addiction epidemic


“All the drugs make you stupid, paranoid, and ruthless.”

Let’s take note from Rilo Kiley‘s “All The Drugs” tackling addiction and its effects on all in its path.

Living on a college campus means I live in a sea of Juuls, Marlboro 27s, acid tabs, and PBRs. Stepping outside for a spliff on your ten minute break from your three hour seminar? No big deal. A few Adderalls and Red Bulls when you’re working late? Standard. Enjoying a midday Miller Lite (or a handful) before your easy afternoon class? Go for it.

I, on the other hand, am mellow compared to my peers. A baby, even. I’m no professional alcoholic, nor am I a walking pharmacy, but I won’t put it past myself to imbibe a little too much on a Saturday night only to be woken up on a couch to a friend saying, “I made you coffee; it’s noon.”

Sometimes harsher drugs (Opiates; even Heroin) permeate the college bubble.

Let me preface this by saying I have in no way struggled with drugs, nor am I comparing my usage of substances like Sertraline, Marijuana, Alcohol, Nicotine, and Benzodiazepines to Opiates. This is merely my personal experience with various substances in an attempt to discuss the real bad guys I hear about and see.

I got high for the first time on a Friday night in a bedroom two doors down from my house when I was 16. A friend and I popped a few pieces of Kiva chocolate, watched How I Met Your Mother, and waited for its effects to set in.

When my heart rate soared and my perception of time became altered, I panicked. I was CONVINCED I was going to die two doors down from my family. Once the cake and ice cream came out, I was fine. The rest of the night we laughed, my eyes drooped, and I was happy. So happy.

I’ve never been a binge drinker. I’ve never blacked out or vomited under the influence of alcohol. I enjoy a few drinks and my nights typically end with me chugging water and binging Sex and the City. Yeah, I get hangovers (Halloweekend, anyone?), but I’m a vanilla drinker.

I was prescribed Benzodiazepines midway through last year for panic attacks. One night at a Thai restaurant with friends on the Upper East Side, somatic hell symptoms crept up on me. That was the first time I took two Ativan (a lot for a 5’5″, 125 pound, teenage girl). I had a more uninhibited mouth than I usually do, and my mental processes were a walk in the park.

Let these stories suffice to say: I understand why a person would feel the need to rely on a substance. Who wouldn’t want constant orgasmic brain waves? For fuck’s sake, I rely on 150 milligrams of Sertraline every day and probably will for the rest of my life. Granted, I’ve been prescribed it, but I rely on it and experience withdrawals if I miss a dose nonetheless.

I’ve been stupid, paranoid, and ruthless under the influence and in the aftermath of substances (I’ve come to realize alcohol is a hell of a drug), and I wanted to learn about what lies on the other side of vanilla.

I have a friend who mentioned issues with her ex’s drug problem so I asked her to tell me as much as she could about being an addict’s lover. “I’ve known him for 5 years so I wasn’t sure about the hardcore drugs at first,” she says of her ex boyfriend.

She discovered the ex was prone to shooting up. She was tolerant and nonjudgmental at first. “I don’t care what you do as long as it’s not overdosing in my house,” she told him. After he shot up in her bathroom, she recognizes the fact of the matter in retrospect. “First red flag for me but didn’t see it at the time. The one thing I asked him not to do in my house he ignored and did.”

And so began the vicious cycle of stupidity, paranoia, and ruthlessness. “I started getting annoyed with his habit when he would be too sick to go out. Or he would be going through withdrawals on our dates in public, puking outside on the sidewalk or in my car.”

Addressing addiction is a slippery slope. Loving an addict is even more slippery. What to say; what to do…there’s no rulebook. You’re walking on eggshells.

My friend notes sacrificing herself and her priorities when codependency took over. “He would make me lie to my friends about why he was nodding off when they became suspicious and that was hard for me to do,” she says. “I started to drop anything I had going on, work, friends, going out, etc. when he would call dope sick or thinking he was ODing. I ended up just watching over him because I was so scared he was going to die since I had taken him multiple times to the ER when he thought he was dying. I neglected all my responsibilities while he continued to do whatever he wanted and he didn’t seem to care that my needs were being on hold for his which made me become bitter and resentful towards him.”

A word of advice from my friend: being their caretaker is NOT your job. Your job is to love them, not lie for or enable them. Loving them means pointing them towards help. “I wish I didn’t neglect my own responsibilities to help him resulting in me moving out of my apartment to stay with him and putting everything I owned in storage after he had surgery for a staph infection that almost cost him his arm only to be kicked out a month later. And I also wish I had told his mom when things got bad because in the end he just threw me under the bus and I became the scapegoat for everything even though I was against it and was the one taking care of him.”

The straw that broke the camel’s back for my friend was paranoia and ruthlessness. “The breaking point was when he ran out of Heroin one night and was so upset thinking I had thrown his stash away. He was in denial about having done his week supply in 2 days so he grabbed my dog and hung her over his 3 story balcony demanding I give him $80 so he could get more or he would drop my dog off the balcony. He was a different person when he didn’t have his drugs, he needed an excuse and everything became my fault. And when things were my fault and his habit got more and more expensive he started finding ways to blackmail me for money when he couldn’t afford to buy as often. I finally had it when I gave him the cash he needed just to save my dog and then watch him throw all my belongings out his door screaming at me that I was a thief and a whore.”

Pointing an addict towards help means starting with making sure you’re in check. How will you be equipped to handle the throes of love and addiction if you’re not secure? “Don’t be an enabler to an addict. They use everything in their power to make you feel sorry for them or manipulate you into being responsible for caring for them if something bad happens. And don’t neglect your own work, friends or money or responsibilities to help them. If you’re battling addiction then then the only advice I can give is if you are serious and really need help go to a treatment center or rehab and stay until you’re finished with the problem. Delete all your dealers’ phone numbers and let your friends know you are serious about getting help and if they could drive you to a recovery place to make sure you check yourself in.”

I talked to two young women at school who haven’t experienced addiction on the same caliber my friend who dated the heroin addict has, but their stories are firsthand accounts of these drugs in their bodies.

With one young woman, it started with a bee sting on her nipple. Events transpired and she landed in the ER where she met her first dose of morphine, sending her in and out of consciousness. Post-op, she was sent home with 50 narcos. Granted, she was in serious pain post-surgery, but she began to tango with addiction with happy pills at her disposal. “Eventually I was enjoying the effect they had on me before I went to sleep.”

She’s a cyclist, so a newsflash about an Olympian using pills like she did pulled her out of the narcotic haze. “It must have been a couple weeks like that before I heard about an Olympic track cyclist (my sport) that I had met who got banned for taking the Opiates he was given after a crash after they were prescribed and he was saying ‘I just use them to fall asleep’ which was exactly what I had been saying.”

She ultimately surrendered the meds to her mom. “I still ache for them pretty regularly, especially at night. I know that I can’t take them ever again without doing the same thing and maybe I won’t be able to give them away.”

It’s self awareness that keeps you safe. I talked to another young woman who used Oxycodone, which she was prescribed after a car accident. “They gave me six pills but every time I took one it felt like I was high and really infatuated/in love with something. What was weird was that after I stopped the six pills, I had cravings for it every morning for a couple weeks. And that really made me understand how addictive Opioids can be.”

It took just six pills to get the addiction ball rolling, but don’t neglect your willpower. “Well just because I had a craving doesn’t mean I had to act on it. It wasn’t strong enough and I felt like I wasn’t in an ‘addictive’ phase in my life. In the beginning stages I felt like I had the power to choose not to engage with my desires because I felt stable enough to do that. I think anyone who’s a user should check in with someone to get an outside perspective on their usage. No one wants to be an addict and I’m sure some outside perspective would help keep them in the right direction.”

A key question, she says, in self-reflection and determining where one lies on the addiction spectrum: “Would you be able to survive without it for a week/month?”

The next time you wake up with a screaming headache after too much money spent on whisky shots, the next time you reach for a Camel Crusher, the next time you reach into your desk for a stray Adderall…ask yourself: why am I using this? Could I go without this if I had to?

And for those of us who have been prescribed certain substances, know what you’re giving your body and mind. It boils down to caring enough to put an end to the stupidity, paranoia, and ruthlessness.

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