Fear of Addiction
I have a cousin. He’s 66. He’s a medical doctor. He is currently serving six concurrent one year terms in the Berks County, Pennsylvania, Prison for six DUIs he had in the last 14 months. Two of the incidents where he was arrested involved accidents. In one accident someone was hurt, although I’m not sure how badly. It’s amazing to everyone in the family that he hasn’t killed himself yet. He lives alone when he’s not in jail. He drinks alone.
I had an aunt. She was an Olympic class equestrian. She and her horse fell in the early 1970’s at a practice for the trials for the Olympics. Her horse had to be put down and she never rode competitively again. She took solace in a bottle and in the prescriptions she was given. For more than 30 years, alone and angry because her dreams were dashed, she drank and medicated herself. She was hospitalized at least 20 times for detoxification, overdoses, and various problems with her health due to her alcoholism. When she died her blood alcohol content was .043. Yes, she drank herself to death.
Alcoholism runs hard in the genes of my family. I can point to almost any member of my grandparents generation and say, “He was an alcoholic” or “She was an alcoholic.” The alcoholics are fewer in my parents’ generation, but the ones that are alcoholics are bad ones. I remember swearing to myself growing up that I would never drink alcohol.
I did drink. In college I realized that I drank too much and too often. I thought about the alcoholics in my family. I slowed down. I slowed further in law school, and then when I married and had a baby I realized how hard it was to change a smelly diaper with a raging hangover. I slowed drinking even more.
In 1997 I was in a serious car accident. As a result of that accident the migraine headaches I have had all my life became worse. Ten years later I have a condition called “Chronic Daily Headache.” I have to take drugs to combat it. Most of the drugs don’t alter my mind, but occasionally I have to take muscle relaxers and painkillers.
Because of my headaches I have stopped drinking alcohol almost completely. Two drinks and I can guarantee myself a migraine. The margaritas aren’t worth it. I may go out with friends and sip one drink for three hours. I may drink it faster then switch to soda water. I never have more than one drink any more.
But there’s another problem. You see, addictive behavior runs in my family. And I have prescriptions for addictive medications for the pain I have almost daily.
I am afraid of these drugs. I hoarde them; I use them sparingly. I don’t want them to control my life.
Yesterday and today have been a bad days. My headache started early yesterday, but I was focused on something I was doing and didn’t take a break to get my Imitrex. By the time I was through with my project, I could barely sit at my desk. I wanted to curl up under it in a fetal position. Unbidden, tears fell down my cheeks. I staggered downstairs. The movement exacerbated the pain. I could barely think.
I fumbled for the device that contains the most powerful dose of Imitrex. It’s an injection, and thankfully it works quickly. I can use the injection no more than twice a month. I use it only when I can’t bear the pain. By the time I reached for the device, I was unable to form a coherent sentence. My thoughts were disjointed, and overlying it all was a little girl crying plaintively in my mind, “It hurts! Make it stop!”
I gave myself the shot. I took a muscle relaxer. I went to bed. I slept for three hours. When I woke, I still had a horrible headache. I took a painkiller. My head still hurt. Yet I still had to function.
I am a mother; I run a business. I have to take care of myself so I can take care of my child and my office.
I worry that I will become addicted to the painkillers. I worry that I take too many prescription drugs. I take three pills every morning in a futile attempt to control the neurological aspects of my migraines. They have helped. I shouldn’t say it’s futile. The headaches would be worse if I didn’t take them. Then there are the triptans – the drugs that actually stop the migraines. I can’t take them more than three days in a row, or I risk rebound headaches.
On days like today, when my head feels like it is split in two and one side is three times the size of the other, when a throbbing pain goes from above my left eye over the crown of my head and down into my left shoulder blade, when the pain is so bad I can’t sleep even with the soporific effect of the drugs, I despair of ever feeling good again.
The drugs don’t make me feel good. They just mask the pain. It’s still there; I just don’t care as much. I can laugh and joke and carry on a conversation with the drugs. I hate them.
I am terrified of addiction.
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