Drug addiction is like being in a constant state of panic
If someone asks me if I’m a drug addict, I will tell them no. Many people are of the mind; once an addict, always an addict. If by this, they mean it would be a very poor idea for me to use opiates recreationally, then yes, I agree I have a disposition towards abuse. But to me the word addict carries a much more powerful meaning because of my experiences in the grips of addiction.
What does being addicted mean to me? Being addicted means your decision making process has been completely hijacked. There is a scientific explanation behind this phenomenon. Normal decision making happens in the frontal portion of the brain. It has been shown that an addicted person’s desire for the drug takes place in the mid-portion of the brain, more specifically, the limbic brain. This part of the brain is where survival instincts are controlled.
I think saying “I am an addict” when you aren’t currently physically dependent is like saying “I’m a cheater” (adulterer); it’s just something one does or chooses to do. If I were to go back to drugs, it would be because of choice. Sure, there would be urges involved, strong ones. I’m sure it is similar in the case of people who step out on a significant other, but the decision is still theirs. Of course this is just the opinion, which through my experiences, I arrived.
When detoxing from years of opiate abuse, I experienced what can only be described as hell on Earth. This happened in the Davis County Jail in “medical”, as it’s called. I was taken there after having a seizure in the day room when trying to make a phone call. Once stabilized, the nurses tried to give me water, but I was unable to keep even a tablespoon down. A number of times I was too weak or too slow to make it to the toilet which was less than 3 feet from my bed. My head hurt more than I can explain. It hurt to breathe because my throat and lungs were severely burned from inhaling stomach acid I had thrown up and choke on. Eventually you body has nothing to reject, but it doesn’t give up trying. I felt a sort of painful ringing in my bones that radiated outward with every beat of my heart. I remember it felt as if time stood still as I would look up to the clock in a cold sweat thinking I had suffered another hour just to find, not even a minute had passed. I remember praying to die. I lost over 30 lbs in the hardest 10 days of my life.
I can’t see any other way I could have made it through the worst of my withdrawals other than being incarcerated. I would have found a way to get more drugs, but it’s not because of the hell on Earth I just described. Withdrawal is more than that, I believe I could have made it through the head and body aches, nausea, the vomiting, the hot flashes and cold sweats, and even the mental rock bottom I found myself in — it’s the panic I could not have conquered.
The panic is what I believe causes people to do things they would never do if drugs were never in the equation. I have only experienced one other thing that triggers the same panic I experienced in withdrawal, and that’s drowning. If you know what it’s like to not be able to take that next breath of air when your body is telling your brain it absolutely requires it, then you have felt that same panic. The difference being, you only experienced it for a brief time, because if you hadn’t received the oxygen to cure that panic you would have died. During opiate withdrawal, your brain goes into that survival mode.
It becomes a life or death situation. There really are no decisions being made, you simply have to have the drug in order to survive. Nothing else matters. That is what it means to me, to be an addict.
Brian Wood, formerly of Layton, is an inmate at the Utah Correctional Facility in Gunnison. He pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He could spend up to 35 years in prison, depending on parole hearings.