Archive for April, 2014

I-Hate-HeroinThere was a time when heroin was seen as the drug used by those who had tumbled deep into the drug culture.  It would never be found in nice neighborhoods or on the campuses of good schools.  Heroin was not the drug that most parents feared would transform their children and destroy their dreams. 


All of that has changed.  Abundant supply, a low price, and higher potency have led to rapidly increased use in every sector of society.  As the supply of prescription pain killers declines, heroin has become the drug of choice at a pace that must be described as an epidemic.  Across the country in emergency rooms, treatment centers, and police departments, there is an echoing of concern that heroin has reached the status of a major public enemy.

At St. Joseph Institute we see the impact of heroin on the user, their families and their communities.  We have developed a strong hatred.  Here are 10 reasons why.

  1. Heroin, which has become far more potent in the labs of Mexico and other exporting countries, creates a vice-like grip on the user.  Its impact on the brain, creating powerful physiological and psychological cravings, makes it a very tough addiction to break.
  2. Heroin is too cheap.  The cost is down 75% over a decade ago, and it becomes an easy substitution from oxycodone and other prescription drugs that have become harder to find and more expensive.
  3. It causes disease.  Almost 80% of the new cases of Hepatitis C are from drug use, and then there is kidney disease, the transmission of AIDS, and infection of the heart lining.
  4. The impact on finances, careers, relationships and families is understated by the word “devastating.”
  5. Heroin often pulls people into the darkest levels of the drug culture, where violence, theft, prostitution, and fear, become a way of life.
  6. The difficult withdrawal from heroin often keeps people trapped in its grip.  Cravings, muscle and bone pain, vomiting and other symptoms can make stopping very hard without professional help.
  7. Heroin can be toxic in so many ways.  The purity is never known, and it can be mixed with starch, chalk, cleaning powder, fentanyl and other additives that can be deadly.
  8. JesusHeroin3Common methods of treatment – Suboxone and methadone – are addictive in themselves, and often solidify dependency on drugs without leading someone into a drug-free lifestyle.
  9. Heroin addiction steals joy, purpose, and dreams for the future.  It is a selfish substance, demanding the undivided attention of the user.
  10. Heroin kills too many people.  Each year the number of overdoses climbs, and the deaths associated with heroin bring pain and suffering to a larger part of our community.

The list could go on, but the message is clear.  Heroin is a terrible and dangerous drug.  We have good reason to hate it — and want to see it vanish from the face of the earth.

Be GratefulThe people in the room have seen addiction destroy their careers, relationships and many of their dreams.  They often feel anger, frustration and a sense of hopelessness.  No one disagrees that “addiction sucks.”  So when I ask the question “do you think that you could be a grateful addict,” there are always members of the group that look at me as if I’m from another planet, am just plain stupid, or obviously have not been listening to what anyone has said.  And then the discussion begins.

No one wants to deny the destructive nature of addiction.  It rips through families like a tornado in Kansas.  The pain is real, the despair is real, the anger and resentments are real.  Why then should anyone be grateful?

The reason, I suggest, is not because of what addiction has done to your life in the past, but what recovery can do for your future.  Too many people sleepwalk through life — they don’t work at making life better, they don’t actively seek happiness, they don’t address problems.  Instead they accept what is, and spend years, perhaps decades, bitching about almost everything.

Recovery requires — no demands – that you work at making your life better.  Each day you must begin with a determination to look for goodness and meaning and purpose.  You must be ready to fight against every event, every thought, and every disappointment that threatens to pull you back into the black hole called addiction.  It’s a lot of work, but it provides great rewards.

gratefulThink about the changes that must be made to live a strong recovery.  You need to learn how to manage stress.  Your relationships need to improve; with better communication, conflict resolution and more genuine intimacy.  Questions about life’s meaning and purpose need to be addressed.  Resentments must be abandoned, forgiveness offered, emotions managed and love found and shared.  In short, recovery demands that life be lived better, more richly, and with greater passion.

As the discussion ends, I usually have some converts.  The puzzled looks have been exchanged for acknowledgement — not without some reservations — that it is possible to be a grateful addict.  While addiction is not something to be wished for, it can become the reason why people seek something far better.  If life gains meaning, and becomes richer and happier in recovery, the feelings of gratitude become real.

relapse-elephant-in-the-rooWhen you are helping people begin their recovery, all of your instincts tell you to act like a sports coach.  You want the addict or alcoholic to feel empowered, prepared to fight against the strength of their addiction, ready to beat the odds.  So often they begin from a broken place, and your prayer is that they will experience the healing necessary to push back against their cravings and emerge victorious.  Our role models come from “Remember the Titans” and “Chariots of Fire,” and our language grasps at adjectives designed to inspire and encourage.

From this perspective, it is hard to think about relapse, and even harder to talk about it.  Isn’t this a sign of failure?  If we discuss relapse are we not conceding defeat?  Do we strip away all important motivation if we talk about the possibility that the drugs and alcohol could win another round?  All too often the possibility of relapse is the elephant in the room that everyone wants to ignore.

As difficult as it is to talk about both the victories and the losses that are found on the road to recovery, we do no service if we focus only on the bright side.  Relapse happens, and by ignoring it we actually weaken the person who is striving to succeed.  To avoid a future decent into the abyss of drug and alcohol abuse, the person in recovery must know what to do if they find themselves dangling on the edge.

You may recall the heroic effort of the Olympic skater who fell hard and smashed into the boards at the Sochi games.  He lay on the ice for a few seconds, not moving, and the audience thought his skating was over.  But he got up, and continued as if nothing had happened, completing his routine to a standing ovation.  While we want everyone in recovery to succeed, we want them to know how to get up if they fall during their journey.

Plan BA peculiar human tendency is the common assumption that if we slip we have failed.  I know a woman strongly committed to a diet designed to help her overcome obesity and regain her health.  She was doing very well, and was justly proud of her accomplishment.  One day she lost her resolve and ate a large piece of cake that was not on her diet.  A brisk walk around her neighborhood would have addressed the extra calories with no harm done.  However, she immediately admitted defeat; she had failed, and soon began to eat in excess, regaining all of the lost weight.

We must help people recovering from addiction prepare so that if they slip their descent is not long and hard.  They must be helped back on their feet, continuing their journey toward a better life.  Relapse provides a brief moment to learn from one’s errors and keep moving forward — but this rarely happens without preparation. A critical piece in every recovery must be the plan for what to do in the event of relapse.  If you fall, how do you get up and continue?  Whose help will you need to avoid turning a lapse into a perilous crash?

I suggest an essential part of every recovery program is a “relapse plan.”  What happens if you being to use drugs and alcohol again?  The strategy must be prepared in advance and ready for action, because there is very little time between wrong action and the descent into a full-blown addiction.

A relapse plan has three main components.  It must have support people ready to take action at the first sign of relapse.  It must have consequences that are clearly spelled out.  And very importantly,  the person in recovery must give authority to their support people to “do what must be done” to help get the recovery back on track.

Ann’s plan was well thought out.  She asked her parents to take her car, stop all support, and inform her friends, sponsor and counselor if she failed a drug test or refused to take one.  She also requested that they do nothing to enable her, demanding that she enter a program and pass a drug test before she could reenter their home.  Ann asked her sponsor to plan an intervention and get her to a meeting right away.  She asked her friends to stand firm, not allowing her to be with them, or to come to them for support until she had her recovery back on track. Her counselor was the “point person,” with permission to speak freely with family and friends. Ann knew that she could not trust her own thoughts when she was using, so she made sure that every door would be closed except the one that led back to recovery.
Planning for relapse is not an admission of defeat, but a way to strengthen the odds for victory.  The recovering addict and alcoholic needs to be ready to learn from failure and move forward, rather than allowing relapse to put progress into reverse.  The best military plans include a contingency if there must be a retreat.  Failing doesn’t mean the battle is over, it just proves that if something is really important, it is rarely achieved without a determined effort to overcome the obstacles encountered along the way.


Michael Campbell, Co-Founder & President, St. Joseph Institute.