If you are reading this, you or someone you love has probably been affected by addiction. I’m a recovering addict. I look back on my life and struggle between shame at my mistakes and pride at how far I’ve come. Writing about this subject is hard. It reopens old wounds. But if someone who has been in the depths of addiction and came out the other side isn’t willing to speak up, how is someone who is there now supposed to have hope? Hope. That’s what I hope to offer you here. Hope and understanding as I offer you my story along with the latest scientific research explaining why we are the way we are, and what we can do about it.
The Scope of the Problem
How big of a problem is addiction in today’s society? 40 million Americans over the age of 12 meet the clinical criteria for addiction to nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. Another 80 million don’t meet the criteria for addiction, but use these substances in a way that puts themselves and others at risk. In 2010, 38,000 people died from drug overdoses. That’s more than the amount of people who were killed in motor vehicle accidents. These are just the deaths that were ruled as drug overdoses. There are many more deaths each year in which drugs play a pivotal role. Car accidents, murders, burglaries gone wrong. Many of these can be attributed to drug addiction.
Drugs and alcohol are a problem all over the world. In Australia, 37% of people 14 and older drink at least once a week, and 20% of those who drink do so at levels that put them at risk of alcohol related harm in their lifetime. 10% of those 14 and older have used cannabis at least once in the last twelve months, and 3% have used opioids for nonmedical purposes in the last twelve months.
Incarceration Over Education
The war on drugs has been raging in America for over 40 years. In 1980, around 40,000 inmates were incarcerated for drug offenses. Now there are 500,000. There has been a trillion dollars spent on this drug war, with nothing to show for it but a large prison population. America’s schools are failing, and our children are struggling to keep up with the rest of the world. Each inmate costs over $25,000 a year to house. Over twice the $10,000 a year we are spending to educate our children.
A Global Market
Over 450 tons of heroin are trafficked each year with a value of over $55 billion dollars. 81 tons were seized around the world in 2008, leaving nearly 370 tons to be consumed by the masses. Cocaine is an even bigger cash crop, with 865 tons produced worldwide in 2008. 165 tons were consumed by Americans alone. It is literally used billions of times each year in America.
The Final Numbers
There are 230,000,000 drug users around the world. To put that number into perspective, if all these people were put into a country, it would be the fifth most populated country in the world. Clearly, the war on drugs has been a failure.
What We Think We Know About Addiction
Let’s look at what we think we know about addiction, and the evidence that what we think we know is either wrong or incomplete.
Physical dependence develops from taking a drug for a long period of time. The body becomes accustomed to the substance, and can go into various types of distress when you stop taking the substance. Symptoms of physical dependence include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- body aches
- changes in pulse or heart rate
Different substances can cause different withdrawal symptoms, and this list isn’t exhaustive. Most doctors say that these physical symptoms play a large role in creating addicts, because when someone tries to stop using the substance, their body can cause them a lot of pain and discomfort. Opiates are considered very physically addictive. However, if this plays such a large role in addiction, then why aren’t more people addicted to opiates? Why doesn’t grandma go from having her hip replaced and taking oxycodone to buying heroin on the street?
There are plenty of people who are treated for chronic pain. They may be physically dependent on the medication, but they use it within the bounds their doctor prescribes. They use it for pain relief. They don’t use it because they are depressed, or because they feel like having fun. Clearly, physical dependence can play a role in addiction, or at least keeping someone from stopping the drug, but there has to be much more to the equation than physical dependence.
You can become psychologically addicted to anything. You could make the argument that many of us are addicted to things like our smartphones, Candy Crush, and Facebook these days. See how long you can go without checking your smartphone. Do you start getting anxious at the thought of being in a situation where you can’t check it? Do you check it when it isn’t appropriate? Then you are officially addicted to your smartphone. More serious psychological addictions include gambling, porn, and sex addiction.
Blurring the Lines
The thing is, you can’t really separate the physical from the psychological. Our brains and bodies are connected in ways that we still don’t completely understand. Psychological issues can create physical symptoms, like depression making someone feel physically ill. It can also create physical responses. Let’s take a gambling addiction for example. It’s considered a psychological addiction, but when the person starts gambling they experience physical changes. They become physically excited. Their heart rate and their pulse go up, among other things. Physical symptoms can also have a psychological impact. Chronic pain can cause depression. When it comes to drug addiction, we truly don’t fully understand the impact of the physical and the psychological.
Is it Genetic?
Are some people predisposed to become addicts? Studies show that if you have a parent that has an addiction, you are much more likely to have one yourself. However, how much of this is based on genetics and how much was based on a less than ideal childhood is something that is impossible to quantify. There are a wide variety of genes that seem to have some impact on addiction risk based on human and animal studies. However, this simply means that some people are at a higher risk of developing an addiction than others. Some people are at a higher risk of developing heart disease or diabetes based on their genes and family history, but the deciding factor in most cases is their environment and lifestyle choices. In other words, it’s at least as much nurture as it is nature that is the cause of addiction.
In my case, neither of my biological parents or grandparents were addicted to anything besides cigarettes. However, my brother’s dad, whom I was around for most of my childhood, was a severe alcoholic. My brother and I both ended up struggling with drug addiction in our lives. For me, I suspect that growing up seeing it played a role.
All or Nothing: Fact or Fiction
Most addiction experts claim that once you are an addict, you are always an addict. Regardless of what you are addicted to, you must give up all psychoactive substances in order to enter the sacred “recovery”. Groups like Narcotics Anonymous insist that you follow this rule as well as work on their twelve steps. You would think a group of recovering drug addicts would be the first to offer unconditional love, but it seems that you are loved and welcomed as long as you meet their definition of recovery.
Perhaps for some people, this is the only way to recovery. For me personally, I find it severely limiting and I think it defeats many people who could live perfectly normal happy lives if they didn’t get so caught up in someone else’s definition of recovery. Addiction is a very personal issue, and it requires a personal solution. Things won’t work exactly the same for everyone. I was addicted to methamphetamine, but I used other drugs as well. Now, I can take pain medication from the doctor as prescribed when needed, even though I once abused it. I can drink occassionally with no desire to get drunk, even though there was a time when I would wake up every Sunday morning with a hang over.
I experiment with different herbs. I use the ones that make me feel good and keep me healthy. They have some psychoactive properties, but in no way get my high like drugs would. This is how I stay clean. The small indulgence that leaves me with no desire for the things that would be unhealthy for me. The sort of thing that “experts” would say will lead to an inevitable relapse, is what works for me. One of the most important things I’ve learned is to do what works for you. You have to be careful. it’s easy to lie to yourself and do something that you know you can’t handle. But when you are truly ready for recovery, you are also ready to be honest with yourself. In the end, if it is enhancing your life, it’s worth keeping. If it’s harming your life, it’s something that you shouldn’t be doing. This is true whether it’s a substance or behavior.
It’s said when you enter recovery that you have to give up the old people, places, and things. This is something I’ve always agreed with. If you keep doing the same things in the same place, you’ll get the same results. Looking at soldiers coming back from Vietnam, you can see just how much of an impact environment can have on recovery.
Heroin is one of, if not the, most addictive substances known to man. In Vietnam, 20% of soldiers became addicted to heroin. You would think that when they came back, the majority of them would continue to use heroin. After all, the success rate for heroin rehab is only 10%. Shockingly, a year later, only 5% of the soldiers had relapsed. It’s believed that the change in environment is responsible for the extremely low incidence of relapse.
Underlying Causes of Addiction
Physical factors can play a role in making you more susceptible to addiction, but clearly, there are other forces at work with a much stronger impact. You can be genetically predisposed to being overweight, but for most people, it’s emotional or psychological factors that cause them to overeat. This causes them to become overweight. What are the underlying psychological factors that have such a strong impact on addiction? According to both anecdotal and scientific evidence, it’s a lack of relationship connection and childhood trauma that truly create addiction.
Lack of Connection
Today’s society is more connected than we have ever been before, yet we are also lonelier than we have ever been before. Technology and the internet allow us to connect with people from around the world. However, we’ve replaced technology with real human interaction in many cases. Take a look at this picture. Notice anything wrong? The people in the picture are interacting with their phones, instead of interacting with each other. Most of us are guilty of this to some extent every day. We put cyber interactions ahead of real life ones. Is it any wonder that issues like loneliness and depression seem to be at an all time high? What does this have to do with drug addiction? According to some studies, everything.
Rats In a Cage
Much of what is known about drug addiction comes from experiments done on rats, because their brains react to drugs similarly to ours. One of the most famous studies done involves putting a rat in a cage with two water bottles. In one water bottle is plain water. In the other bottle is water that contains morphine. When you put a lone rat in a cage in this situation, many times the rat will end up drinking so much of the morphine containing water that it overdoses itself. Nearly all rats strongly prefer the morphine laced water.
This led scientists to believe that the drug itself was highly addictive, but what happens when you change the conditions the rats live in? When you create a “Rat Park”, where rats have friends and toys, something completely different happens. The Rat Park experiment used four different groups of rats. Group CC stayed in individual cages, and group PP lived in Rat Park throughout the experiment. Group PC was moved out of Rat Park and into individual cages at 65 days old, and Group CP was moved out of individual cages and into Rat Park at 65 days old.
The caged rats, regardless of whether they had began life in the cage or not, strongly preferred the morphine water. The PP Group that lived out its life in Rat Park would occasionally try the morphine water, but showed little interest in it. Group CP, the group that was raised in cages and then moved into Rat Park, liked the morphine water when it wasn’t too strong. They seemed to prefer the morphine water as long as it didn’t disrupt their normal social behavior.
Another experiment forced rats to drink morphine water by not offering any other liquids for 57 days. They were then moved into Rat Park and offered a choice between plain water and morphine water. They chose the plain water, even though they did show some mild signs of physical withdrawal.
This seems to suggest that loneliness and cultural isolation play a crucial role in addiction. Of course, people are more complicated than rats. Luckily, there is a situation that mirrors Rat Park in many ways involving people as the subjects.
Consistent Findings in History
Bruce Alexander conducted the Rat Park experiments. He also realized that something similar had happened where he lives in Western Canada when the English began to conquer the native people. The Native American people had every social problem their European counterparts did, except for addiction. There was little to no addiction in Native American tribes before the English settled in North America.
After the English began colonizing the native lands, alcoholism and other addictions began to run rampant in Native American cultures. It was believed at the time that Native Americans were genetically more susceptible to addiction. However, even in tribes where alcohol wasn’t available, the Native Americans began acting like alcoholics. Criminal behavior, shirking responsibilities, and child neglect all became problems in areas where alcohol wasn’t available.
In the tribes that were exposed to alcohol, but managed to hold on to their culture, there was little addiction. They enjoyed alcohol and incorporated it into their traditions. They even got drunk occasionally, but alcoholism wasn’t a widespread problem. If the alcohol wasn’t to blame, what was?
In both cases, a lack of human or cultural connection resulted in an increase in drug use. In the case of the Native Americans, many native cultures were destroyed. Children were prevented from learning their language, religious ceremonies were prohibited, their medical practices were discredited.
Clearly having strong social and cultural connections helps prevent drug addiction. The more connected we are, the less likely we are to turn to other things to feel that void. No one ever sets out to become a drug addict. They are simply trying to fill a need. Unfortunately, drugs can seem like the answer in the short term, but they end up costing you the connections that you need the most.
It sounds cliché, but childhood trauma is believed to be the other underlying factor in drug addiction. This isn’t just a Freudian philosophy. Science is showing that our childhood actually affects the way our brain develops. Childhood trauma interrupts the development of healthy neural wiring. In addition to affecting the way the brain works on a biological level, children develop a sense of mistrust. This makes it difficult for them to form meaningful connections both in childhood and later in life.
Our brains operate based on a concept called plasticity. Even in adulthood, our brains change based on our environment. This is why brain training apps are popular today and claim that they can improve brain function. In childhood, our developing brains have a much higher degree of plasticity. The brain’s growth and even its physical structure are determined by repeated experiences during childhood. Many of these, like learning to walk and talk, are positive. However, negative experiences can also have a significant impact on a developing brain.
Traumatic experiences during childhood are thought to cause structural abnormalities and cognitive, behavioral, and social impairments. One factor that causes this is the consistently high levels of stress that are experienced by victims of childhood trauma. Over time, this constant stress results in brain abnormalities that can be detected on Mri scans.
More Than Abuse
The problem is far more wide reaching than child abuse. The risk seems to increase with anything that causes significant long-term stress to the child, including:
- death of a parent
- witnessing physical or mental abuse
- family member with a mental illness
Children don’t have the same frame of reference that adults do. It’s very hard for them to put things into perspective. They also rely heavily on their parents for security and comfort, so when a parent is the source of the problem, it is very difficult for the child to deal with.
The ACE Study and a 4600% Increase
ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. These experiences are grouped into different categories which include emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, neglect, having a mentally ill or drug addicted parent, losing a parent due to death or divorce, living in a house with domestic violence, and having an incarcerated parent. The most interesting thing that the study uncovered was that the amount of these a child had was much more important than which ones they had. The more ACEs a child had, the more their risk of becoming a drug addict increased. A boy with four or more ACEs is 4600% more likely to become an IV drug user than someone with no ACEs. A child with four or more ACEs is also 500% more likely to become an alcoholic. Another striking finding was the single factor that showed the largest increase. What would you expect it to be? Incest? Physical abuse? Recurrent humiliation had a 15% stronger impact than anything else. Repeatedly calling a child stupid, worthless, and other forms of humiliation are more destructive to them than physical or sexual abuse. Other studies have found that bullying by peers can have similar negative effects.
Studies show that at least 2/3 of drug users are victims of abuse. If you factor in other adverse experiences, it’s likely that would account for most of the people with a drug addiction. Which raises the question, does the way we parent leave our children vulnerable to addiction?
Can Attachment Parenting Help Prevent Addiction?
If you view addiction as a combination of a lack of social connection and adverse childhood experiences, attachment parenting may help to turn the tide of the addiction epidemic.
The Differences in Traditional and Attachment Parenting
What we call traditional parenting is a relatively new invention. Parenting responsibilities used to be shared by extended families or even whole villages, and they still are in some parts of the world. Today it’s considered normal to leave a baby in a room alone to “cry it out”. We are told that they have to do this to learn to self soothe, but this may not be true. Babies are left to entertain themselves much of the time, or placed in front of the tv because parents have such busy lives. Many parents spend precious little time actually engaging with their babies and children. Between work, chores, and school activities, it’s hard for parents and children to find the time to spend together.
Attachment parenting is about parenting based on what feels right. When a baby cries, a mother’s first instinct is to go pick it up. Traditional parenting will tell you that holding a baby too much will spoil it, but attachment parenting has a different philosophy. Proponents of attachment parenting say that allowing babies and children to form a secure attachment to their parents allows them to become more independent and secure in themselves when they are ready. Most attachment parents wear their babies in backpacks or slings, breastfeed them, and sleep with them. There is only one hard and fast rule of attachment parenting. Respond to your child in the way that your instincts tell you is best.
I have two children. With my oldest, I went the traditional parenting route, believing I was doing the best thing for her. I can’t count the times I left her to cry and cried right along with her. I went against all of the instincts that had been helping women raise babies for thousands of years. With my second child, I followed attachment parenting. I was present for her as much as I could reasonably be. We did what worked the best for both of us. There were still times when she had to cry for a few minutes, because I had to get something done. Even then there was a big difference, however. I would talk to her and let her know that she was heard, even if I couldn’t pick her up in that moment. Now I have a closer relationship with my second child than my first, and we’ve had far fewer power struggles and tears. Attachment parenting taught me to view my child’s emotional needs as just as important as her physical needs, and that could be the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned.
Can Attachment Parenting Prevent Addiction?
Attachment parenting may not be a cure-all, but given the lack of connection and high pressure of our society, it stands to reason that we should raise our kids in the most caring loving way possible. If you look at the long-term benefits of attachment parenting, it’s reasonable to draw the conclusion that it can greatly reduce the chances of your child developing an addiction later in life. Another great thing about attachment parenting is that it’s never too late to start developing a closer bond with your child, so don’t think you’ve missed your window if your child is older. Children of attachment parenting:
- Deal better with stressful situations
- Are better at forming relationships as an adult
- More independent and confident, yet more likely to trust the advice of their parents
- Have higher IQ scores
The first three of these are skills that are lacking in most addicts, so it stands to reason that attatchment parenting would be beneficial in reducing the risk of addiction.
Understanding the Addict
It’s easy to see an addict from the eyes of someone that hasn’t been there. To judge all of their bad decisions and think that they are a bad person. It’s easy to think that you are better than they are. Until you’ve been there. All the science in the world can’t explain what life is like for an addict. I will try to give you a glimpse of life through someone who became an addict.
My childhood wasn’t great. I grew up with an alcoholic stepfather, who was my brother’s father. My mother had some mental health issues. She was overprotective in all the ways that didn’t matter. She worried about my physical safety, except for the obvious danger of being around a man who stayed drunk the entire time he was awake. When it came to my emotional safety or my emotional needs for that matter, my mother didn’t have time for that. She was too busy trying to deal with her own pain and the emotional abuse that my stepped dished out on a regular basis. She yelled at me a lot, and I never knew when something would make her angry. It felt like one day it would be ok to do something, and the next it would get me screamed at. I grew up feeling very alone and insecure. I felt like the most fundamental part of my world, (my mother) wasn’t stable. Which honestly, she wasn’t. When it came to social interactions, I always felt like I was missing a vital piece of information. I didn’t have the understanding of what was socially acceptable and what wasn’t that seems to come so easily to most children, so I had very few friends growing up. I was bullied a lot.
I began to figure out how to interact with people in my teenage years. My mother left my brother’s dad when I was about twelve, and met someone who was good to her when I was fifteen. They got married and stayed together until she passed. I was a good girl growing up, and I did well in school. I found my high school sweetheart when I was sixteen. We started dating. Fell in love. I finally had a group of friends. I had the mother figure that I had always wanted. We drank every once in a while. We were kids in a small town. We were considered good kids with a bright future. We weren’t the type that you would expect to grow up to have a drug problem. We got married when we were twenty. I went to college for a year after high school, and then decided to get married and get a job. We bought a house, and had a child. We were living the American Dream, right?
Starting to Slide
As time went on he started drinking more and more. Eventually, he became an alcoholic. Then we started taking hydrocodone. I would party on the weekends, even though I had to work on Sunday mornings. There were a few mornings when my boss wasn’t happy. As time went on he got more verbally abusive, and we both began seeking comfort outside our marriage. We got a divorce.
I started dating someone that said that they used to cook methamphetamine. We fell in love, and I ended up moving in with him. I was doing drugs and drinking, but things hadn’t spun out of control yet. Not until I tried methamphetamine. I’ll never forget those first few days on meth. It was one of the most incredible feelings of my life. I was so happy. All of the problems that I had, all that emotional pain that I was carrying around, all the fear that no one would ever truly love me, faded away when I was on it. I could think clearly (or so it seemed at the time). It felt like it put me in touch with a part of myself that had been missing. It felt good. Really good. Then I was at work, and the drug started wearing off. I was self aware enough to realize just how badly I didn’t want the feeling to go away. Part of me felt like it would do anything to keep feeling that way. When I got home that night, I begged the guy I was dating not to give it to me again, because I liked it too much. Of course, he did.
From Social to Anti-Social
One thing that people who haven’t done drugs don’t understand is that it starts out as a social activity. It lowers your inhibitions and helps you form friendships with the people that you are doing the drugs with. This is called the honeymoon phase. You are doing the drug with your friends, and everyone is having a great time. Part of the attraction is that it helps you connect with people. It helps you form friendships, which is tough for us when we are sober. Then the drug starts losing its effectiveness, and it starts changing you. You become moody, especially when you are coming off the drug or don’t have it. You may find yourself wanting to use alone so that you don’t have to share it with anyone else, because it takes more to give you the same effect. You become anti-social, which just drives you deeper into the addiction. It’s a cycle that keeps spiraling downward until you end up dead, in jail, or fed up enough to find a way out.
The Drug Dealing Solution
Of course, there’s a way to head off, or at least delay, losing all your friends. You start selling, or in my case, manufacturing the drugs. Deep down you know that these aren’t real friends, but you are so desperate for acceptance that you soak up every bit of feeling liked and important. To be honest about it, manufacturing was much more addictive to me than the actual drug was. Something about the excitement of getting the ingredients, creating the drug, knowing everyone was depending on me, it was a different kind of high. Others I’ve talked to feel the same way. For a long time I thought it was the ability to make something, but now I think it’s about the people. It’s about feeling popular and important. Like I belonged
I lost my child to my ex-husband’s parents. She still lives with them, because that’s where she wants to be. I visit her, but it’s not the same. I nearly died in a house fire. The guy that got me into meth spent weeks in the hospital with 1st-degree burns, but that didn’t slow us down. As soon as he got out of the hospital, we were back to cooking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve went hungry, or dug through a Wal-Mart ashtray for cigarette butts. All because the money that I did get went to getting high. In the end, I just got tired. I got tired of being unhappy. I got tired of looking in the mirror and hating the person looking back at me. I got tired of looking over my shoulder and jumping every time I heard a knock at the door, just waiting for the day when the cops would finally catch me at the right place and the right time. It wasn’t losing my child that made me give up drugs. It wasn’t the fact that I would be dead if God hadn’t been watching over me. It was the miserable daily grind my life had become. It had finally become more painful than the pain I was trying to run from in the first place.
A Brighter Day
I won’t say I’m living “The American Dream” today, but I am living my dream. I have the job I’ve always wanted. I have a beautiful young daughter that I actually get to work from home and raise myself. I have a husband who is so full of love he would never intentionally hurt me. He’s a former addict too, so we understand each other’s scars. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, know there’s always hope. Always. If I can do it, anyone can.
Love was another factor that drove me to get clean. I wanted a loving relationship, which I’d come to realize I’d never have as long as I was on drugs. I was also tired of hating myself. Of being so ashamed of the person that I had become. I wanted to be able to love myself again. Having love and support when you are trying to quit an addiction is great. I’m sure it’s very helpful. But maybe you are pretty much on your own. Maybe you don’t have anyone to give you the love and support you need. That’s ok. When you learn to love yourself, you can fill so much of that emptiness inside. You can heal yourself.
I went to my mother’s house and basically shut myself away for a while. I began building myself up. As I began to repair myself, I slowly emerged from my cocoon a little at a time. The more I loved myself, the more I healed. The stronger I became. Being surrounded by loving and supportive people can certainly help make this process easier, but in the end, it’s a journey we all have to make on our own. No one can do it for us. I still struggle with wondering if I’m good enough sometimes. I probably always will. The difference is that now I strive to keep my internal dialogue positive instead of negative, and I surround myself with people who love and respect me.
Maybe that’s why childhood trauma is so closely linked to addiction. If the people that are supposed to love you don’t love you like they should, how are you supposed to learn to love yourself? Addicts can’t love and value themselves like they should. If they did, they would love themselves enough to not put themselves through the hell of addiction. They would respect their bodies enough not to put these harmful substances into them. We addicts start off with some degree of insecurity about our self-worth. As we begin the slide into addiction, it turns into self-loathing. The deeper we go the more we hate ourselves for what we have become. Society only reinforces this belief, being all too happy to incarcerate and ostracize us when we are at our most vulnerable.
Dealing With Addiction As a Society
Drugs have been illegal in America for a little over 100 years. You can find a fascinating timeline on the U.S. War on Drugs here. You’ll find vast amounts of money, political assassinations, and invasions. What this timeline doesn’t show is whether or not these extreme efforts were effective in any way. However, there are plenty of statistics to show what a complete failure the drug war is.
Wishful Thinking in the U.N.
By 1998, drugs were an epidemic in many countries around the globe. The U.N. called a special session in New York to decide what to do about the drug crisis. Of course, they decided to double down on an approach that was already failing. Focusing on criminalization and trying to stop the flow of drugs into countries.
However, hundreds of high profile politicians, Nobel prize winners, and the former U.N. Secretary General wrote an open letter to the council. The letter stated that the war on drugs was causing more harm than the drugs themselves. It stated that it had empowered criminal organizations, corrupted governments, stimulated violence, distorted economic markets, and eroded security. Unfortunately, the U.N. chose wishful thinking, believing that it was possible to eliminate the drug problem through tougher laws and punishments.
A Losing Battle
We spend $50 billion a year stopping 10% of the drugs that come into America, according to DEA estimates. It is becoming increasingly difficult for chronic pain patients to get the medications they need, because laws only allow doctors to prescribe pain medication to a certain percentage of their patients. This includes pain clinics, which are there specifically for pain management. Not only are we wasting billions of dollars doing very little to stem the tide of drugs flowing into the country, but we are denying law abiding citizens the medications they need. We are limiting doctors’ ability to care for their patients as they see fit. This could create more addicts, because people could seek illicit drugs out of a need for pain relief.
The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population, but 25% of the world’s prison population. Nearly half of all people in federal prisons are there for drug offenses. 16% of those in state prisons have a drug offense as their most serious crime. About 25% of those serving time in county jails are there because of a drug offense. 25% of people on probation and 31% of those on parole were guilty of a drug offense. In addition to this, 16-18% of those in state and federal prison who committed crimes like robbery said they did so to get money to buy drugs. On an average, 25% of the criminal population is guilty of nothing more than being a drug user. If you add in the amount of people who committed other crimes to get drugs or because they were under the influence of drugs, the number is probably closer to 50-75%.
Clearly, the American war on drugs isn’t working. We spend $10 billion housing prisoners of drug offenses. We split up families in the name of public safety. If you have a criminal record, particularly a felony, it is extremely difficult to get a job and become a productive member of society once you get out of jail. Is there a better solution? According to Portugal, there is.
The Portugal Solution
Portugal tried to control the drug epidemic the same way the U.S. did, with one crucial difference. In 2001, they realized it wasn’t working, and they decriminalized all drugs. If you are caught with a ten day supply or less of any drug in Portugal (who determines what a ten day supply is?), you go before a committee. This committee is made up of a judge or lawyer, a doctor, and a social worker. You plead your case, and the committee has three options. They can recommend treatment, give you a small fine, or no punishment at all. Many times, no punishment is given.
Treating Drug Addicts as Valued Members of Society
Portugal developed the philosophy that drug addiction was a health crisis instead of a legal one. The resources that once went to punishing addicts now go into treatment and rehabilitation programs. Businesses in Portugal get financial incentives for hiring drug addicts. They focus on helping addicts with their physical addiction. They help them rebuild their relationships. They help them to become valued members of society. Drug addicts aren’t treated like criminals and second class citizens.
Is it Effective?
When Portugal decriminalized drugs, there were some who said drug use would rise significantly. The society would fall apart. What happened? Drug use is down. Drug overdoses are the second lowest of any European country, and IV drug use is down by 50%. Many of those who haven’t been able to kick their addiction have at least been able to maintain a job and a family. They can have a relatively normal life. It isn’t ideal, but it is certainly better than hiding in an alley with a dirty needle.
Interestingly, drug use is down the most among young people. You might assume that young people would be more tempted to experiment with these drugs since they’ve been decriminalized. Perhaps drugs lose part of their attraction when they aren’t illegal. How many people have found that drinking was more fun when they were underage?
Substances That Treat Addiction
Long term opiate use can cause a level of physical dependence that makes it very difficult for someone to stop using them. Prescription pain medications, heroin, and opium are all opiates. The two drugs commonly used to treat this addiction are methadone and suboxone.
These substances can make the addict feel normal, but they are very physically addicting as well. It can take an addict years to complete treatment, so that they no longer have to take these substances. While these are a better alternative than using street drugs, the addiction they cause is a concern.
It’s interesting to note that methadone began to be used on a large scale in the same year that Richard Nixon declared drugs, “Public Enemy Number One”, and instituted the “War on Drugs”. It could simply be a coincidence, but things get harder to ignore when you begin to look at ibogaine.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a natural substance that could treat any type of addiction in a matter of days, with a very high success rate? A few days of treatment, and the individual is completely transformed with no physical dependence or craving for their addiction? Surely if there was such a substance, it would be on the front lines of “The war on drugs”, right? Wrong. There is such a substance, and it is called ibogaine.
Ibogaine is illegal in America, because there’s no profit in curing drug addiction. Since it comes from a plant, the drug itself can’t be patented. Since it’s only needed for a short period of time, there’s simply no money to be made. Why cure addicts when you can have them buying your drugs for years?
One study done on ibogaine showed that 25% of addicts never touched hard drugs again after a single treatment. 25% were able to stay sober for at least a month. 15% tried drugs again, but realized they didn’t like them anymore. 35% were able to stay clean with monthly treatments and NA meetings. In total, the study found a 75% success rate with ibogaine. No wonder it’s illegal in the U.S.
How Ibogaine Works
Ibogaine comes from a shrub found in West Africa. Ibogaine is completely unlike any other substance known to science. It seems to reset the neurotransmitters in your brain back to pre-addiction levels. It’s like hitting the rewind button back to before you began using drugs. It also puts some people into a waking dream state. It allows them to gain insights into the underlying causes of their addiction and helps them heal emotionally. You’ll then find yourself in a phase where an emotional valve seems to open, releasing pent-up emotions. This is all part of the healing process.
Ibogaine does much more than reset your body. It allows you to find healing for your body and your spirit. Too often in Western medicine we forget that there is a connection between the body and the spirit. With something as complex as addiction, it is important to treat it on a spiritual level as well as a physical one.
Why Is Ibogaine Illegal?
If Ibogaine provides such great results, why hasn’t it been legalized? Of course, the most obvious reason is money, but there are other reasons as well. Some people believe that the government would prefer to suppress people rather than heal them, particularly the poor and minorities that are the most inclined toward drug addiction. Others believe that it’s because the discovery was made by someone who was a heroin addict themselves, instead of a more reputable scientist. Regardless of the reason, it’s clear that ibogaine is much safer and more effective than any legal detox program.
Changing How We View Addiction
The most important thing we can do to help addicts as a society is to change the way we view addiction. No one wakes up one day and decides that they are going to be a drug addict. No one says when I grow up I want to lose my home, my family, and end up in prison. Addicts are people with issues just like everyone else. They aren’t second class citizens. They may have done some bad things, but they are not bad people.
Struggling to Connect With an Addict
If you have a loved one who is an addict, you are probably thinking that you’ve tried to connect with them and been pushed away. Time and time again. You try to love them, and they won’t accept it. If the addict is so starved for connection that they turn to drugs, why can’t you connect with them? Why can’t they accept your love?
First of all, they don’t believe they are worthy of your love. They don’t love themselves, so how can they expect anyone else to love them? It takes unconditional love and perseverance to break through this wall. To get someone to receive the love that you are trying to give them. They will fight and push you away like their life depends on it, because deep down they can’t handle having your love and then losing it. They have to know they can’t push you away.
To connect with an addict requires unconditional love. Think of the type of love a parent has for their child. The child does things wrong, and the parent may get upset or angry. However, the parent never withdraws their love. The child never has to question that the parent loves them. This is what unconditional love means. It doesn’t mean being a doormat and accepting unacceptable behavior. It means making it clear that you love them no matter what they do. Addicts feel ashamed of who they are. They don’t feel like anyone will truly accept them if they know all of the mistakes they’ve made. If you can be the person that does, it will go a long way toward allowing you to connect.
Meet Them On Their Level
Let’s use the parent child analogy again. When you talk to a child, what do you talk about? Cartoons? Toys? You connect with them on their level, instead of expecting them to connect with you on yours. Connecting with an addict is the same. Let them talk about their struggles without fear of judgment. Relate to their experiences when you can, and simply be a listening ear when you can’t. If you want to connect with an addict, you have to connect with them on their level.
Advice For Addicts
The recovery journey is a personal one. Despite what some groups will tell you, there is no one size fits all solution. However, there are things that are universally helpful for recovery.
Learning to Let Go
You’ll have to learn to let go of many things to have a successful recovery. At the end of the day, drugs are the symptom of a deeper problem. Just like a fever is a symptom of the flu. You’ll need to spend some time alone thinking about what it is you are trying to run from. You’ll need to work on facing whatever it is that you were trying to cover up with the drugs. You may find therapy or a practice like meditation or yoga helpful. Whatever pain you are running from, you’ll have to embrace it before you can move past it. Negative emotions like anger and jealousy will have to be worked through as well. You’ll have to learn to forgive those who have hurt you. As I mentioned earlier, changing your environment is key to recovering from addiction. You’ll need to let go of any friends who use drugs or who have a negative influence on you.
Finding Your “Thing”
In my own life and talking to friends who are former addicts, I’ve come to realize that you have to replace what you let go of. One of the ways that you do this is to find your “thing”. It can be a hobby or an activity, but it must be something you are passionate about. Something that gives you pleasure and a healthy sense of indulgence. One of my friends “thing” is good food. Mine is herbs. Other people find a hobby or social activity that they are passionate about. Having a thing helps keep you from simply replacing one addiction with another.
Finding Your Spirituality
Finding a spiritual path is also part of recovery. I won’t tell you that you have to have the same religious beliefs as me to recover from addiction. I will tell you that you’ll need some form of spirituality to recover from addiction. You need to be able to connect with something outside yourself, and find that spirit inside yourself as well. Keep in mind that there’s a huge difference between spirituality and religion. Spirituality stresses your relationship with whatever higher power you connect with, while religion stresses following set rituals and rules. Just as we are built for and need connection with other people, we need a spiritual connection to thrive.
Spiritual practices encompass a wide variety of things. Here are a few.
- Organized religious practices like attending church
- Creativity – Singing, painting, and other forms of art
- Spending time in nature
- Volunteering or being of service to others
As you can see, spirituality is about much more than following a set of religious rules or practices. You may find yourself drawn to a religion like Christianity, Islam, or Buddhism. You may feel very connected with nature and become Wiccan, or develop your own set of spiritual practices. There is no right or wrong answer here. Do what works for you.
Learning Who You Are
You’ll also need to begin discovering who you are as a sober person. What is important to you? What makes you happy? How do you handle it when life doesn’t go your way? Learning who you are goes much deeper than this, however. On some level, life is a journey of self-discovery. Of learning more about who we are as we age. We are all trying to find ourselves, it’s just addicts have spent more time hiding from themselves than others. Learn to look inside yourself. To see beyond the surface to what really drives you. The more you know about who you truly are, the more you will be able to change for the better.
This also requires unconditional self-forgiveness. It requires you to love the parts of yourself that you don’t like. This doesn’t mean you accept them and don’t strive to work on your issues. It means understanding that acceptance is the first step to healing. It requires a determination to love yourself regardless of your faults. To believe that you are a person of value. That you are worth saving.
For me, the self-acceptance battle will never be completely won. There are still days that I struggle with loving myself, but I’ve come so far from the person who couldn’t stand looking in the mirror. I tell myself that I deserve good things. That I deserve to be happy. Some days I believe it more than others, but I keep working on it.
It’s important to understand that relapse is often a part of recovery. That may sound counterintuitive, but the term relapse suggests that you have stopped your addiction and went back. You are in recovery. You just hit a speed bump. What happens from there depends on how you view it. If you view it as a complete failure of your recovery, that is what it becomes. You will fall right back into your addiction and lose all the progress you’ve made. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way.
I would never say that relapse is a good thing, but maybe sometimes it is necessary. We tend to romanticize our addiction. We remember how good it felt to be high while forgetting how horrible it is to come down. Relapsing can remind you of the reality of your addiction. What it was really like.
I’ve had a few relapses. I didn’t start my clean time over. I didn’t view at as throwing away all the progress I had made. I viewed it as a setback. A stumbling block. And that’s all it was for me. Learning to live life sober is a skill. Like most skills, many of us don’t perfect it on the first try. Do everything you can to avoid relapsing. You don’t want to take the risk of not being able to come out of it. But if you do, don’t view it as an end to your recovery. View it as part of the process.
From Addiction to Connection
To recover from addiction, you must have a support system. You have to have people that you feel understand you and love you. People that know who you really are, and love you anyway. When you first begin recovery, the people you are around will have a strong amount of influence on you. You must choose your social group carefully, yet you must have a social group.
Connecting with others means being vulnerable. That’s hard for us addicts to do. We’ve had people hurt us, and we don’t let our guard down easily. However, to begin making new friends and connecting with people, you’ll have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take it slow and give people a chance to show you who they are. Let them get to know you. Begin opening up to the people who have done their best to stand by you through the tough times. Remember, they human as well. Learn to forgive the people that hurt you, and decide who is worthy of a place in your new sober life.
Facebook has groups for everything. Some of them are public, and some are private so that only members of the group can see what you post. Facebook groups are a great place to interact with others. You can get advice and perspectives from different people and make new friends. I would suggest joining some Facebook recovery groups, and a few spirituality groups of your choosing. You can join groups for other hobbies that you may have as well. Facebook groups are moderated, so it is a fairly safe way to begin building connections with others again.
Sober Grid is a must have app to help you rebuild your social circle. Sober Grid allows you to see other users around the world as well as around the corner. You can connect with people nearby so that you can build some new real life friendships with people that have been through the same things you have. You can select the “burning desire” button to let people know that you need help asap. It has a Facebook like news feed and messaging system, and it makes it easy to meet up with someone if you wish. One user’s words sum up Sober Grid perfectly.
“This app is truly the work of a genius. Never before has there been an app that allows individuals in recovery to not only share their struggles and triumphs but to be there for one another regardless of location, age, sex, clean time, or addiction. Technology continues to advance and it’s about time someone incorporated the gift of recovery with a user-friendly application. #lovesobergrid”
The app is available on IOS and Android, and you can remain anonymous if you would like. No one understands what it’s like to go through the hell of drug addiction like someone who has been there themselves, and Sober Grid gives you the opportunity to connect with people taking it one day at a time.
All We Need Is Love
At the end of the day, it all comes down to love. Love is the solution. Regardless of whether you’re an addict, love an addict, or simply see it as a social problem that you would like to help solve, focus on love.
- Love yourself
- Love others
- Love the planet
- Serve others
- Let go of anger, judgment, and selfishness
These things are simple, but they aren’t always easy. They do, however, have the power to change individual lives and the world. Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase, “What Would Jesus Do”? I’d like to broaden that. Start asking yourself, “What would love do?” Is love winning in your life? What can you do to bring more love into the world? Can you close your eyes and think “Love won today?”