Switching Addictions: Changing Seats on the Titanic
By Dawn Obrecht, M.D.
Anyone can stop using any drug, just start using another one! The only reason we use any drug is to change how we feel. Most of us know that we can do that with any one of a number of mind or mood altering substances. Most addicts (or "druggies," if you don't like the term "addict") have a favorite way to get high, a "drug of choice." If unable to get that drug, or into "proving" they are not really addicted to it, they may stop using it for a period of time... a day, week, or longer, although not usually much longer than a few weeks. During the time off of the favorite drug, the addict almost always uses something else, often alcohol or THC (marijuana, hash, etc.). All drugs have the same result: altering how we feel. Someone recently wanted to argue that marijuana is not "mind altering," but "mind enhancing." DUH! It is the same thing... if we are mind enhancing, we are mind altering! Still, any drug use is all in the service of changing how we feel, how we perceive things, respond to the world around us, deal with people, life, and so on. When we are high, we are doing life through the filter of our drugs and we cannot be emotionally present.
All the druggies I know are capable of using whatever is available when they want to get high. Opiate addicts usually start out with either Heroin or prescription narcotics like Percocet, Vicodan, Dilaudid, or Oxycontin. It is common for Heroin addicts to stop using Heroin, perhaps because it becomes difficult to get, or because the local supply is cut or contaminated, and switch to narcotic pills from a doctor or friend. Some people actually justify that since it is a prescription, it is legal and it must be OK to use. They deny that they are using it to get high. Some addicts are more honest and acknowledge that they are just using their "H" in a different form. If they have used needles in the past, it is likely they will shoot up (inject) the (dissolved) prescription pills as the high from eating a pill is not enough for a committed needle addict.
Addicts are also able to switch categories of drugs. Opiate addicts can pretend to try to get off of the narcotics and simply switch to benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc). It is just a matter of time before they are using both benzos and opiates. Everyone except the prescribing doctor knows this. Studies done on Heroin addicts in California found that one hundred percent of Heroin addicts who stopped using opiates for a full year, and continued drinking alcohol, were drinking alcoholically and having problems related to the alcohol within a year. Another "DUH." Alcohol is a drug and can be substituted for other mind altering drugs. The real addict always gets into trouble with his drug; it is just a matter of time. Addicts are also known to switch to using a process addiction, like gambling or shopping. The search is for something to fill the void.
If you, or anyone you know, wonder if drugs are causing a problem for you, try stopping all drugs, not switching to prescription drugs, or to processes that give you a high. You can always go back to using if you find that you can't deal with life without them. Do not be fooled into thinking prescription drugs are safe. Benzos and opiates are the most serious drug problem in this country; actually, the doctors who prescribe them are the most serious problem, as patients and their families are led to believe that they are safe, and not addictive if prescribed by a doctor. Not True. Any good addict can get a doctor to collude with him that he really NEEDS a 'script for a mind altering drug: again and again and again. Benzos and prescription opiates get you just as high as street drugs!
This progressive disease eventually leads to overdose, suicide, or some other major dysfunction. The end point of abuse of any drug is always the same: jail, or a mental institution from frying your brain cells, or nursing home from an accident that leaves you brain damaged, or death...or recovery. Switching from one drug to another is comparable to changing seats on the Titanic: you are going down wherever you sit, whatever your drug is...just a matter of time.
Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meet regularly in Steamboat. Call 970-879-4882 for further information.
Dr. Obrecht is an M.D. addiction medicine specialist, the only one on the western slope of Colorado. She is a Fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Her office is in Steamboat Springs and she does consultations and referrals to anywhere in the country.