by Andrea Watson | February 4, 2021
As I lay in the tub I look over my body once, twice, thrice. Then I do it again and I wish. I wish that I was not in subjugation to a substance. I wish I had never picked up a needle. I wish I was sane. Sores cover my arms and breasts-scabbing over or oozing infection. I have large painful lumps throughout my breasts and arms as well. Spots where the dope broke through the barrier and went into my muscle instead of my vein. They’re everywhere. Bruises and track marks stand out stark against and on my skin, peppering my body with black, blue, and yellow. Every time I touch anything, sharp, oppressive pain shoots through my fingers and up to my arms. It feels like the nerve sheath has been peeled back and I am just bumping against raw nerves. It hurts to be awake. I’m in need of medical attention. I won’t get it, though. It’s too risky.
The quote above came from a previous blog post of mine. It was my reveal to the world about what I really am. No, not what I am, but a part of me, I suppose. It’s hard to separate pieces from the whole when the whole runs your life. And with addiction, the drive is The Whole.
It is widely accepted in scientific, medical, and psychological circles that addiction is in fact a disease. This means that there is empirical evidence to support this claim. Still, it is a controversial point. Those who disbelieve or seek to discredit this claim see addiction as a weakness or moral failing. They see addicts as people who “asked for it” or “brought this on themselves”. Either way you see it, addiction is ugly. It is a type of bondage that grips an entire being and forces it down the rabbit hole to an underworld that is utterly horrific and completely inescapable. There is no obvious way out; you are forever in the pit. There will always be The Drive-that gnawing, gnashing jabberwok of a beast that lives in the back of your brain near the stem and claws its way forward to run you through the cycle like a fiend from Hell.
Addiction is complex and what actually causes it is still unknown, but we know it’s a medical problem that written is in your DNA. The exact gene has not yet been identified. It is most often voluntary at first, but then something more sinister begins to develop. We can actually see the brain changing as a person uses. It begins to rebuild itself to promote continued use, thanks to the reward pathways that drug use relies on. Addiction impacts three major areas of the brain, including the stem, which controls bodily functions, the cerebral cortex, which is for executive functions, and the limbic system, which allows us to experience pleasure. The limbic system is activated and manipulated by drug use.
The chemical structures of the drugs used mimic the neurotransmitters that are naturally occurring in the brain. This interferes with the processing of neurons because it leaves excessive amounts of neurotransmitters in the synapses between neurons and prohibits normal reuptake. This affects the behavior and communication of the surrounding neurons and ultimately alters a person’s mood. The main neurotransmitter involved in addiction is dopamine. Excessive amounts of this chemical are released when a person takes the drug, causing euphoria, strong behavioral reinforcement, and compulsion to repeat certain behaviors. While this happens, the brain adjusts, reducing dopamine production and the number of transmitters that can receive it.
I sit up a little too quickly and the hot water sloshes over the edge of the tub soaking the floor. I reach for the rig and, putting the tip to the surface of my skin, I slide the point into my flesh with a tiny “pop” sound. It glides into my vein and I pull the plunger back slightly. The once clear liquid in the syringe becomes saturated with red as blood curls into the back flow with the suction I created. The flag indicates it is time to push and I do so, slowly. I can feel the foreign solution burning up my arm as the thick shot disappears into my body and surges through my system. My heart pounds, pumping the drug into every cell. I can feel the heat in my face, my chest, my stomach, all the way down into every part of me. My vision blurs and my ability to hear shrinks back into my head; sound becomes small and far-away. My entire body is throbbing with pleasure- pulse quickened and pupils dilated. I am all and nothing but a heavy heartbeat in these moments, when the rush comes.
Most people who try drugs once or twice can just stick to having it be that once or twice. They walk away as if nothing happened, and it will just become a memory that makes them a little uncomfortable when they think about it, but it won’t have a grip on their entire life. An addict is the opposite. They try drugs once and all of a sudden, it’s like the brain recognizes a function that has been lying dormant in the genetic coding, and they walk away knowing that they’ll be back tomorrow and the next day and the next day. In the beginning, they can’t imagine to what depths the living hell of their lives will sink during their journey. But the high sends the pain away for awhile.
Signs of Addiction
The two basic qualities are:
They sometimes use more than they want to, and they continue to use regardless of negative consequences.
Definition of Addiction
According to the APA (American Psychological Association), you must meet three of the following criteria to be named an “addict”.
- Tolerance: using more over time
- Withdrawal: symptoms include shakes, vomiting, chills, sweats, emotional outbursts, and irritability.
- Limited control: using more than you want to or planned to, or do you regret using later?
- Negative consequences: do you keep using even if you are losing things like your job, family, home, self-esteem, or mood?
- Neglected or postponed activities: have you just put off or stopped doing things that need to be done because of your use?
- Significant time or energy spent: Do you spend a lot of time looking for or chasing the high? Do you think about ways to get out of trouble if it finds you because of your use?
- Desire to cut down: Do you sometimes think about cutting down or controlling your use?
Early stage and late stage addiction differ a bit. The functioning addict still runs their life, working, maintaining a home, and taking care of things. The late stage is the more stereotypical, media-portrayed type where the addict has lost everything and has to use every day. It is rare, but when it happens it’s devastating to the person. I have been here before.
Treating addiction is extremely difficult and can be complicated. It requires long-term, repeated treatment to get an addict off drugs and keep them drug-free. It requires the treatment of the individual as a whole, and must address all of the person’s needs, including medical, behavioral, mental, and emotional ones. A combination of medication and therapy is often used. The person should also be tested for communicable diseases such as HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. You should also know that addiction is more common than diabetes, occurring in roughly 10% of the population.
If you or someone you know is living with addiction, you can get help by contacting Drugabuse.com by calling 1-888-744-0069. The website has a lot of information too, if you want more. Until next time,