Illicit drug abuse has become a serious problem for communities across the developed world. It shows no signs of slowing down, as rates of opioid-related deaths have increased by nearly 30 per cent in the past two years. Hundreds of opioid prescriptions are being written daily and between eight and 12 per cent of people in my country, the USA, who are prescribed an opioid medication will become addicted to it. In my story, I was the one who fell into addiction, but I was fortunate enough to embark on a journey of sobriety.
The first time I tried opioids was after my wisdom teeth were removed. I was prescribed enough pills to take for 18 days, but they were gone within six. When one pill failed to take the pain away, I took another and found myself in a euphoric oblivion that I fell in love with immediately. Not only did it take away my pain, but it made me feel calm. I struggled with anxiety—it was like having a hamster wheel in my head that never stopped spinning. But opioids brought that hamster wheel to a complete stop. I finally felt at peace.
In addition to curing my anxiety, opioids took away the feelings of insecurity I had struggled with for so long. I had always felt like the black sheep. Whether it was among my peers or my family, I always had this indescribable feeling of inadequacy. Opioids made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I believe that I was addicted right away. I found the medicine that would fix the way I felt and I ran with it.
The very thing that started as the solution to my problems became the thing that destroyed my life—it took everything from me. I was deceitful, untrustworthy and manipulative. I couldn’t be relied upon, so people stopped trying to help me. I faced legal charges, was fired from jobs and was (rightfully) abandoned by my friends and family. Regardless of the pain I put others through, the only thing that truly made me want to get sober was the internal depression I was inflicting upon myself.
For months on end, I woke up each morning swearing to myself that I would not use that day, but each and every day I failed. I couldn’t make it through the vicious withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawals felt like the worst case of the flu—there were cold chills and hot sweats, restlessness in my legs, sharp pains that I felt in every area of my body, diarrhoea and vomiting. But the worst symptom of all was the voice in my head that convinced me to give up and get high once again. My addiction was irrevocably more powerful than me.
My depression and anxiety became worse than ever before. I formulated a plan to intentionally overdose and end my own life. I simply saw no way out of the chains that bound me to opioid addiction.
In 2017, nearly 47,000 Americans died due to an opioid-related overdose, but I wasn’t one of them. I woke up feeling completely defeated, so I made the decision to go to treatment. Seeking professional help was absolutely necessary in order for me to recover. Before treatment, I had no idea why I couldn’t just stop getting high and I had no idea that I was suffering from what health professionals call “dual diagnosis”—an addiction and a mental health disorder that each impacted the other. I was able to learn more about how past trauma and my mental health struggles made me more susceptible to substance use. It was comforting to learn that I was not alone in my efforts to self-medicate my underlying mental health issues—the majority of people with substance use disorder also struggle with a mental illness.
The treatment centre I went to was faith-based. My counsellor emphasised the importance of faith in a Higher Power for individuals in substance abuse treatment. Since I was completely powerless over opioids, I had to rely on a Power greater than myself to relieve my compulsion to get high.
Despite the resentment towards religion I had developed as a child, I began to pray. I was desperate enough that I was willing to try anything that would take away the pain I felt. Slowly but surely, I came to realise that God was the only reason I was still alive. Through the multitude of dangerous situations I had put myself in, I was kept safe. Through prayer and meditation I developed a faith in God; if I were to trust in Him, He would provide.
Treatment wasn’t the end of my recovery. I continue to work hard each day to do the things I need to do to stay sober. I surround myself with women who have more clean time than I do and I follow them around like a lost puppy. I want the life they have, so I do the things they tell me to do. I attend recovery meetings with a group of sober people who share their experiences. I continue to pray to God, I practise spiritual principles such as honesty and unselfishness, and I lend a hand to help the next sick and suffering addict.
Perhaps the biggest blessing I have received is a life based on service to others. I believe that my God-given purpose in life is to show other women exactly how I overcame the disease of addiction with the same vigilance demonstrated by the women who showed me in the beginning. Today, I have the privilege of watching others recover from the disease of addiction. I get to watch the light come back to their eyes. I get to watch colour return to their skin as they get healthy. I get to watch women return to their families to be a good mother, daughter and friend. I have come to appreciate all the suffering I endured, because it gives me the opportunity to share my experience, strength and hope with others. I believe that if one less person dies from an opioid overdose today, my job has only just begun.
Fast facts about opioid dependency
- About 750,000 Australians are currently addicted to opioids
- Out of the 1800-plus opioid-related deaths each year in Australia, two-thirds involve legal medications. Deaths exceed the road toll in most states
- New Zealand has so far avoided widespread opioid addiction, but pain medication prescriptions are increasing. Source: news.com.au / stuff.co.nz
Risk factors for falling into addiction
- Mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression or bipolar
- Exposure to emotional, physical or sexual trauma and/or abuse
- Genetic predisposition—children whose parents have substance use disorder are more likely to suffer as adults themselves
- Environmental influence—being raised in or spending considerable time in a setting where drugs are used
- Early drug use in adolescent years
Cassidy Webb is an avid writer from Florida, USA. She works for a digital marketing company that advocates spreading awareness on the disease of addiction.
Key information in this article is drawn from from drugabuse.gov and Psychology Today. To find more resources aimed at helping people overcome addiction, visit adf.org.au or call Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia) or 0800 54 33 54 (New Zealand).