Name: Brianna Chilton
From: Chandler, AZ
The Hidden Victims of Addiction
The Hidden Victims of Addiction
Although society has finally recognized the severity of the addiction crisis, and as such has begun to adopt more programs that provide aid for addicts, there is still a large misunderstanding in regards to addiction. Many don’t understand the consequences addiction can have on an individual and their family; they don’t realize the devastation that addiction can wreak. For the lucky majority, addiction is something you see in movies, on television; something that seems a struggle, but if you just hang in there, it’ll get better! Thankfully for them, they’ve never had to witness the reality behind drug addiction. The lying, the stealing, and the searching for your loved one who has disappeared for days. The anticipation of finding out your loved one is in jail or dead. I can speak from experience when I say that families of addicts endure greater pain than anyone truly realizes, because my family and I have had to endure almost a decade long battle of living with and loving an addict; my sister.
My big sister’s foray into substance abuse began when she was young; at the age of twelve she had already experimented with marijuana, and by thirteen she was drinking heavily. I didn’t learn until much later that most of this was the result of peer-pressure. My sister and I, only three years apart in age, grew up glued to each other’s sides; we were either best friends, or worst enemies, depending on the day or even the hour in some cases. . However, even on nights where we couldn’t even stand to look at each other, we still slept in the same bed, facing back to back. We were incredibly close. I knew almost everything about her, even the things she didn’t admit to herself. One of these was the fact that she was suffering from an undiagnosed mental illness. It had been clear from her teenage years that she was struggling with some disorder that largely affected her mood, emotions, and relationships, and despite my parents numerous attempts at therapy, she refused any and all help. This continued into adulthood; as did the self-medicating.
After high school cocaine became her big craze, but she kept it low-key enough that my family and I remained unaware. She was still the big sister I knew and loved, a hard-worker who admittedly liked to party, but had a pretty good head on her shoulders and could’ve had a bright future. Then she was introduced to opioids. It initially began with pills, prescribed to a patient who sold them to her rather than use them for their intended purpose. Eventually, pills became too expensive, but the withdrawal from opioids was far too painful to deal with. That’s when she began to use heroin instead, and things really went downhill. At this point, her addiction was too difficult to keep hidden; if the needles in her apartment weren’t evidence enough, then the infected abscesses on her arms as a result of infected injection sites did the trick. My parent’s stepped in and took her home, got her through withdrawals, and onto her feet, though two weeks later she was right back where she started. This cycle continued for months. I’ll never forget the days she spent shivering on the couch, unconscious and in pain, looking nothing like the person I remembered. After months of rejected rehabs that seemed to only offer her insight on how to be a better addict, and failed court orders, and even a few jail sentences, we came to the realization that nothing was working. So, my family packed and moved in an attempt at a fresh start with my sister; she was on her latest attempt at being clean, yet still continued to refuse help regarding her mental health. Because of this, she was never able to fix the issues that caused the substance abuse in the first place. After a few weeks she went right back to using.
This wasn’t working for any of us; not only was my sister destroying herself, but she was destroying our family as well. My parents’ marriage had struggled. Their strife began when they were at an impasse on how to deal with her addiction. It worsened when my mom realized she had exhausted every option available to help my sister; we began what we now realize was the grieving process. Fortunately my parents’ love was strong enough to endure these obstacles, but in many cases the outcome is not the same. I can imagine it was hard for my parents to make the decision to not allow my sister in our house, but considering the fact that my ten-year-old brother was living in the same house as a heroin addict, who left needles in her bed, it was the safest option. My own anxiety was reaching new levels, with panic attacks occurring every other week over the thought of finding my sister overdosed in her room. After much deliberation, we came to the conclusion that she could no longer live with us, unless she was clean. She has not lived with us since.
Unfortunately, to this day, after 7 years of substance abuse, the person I once knew as my sister is still out there, destroying herself in an attempt to cover her own emotions and issues; everyday I fear receiving the call that she’s gone, yet everyday I have to prepare for the unfortunate reality that this could more than likely be her fate. Had there been less of a stigmatization over mental health, and had access been more available earlier on, perhaps she could have received the help she needed. Even now, she and other addicts like her struggle to receive help due to lack of access, resources, and education. I hope that with continued education and advancements made to addiction treatments, my sister and others like her will be able to overcome their addictions and regain their lives back. In addition to this, I hope more resources will become available to the families of addicts, who all too often are left as the unsung victims, left to pick up the pieces of a broken family after the devastation wrought by addiction. Stories such as my own show the truth behind addiction; unfortunately, it is not all happy endings, and it is not an easy challenge to overcome, for the addict or the family. But hopefully, by telling my story, I can highlight the importance of education, intervention, and treatment regarding drug addiction, which can help bring a happier ending to another family’s story.