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Inside the Mind of an Opioid Addict

A recovered addict shares his story in hopes of killing the stigma surrounding the deadly disease.
opioid addiction, Chris Heide, Christopher Heide, opioid crisis

Christopher Heide, who recounts his struggles with opioid addiction in the following article. Heide is now a substance abuse disorder clinician based in Seattle. (Photo Credit: Chris Monsos)

Imagine feeling so thirsty and hungry that your entire survival depends on quenching it. Now imagine that same mighty thirst for drugs and alcohol. An urge so powerful it tells you that you will die without them. That is just a small glimpse of what it is like to be an addict.

America is currently in the midst of a devastating opioid epidemic. In 2016 alone, 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, which is more than the number of casualties from the Iraq and Vietnam wars combined. Unfortunately, addiction is heavily stigmatized and misunderstood, and many people believe that the disease is the result of a choice, a moral failing or lack of willpower. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I certainly had no intentions of becoming a drug addict. No one sets out to acquire a destructive, progressive and fatal disease. That’s the thing about addiction—you don’t realize that you have become a drug addict until it is too late.

Growing up, no one would have expected I would become a drug addict. I was the quintessential “good kid.” My family was middle class; I was given countless opportunities and was, at most times, a high achiever. On paper at least, I was massively accomplished. That didn’t, however, save me from experiencing various forms of trauma, bullying and abuse. Then, one day, addiction crept into my life and took control with a brutal chokehold.

My entire life I had felt adrift—like I hadn’t found my place in the world. I felt misplaced and separate from my peers. Those feelings created a hole within me; a hole so massive, so deep, that only drugs and alcohol could fill. From day one, drugs had a powerful grip on my personality, my psyche and my life.

The first time I ever took an opiate I was hooked. It was 2007. Unlike most people, I don’t experience the adverse side effects of opiate medication. While most people feel nauseated, itchy or lethargic, I feel intense euphoria and stimulation. For the first time, I felt complete. I was already a few years into my addiction before I began to experience severe consequences as a result of my use. I didn’t think I was “using drugs” because my doctor had prescribed them in response to pain I was experiencing as a result of a car accident. My back was injured and the Percocet helped to relieve the pain. Eventually, I felt I needed the drugs to live and my doctor gave them to me relatively freely.

Unfortunately, overprescribing narcotics is a common problem with American physicians—a problem so systemic that it has considerably contributed to the opioid epidemic.

I didn’t see a problem with my situation. The consequences piled up brutally and swiftly. Within a few years, my addiction escalated. I now needed more medication to function. I was losing friends, destroying relationships and suffering pretty severe social consequences. Friends told me that they did not want to be my friend anymore. Boyfriends broke up with me because of unpredictable behaviors that occurred as a result of my drug use. I lost jobs, money and a great deal of self-respect. Still, my addiction was so powerful that I truly believed that as long as I had the drugs, I would survive. My future looked bleak, as my urge to use grew daily stronger.

By 2011, my life had gotten so out of control that my family performed an intervention. They gave me an ultimatum: go to treatment or lose my family.

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  • Chris Heide is the recipient of the Kaplan Award for Narrative Journalism and is the co-Founder and ... keep reading

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