Addiction doesn’t always start in a back alley. Addiction often starts in the medicine cabinet of your own home. Addiction is an indiscriminate, chronic disease that can dismantle whole communities given the chance. You can come from a suburban bubble, rural town, culturally diverse neighborhood, single parent household, all the privilege in the world, or none; addiction knows no bounds.
This topic has been on my mind lately after realizing drug overdoses now take more lives every year than traffic accidents. I have been struggling with how to write a compelling post on a topic I have no direct experience with. I do not personally suffer from drug addiction and to be completely honest, I couldn’t recall anyone in my immediate circle who is. That’s the weird thing about addiction though, it hides in plain sight. Your parents, siblings, neighbors, fraternity brothers, classmates, colleagues, and friends could all be struggling to live with their addiction and you would never know it by looking at them. This made the gears in my brain begin to rotate.
I’ve heard it said before that college is a dangerous place. Dangerous because it is the place you go where your beliefs are tested, your opinions are scrutinized, and any preconceived notion about how other people live is often shattered. You meet people from higher and lower socio-economic standing, different races, different religions and, different expectations of what college is supposed to be.
I met a student named Bob once. I was in a position to help Bob get into college. He wasn’t a traditional aged prospective student, but somehow Bob’s application ended up on my desk. When we sat down to talk face to face I could tell there was something he was struggling with but from a professional standpoint, I was not the person he needed to speak with. Then the topic of housing came up. Bob opened up, explaining he was recently released from a substance abuse recovery center and was unsure of the best housing option for him.
People often ask what motivates me and my answer is consistent; I want to feel like I’m helpful.
In this moment, I knew Bob needed my help. He didn’t need my help to combat his addictions (I am severely underqualified to help in that regard) but what I could do was be empathetic and point him in the right direction. At this point in his recovery he was ready to tackle college again. I never asked Bob about his past or his recovery but I knew what was ahead of him. An often precarious place, college can harbor temptations and resources an addict would need to relapse. College is an easy place to experience a setback. College is a dangerous place.
After a few meetings with Bob over the course of a summer, we worked together to get his paperwork in line so he could begin course work in the fall. Once he was enrolled, our paths did not cross again for a number of years. My purpose in Bob’s life was served and I was able to yield whatever power I had to get him started in the right direction. Knowing my own college experience and knowing the landscape of universities today, I would often think about what he was up to. Was he still abstaining from whatever he was recovering from? Did he give in? Did he find a group? Is he even enrolled? All of the thoughts would come in random bursts, but as we all know, life comes at you pretty fast. In the interim from our last encounter Bob was not part of my thought process any longer. Other students with other challenges came through my door and I did my job to help them navigate their way to begin a college career. It wasn’t until an all staff meeting, years later, did Bob reappear in my life.
Bob’s name was on the agenda in the spot we normally reserve for campus professionals. They would come to tell us about new initiatives their department had coming up or to ask for our assistance during an all campus event. When I walked into the meeting, Bob was in the front of the room in a suit and tie (a far cry from his camo shorts, backwards hat and flip flops I was accustomed to seeing him in). Bob was ready and waiting to present on a Collegiate Recovery Program he and a few other students in recovery were launching on our campus.
He lived his life, as I then found out, actively abusing mind altering substances for 10 years before he sought treatment. I sat and listed to an impassioned man discuss the systemic biases the general public and some universities hold in regards to recovering students. He outlined their plan to help students in recovery feel wanted on a large campus and engage them in ways that would not interfere with their long-term recovery. Their group had the backing from campus administration and were in the talks of acquiring a wing of a residence hall specifically for recovering students. His purpose for coming to our meeting was to get the word out. He knew my department was considered the front porch to the university. Having this knowledge in our back pockets could lead other students to them and could possibly move students closer to recovery.
As he spoke I wondered if he remembered who I was. There had to have been at least twenty more impactful people in his life since we had met. I could point out a few when he was discussing who he had partnered with on campus. After taking questions he addressed the group but looked in my direction and said “thank you”. As Bob was walked out he headed in my direction and I stood up, really unsure of what I was going to say but before the words came out of my mouth, his intentions were clear:
“I remember you. I wouldn’t be here if you didn’t help. Thank you for believing in me.”
I know my small role in his life is not what kept him in long-term recovery but his acknowledgement is what keeps me grounded in the work I do. The small things I did to help a student get into college had become one of the turning points in his life. I was part of his long-term recovery. The magnitude of his appreciation was strongly felt by me and in that moment I knew what I did mattered. What we do as educators, administrators, friends, colleagues, brothers, and human beings matter.
Bob graduated last weekend with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work. He did this while simultaneously winning national awards for his advocacy, being selected as one of the top 40 student leaders on his campus, becoming a certified Peer Recovery Specialist, and joining a fraternity.
This fall, Bob is on his way to an Ivy League school to work on a Master’s Degree in Social Work to continue in his pursuit to be an advocate for those like him, in long-term recovery.
Collegiate Recovery Programs are all across North America with many being on our host campuses. The mission of CRP is to meet the needs of this growing population of recovering young adults as they pursue their educations. Several colleges and universities have also developed collegiate recovery communities to help young adults in recovery maintain their abstinence while in school. The primary goal of these communities is to provide a safe haven for young adult students who are struggling to maintain their hard-won abstinence while surrounded by resources to enable their addictions.
For a full list of universities click here.
Need help with substance abuse? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.
Two weeks ago, Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (M&RL) unleashed their very powerful, political, raw, and unrepentant sophomore album titled “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made.” If hip-hop music isn’t your jam, just humor me for a moment. Allow yourself to see past the music and let the words transcend. Even though I’m not going to unpack the entire album for you, (follow me on Twitter if you want that realness) I do want to pull out some themes, which I believe are central to our Sacred Purpose.
Fact: Drug and alcohol use is pervasive on college campuses. However, research has shown heavy episodic drinking isn’t as prominent in Greek life as the media would like for you to believe.* Obviously, it is still an issue worth understanding and combating, but where do M&RL fit into this conversation? They are ultimately the reason you clicked on the post, right? Macklemore’s experience with alcohol and drug abuse is evident in multiple songs on this new album, but a few resonated with me, as I hope they will for you.
In their song “Kevin,” Macklemore begins the first verse by introducing the agony he feels when it comes to living with addiction and seeing the results. There are lyrics like, “I said peace at 5:30/the next time I saw him was in the hands of the pallbearer/ What if I never dropped him off there? / Blaming myself, in hysterics screaming, it’s not fair” and “He said he was gonna quit tomorrow/We’re all gonna quit tomorrow”. Both transport the listener into a world of drug addiction, then sucker-punch them to dig into their own experiences. It pushes the listener to reflect about the people in their own lives who have said those exact words and started down that path. If the listener is lucky, there is still a tomorrow.
In their song “St. Ides,” lyrics like “I can barely remember last night/Another morning swearing it’s the last time” glide into your thoughts and paint pictures of those nights you’ve had yourself. And when Macklemore recalls his first drink in the line “Used to steal my daddy’s Cabernet/Never thought it would turn into a rattlesnake”, it takes some of us to a place all too familiar. For Macklemore however, it was the beginning of an addiction he will battle for the rest of this life.
Sometimes we let our weekend persona get the best of us, but what we may not realize is how our actions affect our brothers who have addiction issues. When we go out and party Thursday night, but have that Friday class everyone said we would regret, we pry ourselves out of bed. But the brother who cannot stop himself, gets out of bed and pours another drink. When we have an exam in that 8:30 a.m. class everyone said we would regret, but there are guys drinking and playing FIFA in the brotherhood lounge, we hit the books then the bed. But the brother who cannot stop himself pours another drink. Or worse, another brother pours it for him.
But how do you distinguish the signs of addiction in a brother? Most addicts are adept at hiding the parts of themselves even they don’t want to recognize. Some signs of drug and alcohol addiction to look out for include:
• Self-destructive behavior
• Lack of restraint
• General discontent
• Frequently missing class or work
• Lack of energy and motivation
• Drastic changes in relationships with others
• Deceptive behavior
• Mood swings
If we can better educate ourselves to notice the signs of an addict, we may be able to save a brother’s life. Unfortunately for Macklemore, he was unable to reach his friend because he himself is living with an addiction. If Macklemore’s example doesn’t work for you, that’s fine. I encourage you to look for help, strength, and inspiration wherever you can, but it’s a damn good place to start.
Our Sacred Purpose is a reflection of our motto “the Assisting Hand”. Many will lend their hand to pull a brother out of an addiction. The question to ask is if you’ll have the strength to reach out yours for the help you need.
Follow this Link to find resources on how to get help or help others.
Posted on August 13th, 2014 in Alcohol
, Drug Abuse
, Fire and Life Safety
, Helping People
, Mental Health
| No Comments »
Two Theta Chi parents share how Sacred Purpose is making a difference at Gamma Lambda/Denver and the greater University of Denver community.
Phyllis Watwood serves as the Health and Safety Adviser for Gamma Lambda and is the mother of their Vice President of Health and Safety, Matt Watwood. She shares,
“…I did not want my son to join Theta Chi…I did not want him to join a fraternity. I thought that his time on campus would be better spent in other organizations. As so often happens when you look back on your path of life, you see that those choices that you made were the exact correct ones: Being that his dad passed away six months later and that he’s an only child, that brotherhood, that Fraternity, has helped Matt immensely. I’m sure…I’ll never know how much it has helped him.”
In the aftermath of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death, many experts say the heroin problem is now an epidemic in nearly every part of the country. As brothers in Theta Chi, all of us must understand how heroin use is sweeping across the country, especially among high school and college students. The Oscar Award winning actor was found dead in his New York City apartment over the weekend. Reports say he was found with a needle in his arm and bags of heroin discovered near his body.
“We can’t overshadow the fact that there is a public health crisis that is raging across this country. Scenarios like this are playing out in families and communities with alarming regularity and increased frequency,” Scott Hesseltine, operations director at the Hazelden Treatment Center in Minnesota, where almost half of the young patients are addicted to opiates, up from 10 percent 10 years ago.
“When parents and families hear celebrities overdosing on heroin, the story seems so far away from home, and people need to realize the story is actually in our homes and in our neighborhoods,” he said. “There are thousands of Americans right now abusing prescription medications and heroin,” he said, “and they desperately need to get help.” Communities are seeing record numbers of people die from overdose.
And the path to heroin addiction often starts innocently, with a prescription for Percocet, Vicodin or other opiate-based medication. The move from opiate addiction into full-blown heroin addiction can be very fast. Someone can start taking pain medicine for a toothache or sports injury and become addicted to the pain medication. Because of highly reinforcing nature of these drugs on the pleasure centers of the brain, it’s very easy for someone to slip into addiction. When the medications are gone, some turn to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to get.
So what can we do in Theta Chi? For starters, clean out your medicine cabinet. “All of us save medication for a rainy day when we shouldn’t,” Hesseltine said. “What I’ve seen is it starts with the medicine cabinet at home, whether it’s yours or a friend’s, where there’s easy access to these medicines,” he said. “From there very quickly, someone progresses into non-medical uses of these pills and what happens is they’re expensive, they’re hard to find, and heroin is a much cheaper, readily available alternative. What we’re seeing today is the purity of heroin is at unprecedented levels.”
Heroin is much more common than you may know. In fact, 30 percent of high school seniors say it is easy to get. It can be snorted, smoked or injected intravenously. Heroin has the potential to ruin lives due to its capacity to grip victims with strong talons. Overcoming an active heroin addiction is nearly impossible to accomplish alone. Once the full-blown addiction has evolved, heroin addiction becomes powerful in and of itself. Inner turmoil results as the afflicted individual fights a constant battle between the addicted portion and the logical portion of their brain.
Heroin addiction can also start out recreationally by experimenting at a party. An acquaintance introduces the young person to heroin after drinks and other drugs have been served. Perhaps the experienced user demonstrates the way in which heroin is injected intravenously. The new user becomes compelled to chase the euphoric “rush” for which he has just been introduced. Heroin works by boosting feelings of happiness and well-being. By artificially boosting dopamine levels, the brain loses the ability to create dopamine receptors on its own. As a result, heroin is the only way users can feel happy. The cycle of addiction has begun.
There are many different heroin addiction signs you may watch out for.
Psychological and emotional signs and symptoms include:
· A preoccupation with seeking, using and paying for heroin
· A loss of interest in activities that were once of paramount importance to the individual
· Withdrawal from social activities and family gatherings
· Marked mood swings
· Lashing out in violent or angry ways
· Insomnia or excessive sleeping
Physical warning signs indicative of a heroin addiction include:
· Withdrawal symptoms, apparent during periods of heroin drug deficiency
· An increased tolerance to heroin, requiring increasingly high doses in order to feel the same effects
· Impaired motor coordination
· “Nodding out” or symptoms of narcolepsy
· Weight loss
· Reduction in muscle tone and athletic drive
· Dilated pupils
· Pale, gaunt skin coloring
· Decreased appetite
Theta Chi’s Sacred Purpose movement is an attitude and a promise.It is a promise to be there when our brothers need it most. As brothers, we have a responsibility to say something and to do something if we believe a brother is struggling with addiction. The cost of not saying or doing something could be the death of a dear friend.
To learn more, click here or visit your campus counseling center.