What It’s Really Like to Be Addicted to Painkillers: ‘I Didn’t Care If I Lived or Died’

Good and bad of prescription drugs

I believe addiction is a disease. I think no matter what happened in my life, I was going to end up where I did. I grew up in a small town in Connecticut to two parents who loved each other and loved me and told me I was smart and capable. I can’t pinpoint a single traumatic childhood situation that you might think would point me to becoming an addict.

From a very young age I had a lot of anxiety issues. School was really hard for me, and I started to act out. Around 12 or 13, I started drinking and smoking pot. It became a problem almost immediately. I have heard people say that there are three phases of drug use: fun, fun with consequences, and just consequences. I totally skipped the fun part. I never got away with anything. The first time I drank I blacked out and threw up in my basement. My mom found me, and I was grounded.

Alcohol was like liquid courage. It let me take on this persona of an outspoken party girl, which at my core was not me. Under its influence, I tried ecstasy and cocaine, really anything I could find. I had a friend who knew someone with leftover prescription painkillers. We took them after school in my friend’s bathroom in April of my junior year of high school. My anxietyimmediately quieted, and I stopped seeking out any other substances.

The painkillers became a daily thing. I wasn’t even interested in my friends anymore. I was skipping school a lot and getting suspended. My grades slipped. I totaled my car. My parents sent me to therapists and tried anything they could to help me. They even kicked me out of the house for a couple of days, but I came crawling back. One of my parents’ conditions was that I go to rehab. I had no choice. By November of my senior year of high school, I was in inpatient rehab.

Because it was adolescent rehab, it was half school and half rehab. It didn’t work for me. I had it in my mind that I just had to bide my time for the 60 days before I could get out and return to using. I remember a tech there telling me, “You have to pay attention or by the time you’re 21, you’re going to have a needle in your arm.” I remember thinking she was crazy. The first night I was out, I took pills and drank. I crashed my car a week after that.

I barely graduated from high school, but I made it to college in Boston. I met a guy who was into painkillers. We started using regularly together. My whole life became my boyfriend and drugs; I lived in such a small world. I was not going to class. I had no other friends in Boston.

Eventually, the drugs became a really expensive habit. Economically speaking, heroin was a better option, so we started doing heroin. The first time I shot up, I remember thinking, “That’s it. You found it. Nothing else is ever going to matter.”

My boyfriend and I stayed together for about eight months. During that period, my mom was diagnosed with cancer and going through chemo. My maternal grandmother, who I was really close to, passed away. It was an excuse to go crazy. I was using all day, every day. My boyfriend stole from his job. He was gambling online to get money. I wrote bad checks. We were using his parents’ credit cards to buy things to sell for cash to get drugs. I really had no moral compass. Nothing mattered. I didn’t care if I lived or died.

My boyfriend moved to Las Vegas to gamble, and I called my parents and manipulated them into letting me come home without telling them how I was doing. I moved home and stole from my parents. I was stealing out of my mom’s purse and my dad’s briefcase, even from a big jar of change my dad kept.

Eventually, my parents figured out I was stealing from them. I got kicked out of the house again, and I started getting sick because I didn’t have much heroin. I called my parents and told them I needed to come home. I truly believed I was going to die in the next year. They told me I couldn’t come home and that I had to go to Florida to go to rehab instead. I didn’t think it was going to work for me, but I had no other options.

I detoxed for seven to 10 days with Suboxone, and then I went into rehab. Getting sober was so painful–and not just physically. I had lived numb to my actions for so long. When I was getting sober, they all came rushing towards me. I thought of all the people I had hurt. It felt like salt on wounds all the time.

I started to listen in rehab and do my homework, and things started to get better. After 45 days in treatment, I went to a step-down program and then a halfway house, a sober-living facility. I had made friends during treatment, and we decided to stay sober together. I created this life with all these other young sober people.

I lived in Florida for seven years. Last year, I decided to move back to Connecticut. I felt like I was strong enough finally, and I wanted to be with my family and experience the changing seasons again. I work full-time and have a really full life now. I became an ambassador for Shatterproof, an organization working to end the stigma of addiction. The CEO and founder is from my town; I actually went to high school with his son, who encouraged me to stay sober while I was transitioning.

I ended up being diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder after I got sober. I’m a dual diagnosis: OCD and substance abuse disorder. I went on medication. That’s a big part of my sobriety; there was a psychic shift that happened. I am not the same person I was. I’m really close to my family now. In October 2017, we participated in Shatterproof’s 5K run/walk to raise awareness about the need to destigmatize substance use disorder.

I’ve talked to people who are where I was 10 years ago, and the biggest point I make is that there is a solution, but it really has to come from within you. Addiction is not a moral failure. I don’t think anybody thinks, “I want to be a drug addict when I grew up.” It just crept up on me.