Addiction recovery is not easy – Gary’s story shows us why.
“Trying to make a recovery from 25 years of addiction is a very uphill struggle. With 3 years clean, I still am not close to any kind of solution as to how I am going to survive for the rest of my life.
For the past 2 years I have been staying with my parents. Unfortunately, I had to have two major bone surgeries on the same shoulder which happens to be my dominant arm. Doctors have diagnosed me schizo-effective, and I have 15 years worth of non-violent crimes, including three low-grade felonies to support my habit.
I am pretty unemployable.
On some days I feel better about the future than others. Today is one of those not so great ones. I know everything will work out. It has to.
I am so happy I can use the plant to keep me cool on these days. And it’s Christmas and I’m broke. But, I am with family. And it feels good to be part of my family again…”
From RxLeaf: Addiction Recovery – Gary’s Story
The road to addiction recovery is long and winding. But one man’s story offers inspiration to all of those affected. Recovering addicts often provide us with some of the best insights around the nature of addiction. The road to recovery from addiction is often long and painful, and it challenges them in ways that few can imagine.
Gary was a recovering addict who had recently come out the other end of a horrendous twenty-five-year opioid addiction. He was due to work alongside us here at RxLeaf to aid us in helping many of those currently battling an addiction to find healing.
But in a sad development, tragedy struck when Gary passed away from complications following routine surgery. As someone who had seen and experienced the worst of where addiction can take someone, he never truly got to give back. To honor the mission that Gary never got to start, here we share his story and highlight the many challenges that addicts face in their journey to recovery.
The Wider Consequences of Addiction
Breaking an addiction is much more complicated than practicing abstinence. Many recovering addicts are continually challenged years into their recovery, with intermittent cravings as they struggle to untangle the neurological wiring of longtime addictions.
The longterm commitment that a lifestyle devoted to recovery entails is hard to fathom for the average person. “Trying to make a comeback from twenty-five years of addiction is an uphill struggle,” Gary told us. He was already well down the path to recovery, but the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t always apparent. “After three years clean, I’m still not close to any kind of solution as to how I am going to survive for the rest of my life,” he commented.
As with any addiction, there are a host of underlying factors that impede recovery. And Gary was all too aware of the barriers that hindered a return to normal life. He told us, “I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, and I have fifteen years’ worth of non-violent crimes, including three low-grade felonies to support my habit, so I’m pretty much unemployable.”
Gary’s story is tragic, and all too similar to that of many other addicts. The intermittent hopelessness, the shame, the negative self-image, and low self-esteem all serve to make addiction recovery a complex, multidimensional endeavor that requires real strength of character.
The Science of Addiction Recovery
If Gary’s story tells us anything, it’s that addiction recovery is a long and winding road. In a culture that values and measures progress by milestones, how can an addict trust in the process without counting the days until it all ends?
The answer is patience and an adherence to one’s own particular journey. Addiction recovery is unique to every individual and requires each to do their inner work at the required pace. A study published in the Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series (2005) claimed that the time required for recovery depends on a myriad of factors. They include biological, psychological, and social factors – like age, gender, prior substance use, the substance abused, and family history.Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol … Continue reading
According to the authors, no two addicts follow an identical recovery path. Some require residential care, outpatient treatment, and years of therapy; while others quickly take control of their addiction with medication and counseling.
The Phases of Addiction Recovery
A study published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine (2015) highlighted the issues around addiction recovery by outlining the five rules of recovery. Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325–332.
Facing the pain that people hold within is often the most difficult thing someone can do in their lives. This is especially tough when living within the confines of a culture that offers so much distraction for short-term numbing of the inner pain. The study referenced the fact that recovery is a process of personal growth, and that the stages of recovery are not the same length for each person.
Here are the stages:
1) The Abstinence Stage
Abstinence begins after a person quits using. The main focus in this phase is on not using, and dealing with cravings. The steps involved include acceptance, practicing honesty, the development of coping skills, forming new social circles without friends who are using, developing healthy alternatives to using, and identifying as a non-user.
2) Post-Acute Withdrawal
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) involves psychological and emotional symptoms, as opposed to the physical symptoms experienced during abstinence.
During this phase, researchers say that patients often experience mood swings, anxiety, irritability, variable energy, low enthusiasm, variable concentration, and disturbed sleep. And to compound the situation, these symptoms often overlap with depression.
Symptoms tend to come and go, and researchers in the Yale study claimed that the PAW phase could last up to two years.
3) Repair Stage
By this point, patients are finally taking some control back in their lives. It’s here where they confront the damage the addiction caused in relationships, employment prospects, finances, and self-esteem.
Engaging in self-help groups and leading a balanced lifestyle is of primary importance during this phase, as is using cognitive therapy to work on the guilt and negative self-labeling that result from the addiction.
4) Growth Stage
This stage revolves around developing the skills the patient never had the opportunity to learn. Researchers postulate that the lack of such skills plays a role in the emergence of addictive tendencies in the first place.
According to researchers, clinical experience shows that this stage usually starts three to five years after individuals have stopped using drugs or alcohol and is a lifelong path thereafter.
The deep work in this phase revolves around repairing negative thinking and self-destructive patterns, letting go of resentment by understanding the nature of intergenerational traumas passed down the family lineage, setting clear boundaries, and giving back to others and the community.
One tragic aspect of addiction recovery is the possibility of relapse even during the late phases of recovery. According to researchers in the Yale study, patients can relapse through any of the following:
- Eager to put their addiction years behind them, they become anxious to get on with life and end up going to fewer meetings.
- They stop practicing self-care by taking on more responsibilities to make up for the lost time during the addiction phase.
- When feelings of embarrassment arise around talking about the basics of recovery, patients begin to overextend themselves to get beyond these perceived limiting factors.
Using Cannabis to Help With Addiction Recovery
The science suggests that the road to recovery from a severe addiction is a life-long commitment. As a result, society should welcome any help that patients can get along the way, and that includes cannabis.
Those battling their way through addiction recovery often find it most challenging to manage their withdrawal symptoms. It’s the frequency and intensity of these symptoms that often force many to relapse. Withdrawal symptoms often come in the form of tremors, sleeping difficulties, and nausea.
Gary used cannabis to help combat those symptoms. He tells us that “some days, I feel better about the future than others, but I’m so happy I can use the plant to keep me cool on these days.”
Moreover, he’s not alone in that observation. Published scientific articles show that cannabis may exhibit benefits in the treatment of addictions.
A study published in Neurotherapeutics (2015) investigated the role CBD plays in helping treat opiate addiction. By administering CBD to heroin addicts, researchers found that their cravings decreased when shown videos with drug paraphernalia. The effects aren’t merely transitory. Even one week after the last dose of CBD, levels of craving remained suppressed along with associated anxiety. Hurd, Y.L., Yoon, M., Manini, A.F. et al. Early Phase in the Development of Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Addiction: Opioid Relapse Takes Initial Center Stage. Neurotherapeutics 12, 807–815 … Continue reading
THC Not As Good For Addiction Recovery
But while CBD shows tremendous benefit in helping addicts avoid relapse, the same doesn’t hold true for THC.
A study published in Neuropsychopharmacology (2004) involved rats who self-administered heroin. Researchers split the rats into two groups, one of which was preexposed to THC; the other wasn’t.
Researchers found that rats preexposed to THC self-administered ” significantly more” heroin injections per session. The observation led researchers to conclude that THC alters some of the pharmacological effects of heroin that determine the frequency of use.Solinas, M., Panlilio, L. & Goldberg, S. Exposure to Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Increases Subsequent Heroin Taking but not Heroin’s Reinforcing Efficacy: A Self-Administration Study in … Continue reading
Peace Before the End
Further, while Gary’s recovery was tragically cut short, he did find some well-deserved peace before his untimely death. Living with his supportive family, he reflected that “it feels good to be part of my family again.” Lastly, while he may not have had the time to reintegrate fully, his progress and positive attitude offer hope that all is not lost no matter what.
|↑1||Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2005. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 41.) 5 Stages of Treatment. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64208/|
|↑2||Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325–332.|
|↑3||Hurd, Y.L., Yoon, M., Manini, A.F. et al. Early Phase in the Development of Cannabidiol as a Treatment for Addiction: Opioid Relapse Takes Initial Center Stage. Neurotherapeutics 12, 807–815 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0373-7|
|↑4||Solinas, M., Panlilio, L. & Goldberg, S. Exposure to Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) Increases Subsequent Heroin Taking but not Heroin’s Reinforcing Efficacy: A Self-Administration Study in Rats. Neuropsychopharmacol 29, 1301–1311 (2004). https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.npp.1300431|
Stephen H Kawamoto
Indeed, it can be done.