Addicts anonymous

Following the launch of The Priory Group’s, I knew I had a problem when… campaign, looks further into what it means to be an addict

Credit: Ross Thomas, The Priory Group

Credit: Ross Thomas, The Priory Group

Addiction is thought to be a largely misunderstood illness, which manifests itself in various ways and means. At its core, addiction is a lack of control in relation to needing something.
Sound vague? That’s because it can encompass anything from the typical examples of alcohol, drugs, sex, pornography and gambling, to the less obvious examples of the internet, work, exercise, food, laziness and infinitely more. When does a bad habit become a serious addiction?

The public comfortably diagnoses addiction in regards to overconsumption. Those who drink a lot on a daily basis by choice are often referred to as alcoholics, when in fact, they have the ability to quit.
It can work both ways because levels of consumption aren’t an accurate estimation of whether someone is addicted or not, rather, it is a matter of control.

The problem often lies in the addictive substance; alcohol and nicotine change the body’s chemistry in such a way that can create a craving for further intake. However, this isn’t decisive in inciting addiction.

Addiction can cause physical, emotional and mental harm, and the absence of autonomy undermines the rights of the individual.
Our Features Editor, Jasmin Hayward, spoke to 21-year-old Sam*, about his experiences with addiction, specifically with Ketamine and cocaine. His addiction is believed to have started around the age of 12.

“It starts with this wonderful feeling found by only certain means”, he recalls, “for me it was Ketamine”. Sam had struggled with school and family problems from a young age and took to Ketamine as “a way of escaping dark thoughts and ignoring the bad stuff going on”.
Though his addiction started as a painkiller, it wasn’t long before his dependence on Ketamine was starting to harm him too: “The dark thoughts started to seep into the highs so I tried to stop. It was messing with my head even more.”

Though it wasn’t an easy process, Sam recollects: “you get pains when you’re not on it. Life seems so much worse and you long for that feeling, however dark it may be, it’s still an improvement.”

“The pains are always there even when you’re not high, so you spend more and more time using. Then the hallucinations and the paranoia kick in. I cut myself into a bloody mess one night. I knew I could hurt myself more than anyone else could.”

The more addicted Sam became, the more it affected his day-to-day life. As his addiction grew, he became more violent, agitated and paranoid. After only a few years it had also had a serious effect on his health.

“My bladder started failing and I became more and more uncontrollable. One night someone hit me, so I beat them repeatedly until they were unconscious on my apartment floor. It turned out they were trying to see if I was still alive.”

It was around this time that he realised that something needed to be done: “I went to hospital and I was told that if I carried on I’d die very soon.

My girlfriend at the time was pregnant with my little girl so I went to Bristol to attend rehab. It was hard and I hurt myself a lot while I was there, but the thought of my daughter stopped me doing anything fatal.”

Sam’s battle with addiction took a turn for the better with the birth of his daughter two years ago: “I was released from rehab and there was a call to say my ex-girlfriend was in hospital ready to have my baby. I didn’t turn around after that.”

Although Sam has been off Ketamine for over a year, he readily admits that the addiction has left him with physical and mental scars.
This is one example of what could be considered as a success story. However, not all users have been so fortunate. Every day there are thousands dying from illnesses related to addiction. This could be blamed on a failure by the general public to treat and respond to addiction, owing to the inability to effectively communicate with sufferers.

It has become too commonplace for the general public to be presumptuous with regard to addiction; people don’t actively listen in a way that generates a safe, open environment.

One in 15 who use the addiction service Alcoholics Anonymous do eventually recover from alcoholism, which is a significant success rate. The result is so positive because it stems from a supportive environment.

Although addiction still grips a huge proportion of the population, the AA, through removing judgement, takes the first important steps towards effective treatment and the handling of addiction, helping people to help themselves.

The Priory Group has launched a campaign to bring about a stronger awareness of addiction in its many forms, demonstrating how sufferers need to become self-aware in order to begin their steps to recovery.

It gives an insight into how far one can fall into addiction before this awareness comes to light. The victim always appears as a shadow contrasted against the other figures in their lives.

Like our interview with Sam, The Priory asked real life victims to explain their turning point, with a description beginning with, ‘I knew I had a problem when…’.

The results revealed particularly dark moments in the sufferers’ experience, the power of which lies in the prospect that addiction can affect anyone, from any walk of life.

“I knew I had a problem when I was in debt to my dealer and stole from my family to get myself out of trouble,” said one victim. Another recollects: “I knew I had a problem when I threw up on the police officer’s shoe.”

The reality is harsh; imagine saying, “I knew I had a problem when I started wetting myself in the middle of the night because I was so drunk I would pass out like a stone.”

The rippling repercussions of addiction are acutely captured in the victim who said “I knew I had a problem when I had work tomorrow and I’d drunk too much by lunchtime the day before. I worked in the aviation industry. I could kill many people if I didn’t stop.”

The Priory Group operates independently and has gained repute from treating celebrities including Paul Gascoigne, Susan Boyle, and Kate Moss. It has sought to develop innovative treatment and has produced excellent results, boasting a 100 per cent success rate of rehabilitation in 2011/2012.

It has opted to partner with the NHS to approach new models of healthcare in efforts for expansion. Its use of the image-led awareness campaign allows both addicted and non-addicted members of the public to get a greater appreciation and understanding of the horrors of addiction.

Though The Priory commissioned the illustrations, they were in fact created by Ross Thomas. Thomas himself has used The Priory in his struggles with addiction. What struck him about his experience was that many of the qualified professionals who were treating the addicted were themselves recovering from addiction.

Other quotations affixed to the images include: “I had a problem when… my family were begging me to stop while the tears ran down their faces and all I could think about was getting my next fix.”

“I knew I had a problem when… I was waiting in the freezing cold and rain, at 3 o’clock in the morning, in the middle of a crime ridden area of London, waiting over an hour for my crack dealer.”
The images are graphic and stark; the shadowy victim of addiction appearing out of focus, while the pain of his environment is all too accessible for the viewer. What is going through the mind of the addicted is open to interpretation but does not leave the observer comfortable.

The purpose of the campaign is multidimensional. For the victims it is a chance to reflect upon the hardship of the point of realising they have a problem. For others it brings home the pain that sufferers of addiction sometimes have to endure, exposing the situations in which they find themselves.

The content illuminates the lack of public awareness of addiction, a reality that this campaign hopes to evolve.

Find out more about the Priory Groups’s campaign here.