By: Agnessa Kasumyan
Sometimes life can feel like a pile of manure, a real wasteland where you have been placed and forced to clean up the mess. However, every time you try, it just gets messier and messier until you’re as filthy as the mess you were trying to clean.
Other times, you wonder how life could be so wonderful and why you ever bothered with such dark thoughts about it. Still, at the back of your mind is a nagging inkling reminding you that this feeling of euphoria can never last, despite your desperate attempts to cling on to it as it swiftly and cruelly escapes the clutch of your fingers, like smooth and delicate silk, leaving you to wonder if you ever really felt it at all or if it was just a tantalizing dream.
But what if there was a pill that could make that feeling last forever? A pill that could make you feel invincible, transcend you into an ultimate state of bliss, and make you exempt from a reality that constantly reminds you of your limitations?
You’d have to be a madman not to take that pill every day for the rest of your nonsensical existence.
But hold on—what if you knew that pill came with one condition: you would thrive on the pleasures and seemingly endless horizons the pill would give you, but your life would be cut short, and eventually your mind would lose its grip on reality and sanity altogether.
Would you still take the pill then?
In a world that is an oxymoron in itself, it shouldn’t be surprising that many people would prefer the pill.
There comes a point in most of our lives when we wonder what it would be like to go under the influence, to willingly allow ourselves to be seduced by drugs and consumed by an illusion created by the substances that help us escape a harsh and bitter reality.
It’s tempting to give in to the curiosity, especially when it seems like your world is spiraling out of control before you and any attempt you make to bring some order back to your life equates to you pulling the toilet handle over and over again.
When you’ve just about had all you can handle, life throws another boulder at you, and everybody expects you to catch it stoically and carry it regardless of your breaking bones.
At this point, why not take some of that ecstasy (E) somebody offered you and just roll with it—no pun intended, of course.
The drugs, no doubt, would feel better than anything else that life has offered you thus far.
Unfortunately, the temporary illusion of invincibility and bliss fades, the consequences of getting high overflowing until it’s like somebody clogged the toilet with too much paper and when you pull the toilet handle once again, the grimy waters just spill over, disgusting and useless.
Who has to clean the ugly mess and get rid of the appalling stench?
All the while, you get dirtier and dirtier, inside and out until you’re a bitter, unredeemable mess.
Disgusting, I know; but, this basically sums up your life once you hand it over to drugs and seal it with a snort.
There is no denying that most people submit to drugs either to mess around and have some seemingly harmless, teenage fun or to run away from their problems.
As wonderful as that may sound, the fact of the matter is that the effects of drugs will catch up with you and only make your problems worse, crankier and with more vengeance than karma itself.
According to psychologyinaction.org, 50 percent of seniors in high school admitted to having used drugs, and about 10-15 percent grew an addition. Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA) Special agent Sarah Pullen says that methamphetamines (meth) and prescription drugs are Los Angeles County’s most common sources of drug abuse.
A senior in the school, who would rather remain anonymous, battled an addiction to prescription drugs during his junior year. He started off with NyQuil Syrup, a cold medicine that has the ability to knock somebody out for up to eight hours.
He “desperately needed some sleep,” so he didn’t think it would hurt to take the syrup just once. However, with his inability to sleep only getting worse, he began to use the syrup regularly, leading to a continued use of Tylenol as well.
During this time, he was dealing with personal problems while also tackling with the growing pressure of excelling in school. He had something to prove, and the drugs helped him deal with the inner turmoil he had created for himself.
He began taking Adderall, a medicine used to treat people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD.) The student claims that it gave him an incredible ability to focus. According to healthlifeandstuff.com, Adderall has been gaining popularity in treating ADHD since it was first introduced in 1996. Though it is effective in treating ADHD, it has potentially serious side effects. It contains amphetamines, thus Adderall abuse can lead to fatal heart and blood pressure problems. Webmd.com states that amphetamine-type drugs like Adderall are “habit-forming,” thus addictions are not uncommon.
Though the student was able to beat his addiction when he realized he was doing himself more harm than good, he did not do so until several trying experiences, including a suicide attempt.
It was only after the failed attempt when he realized that his life was out of control and he was hurting more people than himself, including family and friends.
When asked about why he felt the need to turn to drugs, he described an inexplicable feeling of anger towards society and the people around him, in addition to his insomniac-like symptoms. Though these feelings of animosity are often associated with teen vapors, it’s something much more than just some teenage rebellion and peer pressure problem. As an increasing awareness of society’s demands and pressures increases, so does the need for coping mechanisms. Some turn to video games, others books, and, of course, some to drugs.
Assistant Principal Hagop Eulmessekian says that when he finds out a student has been resorting to drugs, it “stings,” especially when he has to notify parents who are usually dumbfounded to find out that their child has a problem.
“It breaks their heart and you just sit there,” he said. “There is nothing you can say or do to make them feel better.”
Meth is more commonly known for inducing addictions.
During her 14 years as an agent, Pullen has seen people go to great lengths for a good high. During one drug raid, she and her colleagues found two parents cooking meth after having placed plywood over their baby’s crib in a pathetic attempt to keep from harming their baby. Nonetheless, the meth was still able to impose itself on the baby’s lungs.
Pullen says that though they have seen a decrease in drug activity over the past ten years, there has been a rise in the use of synthetic drugs like meth and cocaine.
Abovetheinfluence.com states that meth is very hazardous to the body’s central nervous system. Even when taken in small dosages, the drug increases heart rate, leading to irregular heartbeat and elevating both blood pressure and body temperature. Additionally, like most drugs, meth alters the way the brain functions. It not only increases dopamine levels, but prevents the released dopamine from being absorbed, negatively affecting motor and verbal skills.
Eventually, chronic users lose not only physical abilities but mental ones as well. They begin to engage in psychotic behaviors and experience paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions.
Irregular and elevated dopamine activities have been associated with schizophrenia, a disorder characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and mental deterioration among other symptoms. Cocaine leads to similar effects of paranoia, anxiety, and even aggression.
Synthetic drugs can aid the onset of schizophrenia for people who are genetically predisposed to the disorder. Even if one does not seem to have any family history with the illness, drugs alter our brain chemistry at such dangerous levels that our minds no longer function the way they should, leading to disorders including but not limited to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, manic depression, ADHD, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCD), and anxiety among other attacks on one’s psychological state.
Drug Counselor Inese Zalkalne says these situations are called “dual diagnoses,” which she feels is the worst condition somebody can have.
“Addicts typically have mental illnesses,” Zalkalne said. “But it’s hard to tell which came first—the mental illness or the addiction.”
Because people with a dual diagnosis take medication for their mental illness, they experience the same side effects that somebody would have had had they taken certain drugs. Sometimes, they may be going through hallucinations or delusions caused by their medication. If they take a hallucinogen drug like LSD, for example, they will experience the same symptoms and side effects that both their illness and medication already give them.
Zalkalne recalls a 40-year-old woman with bipolar schizophrenia that claimed to have tried “every drug available on the street,” from marijuana, meth and mushrooms to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD, commonly referred to as “acid”) and cocaine. Addicts with a dual diagnosis no longer behave normally and forget about everyday tasks, like taking care of their hygiene. Oftentimes, the woman would arrive at the Adult Day Health Care Center where Zalkalne works without having bathed for days or changed her clothes.
Zalkalne has seen many addicts who have lost their teeth and nails, like the 40-year old woman, have scabs all over their body, and who have acquired diseases like Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis. Formerly beautiful and handsome individuals transformed into “living corpses.”
“Richie,” who is currently being treated for schizophrenia, said that if he could go back and change anything about his past, he would never go anywhere near drugs. He remembers having started with “weed” or marijuana, after which everything went “downhill.” He began to experiment with a variety of drugs, including meth and cocaine, but was ultimately addicted to LSD. He said it’s “a wonder” that he is still around, even with a disorder that has changed and in many ways limited his life.
He wants to do more with his life, but he feels that he simply “can’t.”
Though not all drug addicts end up with a mental illness, most share that feeling of being trapped. They can break their addiction, but they are convinced they can’t because it’s too hard to break up with something that they’ve had a relationship with for so long.
After attending a Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting at a recovery treatment center in Los Angeles called New Choice, it became easier for me to tap into the mind of an addict, though no one can ever claim to truly understand what it is like for addicts on the road to recovery unless they are recovering addicts themselves. This may be why, according to Zalkalne, most drug counselors are former addicts.
One of the employees who helps to run the center, “Caleb,” had been addicted to drugs since the age of 20. At 51, he is 12 years sober, but it wasn’t until he migrated from the Ukraine to the United States when his recovery journey began. He was “a musician by trade” during his 20’s so “it was the thing to do.”
Caleb says that in the 80s, drugs were everywhere, “free and accessible.”
In the beginning, he felt like “Superman,” because his senses and abilities to focus were sharpened, so it opened many doors for his career since he was able “to do more.”
Additionally, like many drug addicts, he found drugs were a way to escape reality.
Eventually, however, his addiction caught up with him and closed more doors than they opened. Things were no longer “peachy,” even though the drugs helped him keep believing that everything was okay. He was constantly chasing after that “feeling of being Superman” and it was all about the drugs, “get more, feel more…it’s a 24/7 job, you’re busy chasing for more, it’s always about the next one and the next one and the next one.”
It was after he “lost everything” when he recognized the need for change. He had been arrested several times, lost his loved ones, his career, and even contemplated suicide. According to Zalkalne, it’s usually when people have hit “rock bottom” when they realize they need help.
Caleb says that though he had made the decision to quit years prior to his recovery, help wasn’t available. He didn’t know how to get it or to how to even minimize his use.
When he arrived in the U.S., he came across Narcotics Anonymous (NA) where he met people battling the same “disease.” He heard stories about “junkies” who had started their lives over again, and seeing people fighting and winning gave him the hope to continue.
Though recovery percentages are low, it is possible. Caleb believes that relapsing is part of recovery; however, as Zalkalne pointed out, it’s okay to relapse as long as you pick yourself up soon and don’t stay down for too long.
Caleb, who is not only helping run New Choice but involved with two bands—going back to his music career—says that he doesn’t consider himself an addict, but if he could take drugs without facing the physical, emotional and mental consequences, he would because the feeling of being high is not bad. It’s obvious that the temptation is still there, but he knows that he isn’t physically or emotionally capable of going back to his old lifestyle.
“You need to get tired of the way you live. If it still works for you, you’re never going to stop,” Caleb said. “I’m superman without the drugs now.”
“Keri,” a drug counselor training to be a case worker, was addicted to heroin for 27 years, having first taken the drug at the age of 11. At five years old, she was already drinking beer.
She says that addicts will do anything to get satiate their addiction, including “kill, rob, prostitute…the consequences don’t mean nothing.”
Though Keri is in recovery, she believes that she will always be an addict.
“I’m two years sober, but I’m not cured,” she said. “The disease of addiction…there is no cure. You’re never cured. You have to work hard at getting sober and there is progress every day.”
“Mary,” who currently attends NA meetings at New Choice, began taking cocaine, heroin, and speed at the age of 11. She doesn’t remember why she started, just that “it was the thing to do.”
Though she overdosed four times throughout her addiction, it wasn’t enough to stop her from taking more drugs. She even did six years for armed robbery of a bank because she “needed money for [her] habit.”
She attempted recovery several times in L.A., but attending anonymous meetings where she heard stories about people relapsing after 25 years of being clean didn’t work wonders for her confidence in abandoning drugs.
Zalkalne recalls meeting someone with a Masters in Business who relapsed after years of being clean when his father died. Addicts usually experience relapse when they are going through something difficult in their lives, whether it’s the passing of a loved one or feeling “rejected and angry,” like Mary did when she would go back to drugs.
Typically, it takes addicts years to even reach recovery because they are in denial about their disease. One woman at the NA meeting, “Anna,” denied being addicted to drugs, claiming social workers took her baby away from her because she had taken two tablets of ibuprofen prior to going into labor.
According to her drug counselor, a former addict herself, she had not taken ibuprofen, but meth, to which she is currently addicted.
Anybody watching Anna sitting in the chair, twitching and fidgeting, would know she is an addict in denial. However, if she remains sober until August, she will be allowed to move back in with her husband and daughters, including her newborn. Until then, she resides with her mother.
Addiction and recovery isn’t easy. It often requires breaking ties with people in your life, especially those who do drugs as well. Mary distanced herself from her husband, a former addict and current counselor, and moved to Oklahoma where her sobriety began. She has had several relapses, but has been sober for five years. Still, she knows that she can go back any day, so she takes it one day at a time and “thank[s] God for every day that [she] is clean.”
“Tammy,” another woman who attends the NA meetings, battled with addiction since the age of 31. An abusive relationship with her husband triggered the addiction, though she smoked marijuana prior to that. She finally left for the sake of her children, not wanting them to think that it is okay to hit a woman. However, her addiction to cocaine grew worse and she was raped while under the influence by her friend’s sister’s husband. She left her children in the care of her mother and hasn’t seen them for 19 years but currently saving up money to move back to Connecticut and see her family. As of April 2, she will be sober three years.
For many, drug addiction seems like an overrated problem, made to sound worse than it is. But in fact, it’s worse than most people would think. You lose everything and everyone you cared about, including yourself, and the drugs become the center of your life. There is nothing else but you and the dope.
Even though you may not feel you are getting addicted at first, it has a way of catching up to you until it’s too late to stop. The problem builds up like a tornado, growing stronger and stronger. When the storm is finally over, the damage is so severe that it can takes months and years to recover. During the storm, however, lives can be taken forever. After the storm, full recovery of what was lost is never guaranteed.
But, as Mary said, you have to do it for yourself because the pressure of doing it for others creates more stress, which only contributes to relapses.
“I’m doing this for me, not for anybody else,” Juana said. “I want to live.”