In part one of this article, I told of meeting Blake*, who volunteered to share his experiences with addiction and recovery, in hopes of helping others. The early foundation of his addiction was reviewed and compared to trends associated with substance use in adolescence. In part two, we pick back up with Blake’s story in early adulthood. The hope remains that Blake’s story may serve to educate on the signs and complexities of addiction, as well as opportunities to intervene and support recovery.
After high school, Blake furthered his education while also working full time. A local doctor, known for generously prescribing medications with high abuse potential, gave him a prescription for Ritalin. The dosage was so high, Blake said it was essentially a legal prescription for “speed.” He easily became addicted to this upper, and his alcohol use escalated to help take the edge off the Ritalin high. This pattern lasted about 5 years.
Once Blake discovered a product in which the smell of alcohol was harder to detect, drinking during the work day became even easier. He finished his days off with 18 beers each evening, in addition to more Ritalin.
The highest rate of problem drinking is among those 18 – 25 years of age. 1
Rolling in late to work became common. Showing up hung-over and picking fights with his dad did, too. Blake’s daily alcohol use was common knowledge to the family business’s employees, but he kept to himself after work, so he suspects they did not know the extent of his alcohol use. His dad made “a lot” of excuses for his less than stellar behavior, never outing Blake’s abuse of substances.
One day, while jacked up on alcoholic energy drinks and Ritalin, a client refused him access to their building and contacted his dad to report his impairment. Although Blake denied the allegations, he said he knew his use had gotten to the point that he was at significant risk for arrest or getting seriously hurt.
Blake said he struggled for 2-3 years, wanting to quit but not knowing how he could function without Ritalin and alcohol. He knew he was going to die if he did not figure something out. During this time, he was finally clued into his grandfather’s addiction, which was indirectly disclosed as another family matter was being discussed.
In 2005, Blake checked himself into a facility hoping to receive both detox and counseling. He received detox only – opting for the longer option of 5 days, as he wanted to “get this done.” He did not want to become a regular there. After discharge, Blake remained abstinent for 10 days, after which point, he figured he had it under control. An easy misconception when someone does not know addiction is a disease.
An intent to have “just one” beer at a party led to many more. The next day he woke up with regret for having lost those 10 days of clean time. Nevertheless, he continued to use for the next year and a half. Even today, despite verbalizing belief that addiction is a disease, Blake admits on occasion he will allow himself to taste an alcoholic beverage that has peaked his curiosity –believing he can maintain control as long as he does not swallow it.
What started out as fun turned into a dependence upon substances, without which he could not get out of bed. Life revolved around high levels of Ritalin and alcohol, and yet he knew if he did not stop, he would die. It’s a common conundrum for those in active addiction. They know the addiction is killing them, but the thought of life without substances is anything but attractive.
It was with his mother’s help in 2006, at 28 years old, that Blake finally connected with professional help again – a counselor. By that point, he knew he was addicted, as did all of his friends, who drifted away, not wanting to witness their friend’s downward spiral and not knowing otherwise how to respond. Blake made an agreement with his counselor that if one week of trying things his way did not work, he would try things her way. Doing things her way was the key to his progress.
Willing to do anything to avoid a return to “the plastic sheets” of detox, Blake volunteered to move in with his father. He planned to take a week off, self detox (despite knowing the potentially lethal risks of alcohol withdrawal) and adjust to life without drugs. His father, however, had other plans and put him to work the next morning. The work helped distract him from the cravings and thoughts of using. A phone call by his parents to his doctor cut Blake off from his steady supply of Ritalin. “It was very scary,” Blake said. He wondered how he could function without the pills and the alcohol.
Blake remained in individual counseling for 2-3 years. Openness to the recommendations of others, as well as their support, were cornerstones of his success with recovery. Counting days sober also helped keep him motivated. He did not want to start again back at zero.
Blake’s addiction had impacted him, his family, and his family’s business negatively. I had hoped to hear that in addition to the individual work Blake was doing, the family business also took steps to safeguard itself against the impact of substance abuse by its family or non-family employees. Unfortunately, this was not the case. “Something in him doesn’t want to deal with it at all,” Blake says of his dad, the owner of the family business.
In part two, we have discussed Blake’s addiction in early adulthood and what he describes as his first experience with recovery. In part 3, we will cover another accident, which helped trigger a relapse, and further examine the response of the family business.
* While Blake was very generous to share his story for public use, to protect his privacy, his name has been changed.
- “Teenage Drinking,” HelpGuide.org, accessed 1/22/16