A warning before you try drugs at uni: A story of addictionBy Sj.Cliff
University is a time where many people come into their own. This newly found independence leads to wild nights, good and bad times and serious decisions. Picture the setting, you've made a few new mates during your first semester and you've gone out to celebrate the end of your first set of exams – then one of them offers you a spliff. No biggie, it's just the one… right?
You will have seen the recent news articles about the recent spate of deaths from taking ecstasy over the Christmas and New Year period. But the lesser publicised side of drug use is addiction. The aftershock of addiction runs a lot further than with the user of the drugs. It affects friends, family, studies, work... every aspect of life.
Popular show GIRLS has recently touched on the impact of addiction, with one of the characters Jess addressing her demons in a realistic portrait of the rehabilitation process. We decided to delve deeper and interview someone who isn't on television, to get the real story of addiction.
When you think of a drug addict, what mental picture do you see? Well, let me stop you there. I spoke to Emily Hunter Gordon, who has been battling addiction since the age of 15. Her story isn't one of a terrible childhood or seedy back alleys - it's one of meeting the wrong people and filling a void inside of herself with the wrong thing.
Looking back at it, Emily can recognise traits of addiction from a very early age. Despite having everything a child could want...... It was the bullying during her early years that lead Emily to an eating disorder and by the age of 15, the damage was done. After being asked to leave her school, Emily found herself hanging around with other girls with older friends. It was these older friends that introduced her to cannabis and started her journey into addiction.
While the process of smoking held no appeal, the feelings generated from the high had her hooked. She told me it stopped her caring, made her laugh, it was almost like she didn't have a care in the world; but looking back on it now she realises it was only temporarily bringing peace to the inside of her head.
"I didn't pick up a drug and think 'Yeah, I'm going to be an addict'. I just liked the way it made me feel and then I continued", she told me.
From casual use with friends, the problem only developed. It wasn't long before Emily started smoking at the home she shared with her mother and her partner and lying to her friends about the amount of drugs she had:
"If someone asked me if I had any I'd tell them I only had a little bit, when in reality I had a stash at home that was mine. It wasn't to share."
As a child Emily realised that she had an addictive personality. What was once a quick escape from her issues with her friends turned into a habit. She didn't want to take drugs to have fun, the drugs took away the voices of her eating disorder and depression and without them the pain was real. So began a cycle of taking drugs, self-harm and purges.
It was those same connections that opened the door into harder drugs ecstasy, pills, cocaine. While Emily attempted to get off drugs a few years later, meeting up with old friends in bad circles dragged her back in the clutches of drugs.
At her lowest, Emily was made homeless in London. Her money was spent on drugs instead of rent –that’s if she even paid her dealers at all. She told me that despite not having the money, her body craved more and she would begin to get drugs on ‘tic’ (a sort of buy now, pay later system) from dealers and not settle the debt. Some of them still go unpaid today.
Despite having nowhere to live, Emily was too ashamed to call her mom and ask for help. With two cats and her personal positions, she took to living in her car. After a week, she went back home to her mom.
Old acquaintances reappeared once Emily returned home. From those circles, she met an abusive partner, who only exacerbated the need for escapism. Disappearing for days on end, returning home bleary-eyed was creating tensions between her and her mother.
The crescendo of the situation occurred when her mom found drugs in her pockets and threw them away. When she found out, Emily went mad; destroying her mom's house, kicking her car, screaming abuse and even assaulting her mom. When she was finished, she collapsed to the floor begging for her mom's help.
Her mom took her to Focus 12, a drug rehabilitation centre. The charity run organisation provides both live-in and day treatment for people suffering from substance abuse including detoxification from alcohol, opiates, benzodiazepines, cannabis and all other drugs.
Emily treated the meetings as a stepping stone to being clean, saying just enough to coast through group therapy and classes. The centre soon noticed her lack of commitment to changing for the better and after just 4 weeks of the 12-week programme, she was thrown out.
It was only after getting kicked out of the Focus12 rehab that the gravity of the situation hit her.
Emily went to Abbey Gardens, a park near the rehab - the shock of having to leave rehab was to be the changing moment in her life.
"These ducks just walked past me and for the first time in a long time, I just watched these ducks. I suddenly appreciated the world around me. I suddenly absorbed what was actually going on. I was like ‘This is what I've been missing.'
I could appreciate the sound the site and the smell; the colours of the trees and the buildings.
It was like I was in this blur, the world had been going by and I was just stuck in this rut.
And I thought 'Right. I want to stay clean'. "
From there, the road to recovery began. Emily moved to Bury, away from everything she knew, in order to make a fresh start. After speaking to Focus12 and apologising, Emily arranged one on one counselling to help her on her way.
Since then, she's realised the impact of her self-destructive behaviours, recognised why she was taking drugs and followed the steps given to her by Focus12.
I asked her to describe to me the signs of addiction. If you recognise any of these behaviours in your friends or see yourself doing the same things, you could have a problem.
"There's almost an obsessive compulsion, like a ‘When am I going to get my next fix? How am I going to get my next fix? What am I going to do for my next fix?'
There's also a mixed feeling of panic, excitement and anxiety. Addiction consumes your brain completely; it just takes over your mind until you get it."
After 4 years clean, thanks to support from the charity Focus12, Emily is happy with her own flat, a beautiful baby boy and is studying for a career in nursing.
Focus12 representative Andy Yacoub told us:
"Addiction as an illness is indiscriminate and affects people from across all of society. It is a progressive syndrome that can start at any age, for anybody. There is no way of knowing who will become addicted but there is help if you find yourself stuck in addiction.
It is very easy to get swept up with the crowd, but always remember that you have a choice. Many people also resort to legal highs because they feel they are 'safer'. Just because something is legal, does not mean it's safe. The easy answer is never to take mood or mind altering substances, but that is simply not reality. If you're going out with friends look out for each other, ask for help if you feel you have a problem, and be brave enough to confront a friend if you think there's a problem - you are being a true friend by intervening. If someone comes to you with a problem, listen and guide them to your college, university counselling service, or local drug/alcohol service. Sometimes all anyone needs is someone who will listen without judgement."
Speaking to Emily is no different than speaking to any other 24-year-old. She's bright, happy well mannered (and swears a bit, just like me) woman - a complete contrast to the addicts you see depicted on TV. Studying a foundation course in health and social, she's just like any other young mother finding her way in the world.
While addiction is a serious problem, with help and support is it beatable.
I will leave the last words to Emily.
“Without the help of people that didn't judge me, accepted me and said recovery was possible and showed me the way' then I wouldn't be here today."