Self Medication: The Unexpected Addiction

Annette Nay, Ph.D.

Copyright 2000

As a counselor at a drug rehabilitation clinic, I learn some surprising facts about my clients that I'd like to share with you. Approximately one-third of the hard-core drug users ended up as users because of a physical injury or pain that they began to self-medicate for. This is their story...

They were introduced to pain pills or patches for an injury or pain that continued to linger on and became chronic. Their drug problem began when the pain continued and their doctors not believing them and wanting to get them totally addicted to drugs, tried to wean them off the pain medication instead of finding a way to fix the problem. When they complained of continuous pain their doctor labeled them as addicts and refused to help them.

At this point these people did one, some, or all of the behavior listed below:

Most of these people were respectable citizens, held responsible jobs, and had families. By the time they had come to me, they had lost their respectability, self-respect, jobs, families, and health. All they had for a friend was their drug dealer and he was no friend but a leach upon their misfortune.

They found that their world was one continuous round. It starting early each the morning when they awoke to the effects of drug withdrawal. They went into action immediately to gain the money to purchase drugs from their dealer. Some sold drugs, sold their bodies, or stole from businesses or private citizens. Many ended doing all of these behaviors to satisfy their need for drugs.

If their need for the drug had stayed the same, many could have kept their job and gotten the money by legal means to pay for the drugs, but this is not what happened. As their body became accustomed to the drug. The same amount of drug wouldn't cover the pain. Soon they were in pain all the time. So they took more drugs.

The drug addicts I counseled, had a $200-$500 a day habit. They told me that it took them all day to steal enough merchandise to support their habit. Then they had to hocked the stuff. By night fall, if they were lucky, they would seek out their drug dealer, get drugs and go find a safe place to go crash and do the drug.

There were approximately 150 people on methadone, a heroin substitute, at any time in our clinic. They were being given smaller and smaller doses to wean them off drugs. They were there because the habit had gotten so large that they could not maintain their drug habit by stealing. They would stay with the withdrawal program as long as they could stand the pain from their original problem and could get their drug habit to back to the point that they knew they could steal enough to support their habit on street drugs. When it got out of hand again they would reenter the program.

All our clients had long police rap sheets for theft and some for aggrieved assault. Many had done jail time and had gone cold-turkey while in jail because they couldn't get drugs. Some had to be removed to hospitals where their violent withdrawals were controlled so they would not die.

When you need a fix you will do almost anything. One client of mine confessed that he had been going into other cities and knocking over drug dealers for their stock. He was pleased to tell me that he has not killed anyone yet. Another client took a lot of pride that she had never stolen from any private citizens only large business that could handle the loss. The problem is that the loss is passed on to the consumer... the private citizen. Her reasoning was a little off!

I calculated the loss to business and the surrounding community from just our 150 clients to be a staggering 30 to 75 thousand dollars daily. This was not counting the lost from the other drug addicts who also steal to support their growing habit. This is one reason the merchandise you buy continues to cost more and more.

My clients were paying also paying a heavy price. Most had hepatitis A, B, and C all cause from heavy drug usage. Their bodies were shot. The veins they could reach were all scared from repeated punchers from shooting up intravenous drugs.

Due to the pain from an unfortunate accident or health problem, these people were left with nothing to show for their lives but pain from their accident/health problem compounded by pain from drug withdrawal.

The bottom line is...




Annette Nay, Ph.D.

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