On Addiction

If I had my way, Prince would become the face of drug addiction in America.

But as a lifelong fan of the purple funkster, I know that he’d hate that.  He’d despise being remembered more for his drug addiction than his music.  That’s because for years, he ranted against drugs in his music and how they devastated families, especially black families.

Let me tell you a few things you might not know about Prince.  First off, Prince was a vegetarian.  He never smoked cigarettes and almost every Sunday you could find him sitting in church.  He never did street drugs and when he drank alcohol, he did so in moderation.  He was never overweight.  About the only thing Prince did in excess was make music.

But just over two years ago, this paragon of clean living was found dead from an opiate overdose in an elevator in his home.  He hadn’t even reached his sixtieth birthday.

Prince should be the face of modern addiction because America needs a new and more realistic understanding of addiction.  If you ask an average American to describe a drug addict, you’ll probably hear something like this:  drug addicts are dirty, poor and homeless.  They haven’t held a job in a long time, if ever.  Addicts have weak wills and don’t want to get off drugs.  They care more about getting high than they do about their families and friends.

While that’s the common viewpoint, it’s mostly false.  Many modern addicts are more like Prince than homeless vagabonds.  Many hold jobs.  Many have families that they struggle to support.  Many, much like Prince, hide their addiction.

Years ago, a part of my job was to do initial assessments for people seeking substance abuse services.  Although no two people had the exact same story of how they became addicted, a striking number of the people I saw told stories that were eerily similar.

Everything had been going fine in their lives until one day they threw their back out, or they had minor surgery.  Their doctor was worried about pain and so prescribed them an opiate medication. Fortunately, the medication worked great.  They didn’t feel any pain, and the medication even seemed to help them achieve a general sense of well being.  The pain medication also helped them cope with feelings that often go along with a nagging injury or recovering from surgery.  After refilling their medication for a few months, the doctor suggested that they start to wean off it.

That was scary.  They felt good on the medication and worried that they’d feel worse if they stopped taking it.  So when the doctor reduced their dose, they decided to ask a friend for his extra opiate medication so they could maintain their “normal” dose.

That helped for a few months until their friend ran out.  It was then that they had to start asking around to other people they knew to get more opiates.  Eventually, their friends ran dry and they had to start buying opiates from people that they didn’t know.  Before they knew it, they were taking larger and larger doses because it seemed to take more and more of the drug to get the same relief.

It was at this point that the most reflective people started to wonder if they had somehow slid into a full blown drug addiction.

While I don’t know how Prince ended up an opiate addict, it’s quite possible that his story was similar to the one above.  Hip pain – from years of high energy preforming – may have led to a doctor writing a prescription for opiate medication, which then led to more opiate medication and finally, maybe over twenty years or so, to all out addiction.

It’s time to drop our simplistic understanding of drug addiction.  In the opiate age, everyone has the potential to become an addict.  Addiction is not caused by weak wills.  It’s caused by powerful chemical agents, often prescribed for legitimate medical reasons, that cause the psychological and physiological changes in the brain that we call addiction.

Regardless of how cleanly you live your life, the power of your will or your wealth, you are at risk of becoming a drug addict.  So am I.  So was Prince.

Addiction can kill, but it doesn’t have to.  Maybe you read this article because you were wondering if you might have an addiction.  This might be your opportunity to reach out and ask for help.  Don’t wait another day.  Reach out.  If Deerfield can’t help you, we’ll refer you to someone you can.

Take the first step today.