The Gate of Hell: Prescription Drug Addiction

Through me you go to the grief wracked city;

Through me you go to everlasting pain;

Through me you go to pass among lost souls.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno: The Gate of Hell

 Timothy Dalrymple, who blogs at Philosophical Fragments, wrote a  compelling account of prescription drug addiction in a post titled (oddly enough) Overcoming Sex Addiction.

Tim says that “it would be hypocritical” for him to talk about addiction of any sort without also discussing his own addiction to prescription drugs. At that point, he veers away from the subject of sex addiction into a retelling of his own spiral into physical addiction to painkilling drugs as a result of the lifelong pain he must endure because of a broken neck.

I have family members who are drug addicts. I can sympathize easily with someone who is dealing with prescription drug addiction (or any other drug addiction) from the outside. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love destroy themselves with drugs and be helpless to stop them. I also know how it feels to watch the destruction of their once delightful personalities under the influence of drugs.

I can sympathize with family and friends of drug addicts. The drug addicts themselves, not so much.

Tim’s honest account of how the prospect of a lifetime of pain demoralizes while the steady infusion of addicting drugs into a person’s body and life grows an addiction that won’t be assuaged gave me a new and necessary perspective on my own family members who have lost the battle with addiction to prescription drugs. I sometimes almost forget that a lot of physical pain fueled the original drug-taking that led to the addiction. All I see is the ruined personality, the vacant shell of the individual I once talked to, laughed with and turned to for companionship.

Grief for the loss of the person you knew and loved is part of life for those who must live with the addicted living dead. It is even more acute when the drug addiction is a response to emotional rather than physical pain.

I think Tim’s article is well worth reading for anyone who loves someone who suffers from addiction. In truth, the addicted person is just the center of an ever-expanding circle of suffering that ripples out to parents, siblings, children, friends, and on into future generations.

I admire Timothy Dalrymple. Not many people have the grit to face their own addictions and do something about them. I respect the courage it took to write about it so honestly in this post. I encourage you to read it.

Timothy Dalrymple’s post says in part:

… It was not happenstance that I decided to teach a class on sin and addiction.  I became intensely interested in the topic for a very specific reason.

I have taken pain medications more or less constantly ever since I broke my neck in 1996.  Every day, I leave my house with a packet of pills in my pocket.  For the last six years, I’ve been on a medication that relieves my pain without causing any euphoria or craving — but that was not always the case.

To be clear, my medications have always been prescribed and supervised by a physician.  But that does not mean — does not mean at all — that I have not been addicted.  One of my doctors, in fact, was very clear with me: if I put you on this medicine for a long time, you will become addicted.  There’s no question about it.  We will just hope to control the addiction.

As though addictions can be controlled.  But what choice did I have?  If I did not take the pain medications, then I was in pain constantly.  Every hour of every day.  Around my two fused vertebrae, I have nerve damage, bulging discs, pinched nerves, traumatic arthritis.  What some people don’t appreciate about chronic pain is that the physical pain is one thing, but the psychological burden can be almost unbearable.  It’s a terrible thing to stare down the barrel of the rest of your life and know that it will rifled through with agony to the end.

So I went from Vicodin and Percocet to Methadone and Oxycontin.  I would be on a certain medicine for a while, my body would build a tolerance, I would need to raise the dosage, eventually the side effects would grow too significant, and we would switch to another medicine.  And the most dangerous of the drugs I utilized was, without a doubt, Oxycontin.

I took Oxycontin — and usually felt a “high” — three times a day, for years.  While I never ground and injected or snorted it, I learned that there were other ways to get it into your system more quickly, or ways to experience its effects more profoundly. (Read more here.)

  • Mr. V.

    I dealt with prescription drug addiction, though on a minor level. I have sleep apnea and use a CPAP machine in order to get good sleep every night. When I was first put on the machine, I was told it would take some adjustment getting used to it, so the doctor prescribed me a sleep medication to use for the first couple of months. Some months later, I decided it was time to stop the sleeping pills, and I just quit using them. And promptly quit sleeping period. I would lay in bed for hours, feeling tired, feeling like I was about to go to sleep, but never quite getting there. After two nights of this, I called the doctor and was told that my body had become addicted to the medication. They had me get back on it for a week, then gave me a less potent form of the same pill. Did that for a week, then by the doctor’s instructions, I started taking them only every other night, then after a week, skipping two nights at a time. Then they reduced the dosage amount again, and I started skipping three nights at a time. Finally I stopped altogether. It didn’t take long, under their plan, to start sleeping again without the aid of a pill.

    My addiction was minor, and thankfully, there were no psychological attachments or emotional need for the pills, just the inability to sleep when I first stopped taking them. I certainly never felt an attachment, and indeed probably wouldn’t even have remembered to take the pill if I hadn’t written down a note that I stuck on the refrigerator reminding me of my nightly medication.

    I have great sympathy for those who become addicted to a prescribed medication, especially when it involves great pain. They’re not taking the pills out of depression, or for excitement, or curiosity, or an escape from their lives, or any of the myriad of reasons people take illegal drugs. I especially sympathize with Tim Dalrymple, for I have dealt with back and neck injuries. To be sure, mine were quite minor compared to a broken neck. Still, back pain, even for minor injuries, can be excruciating. I’ve had spells where I had collapsed and all I could do was grunt and groan in agony, unable to even verbalize why I was on the floor contorted. My wife once called an ambulance on me, cause I was starting to turn blue from not being able to properly breathe. Every time I tried to take a breath, my back muscles would spasm and I would groan and lose whatever air I had been trying to breathe in. I can only imagine what it would be like to live with that kind or pain or worse with no cessation at all.

    Breaking an addiction to a narcotic in Tim’s situation is doubly tough, for not only do they have to beat the physical and psychological craving for the drug, but now their pain is still there to deal with, and it’s a pain that no amount of counseling can make disappear. Tim has my complete sympathy.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Beautiful comment Stephen. Your thinking is a beautiful as your photos. Thank you for adding this to the conversation.

  • Fabio P.Barbieri

    My addiction is food. I overeat terribly and have a problem with obesity in consequence. I haven’t really beaten it yet – although I have gained a good deal of insight into it – but this post helped me understand one more thing about it: that I probably unconsciously turn to that kind of addiction because I could not bear to be dependent on something that damaged my thinking faculties. I have, in fact, been drunk three times in my life, hated it, and never tried it again. But as a matter of fact food addiction does get in the way of the mind, both because of the lack of energy and occasional unwanted fits of sleep, and because, like all addictions, it generates its own complicity, self-lies, and irresponsibility.

    • Rebecca Hamilton

      Fabio my brother, I am the same as you. You described it perfectly.