Drug Addiction

The Reality of Addiction All Around Us

I had an ironic encounter with someone the night before the Seabrook House Foundation's Charity Golf Tournament that really made me thankful for where I'm at now in my life.

For those who don't know me that well, I have been sober going on 12 years now and abstinent from gambling for the past 4 years. As I was waiting for my colleague's flight to arrive,  I decided to sit and watch the Giant's game that was on TV at the hotel bar. Some people may have raised an eyebrow at a recovering alcoholic/gambler sitting in a hotel lobby bar 7 miles from Atlantic City on a Thursday night watching a football game, but fortunately for me, today I can watch a game with my favorite Diet Coke.

After a while watching the game, my legs were bothering me more than normal,  and that led me to limp a tad more than I normally do. The waitress noticed,  and asked me immediately what I was taking for the pain. When I told her Tylenol she asked me “Why not Oxycontin?“.

Sallie, as I will call her, seemed sincere and innocent with her question. As an addiction professional my mind started to realize the reality of living in a society ignorant about prescription opiates. This young woman spoke of Oxycontin as innocently as a Tylenol.  I expressed to Sallie that I felt the danger of dependence with those types of drugs was not worth the risk. She agreed. When I told her I worked for Sunrise Detox Center and was attending a fundraiser to support a local foundation for treatment, her jaw hit the floor.

After a few moments, Sallie re-engaged me in our conversation.  She confided in me that she had had an addiction problem at one time with Oxycontin. She had stolen from her boyfriend and father in the past to support her habit and now she was on Suboxone,  but felt she couldn't  get off of that either. When I asked her why, she said, “I'm terrified.”

I recognized the look on her face. I knew I was there once before, lost in the panic and confusion of addiction. Sallie told me that her job waiting tables didn't help her avoid addiction either, as some of her colleagues offered her drugs on a daily basis.

I told Sallie that had many options available to her.  I gave her our admissions number – (888)443-3869, and  I strongly recommended detox plus 28 days of rehab. I explained it would give her the best chance of success. I also encouraged her to seek support in 12 steps. Especially as a woman who had long term sobriety.

As I left for the airport to pick up my colleague, I realized that I am lucky to have found recovery, and lucky to be working at Sunrise Detox. I have acquired so much of the knowledge I have today about addiction from my work with Sunrise Detox.

I also left the sports bar thinking that maybe someone or something had put me in that ironic situation,  so that I could possibly affect Sallie's life in a positive way, and be reminded of my good fortune and the results of my own recovery efforts.

The Reel Recovery Film Festival New York

Sunrise Detox representatives attended the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 “REEL Recovery Film Festival” in New York City, featuring honest films about addiction, alcoholism, behavior disorders, treatment and recovery.

Writers In Treatment presented The REEL Recovery Film Festival in New York Sept 28th-Oct 04, 2012. This multi-day annual event is a celebration of film, the arts, writing and creativity, showcasing filmmakers who make honest films about addiction, alcoholism, behavioral disorders, treatment and recovery.

Sunrise Detox attended the opening party along with addiction professionals and those in recovery. The atmosphere was positive and the buzz among attendees was that they hoped for more recognition of addiction in film going forward. The opening performance was “On the Bowery” which is known as the predecessor to modern day documentaries. “On the Bowery” is described as follows:

“Among the most important films from the post-war American independent scene are Lionel Rogosin’s On the Bowery and Come Back, Africa — two incredible documents of bygone eras that still resonate today. From the beginning, Rogosin’s style as an independent filmmaker was straightforward and compassionate. His films, made “from the inside” showed the subjects he chose in their normal surroundings and allowed them to speak in their own words. By choosing ordinary people caught up in universal problems — homelessness, racial discrimination, war and peace, labor relations, and poverty — Rogosin made his point poignantly. The Oscar®-nominated On the Bowery is a masterpiece of the American blend of documentary/fiction.”

William S. and Lynne Earley both in recovery for over 20 years,  attended the opening party.

The follow up to the film screening on opening night was a Question and Answer session with actor and celebrity Robert Downey Sr.,  who was open about his personal recovery.


Seabrook House Foundation’s Golf Outing 2012

John F. Moriarty III and Stokes Aitken, of Sunrise Detox.

One of my many perks of marketing and outreach is attending charity events that support recovery.

On September 21, 2012 Sunrise Detox sponsored Seabrook House Foundation's Golf Outing at Seaview Resort, in Gallway, New Jersey. The outing benefited those in need of treatment but who are unable to financially afford the increasing costs of treatment today.

Sunrise Detox Sponsored the Longest Drive Contest and donated $2500 to this great cause. Joining me were Stokes Aitken, the CFO of Sunrise Detox Center, and Terry Cronin, a New Jersey based interventionist.

Great weather and networking with addiction professionals from all over the country was had by all.

Terminally Unique

On more than one occasion, I've heard remarks like, “Since everyone is different, is it possible that there are some recovery rules that may not be helpful — or even harmful — to some addicts?”

When I got into the program, I was told that there were no rules, only suggestions, but that they had worked for a lot of people and the chances were good that they would work for me, so maybe I needed to set aside my reservations and listen to other people for a change.

One of the defining characteristics of human beings seems to be the conviction that we are all different, and thus certain rules of living, behavior and society in general don’t apply to us. It is true that we are all unique in some ways, but it is also true that we humans have the vast majority of our behavior in common.

All creatures need certain things: air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat, reproductive behavior and the other things necessary for the biological survival of their species. Humans need security, family, employment, friendship and intimacy. Finally, we all need self-esteem, confidence, the respect of others, a sense of achievement, morals, rules to keep society running, and related things.

Hierarchy Of Needs

So, what does nearly every addict lack out of the above list, at one time or another? Would it be fair to say nearly all of them? Aren’t these the very things that we often ignore in our search for better living through chemistry? Aren’t these the things we need to repair, or finally progress to having, in order to remain “happy, joyous and free?” Isn’t achieving those things or getting them back the whole point of sobriety?

Recovery isn’t about quitting. We quit lots of times. Recovery is about learning how to live after we quit — without using again. And in recovery, “terminally unique” is not a joke. It’s a diagnosis — and a curse.

Addiction and Alcoholism Strike Across All Boundaries

According to an article I read recently, 56% of people in Scotland think that you can tell someone is an alcoholic or drug addict simply by looking at them.  It doesn't surprise me a bit.  One of the most difficult things to get across to folks — including alcoholics and other addicts — is the amazingly widespread nature of this disease of ours.  My own case in point: a month before I was forced into treatment by my employer, I was a prominent member of the community where I worked.  No one would ever have guessed that the guy they'd known for 13 years (third in command of their police department) was a raging drunk and seriously addicted to prescription drugs.

I was in treatment with three dozen or so other people, ranging from admitted prostitutes to a nurse with a graduate degree, to a superior court judge.  There is no way to tell an addict or alcoholic from any other guy on the street, until the disease is way, way advanced.  In retrospect, I know that I drank alcoholically for at least 20 years, and yet it was only a few months before I got sober that I had any idea of my “problem.”  My family suspected — some of them.  Others had trouble believing me when I told them myself, and yet my behavior was certainly out of character (and downright irresponsible) for years prior.

Alcoholism and addiction strike across all boundaries.  We all remember the problems of Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears and the current crop of celebrities, because the media hounded them unmercifully. We don't know about the problems of the FPL supervisors, the dentists, the successful attorneys, the school teachers, Navy SEALs, politicians and many other professions, all of whom I've met in and around the 12-step groups over the years.  We don't know about most of the others, either, until they're so far gone in their disease that it's impossible not to notice.

Addiction is the invisible disease.  It worms its way in and destroys personalities, families, minds and bodies so successfully and so subtly that even when we notice odd things we think, “Oh, not that, why she's a____.”  So keep that in mind, and if a loved one or friend seems to be changing,  be alert for signs and symptoms similar to these.  Keep in mind that there may be reasonable explanations for single instances, but repeated incidents or clusters of symptoms may indicate problems.

  • Extreme mood changes: happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: time spent sleeping, times of day or night, insomnia
  • Changes in energy – unpredictably tired or energetic
  • Inattention to personal hygiene
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Unusual behavior at certain times, and normal at other times
  • Pupils of the eyes smaller or larger than usual; eyes watery or bloodshot
  • Secretiveness
  • Defensiveness
  • Lying, especially about whereabouts, amount of alcohol consumed, other addiction-related matters
  • Stealing, or missing valuables that may have been sold or pawned
  • Financial unpredictability: ready cash sometimes, broke at others
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
  • No longer interested in former pursuits; misses family occasions and duties
  • Repeated unexplained absences, or sudden trips “to the store” or other excuses for leaving home or work
  • Absences from appointments or frequent tardiness
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages
  • Unusual insistence on privacy
  • Alcohol found in unusual places, laundry baskets, back of closet, etc.

Can Recovering Addicts and Alcoholics Attend Holiday Parties Safely?

Alcoholics and drug addicts in early recovery seem generally to take one of two attitudes toward holiday gatherings: either they are afraid to go, or they feel they need to challenge themselves in some way.

Obviously, people in early recovery are more vulnerable than folks who have been clean and sober for several years. Newcomers have not yet replaced their old habits — developed over years of using — with newer, healthier reflexes. There is a real possibility that being in a drinking (and perhaps drugging) environment could massively trigger a desire to use. This is also possible when we are further along in recovery, but by then most people have learned to deal better with situations that might be triggers.

Nonetheless, there is no reason that we can't attend holiday parties with relative safety, so long as we follow some simple guidelines.

  • Take a sober friend with you. — This is by far the most important rule. There are excellent reasons: you are less likely to become enmeshed (especially at family gatherings) if you have someone with you who knows where you're coming from; and also the two of you can have fun watching the partiers become progressively more loaded and silly.
  • Be sure you have your own transportation, or enough money for a cab. — The unpleasant truth is, you can't depend on anyone but yourself to get you out of a tight spot, not even your sober friend. He or she is vulnerable, too, and if they get involved with the party, they may not want to leave. You have to be sure that you can leave on your own — and don't hang around trying to help your buddy. You won't be any help later if you relapse too.

At the party:

  • Never accept a drink from anyone else. Order your own coke, or soda and lime, and watch the bartender to make sure that's all you get.
  • Never set your drink down. You might pick up someone else's by mistake, or someone might decide to “freshen” it for you in all innocence — or not.
  • Always have a non-alcoholic drink in your hand. It keeps you from having to explain why you're not drinking, and keeps people from offering to get you another. Just say, “No thanks, I'm OK for now.”
  • Nibble throughout the party. It keeps your hands busy and your blood sugar up, which helps you resist the idea of using.
  • If you walk into the restroom and someone has lines on the counter, or you see mysterious powder residue, leave. Don't check it to see what it is.
  • Arrive late and leave early. Minimize your exposure by limiting your time in the situation. You may have certain obligations about attending, but being the first in the door and the last to leave increases the likelihood that you will become comfortable with the old, familiar party atmosphere. That way lies nothing but trouble.
  • If you feel uncomfortable, leave immediately. Don't make a pass around the room saying goodbye — just leave. You can explain later that you “weren't feeling well” and had to get home. That's true, and you don't have to explain farther. You suited up, showed up, and that's all that is required.

With these precautions in mind, there is no reason that you can't attend a holiday party. Just make darned sure you follow ALL of them, especially the part about taking a sober friend.

Happy Holidays!

How long am I required to stay in rehab?

Q. How long am I required to stay in rehab?

Assuming that you have not been court-mandated into treatment, you are usually free to leave rehab at any time — against professional advice.  Assuming that you use good sense and stay, the answer varies depending on a variety of factors.

Getting the alcohol and/or other drugs out of our system is only the first of many things that need to happen in order for us to have a decent shot at long-term sobriety. Getting clean and sober (and staying that way) requires time.

I’ve written here often about the physical changes in our brains that cause us to be unable to function without drugs. Until our brains have had time to heal themselves, we are at great danger of relapse, because cravings can return at any time. Along with that danger goes the issue of how we feel physically and emotionally while the repairs are taking place. Post-acute withdrawal can be a bear, and it can last for quite a while. Without a plan and good support, that alone can make us uncomfortable enough to want to use again.

Psychological and emotional damage from our period of active addiction — and perhaps even before we first used, need to be addressed. Getting clean does nothing to deal with those issues, and ignoring them puts us at great risk of using simply to make the bad feelings go away again.

There are social and legal issues to be considered. Getting clean does not prepare us to go back to work immediately, repair damaged relationships with family, friends and perhaps employers, clear up financial and legal problems, and deal with the other situations surrounding our addictions. Only time, along with some support and work on our part, can prepare us to deal adequately with those things.  One of the prime targets of rehab is to help clients develop a plan, a support system, and learn how to use them.

Some help and support for family members and significant others is needed. Therapy, or at least a support group, is highly desirable for them because living with an addict is traumatizing. This is easier to arrange if we are under the guidance of people who know how to help our families and friends begin to heal too, because us telling our family that we think they need help is pretty much a non-starter.

Finally, we get to the addict behavior that we need to change. When we used, we developed behavior that protected our addictions.  Over time it became ingrained. (I like to use the example of putting Kobe Bryant in a basketball game, but telling him he can do anything he would normally do except try to score. How long would it take Kobe to blow that assignment, after spending most of his life working to do nothing but score? His instinct to shoot when the opportunity arises would trip him up, sure as taxes.) The point is, until we develop habits of thinking and responding to the world like a sober person, we are likely to respond to stressful situations just as we did in the past. More than one addict has come back saying, “I don’t know what happened — one day it seemed like a good idea and I just picked up!”

So there’s no way, really, to give a simple answer to this question. A safe one would be “Stay in rehab as long as possible.” Of course we all know that other factors can stymie a plan like that. Best answer: consult with the experts who are handling your rehab, and take their advice if possible. More rehab can’t hurt.  There are very few problems that can be solved if we don't have the skills to tackle them, and if we relapse — well, let’s just say that’s not the best way to remain out of rehab.