This is the continuation of “My Story” which I began writing about in Part 1 of “Alcoholism and Addiction… Confessions.” Before reading this post, it might be helpful for you to read Part 1.
The two years following the first meeting with my therapist, Larry, were full of transformational changes. I had never had friends before, but now it seemed people were beating my door down trying to get a glimpse into the transformation they had seen in me. My senior pastor connected me with other men who were struggling, and I served as a mentor of sorts to several others. Internally, I was full of purpose, and life seemed to start to make sense. Drinking or other addictive behaviors were the last things on my mind. But that euphoria didn’t last all that long… maybe a year and a half. I started drinking again during my last year of graduate school in 2004 to 2005. I was in school getting a master’s degree in Clinical Counseling. Larry had made such a difference in my life, and I wanted to give back. However, once the euphoria started lifting, some of my old thought patterns and behaviors started to show themselves again. Since school was 2 hours away from home, I stayed in the dorms at the Christian university where I was getting my MA. During those evenings after class, I took half-gallon bottles of vodka to my room and got wasted every night. Had I been discovered, I’m sure I would have been expelled. But instead of reaching out, I went back to my old habit of hiding and concealing. Once again my internal world became much different than what I allowed others to see. I managed to continue to function at a high level, despite my drinking, and I graduated with honors in 2005. The drinking didn’t stop… well it stopped and started several times. After graduation I was licensed as an intern by the state board of counselors, and I began practicing. It bothered me that I was trying to help others but was watching my own life start to circle the drain again. I was fully licensed in 2007, and my drinking continued off and on until February 22, 2010. That was the day I had a bilateral stroke that landed me on my ass for over 3 years. You would think that an experience like having a stroke would cause me to wake up and stop the drinking. Well, it didn’t. Now, not only was I drinking, but I was drinking and taking a boat load of medications on top of it. Many of my friends were very concerned about me, but this time, I didn’t try to hide anything. The fact I was drinking heavy was well known. After the stroke, I spent 5 weeks in the hospital and over a year in physical and occupational therapies. I was wheelchair-bound, couldn’t drive, and was alone almost all the time for roughy 3.5 years. My wife was out bringing home the bacon, and my kids were busy with school and extra-curricular stuff. Now here’s where things get really twisted. Not only was I still drinking and taking medication at the same time, but I was intentionally over-taking my medications. It was at this point that I added opioid abuse and benzodiazepine abuse to the alcoholism. Truth be told, I should have died multiple times during those 3.5 years following the stroke.
That’s a good place to take a breather. The stroke added a new dimension to my life, and I will address its impact as well as my continued drug and alcohol abuse in my next post.
Before I stop writing, I want to do a little education on terms used related to drug abuse and alcoholism.
Addiction and physical dependence on a drug are not the same thing. The National Institutes of Health website describes the difference this way:
Addiction—or compulsive drug use despite harmful consequences—is characterized by an inability to stop using a drug; failure to meet work, social, or family obligations; and, sometimes (depending on the drug), tolerance and withdrawal. The latter reflect physical dependence in which the body adapts to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve a certain effect (tolerance) and eliciting drug-specific physical or mental symptoms if drug use is abruptly ceased (withdrawal).
So, a person could be dependent without being an addict, or s/he could be an addict without necessarily developing dependence. Most often, however, the two go together.
Tolerance is requiring more and more of a drug to obtain the same result. Withdrawal is a syndrome made up of many different symptoms brought on by the abrupt cessation of a drug or significantly reducing the dosage of a drug. Both tolerance and withdrawal indicate there have been biochemical changes in your body. So in addiction, it’s not just a psychological dependence on a drug, but also a physiological dependence. Once you subject your body to drugs or alcohol, it rebels violently if you stop using the drug. Physiological withdrawal symptoms from stopping a drug abruptly can be life-threatening. Withdrawal from a drug is best treated in an inpatient facility where the process can be monitored and any dangerous withdrawal symptoms can be treated.
The word “addiction” or any variations of it are not used much in the DSM 5 (the manual of mental disorders currently in use by mental health professionals). “Addiction” or “addict” are words that mean different things to different people. The same is true of “alcoholism” or “alcoholic.” In regard to substance abuse disorders, the DSM 5 uses the terms “substance use, “intoxication,” and/or “withdrawal.”
Below are some topics that I will address in subsequent posts:
- Ways people get addicted
- Why people stay addicted
- Symptoms and signs
- Myths about addiction
- How to help the alcoholic or drug addict
- My perspectives on the opioid epidemic in our country