Episode 1

The Foundry at NAATP Denver

Today Candi Ader and Wesley Hooks from the Foundry Treatment Center in Steamboat Colorado join me at the 2018 National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers Conference. Candi and Wes share with me their own experience, what makes the foundry special and their perspective on the status of the treatment industry climate.

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Mike's Story: From Life as a Meth Addict to a Life Happy, Joyous & Free

The dangerous, devastating and often mind-altering effects of long-term methamphetamine abuse are at the forefront of Mike's story, recently told on the inaugural podcast of our new No Way But North series.

The Mike in question is our very own Michael Biggins, M.Ed, our Regional Program Director, here at Northpoint Recovery. For the last 13 years, Mike has dedicated himself to advancing a complete caveat of treatment services in the addiction recovery field, but, prior to that, and way before his clean date of April 21, 2005, life was indeed a very different one for Mike.

As Mike himself recalls, "For me, (adolescence is) where it started as well, aged 14. Ironically, it was the summer of my 14th year. It should have started much earlier than that - I lived in a bar! That's serious, my father built a bar under our house, 10,000 gallons of alcohol at any given time. But it wasn't until a friend of mine, who had moved to Tacoma 2 years previously, came back for that summer that I was off and running. The summer was the beginning point, it was actually the first time I'd used methamphetamine, aged 14."

"Act Crazy, Drink, Use Drugs, Have Fun"

The young and undoubtedly curious 14-year old Mike is a far cry from the Mike of today, who has channeled that natural curiosity into far more positive areas of substance abuse, such as conflict resolution, court-supervised treatment, treatment care for opiate sufferers, outpatient services, inpatient adult treatment services, and continuing education for patients, families and the community.

However, addiction nearly put paid to that future, as Mike's spiral into serious meth abuse was to continue unabated throughout his younger years:

"I would chase that around for the next 15 years. By the time I was 16, and meth was really on the scene, that was when my addiction fully took off. Early stage drug dealing (too), but I didn't think that was what it was. By the time that I was 17, in my senior year of high school, I'd decided that school wasn't for me, I'd missed that much of schooling." So Mike fooled all of his teachers into signing him off, and left, with pretty much only one thing on his mind.

"I was just driven at that time, but the drive was specifically to act crazy, drink, use drugs, have fun. Well, what I thought was fun, right? Instant gratification."

Did you know about 1% of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders have used meth within the past year?

What is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a powerful and highly addictive psychoactive stimulant that targets the user's central nervous system. Also known simply as meth, or chalk, ice, and crystal, it is a white, odorless, yet bitter-tasting crystalline powder that dissolves in water or alcohol.

Like amphetamine, its parent drug, methamphetamine causes increased activity and talkativeness in users, along with a decreased appetite, and a sense of well-being or even euphoria.

The primary difference, however, between methamphetamine and medicinal amphetamine is that far greater amounts of the meth get into the brain, by dosage comparison, thus making it a far more potent stimulant, with longer-lasting, more harmful effects on the central nervous system of the user. Unsurprisingly, this had made meth one of the most widespread substances of addiction across the U.S. and beyond. Additionally, its synthetic nature allows for the possible contamination of the meth in its purest form, a fact undoubtedly unknown by the user.

The main effects and risks of methamphetamine include:

  • State of exhilaration
  • Agitated, paranoid, confused and aggressive
  • Auditory hallucinations and delusions
  • Homicidal or suicidal thoughts
  • Cracked teeth
  • Sores, skin infections, acne
  • Malnutrition, and associated physical disorders
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Lowered inhibitions, leading to abnormal risk-taking, eg. unsafe sex
  • In cases of overdose, stroke, and lung, kidney and gastrointestinal damage can develop
  • Long-term methamphetamine use can cause brain damage, similar to Parkinson's or Alzheimer's Diseases, although this gradually improves with abstinence
  • Coma
  • Death

The crystal form of methamphetamine, known as Crystal Meth or Ice, is even more powerful and addictive, and can be compared to crack cocaine, as both are smoked and give the user an intense high (lasting for between 4 to 12 hours), followed by a very severe comedown.

Mixing meth with alcohol, as Mike did on countless occasions, can have serious consequences. The stimulant effects of methamphetamine and the depressant effects of alcohol can interact unpredictably, which can increase the risk of harm or even death.

"I was here?"

In spite of his severe meth abuse, but driven by his need to service it, Mike sought work after leaving high school early, and quickly realized his options had become severely limited by doing so:

"Ultimately, as a high school dropout, you end up with menial tasks and labor, and so I was in construction. I traveled all over the country, and, if I'm quite honest, the next 15 years are a bit of a blur. I spent 2 years in California, spent 2 years in Montana, I spent 2 years in Washington, off and on, and I know the names of the cities I spent time in, but even when I go there now, I'm just like, "I was here?" Because I was intoxicated for 15 years."

Mike goes on to describe how crazy his life had become whilst abusing meth:

"I had a lot of interventions along the way, God got in the way multiple times, again I didn't recognize that until now. Multiple car accidents that I survived, multiple arrests that I got a slap on the wrist, relationships that I had burned to the ground that still exist today. You name it - there's just so many miracles in my life now.

I got married along the way and have a daughter, and then I ruined both of those relationships as well, but we have been able to somewhat rectify one of them. Just to clarify, that's not with the ex-wife."

Clean Date: April 21, 2005

For all addicts, there comes a time when their actual substance abuse, the life they are having to live as an addict, and the outside world all comes crashing together. For some, it can mean hitting that point of no return, and their addicted life becomes all they will ever have, before seeing them simply fade away; for others, it can be a turning point, the oft-talked about "moment of clarity," or simply a determined acceptance that they are beaten, and that help from others, and not the substance itself, can only make things better for them here on in.

For Mike, that time, that day, that moment came on April 21, 2005 - his clean date.

In his words:

"When we cut to the end of it, what's happened is I lost my mind. 15 years of meth use, multiple nights staying awake, sleep deprivation, malnutrition, you name it - full-blown audio-visual hallucinations. It actually was just like I'm sitting here talking to you. It wasn't flashes, it wasn't "dark shadow people." It was full-blown visual hallucinations for extended periods of time, like for about 4 hours one evening.

I'd been on a bit of a runner at that point because my wife, currently (at the time, we were just dating), was in the wind, again so crazy she took my son and left. The only thing that flashed in my head, which was so crazy because of the life that I'd lived, was that the police will help. So I called the cops.

I called them just to get these intruders (present in the hallucinations) out of my house. But they'd left because the cops were coming. Ironically, there was this moment in time where I went, "Holy crap. The cops are coming." So I gathered everything I possibly could in the house in a box and I ran out into the street and shoved it in some bushes. By the time that the police showed up, so did the ambulance, and I was tachycardic and malnourished, so they raced me to the hospital."

"I Was Needing Someone To Fix Me"

Because of the thoroughly abject physical and mental condition that Mike was in, the hospital decided on a committal, hopefully ensuring not only Mike's physical well-being, but his safety too. As Mike himself says, he literally "ran out the backdoor."

Without the medical supervision and treatment that Mike now staunchly advocates for drug addicts and alcoholics through Northpoint's variety of programs and therapies, he turned to the AA program. The 12-Step fellowship is recommended as the pathway for the continuing addiction recovery of Northpoint's patients, and, back in April, 2005, Mike began to attend daily meetings, until one day, the law finally caught up with him:

"I spent the next 7 months attending meetings almost daily. I actually went through a couple of sponsors, I made some attempts, because I was needing someone to fix me, and I didn't understand the sponsor relationship. At that point, I had a warrant out for my arrest, for 2 felony charges, so a nudge-from-the-judge put me into a criminal justice-run treatment program - I wouldn't recommend that for anybody.

But I was successful. The fact of the matter is that they did introduce me to the concepts I needed to be introduced to, and they did collapse that narcissistic ego. Once I had time to look back on that, I thought, "That's exactly what I needed. I needed someone who was just going to crush on me." But now that I've been in the field - I've just started my 12th year, actually, providing services - and I'm drawn more to what our philosophy is. And we (Northpoint Recovery) go after addiction. We don't go after addicts."

Methamphetamine & The Law

Methamphetamine, in whatever form, is a Class A drug, meaning it's illegal to have a quantity for yourself, to give it away or sell it. In the eyes of the law, possession can get you up to 7 years in jail and/or an unlimited fine, and supplying someone else, even your friends, can get you up to life imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Furthermore, like drinking and driving, using methamphetamine and driving is illegal. You can still be unfit to drive the day after using methamphetamine. You can get a heavy fine, be disqualified from driving, or even go to prison.

Lastly, allowing other people to supply drugs in your house or any other premises is illegal. If the police catch people supplying illegal drugs in a club they can potentially prosecute the landlord, club owner or any person concerned in the management of the premises.

What is a "Dry-Drunk"?

One particular statement Mike makes during his story is this:

"I abstained one period of time, for about 8 months, and it was an ugly 8 months. (I was) Beyond dry-drunk."

Surely, abstinence is what addicts should be striving for, regardless of anything else? The term dry drunk syndrome was originally coined by the creators of the 12-Step program, Alcoholics Anonymous. It is now, however, widely accepted as a real psychological condition in the addiction recovery field. In his 1970 book, "The Dry Drunk Syndrome," author R. J. Solberg describes the condition as "the presence of actions and attitudes that characterized the alcoholic prior to recovery."

In other words, even though the addict is abstinent from the substance, they are yet to deal with the simple aspect of living as an abstinent person, yet to replace the huge part of their life that addiction took up, and, most importantly, yet to deal with the root cause of their addiction.

Here are the signs and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome:

  • Anger and negativity surrounding recovery
  • Resentment, usually directed toward family or friends
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Fear of relapse
  • Jealousy of those not struggling with addiction
  • Romanticizing their addictive days
  • Self-obsession
  • Replacing the substance with a new addiction, e.g., sex, gambling, or internet use

Dry drunk syndrome is more common among individuals, such as Mike, who attempt to quit their addiction on their own. Without the professional support to guide them through this difficult and challenging time in their life, many will simply relapse. As Mike says:

"Yeah, I was angry. Interestingly enough, I was still in construction. They were a couple of guys on the crew I knew were using meth, so I would buddy up with them just to prove how strong I was, and I just made it even more miserable. And of course, you know, I was a jerk, so I kept going after them that they were using, and spending too much time in the restroom and too much time off-site.

I was just miserable, a miserable human being. And I finally succumbed, I finally went back to it. I definitely wouldn't call that any type of sobriety. The sobriety I know today is this a happy, joyous free, and, at that time, it was just another part of the darkness, this ugly chunk of life that was just me not using, but still being active in my addiction."

Addicted to Meth: What to Look For

Meth addiction can result rapidly from substance abuse. Addicts will demonstrate symptoms such as:

  • Mental illness diagnosis
  • Loss of physical coordination
  • Repetitive motor activity
  • Substance-induced psychosis, also known as toxic psychosis: a form of substance use disorder where psychosis can be attributed to substance abuse
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Psychological problems

If there is no intervention and the progression of the addiction is not halted, long-term abuse of meth can lead to convulsions, coma and even death.

The Dangers of Meth Withdrawal

None of the medical staff here at Northpoint Recovery would advocate what Mike did on what was ultimately his clean date: going cold turkey. By doing so, withdrawal symptoms will begin rapidly, some simply uncomfortable, but others, dangerous to the addict.

These can include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Increase in hunger
  • Long periods of sleep
  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Shaking hands and feet
  • Coordination problems
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack

If you're addicted to amphetamines, it's very important that you not try to quit taking them on your own. Depending on what you're using, it might be necessary to lower your dosage gradually until you're able to get off them entirely. Drug detox services may also be necessary to rid your body of any lingering toxins. Furthermore, because of your circumstances, it may be safer for you to come to our inpatient treatment center for the care and support you need.

"Happy, Joyous, Free"

These 3 words are what Mike uses to succinctly describe exactly what sobriety means to him now. Happy. Joyous. Free. It is a far cry from the Mike he was when he was active in his own addiction:

"I got away with a few things, and something greater than me was looking out for me. The course I was on was destructive - to the community, to my person, to my family, just anybody on the street. I was bent on self-destruction, and anybody who tried to get in the way of that just got burned."

If happy, joyous and free is starting to sound good, here at Northpoint Recovery, we can help you through every step of the process, and we're committed to providing you with the support you need to be successful with your recovery goals. To learn more about how we can help you, please contact us today.

Lastly, the Mike of today continues to bring a supportive, patient-centered, strength-based approach to the multidisciplinary team at Northpoint Recovery. Mike recognizes the treatment focused, 24-hour structured, holistic care offered by the Northpoint program affords patients the greatest opportunity for success, and he is proud to be a member of the team of clinicians.

Last word to Mike too: "We go after addiction - we don't go after addicts. We definitely clobber addiction, the behaviors of addiction, when people are presenting with addictive behaviors. We call it out. But the person, we nurture. The person, we support. The person, we provide tools to, so they can live this happy, joyous, free life. In any case, definitely, treatment paired with 12 Step, it's the perfect formula. It's exactly what we need to do. It's brought even more blessings. A high school dropout, currently with a Master's degree. I went back to college late in life, which worked out great. 3 degrees later, here I am, so I have the opportunity to really run the premier inpatient treatment center, I would argue, in the country."

More Episodes:

Episode 2

Aspenridge at NAATP Denver

Today Cortland Mathers-Suter from Aspenridge Recovery joins me at the 2018 National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers conference. Cortland shares with me how he has separated Aspenridge from other Treatment centers and how he plans to cont...