We all have our preconceptions of what addiction looks like and the notion that it all could have been prevented by just saying no to drugs. While stereotypes exist, they are not necessarily representative of the disease. Oftentimes prevention is much more complicated than simple refusal.

Addiction can begin in a very unassuming way and can affect anyone from friends to co-workers to loved ones. One RIT faculty member shared the story of her husband’s journey with Reporter.

The Spiral Down  

It began with a cancer diagnosis, which is enough to scare anyone.

She said, “The cancer diagnosis didn’t scare me so much — we were so young and the prognosis was good. But I had no idea what was in front of us.”

The doctors prescribed Vicodin and recovery was steady. However, as he eased off of treatment, her husband's Vicodin use remained steady.

“Once you’re in it, you’re in it — there’s no off ramp,” she explained.

"Once you’re in it, you’re in it — there’s no off ramp.”

Slowly, the addiction worsened. He began to rely on the medication not for a high, but simply to feel normal. After using the drug for so long, being off of it meant feeling sluggish and unproductive, therefore developing a reliance on it.

The disease took over their lives and it made raising their children more difficult. Eventually, things reached an apex and she offered her husband an ultimatum: make an effort to get clean or leave.

Soon after, the two went to the hospital to look for treatment, but the stigma surrounding addiction complicated this.

Questions ran through their heads. What if they saw someone they knew? What if they were confronted about it? What if their neighbors or co-workers found out — what about their employers?

“We were ashamed,” she explained. “... and so we wanted to go to a hospital that wasn’t even in our area.”

They drove to an emergency room out of town, but were told the facility was not professionally equipped to do anything. The facility recommended attending meetings, placing the responsibility and decision-making on him, rather than helping in the moment.

“And the complicated part of this is that the addict is incapable of making good decisions,” she said. “So this bullshit ... about ‘it’s a choice’ — anybody that makes that argument is totally ignorant. They have no idea of what addiction is,” she stated. 

She clarified that those suffering from substance abuse disorder are still liable for their actions; however, the “choice mechanism” is entirely absent. Feeding the addiction at that point is no longer a willful decision — it’s survival.

Withdrawal is ugly and painful, and people have been known to die from its effects. After the body builds up a dependency on a substance, ripping it away is just the same as ripping away any other dependency we have.

Attempts were made to begin the path of recovery, but recovery is anything but a straight road.

The Winding Road to Recovery

When they began to search for a rehabilitation facility, their insurance company refused to cover the costs. The insurance company saw his life as still being relatively stable, misunderstanding the tremendous effects the substance abuse was having on his well-being. Insurance would only step in to pay after he’d already failed out-patient care. 

Yet, as his wife explained, addicts are smart. They can convince others of great recovery successes, all the while spiraling further downward.

Only after a suicide attempt did the insurance company finally agree to admit him into a short rehab program.

“It was only for seven days because that’s what it takes to cure addiction,” she said sarcastically.

Looking into the service, the two were able to get his stay extended to a total of 21 days. He was determined to make significant steps in his recovery and seemed to be doing well. After his release, his wife was overjoyed.

It was only years later that he finally admitted that he drank the day of his release.

"You’re fighting for your life right now."

It was difficult for her to handle, but she reminded herself that there is no such thing as a recovered addict. Rather, recovery is a road that never ends. They’ll always be addicted — they just get better at resisting the call.

“When I see the problem, I’m torn because I don’t know what to tell somebody, other than ‘you’re fighting for your life right now,’” she said. “‘And there’s a good chance you’re not going to win.’”

While the rehabilitation center certainly provided him with the resources he needed and the groundwork for recovery, it was by no means a cure-all. Only a month after his release, there was another suicide attempt, preceding a “roller-coaster couple of years."

The Breaking Point

Five years ago, everything finally boiled over. He went missing for a week without any trace.

“It was the worst week of my life,” his wife said. “And his mother’s life.”

In that week something seemed to change in her. She began to accept that she would never see him again. He had been suffering and perhaps now he wouldn’t suffer anymore.

A week later, she received a phone call. It was him and he was saying goodbye.

Somehow, it was a peaceful moment. His wife recalled going to sleep afterwards and resting well. She awoke the next morning to a call from his mother — they found him after another suicide attempt. While she’s asked that he not share the details with her, from what she does know, there is no reason he should have survived.

Even after this revelation, she still felt a sense of peace. She loved him dearly, but for the sake of the family and her own well-being, she requested he not return to their lives.

With little hope for a reunion, she spent the next year focusing on herself and her life. She raised their children, cared for herself and ensured that her life was still on track.

“[It] happens a lot,” she said, looking at the relationship between addicts and their loved ones. “You spiral down with them — your finances go out of control, your emotions go out of control ... your work suffers.”

She had to take a step back and rebuild her life. Meanwhile, he began a more steady path of recovery. After his release from the hospital, he was determined never to let something similar happen.

A year later, the two reconnected and their marriage was rekindled. He hasn’t had a full-blown relapse in the five years since the incident.

Now the two work to spread awareness of the issues facing addiction — the resources that are all too scarce, the public image that is all too distorted and the stigma that only makes it more difficult to reach out for help. Through their work, they look to ensure that those who are suffering can know they are not alone.