Michael Jackson, Rush Limbaugh, Winona Ryder, Matthew Perry, and me…what could we possibly have in common? Well, I’m not famous, so it must be something else – at one point, we were all addicted to prescription painkillers.
In my case, it was hydrocodone, in the form of Vicodin tablets. To look at me, you would never know that I used to eat them like candy. To listen to me, you would never know how I’m still alive.
This is my story…
The Beginning of My Hydrocodone Abuse
Let me start off by saying that I never intended to abuse or become addicted to hydrocodone. I was always the anti-drug guy. I’ve never even smoked pot. Like a lot of people, my road to opioid painkiller addiction started innocently enough, and for perfectly legitimate reasons.
I got hurt at work.
I was working construction, and I tripped and bashed my head open on an exposed steel rod. I didn’t feel like it was hurt too badly, but the foreman insisted that I go to the emergency room. They stitched me up and sent me home with a prescription for Ultram.
Later that evening, when the pain started to really kick in, I swallowed one of my tablets, but when it didn’t relieve my pain as fast as I thought it should have, I took another one. By the time the night was over, I had taken five tablets.
When I went back to the doctor’s office a few days later for the follow-up, I was asked the standard question about any lingering pain. I was still having mild, nagging headaches, and when I told the doctor this, he wrote me a script for something stronger, without me even having to ask.
I left his office with a month’s supply of 5 mg Vicodin tablets. I was pretty ignorant about painkillers back then, so I didn’t know that this prescription was wildly excessive. That was the doctor’s mistake.
My ignorance also kept me from realizing how much stronger my new prescription was. Thinking they were roughly equivalent to my Ultram tablets, I took two right out of the bottle, and a couple of hours later, I took two more.
That was my mistake.
My Hydrocodone Abuse Grows
My ambitious dosage of Vicodin had completely eliminated my pain, but no one had ever told me how GOOD this medicine could make me feel. Simply put, it was amazing – nothing bothered me, and all my cares and worries seemed to melt away. I was elevated, euphoric, and on top of the world.
I liked that feeling a little too much to give it up.
I milked the “headache” story for as long as I could, and when the doctor decided to stop prescribing hydrocodone for my flimsy excuse of an injury, I found other ways to get what I wanted.
Next and back pain is extremely easy to fake, and in no time at all, I had found a back specialist who believed every word I said about lingering pain from my workplace injury. Even with a made-up story, I soon was able to obtain a legitimate prescription for more Vicodin, refillable every month.
With just a few more exaggerations, I was able to get the doctor to increase the dosage and the number of tablets that I was allowed – I moved up to 180 7.5 mg tablets.
Within a very short time, I had a full-blown Vicodin addiction, and virtually every waking hour was spent high or thinking about getting high. If I ran out of tablets, every single thought in my head was about how to get more.
Telling More Lies to Support My Hydrocodone Addiction
I began feeling the need for even more Vicodin tablets. I was taking so many on a daily basis, that my prescription was running out in about a week and a half. So I did what a lot of people in my situation do – I found another doctor and never told him about the first. Just like that – another prescription.
I eventually found yet another doctor and did it again.
Months had gone by, and I was still staying at home, collecting workman’s compensation and relying on my insurance to pay for the doctor’s visits and prescriptions. When the insurance company received the latest statements and saw what I was doing, they enforced limits on my coverage.
That barely slowed me down. I just started paying cash. Because I wasn’t working and worker’s compensation was my only income, I definitely couldn’t afford to pay out-of-pocket to feed my addiction, but I did it anyway, with no regard for the consequences.
Although I didn’t think of myself as one, every action confirmed that I was an addict:
- Lying about and hiding my drug use
- A preoccupation with hydrocodone
- Incessantly planning about how to get my next prescription
- Withdrawing from my social life and hobbies
- Extreme irritability, almost desperation, when I was temporarily out of Vicodin
- Continuing to abuse Vicodin, even in the face of negative repercussions
My Hydrocodone Addiction Began to Ruin My Life
What negative repercussions, you might ask?
I lost my girlfriend, for one. She had been very supportive when she thought that I was in legitimate pain, but once I was lost in hydrocodone-land, but once she began to see my actions and behaviors for what they really were, she warned me that I was going to have to stop – that it was going to be the hydrocodone or me. I didn’t listen.
My friends were next. Addiction is a lonely disease, because it made me obsessed and self-centered, caring only about my next high. When my behavior really started to show, people who are thought were my friends saw the sad shape I was in and abandoned me. I didn’t care.
Then I lost my job. My disability period ran out, and because the insurance company wasn’t going to pay for my drugs anymore, I had not bothered to go to a doctor for recertification, fictitious as it was. Obviously, then, I was expected to return to work. I just… didn’t.
That’s when things really started to snowball when I had no money. Received, I wasn’t worried about my rent on my bills – no, without any money, I couldn’t buy any more Vicodin. Since I had already burned bridges with everyone around me, I had to resort to less savory methods to support my habit.
Rock bottom came when I was arrested. Everything catches up to you at the end.
The Road Back from My Addiction to Hydrocodone
My parents bailed me out, but with a catch – I was going to have to get treatment. Obviously, I promised them anything to get out of jail and back to my drugs, but they were smarter than that. Once I was out, they held an intervention, with a professional and everything.
Right then, when I needed their support – and money – the most, my parents told me in no uncertain terms, that if I didn’t go to drug treatment for hydrocodone addiction right away, then I was on my own.
In other words, I had to get help.
Detoxing and Recovering from Hydrocodone Addiction
I didn’t want to, but I went.
Hydrocodone detox was hard. I didn’t know it at the time, but it’s very much like heroin withdrawal. Now that I think about it, that shouldn’t have been surprising, since they’re both opioids. And, just like a smack junkie, I felt “sick”:
- Muscle cramps
- Joint pain
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Alternating cold chills and fever
- Excessive sweating
- Uncontrollable shaking
The symptoms started hitting me halfway through the first day and lasted a week. Even afterward, I still felt the mental need to use. Luckily, I didn’t get the chance, because they transported me immediately to a residential facility for hydrocodone rehab.
I stayed the full 90 days and recovered in spite of myself. Although I had originally started the recovery process because I had no other choice, once I had a bit of “clean” time, my counselors helped me realize something that I hadn’t thought about.
I LOVED Vicodin and the way it made me feel, but that love made it where I no longer even LIKED who I was. The “me” on hydrocodone was not how I saw myself at all – deceitful, lazy, selfish, and pathetic.
My counselors helped me understand that I had developed a disease – addiction – but I had the power to learn how to effectively manage that disease so it no longer destroyed my life.
Turning It All Around After a Hydrocodone Addiction
My addiction progressed extremely rapidly, and I lost almost everything in virtually no time at all. The road back took a lot longer, especially since successful recovery meant taking baby steps.
That first baby step was a major one, however – I was able to avoid jail. By the time my first hearing rolled around, I already had over 30 days in the residential rehab facility. My lawyer was able to get an extension until treatment was over, and when I showed up in court after successfully “graduating” the inpatient portion of my treatment plan, the judge was impressed.
My sentence was a hefty fine and enrollment in drug court. If I completed a year-long outpatient program, then my criminal record would be expunged.
It took quite a while, but I was eventually able to rebuild the rest of my life, as well. I won back my parents’ trust. I made new, better friends – some of whom I met because of my recovery.
My professional recovery support team helped me find a job – it wasn’t much, but it was definitely a fresh start. It let me prove to myself that I could once again stand on my own two feet.
Looking back, it’s easy to see where it all started going wrong, and it’s scary to think how fast my descent into hydrocodone addiction progressed. It’s not that easy to understand how bad it’s gotten when you are on the inside.
Today, I’m grateful. My rock-bottom was so much better than many other people who I’ve met during recovery. I’m able to focus on myself and my own progress, and that something that allows me to maintain my sobriety today.