Tim Cheney and Adrian Hooper Share Their Stories
To say our respective recoveries from addiction have been a “journey” is an understatement. Like most drug addicts and alcoholics, we have our war stories: periods of homelessness, lock-downs in mental institutions, jail, in and out of detoxes and rehabs, stays in therapeutic communities, long periods of methadone maintenance, near-death overdoses, $500/day heroin habits and treatments for Hepatitis C, to name a few.
And like most drug addicts and alcoholics, we kept trying – over and over and over – to get a grip on our drug addiction and alcoholism, believing this time really would be the last time we’d go that far off the rail. But instead of a detailed recounting of our downward spirals and failed attempts, we want to share what we think are the key pieces of the puzzle that may help a drug addict/alcoholic and/or their family members and friends see (and believe) there is a way out. These include:
1. Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease.
By its simplest definition, a disease changes cells. It could be cells in a body organ or in an entire organ system. Addiction is no different. It just happens to change cells in the brain. Given the brain controls everything we think, feel, say and do, addiction [regardless of the substance] changes the way the brain works and thus the way a person thinks, what they feel, what they say and what they do. This understanding of addiction as a brain disease has occurred in just the 21st century – thanks in large part to new brain imaging technologies, such as SPECT, PET and fMRI.
2. All drug addicts/alcoholics experience one or more of the five key risk factors for developing the disease.
It’s not simply abusing illegal or prescription drugs or drinking too much that causes addiction. Yes, that’s what starts the chemical and structural brain changes. But it is the risk factors that make those of us who cross that invisible line from substance abuse to addiction (AKA substance dependence) so susceptible to these brain changes and therefore the kind of hijacking of neural networks in the brain that occurs with addiction.
3. There is no one or “right” way to do treatment.
In other words, what works for one drug addict or alcoholic may not necessarily work for another and what worked at one time may no longer work (much the same way a person has a wide range of options to treat the disease of cancer, for example). But there is a whole new body of knowledge that is: 1) improving diagnoses and protocols for “effective” treatment, and 2) proving it is not necessary to “hit bottom” before getting (or being “encouraged” to get) help.
4. Recovery (which is more than just abstinence, by the way; it is living a happy, healthy life) is entirely possible no matter when it starts.
Tim, whose addiction took hold when he was 15 years old, celebrates his 32-year anniversary this summer. Adrian, whose addiction did not take hold until he was 30 years old, celebrates 12 years.
Understand the Key Risk Factors and You Better Understand How to Heal Your Brain (Your Addiction)
While both substance abuse and addiction cause chemical and structural changes in the brain and thus changed behaviors, there are five key risk factors that contribute to a person developing the brain disease of addiction. These risk factors include:
1. Genetics. If it runs in the family, genetic predisposition. Not an “addiction gene” but genetic differences, such as higher or lower levels of neurotransmitters or receptors or the liver enzymes that break down alcohol, as examples.
2. Social environment. Where heavy drinking or drug use is viewed as “normal,” causing a person to drink or use heavily. Given a person’s brain/genetic make-up, this may lead to substance abuse and/or addiction.
3. Childhood trauma. Verbal, physical, or emotional abuse, which “wires” unhealthy coping skills and brain changes.
4. Early use. Critical brain development at ages 12-early 20s makes the brain especially vulnerable to brain changes caused by substance misuse.
5. Mental illness e.g., depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, bipolar. These also cause brain changes and often a tendency to “self-medicate” with alcohol or drugs.
The more risk factors, the more susceptible a person is to the possibility of “crossing the line” from abuse to addiction.
Tim’s risk factors include genetics, childhood trauma, mental illness, and early use. Alcoholism runs in his family of origin. A traumatic brain injury resulted in his being institutionalized for 18 months, starting at the age of 10. He then developed epilepsy as a result of the brain injury and was prescribed Dilantin and Phenobarbital for trauma-induced seizures (this is how traumatic brain injury with outcomes like Tim’s was often treated at the time). Also, PTSD and depression occurred as the result of early childhood trauma and institutional violence. Tim started drinking at age 11 and abusing drugs at 13.
For Tim, addiction took hold by age 15. “I took the drug, and the drug took me,” he said. Tim’s recovery work initially involved long-term methadone treatment and eventually centered around abstinence (1981) with an avid commitment to a 12-step program and extensive therapy with psychiatrists/psychologists/drug counselors.
Adrian’s risk factors include childhood trauma, and mental illness. He was diagnosed with ADHD at an early age, prescribed Dilantin, and sent away to boarding school and summer camps from the age of 9 in an attempt to stop the associated behavioral problems. This is one of the ways behavioral issues like Adrian’s were handled at the time. He was traumatized by feelings of abandonment, rejection and neglect by his family for being sent away to a boarding school where he was sexually and physically abused by a teacher at the age of 12. Later in life he suffered more trauma and PTSD as a result of horrific attacks and severe beatings he experienced during an overseas prison term in 1981.
For Adrian, addiction took hold at age 30. “I used drugs to self-medicate in an atempt to control the childhood trauma and PTSD. Eventually the drug and the PTSD [co-occurring disorders] took control of me,” he said. Adrian’s recovery initially involved a long-term stay in yet another rehab center with a great deal of 12-step program work, but eventually his recovery centered around his having time-released Naltrexone embedded in his abdomen and extensive therapy with psychiatrists/psychologists/drug counselors and EMDR.
For both of us, recovery started when we finally accepted that we had to do whatever it took to stop because dying was our most likely alternative.
21st Century Brain and Addiction Related Research Is Changing the Face of Addiction Treatment
As you may have read in the Chooper’s story, between us, we passed through some 45 substance abuse treatment centers, mental hospitals, and detox programs. For us, the most significant problem was that the treatment field itself did not have access to the brain and addiction-related research that is now available. As a result, the disease was not understood for what it is – a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. This in turn led to our repeatedly experiencing incomplete diagnoses and therefore incomplete and/or ineffective treatment protocols for our individual symptoms. (In the 1960s, for example, treatment consisted of a stay in a mental hospital because it was thought to be a psychiatric disorder. In the late 1970s, alcoholism and drug abuse were legally viewed as “volitional acts of misconduct.”)
Additionally, the treatment field did not have the latest research that is helping all of us understand the role that key risk factors play in a person’s developing the disease of addiction and why addressing and/or treating those risk factors is critical to treating the disease of addiction.
We were lucky, though. For in spite of it all, we did find our way into recovery, and we were able to build successful, prosperous professional careers before retiring recently – all of which brings us to our building the Chooper’s Guide website. Chooper’s Guide is our opportunity to give back, to help others find their way out long before they “hit bottom.” To provide the addiction treatment, mental health care providers and treatment professionals with a referral resource and share and learn the latest brain, mental illness and addiction-related discoveries and treatment protocols. Also, to help family members and friends find what they need to help themselves and thereby help their loved one before it’s too late.
So thanks for reading our stories, and we hope you find what you need here. Be sure to let us know if there’s something else you’d like to see, and we’ll do our best to find it.
|Tim Cheney||Adrian Hooper|