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Beyond Bars: Addiction is a complicated phenomenon with no universal solution

By Brian Wood, Beyond Bars Columnist - | Apr 2, 2018

The word “addict” is used in different ways to mean different things. I feel like there are misconceptions out there and with good reason.

Addiction is a complicated phenomenon with no universal solution. And just right there, I used the word “addiction” when talking about the confusion with the word “addict.” I tend to use the root word for someone who is chemically dependent or addicted, but many people don’t believe being addicted is a prerequisite to being an addict.

People use the word “addict” to emphasize an indulgence like eating chocolate or binge-watching a TV series. I had a guy tell me at one point he had been addicted to buying Hot Wheel cars, so he knew how tough it could be. Using that case as an example, it’s obvious to anyone but that guy, we had different meanings for the word addiction.

So, even when we are talking about real addictions, it gets confusing. Especially when people say there is no such thing as an ex-addict or “once an addict, always an addict.” I have a friend who recently asked me how I’m doing “with all that” — referring to drugs. He then said, “I’m sure it’s a struggle every day.” This is where the confusion seems to be. My heroin addiction was somewhere between my addiction to oxygen and water, and a lot closer to the oxygen side. The dependency and the cravings go away. I am not experiencing that “struggle.” My brain no longer believes I need opiates to survive.

Now, do I know it would be a very bad idea for me to use opioid painkillers? Of course. I can see there being more of a “struggle” for alcoholics, as it’s always around. Thankfully, shooting up heroin is not a widely accepted social activity. I don’t have to worry about some waiter suggesting the black tar heroin pairs really well with the salmon. I was about to use the analogy that there wasn’t an aisle in the grocery store dedicated to my drug of choice, but trips to the in-store pharmacy each month is really where it all started.

Still though, I don’t experience “triggers” from seeing or talking about drugs, and the only time I’ve really thought about drugs or talked about them was when I went to my parole-required drug class. I had to go to a few of those because, as the guy who screened me put it, “You really seem like you’re doing just fine, but your history is atrocious.”

I’ve had a number of people ask me what they can do for their family member, and I just don’t know. What I do know is when I was in the midst of my addiction, there was nothing anyone could do or say to get me to quit short of locking me up and making it physically impossible for me to do anything about it.

As far as tough love versus enabling goes, I don’t have the answers. Everyone is different. I’ve experienced a little of both. On one side, while I was enabled, I kept going. On the other side, I got a lot worse once I felt I was given up on. However, I can’t say that was all bad because my loved ones found a measure of peace by distancing themselves from me and no longer having a front row seat to my demise.

We can all agree addiction is horrible and not just for the addicted. The cure or “road to recovery” is different for everyone. While I disagree with much of what AA teaches, it’s still around for a reason. I hear it has been more successful than any other program, so I guess I can forgive them for the confusion between addict and addiction (as I largely see it as their doing). Unfortunately, addiction is not the only problem.

People choose to do drugs even when they are not addicted and know the consequences. Everyone has heard this before because it’s true: You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

Brian Wood, of Layton, pleaded guilty to nine felony charges for offenses from 2011 to 2014, including counts of burglary, drug possession and prescription fraud. He served four years in the Utah State prison system before being released on parole on Jan. 2, 2018.



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