Once an addict, always an addict?

Getting back to writing about meth addiction…

On the 4th of this month I reached two years and eight months clean. That might not be a significant milestone to most, but it is to me… That’s about as long as I was using in my last stint of active addiction, so it is something of a personal achievement. I didn’t write a post with that as the title (although I will write such a post when I reach three years clean) because it is only really meaningful to me, but still… In the first half of those two years and eight months using, I really felt like there was no hope of cleaning up. I depended totally on the drug and could not imagine life without it; could not imagine not tweaking. In most of the second half of that time, I wanted to stop… tomorrow. But tomorrow never comes, and just one more hit doesn’t end… until the time that I did stop, that is. Then, I just stopped, and didn’t even consider using again. My life had reached a point where I made the decision that my drug using days were over, and that was that. So yeah… this means something.

This is also about 14 months since I stopped attending NA meetings, and I can’t say that I miss them. (Full disclosure: I only attended meetings that were part of a program I was required to complete, in order to comply with a court order so that I could get my son back. And I only started that program when I was about 14 months clean. The number 14 repeating here is a coincidence.) So the program was not what made me clean up. It was just something I had to do.

The meetings and that program were more a source of unnecessary stress for me than anything else. Hearing the things that were said about addiction, and about 12 step programs and having a higher power, sponsor and so on, being presented as the only way to do recovery, was a stressful experience, because it made me question my resolve and doubt myself. I don’t do any of that shit, and have no concept of a higher power. There have been several papers published that examine the data of years of NA (actually AA) approach to treatment, and they all conclude that such programs are no better than doing nothing at all.

So about 14 months ago, I was passionate about proving them wrong. I wrote about those papers and books on the subject, intending to read them, but I never got around to it. I also wrote extensively about the 12 step programs being wrong, but since I haven’t attended those meetings for over a year, and haven’t bumped into anybody who believes in all that nonsense, I no longer have any motivation to care about that. I do not, and never really have, worked on my recovery. I work on my life… take care of my son, my job and my interests… No meetings or repetitious steps based on bullshit are required. And it’s better that way.

But every so often, someone like my brother suggests that there is a risk of relapse, a risk of me “going off the rails again”. But why would I? It seems to be based on the assumption that once someone is an addict, they remain an addict, except one that is in recovery… One that is not using drugs.

I don’t buy that. An addict is someone who uses drugs, despite horrendous consequences. In my case, I was a meth addict. And I don’t use drugs anymore. So how can I be an addict if I don’t use? It doesn’t make sense. The idea that you remain an addict seems thus to be attached to the idea that addiction can’t be cured, but must be treated with a so called spiritual program like NA. Well, if the program is bullshit, and it is, then why not the idea that I remain an addict too?

At the end of the day, I don’t really care for the definition and for whether or not people believe that former addicts remain addicts even when they aren’t using drugs. I only care when certain people throw it in my face, and normally, that’s in a situation where the person (at least in my life) is trying to claim to be better than me somehow. So I don’t buy it. I used to use drugs, so I am a former addict. But I don’t use drugs, so I am not an addict.

Edit: A Facebook friend has reminded me that the psychological – chemical pathway in the brain remains active for a long time, hence the belief that “once an addict, always an addict” and the idea that you must treat it with a spiritual program. He’s right in a way – that pathway does remain active. But so does any psychological pathway of any behavioural problem. I still don’t buy that a spiritual program is the solution. In my case, simply focusing on my life, my family, my work and my interests… on normal healthy pursuits, is better than focusing on something that I don’t believe in and that cannot help me. A better approach would probably be one based on psychology, such as CBT. But I don’t feel the need for such therapy anymore, although I could have benefited from something like that a couple of years ago. It might have made things easier at the beginning. Those drug-induced brain pathways may still exist in my brain, but there is no place in my current life for behaviour that would reactivate them, so for all intents and purposes, I am not an addict… because I do not and will not return to addict behaviour.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
This entry was posted in Addiction, Methamphetamine, Recovery. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Once an addict, always an addict?

  1. I think the pathways do stay set up for awhile- that said you’ve already made new pathways in your brain, every time you make the choice not to use. Even if using is something that isn’t even on the radar for you, that alone is an indication that things are changing in your brain. I read in a journal article that nicotine and heroin pathways take the longest to be ‘rewired’, 30 years or so (I need to find that article again). Other drugs like meth and cocaine had shorter brain recovery times.

    I find the saying ‘Once an addict, always an addict’ was only useful to me when I was justifying my addict behaviour in active addiction. As something to motivate sobriety it is a pretty negative way of looking at one self.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. pluviolover says:

    I’m happy to hear of your recovery (and yes is significant). However, while I agree with your negative assessment of the spiritual aspect of 12-step programs (at least for atheists or skeptics), I advocate “whatever works for you.” To me, most of the steps involve what you say you did, “I work on my life….” Whatever you are doing is working for you. Congratulations! Keep it up–one day at time. I would not go too far down the science rabbit hole–we have so few answers. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      It might differ in other places, I suppose… The last few meetings I attended were mostly taken over by one man who insisted that having a sponsor and working the steps (for hours every day) was the only way to stay clean. He told me that I had no chance of staying clean because I wasn’t doing that. I wasn’t truly in recovery because I didn’t do it his way… clearly a No True Scotsman fallacy.

      So maybe my impression of those programs is skewed by a couple of bad experiences with them. I do agree that whatever works, works… Just took offense when it was imposed on me as the only way, as well as to their dogmatic approach to recovery. That man’s approach would leave me zero time to spend on my son, or anything else important, and would actually do serious harm to my recovery. I spoke to one of his sponsees too, and it was like he had some sort of god complex, with followers who did exactly what he said, in fear that he would no longer be their sponsor. Bizarre…

      Thanks for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      • pluviolover says:

        I agree with you. My brother has 30 years sober and said he stopped because AA made him want to drink. I know others who have long recovery without “the program.” I did some teaching of recovering folks and learned that those who focused on family had better success, motivation, and people around them. One is my son. Keep working Jerome’s program–it is working.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. bbnewsab says:

    Maybe this article can shed some light on the issue: http://neurosciencenews.com/microglia-cocaine-addiction-4257/ .

    Liked by 1 person

  4. bbnewsab says:

    I just stumbled upon this article: https://theconversation.com/curing-addiction-twelve-steps-or-fixing-the-brain-10557 .

    Maybe of some interest? At least not too much OT.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Once an addict always an addict baby. It’s how we are programmed. Dope is just the only real cure to our disease. NA has been the only thing that’s kept me clean in 20 years. Keep going.

    Like

    • Jerome says:

      Based on what? What you’ve been told at NA? 12 step treatment is not evidence based. Good for you if it works for you, but it doesn’t work for most.

      Like

      • Are you an addict? Have you ever tried to get off of dope without the support of the fellowship? I am sure some people can be a “dry drunk” and stay off the dope without a program, but they will not learn about the behaviors that need addressing and the learning how to control the obsessive compulsive thoughts. My guess is that you are not an addict and have no clue what you are talking about. Real addicts know we are sick in the head and need daily therapy in order to recover. But please just sit there blindly if you will….does not bother me.

        Like

        • Jerome says:

          I’m not a true Scotsman either.

          I was on meth for about 8 years, using day and night, and am 3 years clean without any program. Believe what you like, but 12 step programs are not evidence based. They are based on ideas of 50 years ago that are not at all effective in treating addiction. It is well known within the skeptical community that such programs don’t work. Those who remain clean using them credit the program, but there is no evidence that the program is the reason for them being clean.

          No doubt you are a gullible person who accepts what is taught without question.

          Like

          • I can only speak for myself. I genuinely wanted to get clean and couldn’t until i got into NA. I’m not saying it’s for everyone. It just saved my life is all so i choose to stay in the program.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Jerome says:

              I’m sorry if I insulted you… That wasn’t my intention.

              My intention is simply to emphasize that one size does not fit all, if you know what I mean… It gets to me when people who believe in NA tell me that I am not an addict because I don’t do what they do. I don’t presume that my way is the only way; we all need to do what we need to do to stay clean. For me, NA did not work and could not work, but if it works for you, then keep doing it because that’s the best for you, and only you know what’s best for you

              Like

              • No offence taken. It’s not for everyone. I can’t speak for anyone else. It’s just the only thing that’s worked for me. My sister decided not to do na and she’s still doing well. Some people can go to church. Not for be to judge. Thanks for your message though.

                Like

  6. Pingback: A commenter claims that I am not a “true” addict | Skeptical Exaddict

  7. I’m certainly not gullible meth head. Good for you. Stay clean how you want. I choose NA so don’t knock it beside its not for you. I can tell You’re not in recovery because you gave a bitter mentality. Best of luck to us both. Just noticed you called me gullible. Get over yourself. There’s many different ways. Wtf

    Like

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