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.

Child Pornography: Internet sex offenders

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Child pornography on the web is becoming increasingly harder to track down because of advances in technology and sex offenders’ increasing creativity at masking their true identity.

According to recent research – People who look at child pornography can be generally separated into 4 groups:

1. those who are solely curious or acting impulsively

2. Those who take part in a fantasy only pornography

3. Direct victimization where the offenders take part in online pornography as a prelude to both contact and non contact sexual offenses

4. Commercial exploitation offenders who make or sell photos to make money

Often offenders show abnormal functioning in the motivational/emotional areas of the brain. This can make them more likely to suffer from problematic mood states (like depression, anxiety, etc.).  They also have problems in selecting appropriate actions, especially when related to impulsive behaviors.

Regardless of the mood they are in many sexual compulsives find themselves getting lost in the internet and use it as a way of escaping from reality and finding pleasure. These escapes can last many hours (8-10 hours is not unusual in many cases). The internet also tends to bring out the impulsive behaviors in those especially that may already have impulse control issues. This is due to the anonymous nature of online interactions.

These are some common beliefs often shared by people within this group:

a. Children can be seen as and used as sexual beings because they enjoy it. Sex isn’t harmful to children.

c. The adult offender is more important and worthy of pleasure.

d. The world itself is dangerous and predatory behavior is natural.

e. The world is uncontrollable and their predatory behaviors are due to uncontrollable factors

There are some basic differences between offenders who stay online and those who engage in direct victimization. About 25% internet offenders suffered sexual abuse themselves as children whereas about 36% of contact offenders suffered sexual abuse and more often they suffered at a younger age.  Also, internet only offenders were more likely to have partaken in heterosexual play prior to puberty while contact offenders more often engaged in homosexual play. As usual, these difference are correlational and don’t necessarily indicate a causal relationship.

Citation:

Elliot, Ian, Beech, Anthony. Understanding Online Child Pornography Use: Applying sexual offense theory to internet offenders. Aggression and Addiction. 14,3 May-June 2009 (180-193)

The appeal of anonymous internet sex – Weiner is not alone

I’m going to come right out and say it – I’ve been in Anthony Weiner’s shoes.

Anthony Weiner resignsFortunately for us, my family and I didn’t have to go through all of this on public television and no-one asked me to resign my position because my sexual misdeeds were never publicized. But after all my efforts and successes quitting the drug addiction that had plagued my life I had to deal with a darker, more secret, set of issues that almost brought down everything I’d worked so hard to build. Sex can be tricky.

So yes, somewhere out there are explicit pictures I sent to women I met online although I had long ago erased the sexy pictures they had sent my way. It was part of the purging process I went through with my wife as we tried to build our trust after a simply devastating betrayal; a long purging process that to some extent is still going on more than a year after everything came out. Like I said: Sex – tricky.

The day I was found out was probably the most embarrassing, gut-wrenching, ego-shattering day I will ever experience. It trumped going through a cavity search on my way to jail or seeing my family in the courtroom as I plead guilty to count after count in my drug case. There’s nothing quite as humbling as standing in front of the person you love admitting you betrayed them, lied to them, and did so repeatedly with multiple people.

A number of pieces I read on the topic suggested that feeling “hot” or “sexy” was the most important factor in Weinergate prompted me to write this piece even though I’ve obviously been mulling this over since the whole Weiner-sex thing became public. There is no doubt that impressing these random women and getting their approval of my sexuality was an important part of the appeal for me and it’s true that this is not something many men experience in their everyday life. Still, I don’t think it was the only part and it certainly didn’t feel like the most important.

As I’ve written about numerous times in regard to my drug use and addiction, I have impulsivity issues. I always have and likely always will although I’ve learned to function relatively well with them. The problems arise when the behaviors I engage in are kept private and for me, online sex-chatting with women was a pretty normal thing that had started in the days of MySpace and continued on unabated. The problem was that I obviously wasn’t going to let anyone in on the extent of it. When I would get in relationships online chatting would take a backseat,  but it never really disappeared.

There’s something appealing, at least for someone like me, about the idea of unattached women who are ready to act a little “dirty” whenever we were both in the mood without really expecting anything in return. The more involved I got the more resources I found for finding these women and the more effort I put into impressing them so I could get what I wanted in return. In some ways, it gave me a way to hold onto the freedom of being single without having to cross some imaginary physical boundary I had convinced myself was the real version of “cheating” I knew I wasn’t to cross (full disclosure – I’d already done that).

When you combine a long single life, the immediate gratification of online sex-chatting/image-swapping, and bad impulse control you end up with some pretty messy results. I ended up using every opportunity I could to get a glimpse of the next picture a woman sent me, read an explicit message, or follow up on a response to a picture I’d sent. I no longer had drugs and this semi-anonymous sex was my quick fix. The rush was very similar and given the relationship between my old meth use and sex it makes a lot of sense.

At first I’d diagnosed myself as a sex-addict, which seemed fitting given my experience with drugs and my previously-mentioned impulsivity. Now I think that at least a good portion of it has to do with the above influences along with a pretty distorted view of the male-female relationship I had put together from my early exposure to porn. But I’ll leave at least some of that to a later date.

For now, whether it offends others or not, I feel Anthony Weiner’s pain. I am almost certain that as deliberate as this behavior seems to everyone else it had become so compartmentalized in Anthony’s head that even he didn’t know the extent of it. Shameful, taboo, and somewhat compulsive behaviors tend to do that. I know they did for me. I hope he gets to keep his family as I got to keep mine. It took a lot of work and understanding from my amazing wife, but it’s possible. Sex is tricky, especially when it’s secret.

Harm reduction – Why the bad press for addiction treatment that works?!

condoms can help protect again STDs

How many of you think that giving a crystal meth user condoms will increase their drug use? Probably not many. What if instead the question had to do with giving that same user clean needles rather than having them share a dirty one? Or having him reduce his drug use instead of stopping completely? I bet there would be a little more disagreement there.

Some of you may have heard of the harm-reduction approach to drug abuse counseling and treatment, but many of you likely haven’t because the term itself is essentially taboo in the United States. The idea is to approach the patient (or client) without the shaming or expectations of abstinence that normally come with drug treatment. Instead, the counselors hope to reduce as much of the negative things associated with the drug use.

For example, almost all drug injecting users end up with hepatitis C due to dirty-needle sharing. As in the above example, harm reduction practitioners would seek to provide users with clean needles, thereby reducing needle sharing and the transmission of disease. Risky sexual behavior is often associated with methamphetamine, and crack use; instead of targeting the use itself, often, interventions attempt to reduce unprotected sex, reducing HIV transmission in the process.

hypodermic-needleHarm reduction has many supporters, but unfortunately, there are at least as many people who are against it. The claim is that harm reduction doesn’t stop drug use, and that we shouldn’t be in the business of making drug use easier. In fact, though they have no data to support it, some people argue that giving users clean needles is likely to exacerbate their drug use. My argument is that life as a drug user is pretty difficult as is, and if we can provide a way to show drug addicts that people actually care about their well-being, we might help some of them see the light.

Even more to the point, my thinking is that HIV, Hepatitis C, and other conditions often helped by harm-reduction, have to be considered as additional societal costs of drug abuse. If harm reduction helps us tackle those collateral costs, I’m all for it as an additional tool.

The bottom line is this: If we can use multiple tools to solve a problem, why limit ourselves unnecessarily to only one? If harm reduction helps, why not use it in conjunction with abstinence treatment?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s time for us to stop resorting to ridiculous moral judgments and start focusing on solving the problem. If we can help an addict use less, use fewer drugs, or use more responsibly, I say we should go for it!!!

Internet Porn Addiction – Why is free porn so irresistible and what can love addicts do?

online-porn101In a recent post on Internet addiction, we briefly mentioned addictions to internet pornography. There’s no doubt that the easy access, and anonymity, of online access to any and every sexual whim conceivable is at the heart of online porn’s draw. Here we will take a more in-depth look at how Internet porn addiction develops.

The internet porn addiction connection

Excessive use of online porn can be thought of as a manifestation of both Internet addiction and sex addiction. In fact, porn addiction is one of the most commonly reported sex addiction problems, especially among younger individuals and among what Dr. Carnes calls “Phase 1” sex addicts, or the lighter version of sex addiction that doesn’t involve others.

Porn addiction develops much like a drug addiction. After an initially rewarding experience with pornography (a common experience given the cycles of sex we’d mentioned in an earlier post), individuals may experience uncontrollable urges to obtain sexual satisfaction through that form of entertainment (1). The connection between internet porn and sexual gratification is positively reinforced, and the urges become more frequent and more powerful. These connections can become so strong that simply sitting down at a computer elicits a sexual response.

Like in drug addiction the problems arise when urges to view porn conflict with an individual’s daily responsibilities. Instead of leaving for work on time, the addict may decide to stay at home and watch porn – Some porn addicts report staying at home for porn sessions that can last as long as 8-10 hours. The shame and guilt that often accompany these compulsive sexual experiences are also thought to greatly affect the experience of sex addicts and to reinforce the positive experience they receive from their shameful act. Many porn addicts report that they end up in a distressing situation where their shameful sexual release is the only positive experience they get to have.

It should be noted that the majority of people who use online pornography do so recreationally, with little ill effect (2). As is the case with drug addiction, it is only a sub-group of people that become “addicted” and suffer serious consequences from their porn addiction (e.g. lost jobs, disturbed marriages).

Whether we are talking about pornography, gambling or shopping, our golden rule for diagnosing behavioral addictions has been: no impairment, no addiction.

The toll of porn addiction and the refuge of he internet

Internet Porn Addiction can also bring about a different psychological toll than the shame we discussed earlier. As tolerance develops, individuals with porn addiction may also begin to need more deviant material to achieve the same high. This is again similar to the increased quantity and variety need experienced by many drug users and it’s where rape fantasies, fetishes, and child pornography often come into play. Exposure to such material can grossly distort beliefs about human sexuality and ruin interpersonal relationships. Patients that progress in this fashion often report feeling unsatisfied with their sexual experiences and unsatisfied with their partners (2).

We noted that in addiction, shame is a major component of the addiction cycle. This is especially true for sexual addiction. Social norms tell the sex-addict that there is shame in buying an adult magazine (like playboy or hustler) and that there is shame in soliciting a prostitute. Internet porn substantially reduces the risk of getting caught, and therefore of being shamed. Many individuals who experience porn addiction are able to hide their activity from their partners and remain completely anonymous on the web. Online porn is easily accessible, it’s available all the time, and getting free porn is easy. When you add complete anonymity into the mix, you get a recipe for a potentially serious addiction (2).

Porn addiction help – Some Advice

Relapse is common during recovery as patients often experience withdrawal symptoms when their normal consumption of pornography is reduced. In this case, like in many others, relapse is to be thought of as a misstep, and not a failure. See our post on treatments for sexual addiction to see how porn addiction is usually dealt with. In addition to these standard methods, patients can often benefit from the use of Internet filters and “accountability” software that sends a report of their online activity to a partner or therapist. Again, it’s important to recognize that although porn addiction is serious, there are solutions out there and sex addiction help resources in general are growing with the recent jump in awareness brought about by high profile cases like that of Tiger Woods.

Citations:

1. Griffiths, M. (2001) Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for internet sex addiction, The Journal of Sex Research, 38(4)

2. Cline, V.B. (2002) Pornography’s Effects on Adults and Children

About Addiction: Prescription Medication, Anti Smoking, Alcohol, Ecstasy, and Marijuana

We have the newest links about addiction. This week we feature info on cough medicine, prescription medication, smoking, alcohol, ecstasy, and marijuana. Let us know what you think and leave us your feedback.

Cough and Prescription Medication

CNN Health: The trend for kids to abuse cough medicine is either back, or never left since my days in high-school. Kids get high from a large dose of dextromethorphan, the active ingredient in Robitussin, hence the trend’s nickname “Robo tripping”.

Health Day: Substance abuse treatment admissions of prescription medication (mostly pain relievers) have increased over 400 percent during 10 years. The proportion of admissions for abusers increased from 2.2 percent in 1998 to 9.8 percent in 2008.

Anti Smoking Campaign

New York Times: According to federal officials, the nation has failed to reach its 2010 health goal of reducing high school smoking to 16 percent. They called in report for a resurgence of anti-smoking advertisements.

USA Today: New York became the first American city to require stores to post 4-square-foot warnings showing the physical effects of smoking near tobacco displays or smaller ones at each register. Last month, a few retailers and the nation’s three big tobacco companies sued the city to stop the posters.

Alcohol and Binge-Drinking

Journal Watch: Binge-drinking adolescents are 2.3 to 3.0 times more likely than non-bingers to continue this behavior into their 30s. Striking changes in brain morphology persisted even after alcohol cessation in monkeys exposed to alcohol.

Science Daily: Teens tend to increase their alcohol consumption in summer. Experts suggest parents monitor their children during summer breaks.

Cesar Fax: Of the sexually active high school students 22% reported that they used alcohol or drugs before their last sexual intercourse. Males are significantly more likely than females to report using alcohol or drugs prior to having sex.

Ecstasy and Marijuana

The Partnership: Last year Ecstasy use showed a 67 percent increase, and last year marijuana use showed a 19 percent increase, reversing a declining trend. Could decriminalization and medical marijuana be the reason?, high

Los Angeles Times: An estimated 555,000 Americans older than 12 have used Ecstasy in the last month. Ecstasy is a synthetic amphetamine that is been around for nearly 100 years. If you haven’t read about the death’s at the Los Angeles area rave EDC look here.

Women, Trauma and HIV Transmission

Co-authored by Jamie Felzer

Just how much can the events of a traumatic childhood affect the likelihood of contracting HIV or other serious diseases in later life? Unfortunately, recent research shows that the effect can be profound, especially for women.The silver lining may be in our ability to reduce later HIV transmission by providing better intervention services post-trauma.

Childhood Trauma, Women and HIV/AIDS

In ways both surprising and predictable, it seems that even very early childhood trauma can be firmly linked to high risk behaviors and a higher risk of contracting HIV. And with AIDS now reported by the US Department of Heath & Human Services as the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 25-34 (and the perhaps even more sobering H&HS assessment that African-American women are a staggering 21 times more likely to die from AIDS compared to non-Hispanic white women), this crisis has a particular impact on women of color.

The obvious conclusion is that those subjected to childhood trauma are more likely to engage in risky behavior in an attempt to relieve some of the chronic stress that often accompanies such experiences. Drug use, unprotected sex, heavy drinking and other accompanying behaviors can all seem like appropriate responses to mental and emotional stress, but that stress can also inhibit one’s ability to make safe choices in this context. This naturally leads to an increased risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases and blood-borne pathogens. Factor in the simple biological reasons why women may be at an elevated risk of contracting HIV through any one encounter, and it becomes clear that many at-risk young women are not receiving adequate education on how to protect themselves against this threat.

Many young women with a history of trauma and elevated lifetime stress from sexual assault, violence or any of the myriad stressors that accompany low socioeconomic status may be inadvertently putting themselves at greater risk for contracting HIV and AIDS. As mentioned, these risks can commonly come from unsafe sex and the abuse of unknown drugs, potentially with non-sterile needles. Without a strong support system to help them adequately process the short and long-term effects of trauma, many young women end up developing symptoms of chronic anxiety and depression, conditions that can alter behavior and even ultimately lead to demonstrated higher rates of mortality. That these conditions also often co-exist with other health issues linked to lower socioeconomic status such as obesity and heart disease serves to further compound this risk. Stress has even been shown to speed the progression of the AIDS virus, making the disease itself more deadly.

And with a full 1/3 of the female population having reported some form of sexual assault or similar violent trauma, the sad reality is that the risks for contracting HIV among young women are, if anything, growing. It seems that one way to attack the HIV pandemic is by improving prevention, as well as intervention, services, for women affected by such early trauma. It might be a way to kill two, or even more, birds with one stone.