Addiction destroys lives

Remember that picture of Nick Nolte taken a couple of years ago after what can only have been a six-month, non-stop bender?  Remember any number of pictures of Courtney Love or Robert Downey, Jr.?

Now think about Rush Limbaugh. Have you ever seen a picture of him where he looked anything but well put together and sober?  And yet he had a major drug problem.

These thoughts run through my mind because I recently had surgery that necessitated a few days of drugs for the pain following it. I don’t do well on prescription pain meds.  So I spent the days after surgery sitting around letting the drool pool on my shirt while watching TV Land and wondering why people didn’t name their sons Beaver anymore. After two days of pain pills, I needed one day of just sitting and letting my body and brain get back in sync before I could even conceive of driving a car – or my bike for that matter.

This is why I am always amazed when someone like Rush Limbaugh admits to a major addiction. I don’t understand how he functioned on a day-to-day basis while being so addicted.  Addicts who hang around on street corners shaking and looking for their next fix – I can understand them because I can understand the power of the addiction to overwhelm all other necessities in life, like food, shelter and a modicum of human dignity.

But Rush Limbaugh continued to function successfully at a high level while directly in the public eye.

There is no doubt in my mind that if I were to become addicted to these pain pills, I would be the street variety addict since I clearly cannot function at all while using them.  Yet I’ve worked in a field that deals with people with alcohol and drug addictions and I know that many of them are, like Rush Limbaugh, functional addicts.

Now to some that may be a contradiction in terms.  And if I really think about it, no addict is actually functional in the truest sense of the word since his world revolves about making it to the next drink or the next hit.  But some people are able to keep a job, maintain a family and lead a life that looks pretty normal from the outside.

Alcoholics often can’t do this as successfully as drug addicts because liquor makes your breath smell and inevitably someone will notice that the morning after odor is always on your breath and remains there all day, every day. Drug addiction is often not as visible unless the addicts are snorting cocaine or crystal meth and leaving tell tale white rings around their nostrils. 

People who can make it through the day without having their addiction being detected, who can hold on to the semblance of a normal life, are often the hardest to reach.  I can’t help but wonder if Rush Limbaugh wouldn’t still be using if a police investigation hadn’t precipitated his disclosure of the addiction.

Here’ s the rub in all this.  The families of a functional addict suffer.  They suffer in silence and in small ways that go unnoticed to the world, but they suffer. Whether it’s having a dad who can never quite make it to evening school or sports activities because he’s wasted by 7 PM every night, or a home you can’t bring your friends to because you never know what shape mom will be in by the time school gets out, families suffer when addiction is present in the home.

A hidden addiction is still an addiction, and it’s destructive force is as silently insidious as any raving drunk loudly tearing his house apart while in the middle of a month long spree. Unfortunately, like a silent scream, it often goes undetected till the damage done is too great to repair.

Helping those families is an almost impossible task. And yet the damage done to each member will still affect out society for generations to come.