First Place Winner Mysteries of the Mind Contest Round Eight, March 2017
Substance Abuse Disorder is a condition with which I am very familiar. You see I have sat on both sides of the couch when it comes to substance abuse. I suffered from my personal addiction that lasted nearly 30 years and I am a dependency disorder major holding an associate degree with high honors in the field.
My substance abuse started out quite innocently. The first substance I ever abused and became addicted to was tobacco. I began smoking when I was nine years old. My dad smoked and it was easy to steal cigarettes from him. The first time I ever smoked a cigarette was when an adult gave me a cigarette. I didn't realize at the time that he was trying to win my confidence so he could molest me. I was fortunate because my parents intervened before he could do so and told the man he would have to leave. He was a fugitive from justice and was hiding out in an old building we had. When we discovered him there he told my parents why he was there and convinced them to let him stay for a few weeks. My father had a soft spot for fugitives because my father had been imprisoned for a crime it was later proven he did not commit. So when this man showed up in a building up the road from our house my parents let him stay. He quickly befriended my brother and I, paying particular attention to me. I was only nine years old so I knew nothing of sex yet and had only just began to enter puberty. He took advantage of my naivety and began to lead me down a path of delinquency. Cigarettes were part of that path for him. I remember very clearly the first time he have me a cigarette and had me smoke it. I didn't really want to smoke it but he said that real men smoked. So I took a puff off the cigarette he offered and inhaled deeply as he said. I know now that my immediate reaction was a dopamine rush of major proportions. I literally had an orgasm as well as urinating in my trousers at the same time as a result of that one hit of nicotine. It is for that reason that when I began studying addiction as a student after many years of suffering from it, that I bought into the genetic model of addiction. According to this model addiction has a genetic component in which a gene is tripped in addicts that many people never deal with. There was a study done of individuals using Positron Emission Topography or PET scans. Pet scans are images of the brain which show areas of the brain that are active versus areas that are not active. In this double blind study participants were given a dose of a controlled substance such as marijuana, cocaine, or other substances. Half of the participants were given a placebo. The participants were then subjected to PET scans to determine the effect the substances had on brain activity. The results showed that a portion of the participants had huge dopamine surges throughout the cerebral cortex while others receiving the same amount of the substances barely had activity at all. Since dopamine is the brain's natural feel good chemical it makes sense too assume that addicts are trying to recapture that dopamine rush. The problem is that this dopamine release is often a once in a lifetime experience. Even when it is recaptured it lessens with each dose of the drug that originally caused it requiring higher and higher amounts to be taken until finally no amount of the drug will bring the desired dopamine release. Some substances such as crack cocaine and methamphetamine cause such a large initial release of dopamine that users experience orgasms such as the one I experienced when I first inhaled nicotine. In retrospect my reaction would have been expected since nicotine is the most powerful stimulant in the world, much more powerful even than cocaine or methamphetamine.
The dopamine theory of addiction is that addicts have a genetic abnormality leaving them susceptible to addictive substances. Once the substance is introduced the addict has an immediate and very intense dopamine reaction running from the anterior cerebral cortex to the posterior cerebral cortex. This pleasurable experience is so intense that many literally do experience it as an orgasm. The addict then tries to reproduce the feeling by reintroducing the same substance. They are able to capture some of the effect but the original effect is never captured again. Many addicts have referred to this as "chasing the buzz."
In some cases the addict is able to reproduce some of the initial effects but the feeling is fleeting. Recapturing it takes higher and higher amounts of their drug of choice. This elusive effect leads to the addict using more and more of the drug. Thus tolerance seems to be a condition found only in addicts. Many addicts, including I have made the statement that our bodies were designed to process chemicals. We seem to have an innate ability to tolerate with impunity dosages of drugs that would devastate or even kill people of the same weight and age. My drug of choice for example was the antihistamine Benadryl. Many would argue that Benadryl is not addictive and depending on how one defines addiction it may not be. If one limits addiction to individuals who show classic withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, muscle cramps, nausea, irritability, etc. then Benadryl is not addictive, If you broaden the definition though and allow for the fact that withholding huge amounts of Benadryl after prolonged use of the drug results in a major histamine reaction due to the body's dependence on the drug as opposed to its own resources, you have another type of withdrawal.
I also exhibited classic tolerance to the drug when I was taking it. For most people Benadryl simply results in sleepiness. This is why diphenhydramine, the active ingredient in Benadryl is so often used in OTC sleep products. For most people 50mg of the drug is enough to induce sleep and they simply sleep it off. I took as much as 5000mg of the product at one time and simply got high on it. Admittedly there were often times when I found I had trouble walking as a result of taking such high dosages, so I usually found a place where I could sit comfortably for several hours as the effects subsided. Many medical professionals still do not believe that it is possible to take the amounts of the product I took and survive. However research is becoming available in which others have reported taking extremely high amounts of the product and surviving. Benadryl is often the recreational drug used by inmates because many institutions have it on their list of acceptable products. In fact many jails and prisons will actually sell it to inmates. Now that the secret is out about it though fewer and fewer institutions are allowing the product to be purchased.
Addiction for me was much more than simple dependency on a chemical though. It entailed a mindset and a lifestyle. As a person I was completely self-centered and anti-social. In fact my early mental health diagnosis was anti-social personality disorder. It revealed itself in all of my actions. As many addicts have been known to say "If I wasn't getting dope from you or having sex with you then I wasn't dealing with you. I hated all authority figures passionately. Much of my life was spent in isolation and when I was in public I was often too high to effectively interact with people. I left destruction everywhere I went, usually in the form of broken hearts and ruined lives. There are still people to this very day who won't speak to me because of the things I did to them. My actions were almost always unethical, if not illegal. The laws I didn't break were badly bent. My ex-wife still doesn't fully trust me to this very day despite the fact that I have been in recovery for over eight years.
My recovery journey was through the use of a twelve step program. I do not mean to advocate any belief that twelve step programs are the only road to recovery. They were simply my road to recovery. Due to the traditions of the programs I choose not to say which programs I was involved in. The programs helped me sort out the emotional wreck I had become, reclaim my life, and accept responsibility for my past. I do not regret having been an addict. It has given me a unique perspective on life and made me what I am today. I do not recommend it as a path for anybody because many people never recover. Denial is one of the classic symptoms of addiction. Those who accept the disease model of addiction often say that it is a disease which tells you that you don't have a disease. I can't count the number of times I have said I could quit anytime I wanted to, I just didn't want to. Those words came back to bite me. Addiction is a serious disease and until it becomes a problem for the addict it isn't a problem.
First Place Winner Mysteries of the Mind March 2017