SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

April 22, 2014

Watson: An addict regains his own life

Two weeks ago, my column outlined aspects of the opiate addiction problem in Massachusetts and described some of the physiological effects of the drugs.

I recently attended an open Narcotics Anonymous meeting with Steve, a recovering addict who agreed to relate his story.

Steve is 64 and has been “clean” for 32 months. He has spent virtually his entire life — until age 61 — fighting to halt or manage his drug and alcohol addictions.

He grew up in Queens, N.Y., and attended public schools there. When he was 13 or 14, he read a newspaper article about sniffing model-airplane glue, and he thought he’d give it a try.

He tried it and loved it. It was that simple. There was no profound reason for his experimentation — his parents loved him and treated him well; he was a good student on a path to college; and there was no peer-group pressure on him.

But when he got high on glue, he says, he felt spiritual and free, and he wanted to do it forever.

Eventually, his parents caught him sniffing and sent him to a psychiatrist, which proved fruitless since there was nothing wrong with him. At 16, he switched to pot and used it heavily — he says he was psychologically addicted to it. He also dabbled with mescaline and LSD.

When he got to college, he tried crystal meth for about six months. Sophomore year, he started with heroin. During junior year, he contracted hepatitis from a contaminated needle, even though he didn’t share needles. He was severely ill and missed six months of school. Amazingly, he detoxed and convalesced at home without his parents learning that he was an addict.

After regaining his health, he went back to school and received his bachelor’s degree. He went on what he describes as a 15-year marijuana “maintenance” program. During that time, he was using almost constantly but able to work. He drove a cab and did administrative jobs for a union.

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