Although every story is different, there are general patterns of substance use, treatment, relapse and recovery that emerge in the study of those in recovery.
Jack’s story is fairly typical. He did well in school, played sports, and had lots of friends. After a sports injury, his doctor prescribed an opioid painkiller. He loved the way he felt when taking them. When his prescription ran out, he was able to find them from friends. Although the first few pills were given to him for free, soon he had to pay for them. At first, he only took them on weekends or at parties. Soon he was taking them through the week as well. He quickly discovered that if he didn’t take them, he began to be anxious and have flu-like symptoms. Initially, he was able to pay for them with the money he earned at his part-time job. As his need for the drugs increased, he went through his savings. He started looking though medicine cabinets of friends and family members to find prescription medications he could sell or trade for opioids He convinced himself that he didn’t have a problem, as there were others who were in worse shape than he was. He wasn’t using needles or taking heroin.
He began taking things from his parents’ home to pawn or sell for drug money. When someone suggested he try intravenous injection, he was unsure he wanted to cross that line. But with encouragement, he allowed himself to be injected and there was no going back.
Jack’s parents had noticed changes in their son, but Jack was able to create stories that covered his drug use. He was just tired, had a touch of the flu. He spent more time in his room and with his new friends. When asked about his former friends, he said they were lame and didn’t want to hang out with them any more. As his grades at school plummeted, he became angrier and more belligerent about people being on his case and not leaving him alone.
He couldn’t wait to go to college and get away from all the rules and people who didn’t “get him.” Once there he used his new freedom to connect with other drug users and partiers. He only lasted a semester at the university before he flunked out. When his parents confronted him, he said the school was stupid and the professors were too harsh and expected too much. After several confrontations, Jack confessed that his problem was drug-related and his parents got him into a treatment center. Jack went from being relieved that the problem was out in the open to being angry and resentful of the rules and strict routine of the treatment center. He managed to complete the program with plans to go back to school, but once released, he ran into a friend from his former days and soon was using again. Thus began a several year cycle of treatment and relapse. His family grew more and more frustrated with him and eventually cut off ties.
Jack spent many years couch surfing and then was homeless. After several overdoses and Narcan administrations, an EMT connected him with a recovery organization and a medically assisted treatment facility. Initially, Jack did not have much hope, but through the counselling and medication, he began to see that recovery was possible. He had several missteps, but with the support of his counselor and new friends in recovery, it was not a catastrophic fall back into the life of addiction.
Slowly Jack relearned how to function again in healthy society. He developed new interests and began to help others on their roads to recovery. It has not been easy and has taken a long time to rebuild trust, but his relationships with his family are slowly being restored. Recently Jack met a woman in recovery and they are beginning to plan a future helping others develop a vision for their own recovery.
Names and details have been changed to protect Jack’s privacy.
Lynn Saylor is the AmeriCorps member working with the United Against Opioid Abuse Initiative alongside the White County United Way. She is a major facilitator of the United Council on Opioids serving White County and a regular contributor to local media.