A Guide For Addicts & Loved Ones Alike

How did you turn out this way?

No morals, bad upbringing, loser, junkie, dope fiend… and the list goes on.  These are just some of the words and phrases you may think of when describing an addict.  The average person doesn’t understand drug addicts or how someone could become an addict.  Let me start with this. While collected statistics say this number is closer to 57 percent, I strongly believe that a much larger percentage of addicts have a dual diagnosis. My main reason for this conclusion is the simple fact that most of us don’t get help for our other problems because we feel like taking care of our addiction is enough. But we don’t realize that having that other mental illness is likely directly related to the addiction problems we are constantly facing. We don’t realize that one disease is actually related to the other.

And believe me when I say that addiction is a disease, and it’s a disease of the brain.

Many people every day try drugs and don’t get addicted. But when someone who has been in constant pain their whole life, mentally or otherwise, who finds something that finally… FINALLY makes that pain a little more bearable, they can easily become stuck. Here’s how it works with opiates. When you put opiates into your body, they flood your brain with dopamine, with happy. Now normal people make dopamine on their own, but when you continue to flood your brain with it, your brain quits making it on it’s own. So that is why it’s so difficult for someone who gets through withdrawals to stay sober and not go back… They’re literally miserable chemically, and it can take years  to get that back.  And some of us never do get it back, which is okay.  Millions of people take medication every day for one reason or another.  We should never feel inadequate or that our recovery isn’t as good as someone else’s if we end up being one of those people.  In fact, I’m one of those people who will probably spend the rest of my life on my maintenance medication.

That’s why I’m a firm believer in these maintenance medications like my husband and I are on.

They slowly train your brain to make its own dopamine again, and you start to function like a normal person. They train your brain by partially filling those receptors, which teaches your brain how to make it’s own dopamine again, while also giving it a little so that you’re not in that state of constant misery. Now your success in a maintenance program relies heavily on your involvement in that program. Basically you get what you put in. You cannot make it through this process without frequent and focus based counseling. It also relies on you getting to your stable dose.


The Low Down

Many people believe that if they keep themselves on a lower dose than they are going to have an easier time coming off of their medication… Makes sense, right? Lower dose means less time tapering down. But that’s one of the biggest misconceptions you can make. The problem with that is that your body never becomes stable on the dose it’s given, and so anytime that you taper is too soon. That’s why so many people end up relapsing after MAT, because they never actually put in the work and focused on the importance of stability.  But if you get yourself to a stable dose, your brain can actually come to a point where you start to feel over-medicated. This is a good thing, and I’ll tell you why. This means that your brain is healing those crucial dopamine receptors and making it’s very own supply of that precious happy that most every one else in the world just naturally makes.  It can also make for the realization that you might need to adjust your dose.  Or it can be  when you know that it might be time to taper, and if it is, it’s time to do it slowly.  You’re literally tapering slowly enough to allow your brain to finish healing and close that gap, and of course making it to where you don’t have to experience withdrawal symptoms.  Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to come to that point, because some of us don’t.  Like I said, I know that I’m probably going to be on this medication for the rest of my life.  That doesn’t mean that my recovery isn’t just as valid as someone who is abstinent from all medications.  It just means that my brain works differently.   It can be a lengthy transition, but so was our descent into that life. I can say that we’re an awesome example of the fact that recovery is absolutely possible.


You Stupid or Something?

But how does a seemingly intelligent person even find themselves in the position of a heroin addict?  Not everyone who has encountered trauma or pain turns to drugs, right?

Well I’m going to break it down for you. It started for both my husband and I with a doctor giving us opiates for pain.  And our addictive personalities latched on…


And then the government made it hard to get pills in an effort to stop things, which created a whole other problem.  People with an addiction obviously get desperate.  I don’t know if there is an accurate way to describe just how awful withdrawal is.  Picturegetting a root canal while you have the worst flu of your life, while getting a spinal tap in the middle of child birth. Yea, I’d rather deal with that scenario than ever go through withdrawal again.  You find yourself doing things you never thought you would have.  An addict can talk themselves into anything.  I swear it’s like a demonic possession in a way, it can envelope an otherwise wonderful person who obviously knows better, and make them do things they never thought possible. I am utterly ashamed of some of the things I’ve done in addiction. But on the other side of that, when I got free of that “demon possession” I feel like I had a new
purpose. Some of the most kind hearted amazing people I know are people who have fought addiction. It’s kind of like, you’ve done so much bad that you need to do as much good as possible so that you just feel better. So while there are always factors in someone’s life that contribute to the addiction, it can’t latch on like it did for us unless it starts in the brain. My husband’s father (as was mine) was/is an alcoholic and it passed on.  And things have happened to us, that we couldn’t control.  But we are okay now. We were fortunate enough to get the right treatment and find each other to help each other through it.



So yes, although to anyone with common sense, it seems ridiculous to fall into this disease, it’s not something we ever had control over. But we are going to be okay.

And I firmly believe that the more people educate themselves about this disease, the more people we can save.  That’s why this isn’t just an explanation to fellow addicts.

It’s an explanation to parents, siblings, significant others, co-workers, and friends.

Because the sooner we educate the people around us, the sooner we start getting the help we truly deserve.

Written by Julie Medcalf

Julie Medcalf

Julie Medcalf is co-owner of MedCard (medcardmember.com), a service offering telemedicine (call a doctor) and other healthcare benefits. She is a mother of 2 children who enjoys using her experiences as a recovered addict to help others stay sober.

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