How I cleaned up my act and dealt with my crystal meth addiction

I keep referring to the fact that I don’t believe in quick fixes for addiction.

My crystal meth addiction

Partially, this is due to research I’ve been exposed to that shows changes in the brain that are very long lasting. As I’d mentioned in an earlier post about crystal meth use, it can take as long as 2 years of staying clean for dopamine function in the brain to return to anything near normal levels, and though we don’t have any clear answers on this yet, the function that does return is most likely not the same as that which was lost.

But it’s also due to my own experience. I used a lot of meth for more than 4 years. It started out with $40 bags (a quarter gram) and eventually grew to almost daily 8-ball use (3.5 grams,), which I could only afford because I was selling pounds of the stuff. I’m sometimes surprised that my brain still functions at all, let alone at the levels it needs to for the things i’m doing now. Still, my memory has suffered and the jury on whether my ADD had worsened due to it or not is still out.

When I got clean, it took me more than 2 years of no substance use whatsoever to get to the point where I felt I was “back to normal.” There were certainly stages of improvement along the way, but I literally had to learn how to live without drugs. It wasn’t easy.

Filling up the necessary recovery time

As you’ll find out continuously throught this blog, my road wasn’t without it’s share of bumps either. I got kicked out of my first rehab for using after about 3 months of staying clean and though my second try was successful, it was far from easy and the struggles taught me a lot about myself and what I am capable of.

I’ve included, and will keep writing, a series of posts about rechanneling addictive personality tendencies into more constructive activities that can help in getting through the tough periods of readjustment. I can say that for me, it was this rechanneling that made it possible to get through my days.

Be it my schooling, working out, or my newfound passion for gardening (on my tiny patio), finding new ways to occupy my restless mind have proven indispenseble for my new, improved life. While I might not have been preparing for it, there’s been a quiet in my mind I didn’t even know before…

Read the upcoming posts for ideas on what you can do to rechannel your energy into things that will improve, not destroy, your life…

Heroin Addiction and HIV infection – Dirty needles and a place for harm reduction

Co-authored by: Jamie Felzer

Many people today know about the dangers and risky behaviors (sharing needles, unsafe sex, and mother-to-child transmission) that can increase the risk for HIV/AIDS infection. The question lies in whether or not they are able to take appropriate actions to prevent contracting the disease themselves.

Heroin addiction, dirty needled, and HIV infection

Many heroin addicts, especially those that are homeless or extremely poor, will use whatever heroin they can get, regardless of the risk it puts them in.  A study done in a San Francisco park frequented by almost 3000 IV drug users found that in times of heroin withdrawals, addicts would use dirty  needles, sometimes with visible traces of blood still on them. The need to overcome their withdrawal was more important to them than worrying about the risk of contracting HIV or any of the other countless diseases that can be contracted from such use.

Many of the users surveyed were poor and sometimes didn’t even have enough money to buy their own supply of heroin so they often pooled together what they had with others. They all shared the heroin, cooker and needle to get a fix for the time being.

Regardless of the consequences of HIV contraction, users needed their heroin.

In this community many of the users knew about the risks of sharing needles and were well aware of recommendations that they not share needles or bleach them.  The users actually found health outreach workers slogans patronizing because although they would have  loved not to have to worry about sharing needles, often the more imminent need is getting that fix or suffer being extremely sick from withdrawals.  Given the relatively rare harm-reduction sources available, they were able to use the clean needles given out by some health organizations but at other times had to be resourceful and use what they had regardless of the possible consequences.

There are 1.2 million people living with HIV in the US right now out of a 33.2 million total in the world. 2.5 million people recently acquired the disease and 18% of those new infections were from injection drug users (IDU).  HIV/AIDS is a preventable disease. If we allow users to have easier access to clean needles, we can help decrease the number of IDU infections. If you aren’t sure what your status is, get tested! HIV Testing

Here’s a great resource for finding needle exchanges operating in the U.S. : NASEN

Citation:

Social Misery and the Sanctions of Substance Abuse: Confronting HIV Risk among Homeless Heroin Addicts in San Francisco. Philippe Bourgois; Mark Lettiere; James Quesada. Social Problems, Vol. 44, No. 2  (May, 1997), pp. 155-173. University of California Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

UNAIDS Website

Small town heroin addicts – When drug use and overdose hit smalltown USA

We’ve already talked (see here) about the fact that well-off teens are in no way protected from the damages of drug abuse. We’ve even published a story by a reader who became addicted to heroin after another friend introduced her to snorting oxycontin pills. This recent article, published in the Washington Post, tells the story of a small Virginia town recently hit with their own small heroin epidemic.

cooking heroinWhen all was said and done, the residents of Centreville, VA would be left with 4 deaths and 16 convictions, a sad memory of the quiet town they thought they were living in.

This story is nothing if not a sad reminder that addiction doesn’t discriminate based on any factors we’re familiar with – race, money, age, or political leaning…

Click HERE for a link for some information on what to do in case someone you know is going through a heroin overdose

Addiction stories – LSD addiction: AN LSD trip down the wrong path

An LSD trip may be fun for a bit, but LSD addiction doesn't sound like any fun at all.**DISCLAIMER: This post has been changed since its original content. Since I Believe the submitted story was fake, I’ve now made this a post about the possibility of developing LSD dependence**

Many of my readers claim that LSD addiction does not exist. Well, They’re simply wrong. LSD dependence (the clinical term for addiction) is certainly out there, though its no doubt rare. To understand why I can make that claim, let’s cover the specifics of what a psychological assessment of dependence requires:

The official definition of addiction

As far as the DSM-IV (the psychological assessment manual) is concerned, dependence on any drug require at least three of the following to occur within a year:

  1. Tolerance, as defined by either of the following:
    • a need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect
    • markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of substance
  2. Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
    • the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for the substance
    • the same (or a closely related) substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms
  3. The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  4. There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use
  5. A great deal of time is spent in activities to obtain the substance, use the substance, or recover from its effects
  6. Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use
  7. The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance (e.g., continued drinking despite recognition that an ulcer was made worse by alcohol consumption)

Now, I’ve taken more than my share of LSD trips before. Actually, I used to sell acid, among many other drugs in my former life. I knew many people who loved acid, mushrooms, and other hallucinogens (including me) but a few cases stand out in particular.

LSD addiction – Hypotheticals and examples

Given the above definition of substance dependence, any number of combinations of symptoms could qualify someone as being dependent on LSD.

  1. Tolerance buildup for the drug is quick and significant. As anyone who’s ever tried to follow one trip with another knows, the second time requires a lot more acid, and any additional trips increase the amount of LSD needed greatly. Tolerance – Check!
  2. Withdrawal from LSD, especially in the wake of repeated exposures (the multiple trips I was talking about before), includes disorientation, difficulty thinking, fatigue, and sometimes perceptual difficulties (problems with hearing, vision). I’ve experienced this myself, but the best example I’ve seen is of a friend who tried to trip continuously for as long as possible – After about a week and a half, she was eating literally a sheet of acid to feel anything (her boyfriend was a dealer, talk about tolerance). When she stopped because her boyfriend cut her off, she had the hardest time finishing sentences, completing thoughts, or following conversations for nearly three months! Withdrawal – Check!
  3. With the above 2 out of the way, any of the other 5 symptoms can serve to complete the LSD dependence picture. Still, though I’ve never met anyone who tried to stop but couldn’t, I have:
    1. Known people who spent a lot of their time and resources (money) chasing down good acid, paying for it, or preparing for and getting involved in activities that involved LSD.
    2. Many of the people I knew began slacking off at work, sometimes being fired, getting far more lax at school, and neglecting any relationships they had with people who were not involved in their LSD use.
    3. Quite a few of the hard-core LSD users I knew told me time and again that they know their LSD use is causing them difficulties (mostly psychological difficulties) but that fact seemed unable to deter them from buying more acid and continuing down the same path.

So does LSD addiction exist?

Obviously, I believe that LSD dependence exists, though it is no doubt rare. As I’ve stated time and again, I am NOT against the use of drugs. However, I think that drug users’ naive approach to many of these issues, including their constant desire to ignore all signs of the negative consequences of drug abuse, is a big part of the problem here. Ingesting drugs is harmful, but knowing that, I believe people should have the choice to harm themselves, though not others. People with drug problems need help, not jails. Still, to make this a reality, we need to do a much better job of educating ourselves about the true effects of drugs.

I’ve seen LSD destroy lives that took years to rebuild. I’m not talking about people locked away in mental institutions thinking they’re an orange (we’ve all heard that story). But I had friends who became completely unable to live and function in society who gave up friends, significant others, and family for a drug that eventually made them crazy. Some of them are back, some aren’t.

All I’m saying is be careful.

Doctor prescription drug use: Addiction fears no one

The story published today by the Baltimore Sun (see here) is another sad reminder that no one is safe from addiction.

Two doctors of pharmacology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine were apparently developing quite a drug habit buying prescription drugs online and then cooking them and shooting them up. Now one of them is dead and the other is in jail looking at some serious time.

I’m not going to repeat the whole story here, but you should go read it.  Prescription drug use is a growing problem in the U.S., apparently, like other addictions, it doesn’t discriminate.

Always stay mindful – My different experience with recovery, addiction, and crystal meth

One of the main features of addiction is, unfortunately, how insidious it is.
Given everything I’ve been learning in the past 12 years about drugs, their abuse, and the people involved, I feel right in saying that most people don’t realize how far gone they are until it’s too late.

I consider myself fortunate in finding my way out of my crystal meth addiction, and I’ve met many others who’ve found their way as well. Still, I realize constantly that you can’t be too vigilant or too aware in watching out for inroads back to disaster.

My Experiment

methAs I’d said before, I began drinking again after 3 years of staying completely sober. My decision to leave typical recovery was made after talking with my parents and loved ones and making sure that they understood what this meant. I made sure that if I began reverting back to my old way of being lazy, aloof, and disrespectful, they would step in and send me right back to rehab.

This was my way of running the famous AA experiment and for me, it’s been working for the past 5 years or so.

But, I am always aware of how intoxicated I am and it is rare nowadays that I let myself get to the point of the loss of control. I have this constant voice in my head now that monitors how drunk I feel. I DO leave unfinished glasses of wine at dinners at times, and I do my best to make wise choices before going out so that I don’t make dumb ones later (like driving under the influence).

How I stay grounded

Still, most of my awareness about my addiction and what it means comes from my constant work in the area. Working with people who are in the throws of their disease keeps me in touch with how far I’ve gone and how much I don’t want to go back. I now know much more about the risks and about what I’d be doing to myself were I to take them. I don’t want to kill additional neurons, and I sure as hell don’t want to go through 2 more years of hell trying to put my life in order. I’ve never tried speed again since the day I quit in 2002 because I can’t say that I’m sure of what would happen next, and I don’t want to find out in case it’s bad…

This is why I believe that education is one of our best weapons in the battle against addiction.

My most valuable help

Lastly, I feel like one of the most important ingredients in all of this is having people you can trust and confide in. I don’t have many of those, but there are a few, and my family is always there, and I share everything with them.

For me, it was the moment I chose to be forthcoming with my family and hide nothing from them that has healed years of tension, mistrust and fighting, and I never want to go back .

This however means that they too have to be open. We now laugh when I say things like “I wish I could do some speed now to get me through all this work I have,” but I assure you, no one was laughing 5 years ago…

A word of caution

DefeatedMy sponsor in AA “went out” (meaning he started using again) a few months ago after being prescribed pain medication for surgery. Many in AA would point to the fact that he should have never been prescribed those pills in the first place. Everything I’ve learned about the brain indicates that automatic relapse is only likely when using one’s “drug of choice“. I say it was the dissolution of his marriage and his trust that having been sober for 12 years he could do no wrong that got him in trouble.

The moral:

Be open, accepting, and loving. Let those around you say things that make you uncomfortable without too much judgment so that they feel safe in coming back to you, and if they ask for help, know how to give it to them. No matter how happy people are to finally quit drugs (or another addiction), the feeling of defeat when they realize they now have to learn to live without their crutch can be enormous. This is where the help is most important.

Question of the day:
Do you have a story about the support you found necessary for your own recovery or the recovery of someone close to you?

Drug use norms and expectations: Obsessions and compulsions in our society.

teensI used to always say, back in my using days, that speed (methamphetamine) was The American drug. Why? Meth makes its users sharper, more alert, and more focused, and it allowed me to spend entire nights up studying like I’d never been able to study before.

Unfortunately, like many other aspects of The American Dream, speed will also leave you spent before you know it, leaving the memories of those productive, focused, days far behind with little hope of coming back.

We live in a society that celebrates excess, be it in celebration or dedication to work, success, and achievement. Is it any wonder then that so many Americans turn whichever way they can to gain the edge that they feel they’re lacking when they compare themselves to those around them?

I read recently that many executives now keep a supply of medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and other attention deficit cures around for times when they need that extra push to stay up late and work.

We are skirting a dangerous line by putting out the message that everyone should be the best though of course, with no cheating… or at least no getting caught.

Teens are now using more and more prescription drugs while reducing, or at least not increasing, their use of many illicit, or illegal substances. How is this crisis we’re experiencing with our teens any different than the recent steroid stories exploding the mythic innocence of every American sport?

One of the things I want to inform my readers about in writing this blog is the process of addiction and the ways in which its development is often not under the control of the users, at least not the users likely to eventually develop into addicts. But, there’s also a different issue, the one having to do with what it is about our society that makes Americans so much more likely to turn to these substances in the first place???

It is estimated that more than a third (110 Million to be exact) of American have used at least one drug at some point in their lives. I don’t necessarily think that there is anything wrong per se with recreational drug use given the relatively low rates of addiction that develop from it. However, I think that drug use, even recreational use, that is meant to solve a problem or that is done as a normal part of life, is more likely to become problematic.

Some theories of addiction specifically assert that “self-medication”, as in using a drug to alleviate problems, especially psychological problems, can be a major indication of likely addiction potential. The problem is that the unsupervised use of the drug often does little to help the initial difficulties, and if anything, makes things worse as the drug user becomes more involved in the illegal drug culture. I probably don’t need to tell many of you about the social withdrawal and added psychological stress that goes along with becoming, or living with, a drug user.

My point is that we need to change the way we think about drugs in general. Drugs can be useful for many specific medical and psychological benefits, and possibly even for their recreational benefit (think Van Gough, or The Doors). But, in order to make sure that those we care about most don’t abuse and misuse drugs, we need to move away from the current attitude that seems to drive children and teens towards irresponsible, ill-informed, and dangerous drug use. By educating kids, not scaring them away from, the things that are dangerous for them.

You wouldn’t dream of teaching a child to look both ways before crossing the street by yelling at them that they better not EVER dream of setting a foot on the road without looking left first, would you?!

We teach our kids everything we think they need to know about life in order to prepare them for what’s ahead. Why is it that when it comes to drugs (and often sex), we shy away from bringing the subject up and still expect them to be well prepared when a friend says “Hey, want to pop one of these pills with me?”

There will always be those who for one reason or another are more likely to develop a problem with drugs regardless of how well prepared they are. Genetic influences on things such as low impulse control and sensation-seeking are known and are probably closely linked to some bad decision making. But even these people will benefit from being better prepared and more educated about their own choices so that when the time comes, even if a problem develops, they can hopefully acknowledge it, and deal with it, in a more capable, informed way.

We need to stop turning away from a problem and thinking it will solve itself. It’s time for us to look for answers and not rely on solutions appearing magically. They most likely won’t…

Question of the day:
Do you think that enforcement (of drug laws) or treatment (of heavy drug users)is the more effective way of dealing with the drug problem?