Yes, I admit it, I'm a drug addict. And not a functioning one, either. I'm falling apart and the drugs are ruining my life. :(
I've been quite healthy all my life. I worked for ten years in psychiatric nursing, then got into business on eBay, then went fully into activism more recently. I drank a little alcohol, mostly socially, through my 20s. I have family members with addictions to alcohol and other drugs, but I've never been the type. I normally don't even take a Tylenol for headaches, preferring other methods if at all possible.
What precipitated my 'experiment'...
Things got pretty messed up when my grandmother died 2 years ago. Her and I were very close. I had been caring for her in her home for her final years. Because of some nonsense at certain levels of the family, I ended up homeless and sick, while my parents added another million or so to their already bloated bank account. I wish I was exaggerating. But anyhow...
I needed something for the pain. I'm not excusing what I did, but my emotional (and even physical) pain was almost intolerable. I'd had a heart attack and arrhythmia which left me weak and demoralized. For the first time in my life, I was totally falling apart. I thought about killing myself, and @MediKatie (my wife) was the only person there to keep me going. I wasn't sleeping, I was having nightmares and flashbacks, I was anxious and fatigued and having trouble walking. My doctor was on vacation, and the ER only wanted to see me if I was actively dying. There was no care for what seemed to be something at least as serious as MS or Lyme.
I reached out to a local woman I knew could hook me up. She had a good reputation. It actually took me a while to finally see her, but once we sat down and talked about my options, I was excited to get my hands on it.
Descent into full-blown physical addiction
I tore into the package before I got home, I was THAT excited to get my first hit. Little capsules filled with crystals, a logo on the side. I knew I needed it in my bloodstream, I just had to have it. It wasn't a needle or crack pipe... just pills. That made it seem more "legit" to me at the time. I remember thinking "I can't get addicted to this, it's just a pill! Like a vitamin!" and I reminded myself that a LOT of people do this shit. It's all through society, at just about every level. I met quite a few addicts to this stuff back in my years of psychiatry. I'd say close to half my patients were using it, or something very chemically similar to it. The chemists who invent these designer drugs often just change one atom or group, give it a new name, and people gobble it up.
I didn't really enjoy the first one, or even the first few, to be honest. It wasn't until I'd taken several that I noticed their effect. And that effect just kept getting stronger and stronger, as the level of the drug built up in my body. Every day, I'd seek relief from my PTSD, my chronic pain, the depression, the insomnia, and many other symptoms. You could say that it medicated me. It did help take the edge off, I'll admit that.
Next time I saw my girl, she really hooked me up good. The price was right... I found myself with a HUGE bottle of the stuff! And my intake immediately doubled. No. Tripled.
And it tripled again the month after that. I didn't feel hooked at first, I just liked the relief from the symptoms. Sure, the stuff fucked me up in some bad ways, but at least I wasn't in quite as much pain, and the agitation wasn't so bad. There are pros and cons to every drug, remember that. Nothing is all good or all bad.
Anyhow, about 6 months in, I see my dealer again and ask her if this stuff is addictive. I don't feel like I really got a straight answer, and left there with even more than ever before. A BAG of pills. A bag of chemicals for me to send into my brain. It felt heavy. It felt like... too much.
2 years of addiction
If I stop taking them now, even for a day, I fall to pieces. It's not just that all the symptoms come back full force. There are also withdrawals. You don't crave more, but you feel like absolute crap. You don't "like" the drug, but you can't feel okay without it anymore. Your vision blurs and swims, you can't stand straight, your emotions go haywire on you, headaches, sensitivity to light, anxiety, moodiness, etc. Basically, your brain's neurotransmitters are completely fucked up because of your continued use of the drug. You can't function without it. That's addiction.
I eventually found a list of side effects people commonly experience when coming off it... and some of them are dangerous or even deadly! I'd known about the risk of drug contamination and so on, but never realized the pure chemical itself carried so many risks, and was so addictive.
2 years later and I'm basically on the maximum 'safe' dosage, but even at that amount, with all its side effects, I still feel like I'm withdrawing a little bit all the time. It feels like extreme sleep deprivation, when your thoughts get weird and you're not even sure if things are real or not. But sleep doesn't fix it, only another FIX fixes it... briefly!
Everything above is completely true, but possibly misleading because of the way I wrote it. The dealer I met with was a psychiatrist, and the drug is Effexor, aka Venlafaxine.
As a nurse in the 2000s, literally half my patients were on this, or something very similar like Celexa or Paxil. SSRIs (and/or SNRIs) were the "miracle" antidepressants of the 90s. I had no idea I was helping big pharmaceutical companies make unsuspecting sick people into addicts to their drugs. LITERAL addicts. I'm not using the word creatively, here. I'm using it by its exact dictionary definition and the way its used in practice.
Effexor is physically addictive, that is fact. But patients aren't told that. (I know they aren't, because I was trained what to say and not say about it. I never told my patients it was addictive, and denied it if they suggested it was. How wrong I was!) Patients are told "it's not psychoactive" or "you won't crave it so it's not addiction". Those are weasel-words. It's addictive. Your body needs it to function, and you develop tolerance to it and need more and more. Eventually, the side effects are more damaging than the relief you're getting, and you can't increase your dosage any further. But you can't decrease it, either.
Addiction. Caffeine never got me, alcohol never got me, I never even smoked a cigarette in my entire life, not a puff. But to save my life, I had to take Effexor, and now I'm a full-blown drug addict. I would literally skip eating so that I can get it, if I had to. Like I said, it's not fun or enjoyable in any way. You don't even notice it. But you notice if you stop.
Effexor may have saved my life, I'm not sure. It did appear to at least help with certain things. As a nurse, I saw psychiatric medications used correctly, and I saw them used incorrectly. They aren't evil. Pharmaceutical companies, yes, THEY are evil! But chemicals that affect the human body (drugs) aren't themselves evil or dangerous. A drug in foolish hands can be deadly but that same drug in skilled hands could save your life.
But now I want nothing more than to get it out of me as fast as I can. My psychiatrist (she's actually quite good and I appreciated her help) moved into a different department, so I can't see her anymore. My GP is hopeless and thinks I'm making everything up, so she's no use. I'll look for a new GP soon, but most in Vancouver aren't accepting new patients.
Getting off Effexor is tricky and potentially dangerous
Nevertheless, what I started doing a while ago is cutting back the dosage on my own. Without access to all the capsule sizes, this can be really tricky. You can't open up the capsules and divide up the crystals inside, "XR" capsules don't work like that. You have to take the whole thing, or not at all. So slowly cutting back a dosage can be almost impossible. Luckily, I saved bottles and bottles of the smaller dosages on my way up, anticipating needing them on the way back down.
I wouldn't recommend doing this. I'm trained and experienced, and it's still not easy, or necessarily safe. Check out this list of side effects of taking it. Then check out this list of what happens when you DON'T take it. SCARY SHIT!
What works far better for me, and has far less unwanted effects, is cannabis. Vapourized dabs, and/or ingested oils. Much safer, impossible to seriously hurt yourself with no matter how much you take, and completely non-addictive. Sure, you can develop a habit of using it, just as you have a habit of eating your favourite junkfood. But there's no possible physical addiction to cannabis (this isn't in debate anymore, so if you're not aware, I invite you to get back to your research!)
I even went off cannabis (after years of nonstop massive dosages), completely cold turkey, and stayed off it for 3 months. Some of my symptoms returned as soon as I stopped taking it, like insomnia, and my pain got worse. But there were zero side effects and absolutely no sensation of withdrawal. The worst it ever gets, when going cold turkey off heroic daily doses of cannabinoids, is a conscious thought of "I wish I could get medicated so my symptoms would go away".
Effexor is "free" in Canada. If you can't afford to pay for it, the government (ie: everybody) covers the bill. All you need is a prescription, and those are free and extremely easy to get.
Cannabis isn't free. It's expensive as hell. It's also very hard to get here in Canada, despite the coming "legalization". And getting a doctor to prescribe it for you is nearly impossible. It took MediKatie (who is crippled from spinal surgeries, has cancer, neuropathy, etc) 10 years of actively trying, to finally get a prescription.
Even if I could get it prescribed, it's not covered. I have to pay full price, out of pocket. And the price is ridiculously steep - cannabis oil is the most expensive oil on the planet even though it literally grows on trees. (Here is a YouTube video on that topic, which MediKatie and I uploaded the day before my grandmother unexpectedly died after having a fall in her kitchen.)
I'm addicted to a dangerous chemical the government and big pharma manufacture and pay for - because they prohibit (and profit off) the healing plant oil I need.
As upsetting as it is, for my health, I've got to let it be. In writing about it so my experience might help others, I make a little bit of closure for myself.
Thanks for listening.
PS: I've slowly but surely cut out 80% of my Effexor dose over the past 7 months.