As if, Emily.

Diary of a teenage hedonist.

Category: mental health

Addiction Psychology?

An answer to an email from a friend of mine that is relevant to my last post…trying to explain addiction management.

Clean, clean…I am cleaner than I have been for a long time, let’s put it like that.  After J— died and I was still at Uni, I spent about four months just sitting in my room taking drugs…of course, I didn’t manage to finish my degree, which is something I regret.  I have managed to stick to about once a week since I came out of rehab in March, partly because I managed to get the job in the pub straight away.  However, I want to stop.  I know the last post on my blog seems to be to the contrary, but the aim of it wasn’t to say “drug taking is safe and the demonisation is completely unjust” but from a mental health point of view to say “I was using every day and I have managed to cut down so I need to stop giving myself a hard time”.

I want to stop because of this recent improvement in my mood.  I am certain that one reason to explain it is being once again employed; why do I keep sabotaging that by taking drugs on my days off?  I know that I need about two days after shooting up to get back to feeling physically and mentally ‘well’ and the reasonable side of my brain tells me that taking heroin isn’t worth the recovery time.  It’s a constant struggle between myself and my inner addict.  
In answer to your question about control, evidence would suggest that it isn’t possible to control addiction and one should strive for abstinence i.e never take the substance/indulge in the activity ever again.  HOWEVER.  My own experience with alcohol goes against this train of thought.  Let me explain: firstly, I think that to suppress anything is basically unhealthy.  Secondly, if something is forbidden, it is more appealing (maybe that’s just my own psycho-brain but it’s true!).  Thirdly, I believe the key to overcoming addiction is a purely personal journey…one needs to have made the decision and be 100% committed, or it won’t work.  And when one has made that decision, I believe it’s possible to have contact with the substance/behavior without it leading to being once again addicted.  I hope that makes sense!
I’ll illustrate with my relationship with alcohol.  I was physically and emotionally addicted to alcohol; I would shake and hallucinate if I didn’t drink and couldn’t cope with living.  Just before J— died, I had started feeling better and had made the decision that I would stop drinking on my Birthday…but I wasn’t 100% sure, I had a ‘safety net’ in my mind that said “oh, it’s not so bad if you can’t do it”.  Hearing that he was dead was the last step in removing the doubt I had and I was sober for over a year.  Then I started to miss the taste of some of my favourite drinks, for example ale with lemonade (which had been the drink I would have on holiday with my parents when I was underage!  Very weak; my parents had tried to encourage a healthy respect of alcohol that worked on my sister but not on me…).  I decided that to deny myself a small pleasure would be worse than to give in.  I often find, however, that I will have one sip and that’ll do – i’ll have satisfied the curiosity and recognise that there’s no point in consuming alcohol further…
Hopefully you can read and make sense of what i’m trying to say!  Let me know your thoughts on addiction management.

Drug Dilemma #2

Who really feels bad about taking heroin: me or society? This question occupies me frequently, usually after an argument with my boyfriend following a relapse or during an awkward Skype session with my parents during which I try to conceal my most recent track marks. It’s a debate that is inextricably linked to staying clean; do I want to stop taking drugs for myself or to conform to the idea that history and social confines have impressed upon the people who care about me?

In order to try to understand the ambivalence toward sobriety that I’m experiencing, it’s necessary to explain the circumstances of my current use. Since returning from rehab, I have been injecting about once a week. This is, for me, infrequent use. Every Sunday, normally my day off from work, I find my body salivating in anticipation of a fix like one of Pavlov’s dogs. Weak kneed and sweaty palmed, I clock watch the entire day, waiting for my boyfriend to FUCK OFF to work so that I can score. It is, of course, no secret to him that I intend to get high. I am so restless and practically green with nervous energy that it’s merely a courtesy to wait until he’s out of the way. I protest my innocence and deny my plans because I know he disapproves, not because of any internal struggle about whether I should use or not.

My boyfriend doesn’t want me taking heroin for a number of reasons which I believe are a product of the negative reputation of heroin rather than any intelligently formed arguments based on evidence. Like most of today’s society, he is firmly of the belief that heroin is the worst drug in the world. “You could die!” he says. If I am in a contentious mood, I will attempt to counter this statement by reminding him that any of us could die simply whilst crossing the road. I will patiently explain for the umpteenth time that I take plenty of precautions: I have a regular, relatively trustworthy dealer; I use a certain amount each time; I inject slowly; I always have my phone close to hand if I’m alone, otherwise I inject in a shooting gallery which is overseen by trained professionals.

Another of my boyfriend’s gripes is the issue of money. Of course, before my second stint in rehab this was an issue for me as well. I was unemployed, using every day and taking crack (which, incidentally, is a drug that deserves its bad reputation – but more on that another time), which is horribly more-ish. However I now have gainful employment and my weekly fix is currently only totalling €40, which I make in Trinkgeld on a busy Friday night. I understand that the money goes on something intangible, something that he can’t see or hold on to, but compare that measly €40 to the amount I would be wasting on piss if I was still a drinker. Not to mention the added costs of replacing and fixing the hundreds of mobiles, cameras and iPods that are often casualties of binge drinking.

The third argument that my boyfriend uses is the detrimental effect of heroin on my health. I believe that the negative effects of moderate heroin use have been somewhat exaggerated, lumped in with the overuse and risk of sudden death and not properly explored. I’ll admit that for the first two days after a hit I am lethargic and somewhat weak. But it’s bearable. Also, heroin is the most effective antidepressant that I have ever come across – and I have tried a fair few – which has to count for something.

Don’t misinterpret me, I am by no means advocating becoming a heroin addict. I am, however, suggesting that it isn’t the end of the world to occasionally use if you are able to do that safely and responsibly. I personally find it much easier to control how often I use heroin than that of crack or that wonderful, widely available demon: drink. I do not intend to take heroin for the rest of my life. But I do intend to stop berating myself every time I reach for the needle. I want to stop feeling bad just because other people, due to the negative portrayal of opiates and opiate users in the media rather than their own opinions, feel bad. I am imposing a personal opiate amnesty on Sundays. Sorry, boyfriend, but this is true love.

How to:

How should you interact with a friend, lover, family member, or anyone who has depression?  It’s not easy, but here’s a rough guide.  Written by someone who knows.


1) Know the triggers.  These are many and varied and I’ll admit, hard to spot, but when you’ve known the person for a long time they do become more apparent.  It might be music, a place, a specific activity or even meal.  You will not be able to avoid these things, but being aware can help you treat your friend with compassion.


2) If you notice that your friend who has depression has become quiet and sad, don’t directly ask “what’s wrong?” – depression is an illness; everything is wrong.  Instead, ask the person what they want for dinner, or if they fancy watching a film.  A comedy.  Sometimes distraction is the best technique.


3) Your friend feels overwhelmed by some seemingly inconsequential task (getting out of bed, taking a shower, changing the duvet cover).  Don’t step in and take over.  This can make the person feel helpless and worthless.  Sometimes the best way to help someone is to wait until they are ready to help themselves.  You could try making it easier for them, for example by playing a song they like to entice them out from under the covers.


4) Try and plan activities together, a few days beforehand.  Having something, even if it’s just a coffee and a chat, to look forward to can be a great motivation for someone with depression.


5) Don’t try to compare the situation of your friend with those of others.  I have been confronted with, for example, “but children are dying of hunger in Africa, that’s really sad”.  I know.  That makes me feel even more powerless and worthless, that I am capable of such complacency.


6) Remember: your friend is not defined by their illness.  They don’t want to be miserable or make other people feel bad.  They are capable of being fun, clever, interesting…just stick with it.  Please.