February 2023 - Hader Clinic Queensland

Noah’s Story of Ice Addiction Recovery

The start of my recovery story was the end of my denial – I was about to become homeless and considering suicide. My name is Noah and I have been clean for almost eight months after receiving ice addiction treatment.

I’m grateful that I attended Hader Clinic and submitted myself to the 12 Steps without resistance. Nothing I did in the past to get clean has ever worked. The staff at Hader Clinic Queensland have personal experience with addiction. They are frank and fearless. This is the longest I have ever been clean since I started using as a teenager.

I’d moved in with someone who told me up-front he did not want any ice users in his house. I was on a break from drugs at the time. We had a nice little home near the beach, and everything was stable. But like all the other times I tried to stay clean it didn’t last. I was hiding my bags and needles from my housemate but could not hide my behaviour. I was paranoid and twitchy, checking the window constantly, convinced I was hearing sounds. My housemate asked if I was using meth and of course, I denied it. One day I came home and he was standing there, holding a needle he’d found in the laundry basket. I’ll never forget the look on his face.

It’s funny because that same afternoon when I was riding home I’d had a revelation – I thought “It’s time for me to get clean”… and if I didn’t, it was time for me to die. The drug life was absolutely vile. I survived my 40th birthday clean, but soon relapsed. I decided if I was still using by age 41 I’d kill myself. I started collecting the things I needed to make that happen.

After being confronted by my housemate, I rang somebody I had met in Narcotics Anonymous. I was broken. I realised nobody in their right mind would want someone like me in their home, and I’d end up on the street again. That person they told me what I needed to hear – it was time to go to a meeting, and check myself into rehab

I rang a few different rehabs and was lucky enough to get into Hader Clinic Queensland and begin the admission process. I was underweight, not eating or sleeping properly, and hadn’t left the house for months except to get drugs. It’s hard to put into words how devastating meth can be. It’s emotionally and mentally painful, it’s physically corrosive. It is the definition of hell. I had no option but to surrender.

I grew up in a coastal town with parents who were conservative and a bit naive. Home life was unpleasant – they provided for me but not my emotional needs. My family didn’t really discuss feelings; we prioritised keeping up appearances. I think I might have absorbed these values, especially when keeping up a secret chronic drug habit as an adult.

I excelled at school but experienced some bullying like most kids. I started doing bongs with friends at 13. I absolutely loved it. Especially the social rituals – chopping up, making utensils and passing it around. It was a nice escape from stress. I didn’t draw attention to myself, just sitting at the dinner table or my school desk drunk or stoned and nobody said anything. For most of my life until my final rock bottom, I was pretty good at flying under the radar.

Around age 20 I connected with my sexuality and began dating men. I went out to the valley, dropped a pill at a gay nightclub with a friend, and the rest was history. Around this time, I stopped using pot and transitioned to methamphetamine.

At university the ice helped keep me motivated. I managed to get a job in my field–a role which every graduate wanted – before I finished my degree. I worked and studied full-time, as well as tutoring. I’ve always been that way: never do anything by halves. Obsessively seeking reward. I couldn’t validate myself from within and needed something external for validation. But just like drugs it was never enough, I was never satisfied.

By the time I was doing my Masters I was working 70-80 hours a week. I had a long-term partner for 13 years. We went to music festivals every weekend. He didn’t know about my chronic ice habit; it was pretty easy to hide it with my busy schedule. While my partner would have a pill on a night out every few months, I was mixing meth into my soft drinks every day.

I worked in prestigious consulting firms. The job was pretty relentless, but drugs helped me keep up the long hours. I could structure my career around my drug use. For a long time I was “functionally dysfunctional.” I was on the path society wanted me to be on. I took clients to restaurants, corporate boxes at sporting events, and theatres. I developed an addiction to the finer things In life – designer clothes, gourmet dining, and expensive holidays whenever I wanted.

Towards the end of my relationship, in my early 30s, things started to deteriorate. I’d progressed to injecting ice multiple times a day. I might be awake for weeks at a time, taking sick leave for a few days to catch up on sleep. Sometimes I’d be so high I had to leave the office, and avoided my colleagues by working at night. I became inconsistent with my partner, often physically and emotionally absent, which frustrated him. Sometimes I was uncontactable for days at a time.

For over a decade we’d had a fun and loving partnership, but the last few years were terrible. He became aware that I was injecting and couldn’t stop. I ended things because I just wasn’t capable of being in a relationship anymore. The drugs were more important than my partner.

After the breakup my life truly imploded. I was living in Sydney, totally reckless and socially isolated. The only people in my life were workmates and drug dealers. I stopped caring about my physical well-being – not exercising anymore, not eating properly, and taking risks with unprotected sex. Sometimes I could stay clean for about a month or two and throw myself into work. Then I’d start to think I was in control, began using again, and the cycle would repeat. It was exhausting.

The money I earned all disappeared up my arm (or on clothes, business class flights and luxury hotels). I’d worked my whole life in the finance industry but couldn’t manage my own finances. I bought investment properties, then redrew on the mortgages and lost them all. I have nothing to show for my high-paying career except for damaged veins which cost a fortune.

I’ve tried to curb my use since 2014 but never succeeded. Half the time I worked, the other half of the time I was using meth and cruising on Grindr. I tried rehab but left before completing the program. I dropped in and out of 12 Step meetings, often going AWOL and not returning peoples’ calls.

Plenty of work projects I just quit without giving notice. Once when I was on probation, I confessed I hadn’t been contactable because I’d been on a bender, and I was immediately sacked. For about two years I was homeless, living in my car with two dogs, still putting on a suit and going to work.

Just before I went to Hader Clinic Queensland, I was trying to get my Masters in Education. I believe my true calling is to be a teacher. But I only completed a couple of subjects, not even finishing one semester. It wasn’t like university back in my twenties. The ice didn’t help anymore, I just could not concentrate.

Hader Clinic Queensland is a therapeutic community. They want us to experience connection – which is what I desperately needed after so many years of avoidance. They tried to keep us with one foot in the real world, so we did chores together like cooking and cleaning and gardening. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with other addicts were when we were doing these tasks side by side. I shared a lot about myself. Once a week I held a games night for all the residents so we could have some fun together.

I think doing the whole 3 months of Hader Clinic was important because I needed a decent break to dedicate myself to recovery. I’d have stayed longer if I could. The nature of the beast (drug addiction) is getting pulled back into relapse too easily.

Hader Clinic Queensland is very structured but none of it was onerous. Their foundation is the 12-Step Model. I could wake up, do exercise, have scheduled meals and tasks, do meetings and get counselling sessions (which was beneficial for covering things like trauma). The main challenge for me was letting my guard down. The more effort I put in, the more rewards I gained. I didn’t really want to admit it, but I craved deep and authentic relationships and had been denying this to survive.

Since I left Hader Clinic Queensland, I continue to attend 12 Step Meetings and make connections. I have resumed my Masters in Teaching and can actually progress in my study. I’m working a couple of days a week to ease back into things. Previously I would overload myself after getting clean and end up relapsing. This time I’m bringing the program I learned at Hader Clinic into my everyday life. I’ve learned how to be vulnerable and form healthy attachments with boundaries. I still benefit from it today in my social life and in the Narcotics Anonymous fellowship.

I’m exploring all my favourite interests now with a clear mind. I adore books and I’m doing a masterclass on literature; at the moment we are studying “The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida” and “Anna Karenina”. I also volunteer for community political groups.

I get proper rest now – it feels like I’m getting the sleep I missed out on for years. I have self-care as part of my daily practice (yoga, swimming, reading, and meditation)

Today I’m not living in survival mode, or a slave to emotional dysregulation. I can acknowledge my feelings and talk them over if necessary, instead of impulsively reacting all the time. I answer the phone when people ring and respond to texts. Because it’s the right thing to do, and a part of my values. I have learned to stop avoiding my own life.

 

Names and photographs of this client have been changed to protect their privacy.

Cognitive Functioning During and After Detox

Recent studies recommend 18 days of alcohol detox prior to commencing further addiction recovery treatment.

There is no arguing that the effects of alcohol addiction extend to all areas of life, be it relationships, work, study or mental and physical health.

Brain function, especially, will bear the brunt of substance abuse, with common symptoms including the inability to focus, the ability to maintain attention for any length of time, memory loss and impaired executive functioning (i.e. the ability to make good decisions).

If not taken into consideration, cognitive deficits can impact a recovering alcohol-dependent person’s ability to engage effectively with treatment and hence reduce the probability of abstinence in the longer term.

However, a recent study published in Alcohol and Alcoholism explores the positive effects of alcohol detox can have on cognitive functioning. The study, “Early Improvement of Neuropsychological Impairment During Detoxification in Patients with Alcohol Use Disorder“, (B. Angerville, et al., 2023) suggests that a significant number of rehabilitation patients will experience cognitive improvements within weeks of beginning the detox process. Angerville et al. are taking a long-term approach in their observation, study and analysis of this phenomenon.

The study, conducted at a French psychiatric hospital between April 2018 and January 2019, included a total of 64 subjects, half of whom were suffering from severe alcohol use disorder, with the other half acting as the control group.

Approved patients participated in a 5-9 day detox program, incorporating treatment workshops and oral thiamine.

The group of alcohol users was limited strictly to admissions on grounds of alcohol addiction only; other substance abuse issues, psychiatric diagnoses, use of psychotropic medication and health issues including stroke, head trauma, epilepsy and liver fibrosis were considered disqualifying factors for participation.

Tobacco and nicotine use, however, were not part of the exclusion criteria, as they don’t impact cognitive functioning. The control group was put together from an online database and had no history of mental illness, neurological disorders, or serious illness; in addition, all of them completed assessments on sociodemographic information, substance use and BEARNI neuropsychological assessments.

The BEARNI assessment, which focuses on verbal episodic memory, verbal working memory, executive functioning, and visuospatial abilities, was given to the alcohol user group at 8 days and 18 days after they stopped using.

The results were encouraging. While almost 60% of patients from the alcohol use group exhibited clear signs of impaired cognitive functioning after eight days of treatment, by day 18 63% of affected patients showed significant improvements, verging on normal levels of functioning.

Working memory and episodic memory improved by 60-63%; visuospatial impairments improved to normal levels for 67% of participating patients; flexibility performance was recovered completely for all patients involved.

Considering this timeframe, the researchers suggest that 18 days post-cessation of alcohol use could represent an ideal time point to begin implementing other treatments, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, which can only be effective when a patient’s cognitive functioning has been restored.

The study acknowledges the small sample size of participants and the fact that additional studies are necessary to further investigate the cognitive improvements during abstinence, particularly the early stages of abstinence.

These future studies will ideally focus on social cognition, attentional bias and inhibition deficits, as these can have the greatest clinical impact on a patient’s recovery.

The better we understand the recovery process, especially in terms of cognitive functioning, the better we can design treatments to help patients on the road to reclaiming their lives.

The Hader Clinic Queensland is committed to constantly improving our treatment program and studies like this one are instrumental in allowing us to give our clients the best care available; but, perhaps more importantly, studies like this one are concrete proof of life and possibility after addiction.

While detox is a great starting point for recovery, it will be more effective if it is combined with a range of therapies, including cognitive behavioural therapy.

Going through detox in a professional setting will leave a person struggling with substance abuse disorder in a better place cognitively, which means they will be better equipped to address the long-term issues which can add fuel to the fire of addiction.

At Hader Clinic Queensland we take a dual diagnosis approach, resulting in holistic biopsychological addiction treatment plans tailored to our clients’ specific needs.

Reference Article:  Alcohol and Alcoholism, Volume 58, Issue 1, January 2023, Pages 46–53

 

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