Addiction from the Outside Looking in

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beauty girl cryHeath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, River Phoenix – and other talented celebrities we had all seen and grown to love, only to later learn that these gifted individuals were are all victims of addiction. During my own active addiction I had many friends who overdosed, went to jail or passed away due to their drug abuse. Unfortunately, these crises weren’t concerning enough for me to get sober. It took more internally-driven motivation for me to straighten out and, after years of drug use, I finally got clean and am now standing on the outside of addiction looking in.

Celebrity Deaths

For most people, it is normal to not feel emotional about a celebrity who dies in tragic circumstances. Let’s be honest here: It’s not like they are family or we know them personally. But as an addict in recovery, I can’t help but feel a strong sense of sympathy and concern–not only sadness over the loss of a great human being, but for the family of the deceased. It had been almost a full year since I had chosen to get sober when I heard the news of Cory Monteith’s passing. As many people know, he was one of the stars on the hit T.V. show Glee. When I read the news on the Internet, I immediately started crying. I wasn’t sure if I was crying for Lea Michele, his on-screen and off-screen girlfriend; his family who had lost such a young member of their clan; or if it was the fact that he had overdosed alone. He died in a hotel room, by himself. The same sick, terrifying feeling overcame me when I saw the breaking news of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death. The feeling was almost a morbid sense of relief that I never had to worry about that kind of ending for myself, but it was an intense reminder that a relapse is only one step in the wrong direction. Addiction has many faces. It can afflict a celebrity, a friend or a respectable-looking passerby in the street. I often remind myself that it is humbling to feel sad when someone passes away from drug or alcohol addiction.

Personal Acquaintances

Two months after I had gotten sober, I was told that a former friend of mine had passed away due to substance abuse. It was a friend I used to use with, so it wasn’t a huge surprise, but that did not lessen the blow. It was a strange, overwhelming feeling that I had never experienced, even with the loss of other people unrelated to substance abuse. In this instance there was something about the possibility that it could have been me. I have now cut off all contact with my old ‘playgrounds and playmates’ so I definitely don’t surround myself with any negative influences, but I still pray for the sick and suffering. It doesn’t cause any less pain to know that people I used to see everyday are out there still living in the same sick cycle that I had been caught in. I have a strange sense of compassion when I think of the path I was on that many people are still traveling.

Feeling Empathy

It’s odd to discover that people you barely know or don’t know at all can affect you. When a addict you were acquainted with dies, the feeling is similar what you feel when a celebrity you like dies, except it almost seems more real, in a sense. We generally put celebrities up on a pedestal, which places them at a distance, one step removed. However, when another “regular” person dies from addiction, it engulfs you. Before an AA meeting, if a regular member of the meeting has passed, they will be recognized at the beginning of the meeting. When this happens, it seems as if a cloud has fallen over his or her friends and the rest of us who were unfamiliar still feel empathy. It took a long time for me to realize that it is okay to feel such sadness for those who fall victim to addiction and lose the battle.

I think too many people with addiction problems often feel judged by those who have not experienced substance abuse – as if it others expect that they should just be able to get clean. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work like that. So, if you find yourself crying or feeling upset over someone who has lost their battle with addiction and paid the ultimate price, then let it all out. When you’ve never been an addict or have a good amount of sobriety under your belt, it’s easy to forget about the small things on your gratitude list. Having empathy for others who have struggled with addiction is never a bad thing, and is a poignant reminder of how important it is to stay sober.

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

Devil’s Breath: What Is It and Should We Be Afraid?

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Devil's Breath Can Be Confused with Cocaine

Devil’s Breath Can Be Confused with Cocaine

Scopolamine, nicknamed Devil’s Breath, is a Colombian drug known for leaving users or victims in a zombie-like trance and taking away all free-will, temporarily blocking memory receptors in the brain. The drug can take effect while being airborne, ingested by mouth, or absorbed through pores in the skin–all of which make Devil’s Breath a drug to fear.

How Scopolamine Is Administered

Scopolamine is feared and revered in Colombia because of how easy it is to administer to a victim. The most common scheme is to walk down the street, blow the dust in a pedestrian’s face, follow the victim (for approximately five minutes), and then the criminal will take control of the person for his/her own wants and needs. Most people in Colombia go so far as to steer clear of this plant because they are afraid that they will be drugged by walking beside or underneath the flowers.

What Happens on Devil’s Breath?

Victims have been made to empty their bank accounts, perform sexual acts, give up organs, and other abhorrent acts that would normally go against their morals and beliefs. When the drug takes effect, people are easily coerced to do things that they normally would not do. In some instances, people have gone so far as to have victims rape and murder other victims.

Devil’s Breath can be easily camouflaged in another common drug–cocaine. After being ground up, Devil’s Breath (scopolamine) takes on the same color and texture as cocaine, and the two can easily be confused. The white powdery substance is typically stored in small bags or envelopes so that the dealer does not have to physically touch it.

How Devil’s Breath Affects the United States

Devil’s Breath may be a new topic of discussion in the media, but the drug has been around for years. It has even been said that it is more feared than Anthrax. While there are many people who believe that Colombians will keep the drug local, there have been certain instances where people have smuggled some Devil’s Breath across the border in an attempt to test it themselves. Since the United States’ main importer of cocaine is Colombia, Devil’s Breath is definitely a drug to be on the watch for.

 

Cryste Harvey has battled with addiction since the day she was born. From family issues to personal issues, she has seen many things, but she has taken the leap to be sober and to help inform others of the hardships, trials and tribulations associated with addiction. She is now a mother and wife, and she has vowed to help others on their road to recovery. With little to no help from her parents and siblings, she was the first person in her family to graduate high school and then continue on to college. She is currently working towards an English degree, and she hopes to become a published author.

 

 

 

What Is Rock Bottom?

September 10, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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TGDGsadgirlWhen you Google the words “rock bottom,” you will find a dictionary definition that classifies this term as a noun that means “the lowest possible level.” When it comes to addiction recovery, the words “rock bottom” can have hundreds of definitions. This is because not everyone’s “rock bottom” will be the same. If only rock bottom truly were that simple.

I know during my active addiction, I often found myself asking what my rock bottom actually was. Unfortunately, that question could not be answered by others. Every addict or alcoholic has a different rock bottom, and the variations can be dramatic. Some addicts may undergo very traumatic life experiences that signify to them that they have hit rock bottom. Some may lose their homes, while others may file bankruptcy or turn to prostitution to earn the income needed to pay for drugs. If you are at the point where you’re wondering if you’ve hit your “rock bottom,” here are three ways to find your answer.

1. Decide If You Have Had Enough

I think the number one question I found myself returning to again and again was if I’d had enough. For many of us, we continue to stretch the limits of how much pain and suffering we can sustain. For some of us, losing our homes or jobs is enough to make us realize how great a problem drugs and alcohol have become. For others, it can take losing the support of friends and family. For many, “enough” comes in the form of overdosing or selling your body for drugs. Deciding you have had enough is a matter of deciding whether you want to live or die, and what lengths you are willing to go to save yourself and get sober.

2. Make a Pros and Cons List

Weighing the pros and cons may seem like a silly way to examine the options of wanting to get clean and sober or not, but I believe you need to do whatever it takes. Some people need to visually see a list of all the consequences of their drug use before they can fully understand the pros of getting sober. A pros and cons list may not be the thing that motivates you to choose to get sober, but many times we can’t see the damage we’re causing until we make a list like this. We may be in the habit of rationalizing away the negative consequences of our addictions, instead of seeing our addiction as a major problem in our lives. The pros of using drugs may seem to be numerous in our heads, but on paper, they are few in number to non-existent.

3. Evaluate What Have You Gained

Addicts regularly encounter people who are incredibly belittling toward those caught in the treacherous cycle of addiction. These people may list all the reasons why using drugs is bad, but when you are active in your addiction, you don’t care. Many addicts are okay with being homeless or broke, since there are many alternative ways to get money, food or anything else we need–as long as we can get our drug of choice. One question I never asked myself as an addict was what I gained from my addiction? Did using drugs gain me friends? Did I gain wisdom and knowledge? Who was benefiting from my drug use? Who was I helping?

Even in our darkest days, we addicts know there are things we want in life aside from drugs or alcohol. Bring those things to light and see if you have accomplished any of them. I wanted to be a writer, but had I published any work? Your dreams and goals are still important, but you may have lost sight of those because you’ve been so focused on how to stay drunk or high.

Finding your own definition of “rock bottom” is a difficult task. Though it’s nearly impossible to define “rock bottom” before you get there, you sort of just know when you hit it. In a way, it almost brings you a feeling of relief to know that you’ve finally had enough. When I hit rock bottom, I was not only relieved but I was beyond grateful that I had found the willingness to quit before it was too late. People say you won’t quit until you’ve had enough and, as insincere as it sounds, it’s true. Search for answers inside yourself and you will find a solution, if you are willing to look at the big picture.

 

Cassandra Huerta is a freelance writer who lives in an extremely small Michigan town and lives life one day at a time. She enjoys regularly entertaining her six-month-old daughter and can thank her wonderful fiance and coffee for all of her work.

When Coping Mechanisms Become Addictions

July 29, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, Treatment and Recovery News

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Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Exercising can help you fight addiction and cope with problems

Life is stressful, and everyone needs something to help them decompress. While some people manage to find healthy ways of relaxing, everyone is tempted by vices: junk food, reality TV, video games, alcohol, tobacco, marijuana…you know, outlets which offer immediate gratification and don’t require any real physical or mental exertion. Everyone gives in to vices from time to time, but some indulgences are much riskier than others.

No One Starts with the Intention of Forming a Habit

People use drugs and alcohol to relax. They use them to diminish their inhibitions so they can socialize with people more easily. They use them to unwind after a stressful day at work. In other words, drugs and alcohol become a coping mechanism for many people. For most people, the inclination to use drugs and alcohol stems less from a desire to cause pain than a desire to reduce pain. The problem though, is that this form of “self-medication” commonly begets addiction–the coping mechanism becomes an even greater problem unto itself.

The True Cost of Addiction

Chronic use of any drug will deplete you financially, impair your ability to make decisions, damage your health, and color your perception of reality. Becoming addicted to something means that you no longer use to get high–you use to sustain a consistent low. What was once a source of joy and a vehicle for escape becomes part of a boring, expensive, and generally destructive pattern of abuse.

As you develop a higher tolerance, or a chemical dependency, it becomes increasingly difficult to achieve the sort of buzz which got you hooked in the first place–which is the ultimate irony with drugs and alcohol. Certain substances will have you forever pursuing an idealized high which you may never truly experience again.

Finding Healthier Alternatives

There are other, more sustainable coping mechanisms and lifestyle choices that you might consider trying. What makes the healthier choices less desirable for some people, however, is that they won’t provide you with gratification without requiring you to put forth a little effort. Lighting up a joint and going for a jog are measurably different activities. But, just as drug and alcohol abuse commonly damages your self-perception, you might find that the activities which challenge you will likely enhance your feelings of self-worth. And, ideally speaking, you might find that building up your confidence and self-respect decreases your desire to consume drugs and alcohol.

Devising a consistent fitness regimen is one potential solution. Vigorous physical activity causes your body to release endorphins which provide you with their own unique–and completely natural–euphoria. What’s more, regular exercise lowers your blood pressure, increases your confidence, and has been found to generally decrease anxiety and depression over time.

Some people adapt a personal artistic practice. There are many creative activities which can bolster one’s sense of self-worth, and provide a constructive outlet for otherwise destructive emotional tendencies. There are many activities you might consider picking up: sewing, baking, drawing, creative writing, dance, or even playing a musical instrument.

You might also try bubble baths, reading classic literature, listening to records…there are many, many healthy ways of decreasing stress. One danger to be aware of, however, is when a healthy habit turns into an addiction itself.

Put One Foot in Front of the Other

The first and most crucial step towards overcoming your addiction is recognizing that you have a problem. Self-deception and inadequate excuses only further perpetuate the cycle of abuse. Take a good, long, honest look at your life. Determine what your sources of happiness are, and maximize them. Determine what your sources of unhappiness are, and minimize their presence in your life as best as you can.

Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past–particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.

Drug Abuse among Artists: Why Is It So Prevalent?

July 28, 2014 by  
Filed under General Topics, People and Culture

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The pressures of celebrity can be heavy for artists, leading to problems

The pressures of celebrity can be heavy for artists, leading to problems

With every high-profile celebrity who dies prematurely because of drugs, the world is reminded of the prevalence of addiction amongst celebrities and artists.

What propels someone toward creative self-expression (a yearning for acceptance, the need for an escape, or simply the compulsion to express potent emotions) are the very same things that can propel someone toward alcohol and substance abuse. We see the modern day manifestations of this all over the Internet. Think about the social media response to Philip Seymour Hoffman’s recent heroin overdose, or to the Twitter frenzy surrounding Justin Bieber’s recent incarceration after he was caught drag racing while intoxicated in Florida.

Think back just a few decades, to Hollywood’s golden age, when the public would have been reading stories about celebrity addicts like Judy Garland and her drug and alcohol problems. And later, Marilyn Monroe and her drug overdose. Or later still, when people were reading about Janis Joplin and her drug overdose. And then it was Jim Belushi. More recently, it was Whitney Houston. If you really think about it, the list of artist-drug-addict names extends on and on. So many creative celebrities struggle with their dependency on substances. Like everyone else who struggles with substance use, these celebrities also likely suffer from underlying causes such as anxiety or mental illness.

Where Creativity, Mental Health, and Substance Abuse Converge

Author Kay Redfield Jamison wrote Touched With Fire, a book which examines the correlation between mental illness and the creative temperament. According to Jamison, many visual artists, writers, and musicians displayed symptoms characteristic of bi-polar disorder long before such a diagnosis existed. Jamison makes the case that writers like Lord Byron, Mark Twain, and William Faulkner all displayed symptoms characteristic of bi-polar disorder. And, incidentally, all three of them were known to drink heavily. Many experts now believe that Marilyn Monroe suffered from undiagnosed bi-polar disorder or borderline personality disorder. She also drank heavily (reportedly, champagne) and popped pills.

Drugs Are Perceived as Enhancing Creativity

One reason why artists gravitate toward drugs is likely because they feel that drugs diminish their inhibitions. They use substances to tap into their creativity. Many musicians, including Carlos Santana and Willie Nelson, have publicly expressed their fondness for marijuana. Comedian/writer George Carlin also advocated for it as a creative aid, if used “judiciously,” but also went on to concede that compulsive drug users inevitably reach a point of diminishing returns, and they either muster the strength to beat their addiction, or they succumb to it.

The Trappings of Fame

It can be difficult for the average person to understand why creative celebrities are prone to self-destruction. These are people who are revered for their artistic talents and have seemingly greater agency over their lives than most people. But the reality is that celebrities are as vulnerable to self-sabotage as anyone else.

For some celebrities, substances become a means of dealing with the anxieties caused by the lack of privacy that comes with fame. The onslaught of public attention is too much for some artists to deal with. A profession in the arts is also typically less stable then your conventional nine to five job, so that must create its own set of anxieties which might propel someone towards using substances. Conversely, many artists seem to panic when they reach the pinnacle of their success. It’s one thing to become famous for doing what you love — it’s another thing to sustain a fruitful career in the arts. For some, like former Nirvana front man Kurt Cobain, the problem seemed to be that the profession itself didn’t yield the joy he had expected, and that the guilt he felt over his depression, compounded by drug abuse, might have propelled him towards suicide.

For some celebrities though, bad behavior seems to be largely the product of hedonism and a propensity to act upon impulses without fear of consequences. Many live by the sword, and many of them die by it.

The Silver Lining

People come to rely upon different substances for different reasons, and it stands to reason that people who experience pronounced shifts in mood frequently or endure stresses consistently, would be especially at risk. Artists are people easily tempted by a source of instant gratification, whether that is in the form of cigarettes, marijuana, alcohol, or other substances. And, while the public is quick to pass judgement, let us remember that a famous person is still just a person. They have foibles. They have weaknesses. They make mistakes. Celebrities are idolized and revered — both celebrated and vilified by the public — but we should remember that they are fallible people with their own, unique set of problems. When one of them succumbs to addiction, that can be a wake-up call and lesson for us all.

 

Author Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based blogger who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films, to energy legislation, to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them, and partially because he has himself struggled with them in the past — alcohol and marijuana in particular. However, Brandon is sober and in good health today, mentally and physically, and eager to help those who are struggling with drug addiction.

 

 

Addiction and Teen Celebrities

July 16, 2014 by  
Filed under People and Culture

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The pressures of teen celebrity combined with privilege can lead to problems

The pressures of teen celebrity combined with privilege can lead to problems

When Justin Bieber was busted a few months ago for popping pills and drag racing in a residential community, some people seemed authentically shocked. Did young Mr. Bieber exercise sound judgement that night in Florida? He most assuredly did not. But consider the incident within the context of every destructive and expensive mistake that we’ve seen teen idols make in the past five years. Reckless and irresponsible, absolutely — but was it truly shocking?

You may also recall reading about Selena Gomez’s recent public displays of drunkenness, Miley Cyrus’s various shenanigans, Lindsay Lohan’s various car accidents, or seeing the tabloid photographs of a freshly shorn Britney Spears assailing a car with a folded umbrella. There is a well-documented history of teen idols, and famous people or celebrities behaving recklessly or abusing drugs and alcohol into their early adulthood. It may confuse some because these are celebrities who have accomplished so much by such a young age, and who are beloved by millions of (mostly) young and impressionable fans. Shouldn’t more be expected of these young celebrities? That could be part of the problem itself: more is expected of them.

The Garish Glare of the Spotlight

Teen celebrities are under constant scrutiny. Everything they do and say is monitored, recorded, photographed, and tweeted about. They are simultaneously loved and ridiculed by the media and different sects of the general public. They are under constant pressure to meet the expectations of rabid fans, and the constant stream of jeering, taunting and ranting that takes place in the public sphere (and on a larger scale than ever, thanks to Twitter and other social media) at their expense.

How do teen celebrities reconcile their own personal needs and desires–especially at this early stage in their lives, developmentally–with the expectations put on them by their careers and the public to uphold some ultra-sweet, wholesome, milquetoast image?

And the only thing potentially more dangerous than the inordinate amount of pressure placed upon these kids is the inordinate level of privilege that they become entitled too.

Boundless Power Can Be Their Own Undoing

Famous people can presumably afford to buy whatever they want, including substances both legal and illegal. If they want to purchase a Porsche and drive it off of a cliff, they are in a position, financially, to do so. The world is their candy store, and they are forced to learn about the law of diminishing returns the hard way. And there are few things more dangerous than limitless funds in the hands of a young person with access to nearly everything. People who have not yet come fully into maturity and haven’t yet had to learn anything about the virtue of self-restraint, and are accustomed to getting whatever they want, might not stop until they’ve gone too far. This can certainly be the case with drugs and alcohol.

Reckless Behavior

Let’s not forget that, while teenage celebrities may seem particularly reckless and destructive, ordinary teenagers are also historically prone to bad behavior. This could be attributed to so many things, such as the fact that teenagers are still maturing and developing–even their brains are still developing. The prefrontal cortex of the brain, which governs organization, impulse and planning, is still developing into adulthood. When you pair poor impulse control with unlimited cash and entitlement, the end result can be lethal.

You may recall the rather heart-breaking story of 1970s teen heartthrob Leif Garrett’s car crash. An intoxicated Garrett, a mere five days before his 18th birthday, flipped his Porsche after hitting another car. Garrett suffered scrapes, bruises, and a concussion. His friend Rowland Winkler, 19 at the time of the accident, was left permanently disabled and bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

It’s rare that teens who go out and party do so with the conscious intent to do harm. It’s not that teenagers are inherently amoral. They can, however, be inherently reckless. It is still tragic, nevertheless, when a teenager’s “wake-up call” comes in the form of a catastrophe that causes harm to himself and others.

The Unspoken Truth

It may be our first instinct to sneer in disgust or roll our eyes at young celebrities’ antics or ridiculous behavior, but we should remember that these are not fully matured adults. They don’t yet have any worldly experience. If everything is handed to them, and they are enabled by “yes men” who always get them with what they want, and they have the power to purchase whatever they want, it is not surprising that they will have a meteoric rise and fall. And, instead of our glee and derision, perhaps we should look at them with empathy and glean wisdom from their mistakes. After all, there are teenagers or twenty-somethings engaging in reckless and destructive behaviors all the time — you just rarely hear about it in the news if it doesn’t involve someone famous.

 

Brandon Engel is a Chicago-based author who writes about a variety of topics — everything from vintage horror films to energy legislation to drugs. Drugs are of particular interest to Brandon, partially because of the politics surrounding them and partially also because he has experimented with them and has struggled with certain substances in the past–particularly with alcohol. Brandon is sober now and eager to help others overcome their addictions.

 

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