This post was originally published on December 9, 2014.
Lisa is a 46 year-old long-term chronic alcoholic/addict that picked up a heroin habit after her 40th birthday. Although she had attended AA spottily for much of her drinking career, she had never been able to stop drinking, save for a two-year stint over a decade ago. When she began following a physician-directed Suboxone regimen that incorporated a long slow taper, she found that it not only worked for her opiate addiction, but her alcohol problem as well. She hasn’t done heroin or drank in over 20 months. This is her story:
I was what one of my AA friends calls a catastrophic drinker, which means I didn’t drink every day, but when I did, it was usually a disaster. This was especially true towards the end. I became rageful and violent towards the people that I was close to when I was drinking, and all of my self-loathing would come pouring out. I overdosed once on alcohol and came close various other times, and I had also been sectioned (court ordered) to 30-day rehab stays a couple of times. I had been on the outskirts of AA for years, and had put together a couple of years at one point, but I never had a consistent program so it never really worked.
About six years ago, I got involved with a heroin addict that I knew from an AA meeting that I attended on a regular basis. Aldo had been a member of that group and had stayed clean for about a year in 2004, but stopped practicing the program and went back to using dope. He lived in my neighborhood and would stop by to visit, and we just started hanging around. I was still drinking, but eventually I started doing heroin with him. I had never done heroin before, but I smoked a lot of pot and had a crack problem for a few years, so I was no stranger to drugs. I immediately became a daily IV user.
When we couldn’t cop dope, we would just buy some Suboxone on the street to keep from getting sick, but then we’d just go back to doing heroin. He wasn’t really working, except for the money he made from petty crime and odd jobs, and I had a small housecleaning business, so I would pretty much buy most of the drugs for us. Eventually it wasn’t enough, because we were splitting about $100 worth of heroin per day without enough money coming in. So I started selling my jewelry, and then I began stealing from my mother. I stole money, jewelry, scratch tickets and eventually Aldo and I even broke into the downstairs neighbor’s house and stole from her.
In some ways, it was actually a little better for my mother when I was doing heroin, because my explosive drinking episodes were a lot less frequent. And even if I was high as a kite, I don’t think she noticed, because I wasn’t abusive or didn’t appear to be as insane as I was. When I did drink, though, I was as bad as ever. When I would get out of control, Aldo would call my AA friends to take care of me, without mentioning that I now had a dope habit. He couldn’t stand me when I was drinking because I was so abusive, and like a lot of addicts, he felt superior to drunks because so many turn mean and sloppy when they’re loaded.
When Aldo ended up going to jail for a couple of years, I took up with a close friend of his, who was also a heroin addict. The guy was a former heroin addict that was on Suboxone, but he was also shooting coke, and I began doing both with him. The good news for me is that the combination of coke and booze and Suboxone finally brought me to my knees. It was something that my drinking or heroin use alone had not been able to do, and I became completely desperate. I was done and I was hopeless, and I knew that going away for 30 days wouldn’t work because I always used the day I got out of rehab.
I had tried everything else, and figured that the Suboxone program was my last hope. It had kept me from getting sick when I had no heroin, and I didn’t drink as much when I was on it, so I thought it might work. I had been getting it through my boyfriend, but after I was able to get away from him (he was mentally abusive), I went online, found the cheapest doctor and called him. He put me on the Suboxone program on my first visit. The prescription was covered by my insurance, but unfortunately the office visit ($150 per month) was not. But it was well worth it. Because I wasn’t spending money on booze or drugs anymore, it actually was a bargain. I drank two more times after I got on the program, but haven’t had a drink since April of 2013 or smoked weed since October later that year.
They started me off with 16 milligrams a day, then increased it to 24 for a while, then took me back down to 16 milligrams. The first year I was on it, I was pretty high, and when I talked to my therapist (who specializes in addiction) she said a lot of her patients said the same thing. I’ve heard other people say that you don’t feel it, but I was wired for a whole year on it. I’ve been tapering off slowly and am now down to one milligram a day.
Suboxone not only took away my cravings for heroin, but also for drinking. It kind of fixed me in some ways, because it was almost like an antidepressant. What Suboxone has done for me was keep me off the booze and (non-prescription) drugs, which allowed me to get into a depression group, therapy and to begin seeing a psychiatrist. Then I was able to get some of them help I needed in a meaningful way—which I couldn’t do while I was actively addicted to booze and heroin. It helped a lot with my anxiety, social phobia and depression, which made it a lot easier to share in therapy and with people in general, and it made the therapy more effective. It was also helpful to know that I couldn’t get high on heroin while I was on it, because I had tried doing it a few times when I was buying Suboxone off the street and it was a waste of time.
I had always gone to AA, but now I’m going at least four or five times a week in addition to my therapy sessions and psychiatrist visits. I had lost my clients from my cleaning business due to a couple of horrible drinking episodes, but I was able to get those customers back after making amends and then even added some more business. I’m now able to pay my rent and my relationship with my mother is the best it has ever been.
I understand that I’m not fully sober by AA or NA standards, but I’m alive and I don’t let other people’s opinions affect me. I’m nearly completely tapered off anyway. This is working for me and it has literally saved my life. The choice was to not be on it and be dead or be on it and have some people look at me a little differently; I’d much rather that than the alternative. Most people don’t even know that I’m on it anyway, even my mother. She just knows that I’m on a medication that saved my life.