The Beast We Call Progression: Addiction a Progressive Disease

We want to thank Dr. James DiReda for offering another excellent guest post for us! Dr. DiReda has over twenty years experience working with individuals, families, and organizations to address alcohol, drug, and mental health issues. He holds a dual Ph.D. in Sociology and Social Work from Boston University. He is currently Director of Counseling and teaches at Clark University in Worcester, MA.

The Beast We Call Progression

Within the self-help network, the treatment delivery system, and prevention world, addiction is known as a “life-threatening progressive condition” that worsens if it goes untreated. We hear about it, and read about it all the time. However, when it looks you in the eye it becomes so much more real. I attended a function last night, and while there, saw a former client of mine who had “dropped out” of treatment somewhat abruptly about a year ago. When I met him he was employed at a long-held job, had a very charming young wife, and a newborn baby son.

I’ll call this client “Nick,” although not his real name. So Nick came to see me because he was struggling with a Percodan habit that he just couldn’t manage any longer. It was starting to cause real problems for him at his job, at home, financially, and internally. He was caught up in the obsessive aspect of addiction, and couldn’t seem to break free from it.

It clouded and tainted everything good in his life, and he wanted to stop. Ironically, he was one of those individuals that didn’t present with a long history of drug use that grew into a dependence on prescription pain meds. He had injured his back and was prescribed Percodan to alleviate his pain. It doesn’t take long to become addicted to a drug as strong as Percodan, and he was no exception. It soon consumed him and every waking moment of his life was spent thinking about getting more. He was addicted. So I saw him for about six months, and tried to help him to stop using the drug, which he could never seem to do. He could “white-knuckle” out a day or possibly two, but he always relapsed, until he finally disappeared.

Seeing him last night was a total surprise, but felt good. During our conversation he laid out his “progression,” which sounded almost textbook to me. We went right down the line as I asked him about work, he lost the job; wife, she had thrown him out; newborn, he sees him as his former wife allows; living arrangement, he’s back living with Mom and broke. So, that sums up the “progression” of addiction for anyone wondering what that term means.

Basically, it means that a person’s drug or alcohol use will wipe out anything good or positive in that person’s life if their condition goes untreated. Interestingly enough though, Nick had never told me about alcohol being a problem for him while I was seeing him, but last night he told me that he had pretty much stopped using the Percodan but couldn’t stop drinking and relapsing with alcohol. He also said that alcohol had pretty much always been a problem for him, but he never realized it until he quit the prescription drugs and went “crazy” with the drinking.

Nick’s story emphasizes the importance of us being aware that addiction is addiction, and whether it’s addiction to alcohol or Percodan or Cocaine, it is still a “life-threatening, progressive condition” that, if goes untreated, will worsen and take everything a person is willing to give, including their life.

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