed satisfaction at the removal of dependence from the title of addictive disorders, especially as physical dependence is often part of opiate administration for patients (especially pain patients) who are in no way addicted to the drugs. Dr. Volkow also noted that while physical dependence in relatively easy to treat, addiction is not, a matter that was made all the more confusing by the ill-conceived (in her opinion, and in mine) term. Additionally, the inclusion of severity ratings in the new definition, allowing for a more nuanced, spectrum-like, assessment of addiction disorders, seemed to make Dr. Volkow happy in her own, reserved, way.

Treatment matching – rehab search for the 21st century

As most of my readers know, one of my recent interests centers on the application of current technology to the problem of finding appropriate treatment for suffering addicts. I brought the problem up during this talk, and Dr. Volkow seemed to agree with my assessment that the current tools available are nowhere near adequate given our technological advancements. I talked a bit about our upcoming addiction-treatment-matching tool, and I hope that NIDA will join us in testing the utility of the tool once we’re up and running. I truly believe that this tool alone will allow more people to find appropriate treatment increasing the success rate while maximizing our system’s ability to treat addicts.

Involving the greater public in addiction research

It wasn’t until the end of the conversation that I truly understood the reason for the invitation (I’m slow when it comes to promotional issues) – NIDA is looking to move the discussion about it’s goals and directions out of the academic darkness in which they’ve lurked for years, and into the light of online discussion. I’m in no way offended by this, especially since this was exactly my point in starting All About Addiction in the first place. If anything, I’m honored to be included in the select group of people NIDA has chose to carry their message, especially since the conversation was an open, respectful, and data-centered one. I hope more of these will occur in the future.

Resolving confusion about addiction

One of the final points we got to discuss in the too-short hour we had Dr. Volkow on the “phone” had to do with the oft misunderstood concept of physical versus psychological addictions. I’ve written about this misconception in the past, and so I won’t belabor the point here, but it’s time that we gave our brain the respect it deserves by allowing it to join the rank, along with the rest of our body, and the physical realm. We’re no longer ignorant of the fact that our personalities, memories, feelings, and thoughts are driven by nothing more than truly physical, if miniature, happenings in our brains. In the same way that microbe discovery improved our well-being (thank you Pasteur), it’s time the concept of the very physical nature of our psychological-being improves our own conceptualization of our selves.

We are physical, spiritual, and awesome, but only if we recognize what it is that makes “us.”

Drug use isn’t the problem – Addiction and the question of legalization or decriminalization

I don’t keep it a secret that I used to have a very serious drug problem. If you haven’t read it by now, my drug use started early on along with a whole bunch of high-school friends. They smoked weed, I wanted to fit in, and the rest is history.

But guess what? Most of them turned out fine.

Drug use versus addiction

Only about 3 of us ended up screwing up a major part of our lives because of our drug use. One friend died 8 years later from AIDS after finding out way too late about an HIV infection he got from shooting up heroin. Another dropped out of college and never made it back. I developed a massive habit that only grew bigger when I shifted from simply using drugs to selling them. Then I got arrested, served a year in jail and went to rehab. That sucked.

The thing is that I don’t think drugs were the source of our problem.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to get my own genetic code sequenced some time in the near future in order to certify this, but I think we all had way too much of the impulsive, rush-seeking in us to allow the rules of society to keep us down. If it wasn’t for the drugs, something else would have probably gotten us sooner or later. I know that, to date, my own love for speed (as in miles per hour) and motorcycles already got me in 3 pretty serious accidents.

What I know now is that once you start using drugs on a regular basis the issue of how you got there no longer matters. Your brain controls your behavior and when drugs control your brain, you’re out of luck without help.

Is the answer legalization or decriminalization?

I think legalization is a mistake. Making a drug legal gives the impression that the state sanctions its use. Heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, ecstasy, and yes, even marijuana cause problems for people. I think that sending any other message is dangerous.

It’s not a coincidence that most people with substance abuse problems in this country (about 15 million) are pure alcoholics. Want a guess at the second biggest group? The marijuana dependent group is about 5 million strong. The rest of the drugs pick up only a few millions in total. Any move towards the legalization of any new drugs will most likely increase their use and therefore the number of addicts.

Still, decriminalization could be the answer. I’ve been meaning to write a post about Portugal’s decriminalized system for a while and haven’t gotten around to it. The bottom line? People found with illegal drugs are given a ticket and sent before a committee. The more visits one has in front of the committee the more forceful the push towards treatment. Still, unless a drug user commits another crime aside from the  possession of drugs they aren’t sent to jail.

As it stand right now, 30%-40% of our prisoners are in for simple drug offenses. That means not only billions in wasted incarceration costs every year, but also billions and billions more useless dollars thrown away at future sentences, court costs, and more (health care, probation and on and on). As it stands now recidivism rates, especially within the addict population are at 70% or higher! Unless these people get treatment, they will go back to jail! It’s that simple. Really.

So what should we do?

Many people aren’t going to like my view point. Those of us in the addiction field are supposed to scream as loudly as possible that drug are bad and that their eradication should be a major goal of our system. I disagree. Sue me.

I think we need to put the money we’re putting into jailing drug addicts into treatment. Even if it saves no money in the present (it will) we’ll be seeing huge savings over time as less of these people go to jail, more of them earn wages and pay taxes, and less of them make wasteful use of other resources like emergency rooms and social services.

And guess what? It will make our society better. We’ll start taking care of our citizens instead of locking them up. We’ll be showing Americans that we believe they can overcome rather than telling them we’d rather see them rot in jail than help them. We’ll be cutting down the number of single parent households and along with them god only knows how many more seemingly endless problems.

That’s my story, an I’m sticking to it.

Better rehab services – Addiction research at work

Fact: Addiction treatment success rates are often lower than 20% ! Addiction research shows that quarterly follow-ups may help us improve success by offering continuous support and recognizing problems earlier.

Addiction is a chronic disease

diabetesWhat do you do when you are sick? Typically, you would go to the doctor, get some treatment and expect a quick fix.  What would you do if you suffered from an addiction?  Most healthcare and insurance companies would expect you to do the same – get a quick treatment and be cured!

The thing is that addiction is much more similar to many chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension. The compliance rates and follow-through with treatment for these conditions is fairly low. For example, only 27% of patients with high blood pressure have their hypertension under control and only 46% of diabetics have their diabetes effectively managed.  For these kinds of conditions, short term interventions (less than 3 months) have produced positive findings only 38% of the time while long term ones (12 months or more) produced success rates as high as 100%. Still, addiction treatment rarely extends past a few months.

Today’s rehab services

More than half of patients entering addiction treatment are there for their 3rd, 4th,  or 5th treatment episode. Still, most patients who leave treatment return to use within 30-90 days of their release. This use is associated with 6-11 times the risk of dying!!!

Relapsing

Addiction success is most often reached after 3-4 treatment attempts. Recent research may help us reduce the number of treatments needed, or at least the length of time between first drug use and successful recovery (currently estimated at 27 years). These numbers point towards a scary conclusion: Rehabs are abandoning addicts to fend for themselves too early leaving them, and society at large, in danger.

Better rehab services through addiction research

Recent research shows that following the few months of treatment with simple quarterly checkups allowed counselors to catch relapses sooner and get the patient back into some sort of treatment more quickly. The checkups included short phone calls and scheduled face-to-face meetings that allowed counselors to assess a patient’s condition. Although it might sound as if more days in treatment are a negative thing, the number of checkups and increased amount of time in treatment actually improved overall results.  Patients who received RMCs experienced more sobriety and less severe symptoms of abuse than those who received treatment as usual.

So even if more treatment costs more money, addiction is something that can be helped if dealt with appropriately.  It doesn’t have to follow the same non-compliance rates as other chronic medical disorders. If you are seeking addiction treatment, make sure that your provider plans to include follow up services AFTER you leave treatment.

Citation:

Christy K Scott & Michael L. Dennis (2009). Results from two randomized clinical trials evaluating the impact of quarterly recovery management checkups with adult chronic substance users. Addiction, 104, 959–971.

Reduce HIV Transmission – Shooting up, clean needles, and addiction treatment

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

We’ve talked often on this  site about many of the negative things that often come along with heavy drug use. We’ve not yet talked about any of the factors that make injection drug use even worse. Users inject cocaine, crystal meth, and heroin, or any combination of these.

Shooting up and disease

In addition to all of the other, addiction-relevant, factors we’ve talked about on here, injection drug use brings about the worry of blood borne pathogens, especially HIV and Hepatitis C.  While it may not always be easy to find clean needles or worry about cleaning a needle between uses there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of transmission.

1. Get Tested!!  HIV/AIDS testing is available all over the world, often for free.   Having another STD or illness can easily kill someone with AIDS. Know your status!

President Obama just finalized a plan to revoke the 22 year travel ban on those living with HIV/AIDS.  This will significantly reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS and should bring about more testing centers and education.  See this video to hear Obama.

2. While it may not always be easy, take great care to try to check the needle for visible signs of blood before injecting. If you think the needle may have been used before, clean it with bleach or another disinfectant.

3. Utilize the free clinics around your town that give out free, clean needles.  They are there to help you!!  Use these addiction support centers for clean needles and other equipment (like the bleach I mentioned earlier).

4. Talk about it! Regardless of where you may live, the group of people you hang out, studies have shown that talking about this subject matter increases awareness and can decrease chance of infections.  Being informed is your most important tool. For more info check out AIDS Global Information or AIDS Action.

5. Get help! Treatment options are widely available and they serve as a very effective method for reducing risky behaviors.  We can offer you placement help if you’re in southern California, but even if not SAMHSA has a relatively good addiction treatment locator – Check it out.

Citation:

CAPS Fact Sheet: What are IDU HIV Prevention Needs?

The hopeful side of my addiction – Drug use is not always a dead end street

I was sitting around with some friends last night talking about old times over dinner.

I think it’s sad that the most commonly seen face of addiction and of drug use in general is that of failure. We see it on the news, in the tabloids, and it seems to seep into our minds.

I guess it shouldn’t be surprising given the overly negative tone of the media in this country overall, but as I was talking with my friends last night, it dawned on me:

Even though we’ve all seen the uglier side of life, even though some of us made it down to a place those around us thought we’d never come back from, here we are, well and healthy, and back on the other side.

As I’d mentioned before, I’m working on a book that details my travels down the rabbit hole and back. Last night was proof that these stories need to be heard. Although coming back from drug use, even heavy use, even addictive use, is not easy; it is possible, even common.

I’m sick of the stigma of “lost cause”, especially because I think it’s so unjustified. There are so many that walk around us having conquered what most still think is a death sentence. It’s time to dispel the myth.

About addiction treatment – Genetics, the new recovery frontier

Genetics are making their way into every facet of research nowadays, and addiction treatment is no slouch in that area.

What is pharmacogenomics?

If you haven’t heard of pharmacogenomics yet, you are sure to soon. The idea that medications affect individuals differently based on their unique genetic makeup has picked up a lot of steam in the last few years.

Well, the same way of thinking is beginning to emerge in addiction treatment.Genes are making their way into addiction treatment

What can we expect?

Just as pharmacogenomics is said to greatly increase the usability of certain prescription drugs while reducing the worse side effects, so is the use of genetics in addiction treatment purported to bring more personalized, effective treatment to patients.

For instance, pharmacogenomics could inform us as to who is more likely to respond well to treatment using buprenorphine for craving reductions. It could possibly even tell us who would benefit more from specific behavioral interventions. Eventually, it may allow us to build a customized treatment program for addicts based on their genomic profile.

The importance of genetics!

And no one should underestimate the importance of genetics in addiction. In a recent congressional hearing, Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the federal agency entrusted with advancing addiction research, NIDA, told congress that about 75% of a person’s inclination to begin smoking, 60% of one’s tendency to become addicted, and about 54% of a person’s ability to quit were genetically determined.

As we learn more about addiction treatment and the importance of specific genetic markers, I’m sure that individual addicts’ genes will play a pretty big role in what course of treatment people are given. Genetics might soon be the newest, most groundbreaking advancement in rehabs and recovery. But we’re not there yet so don’t let anyone fool you that they’ve figured out the formula for this!!!