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Substance Use Disorder No Longer Defines Me 

By George Jones 

During Mental Health Awareness month in May, there is a lot of discussion about mental health challenges, treatments and services. However, one mental health disorder that is often overlooked is substance use disorder – which has been the center of my life.  

Sadly, for more than two decades, substance abuse consumed my life. It defined me to others, my community and to myself. However, I am working hard to move beyond it and no longer allow it to define me. 

One of the biggest challenges in overcoming the stigma is that many people believe that quitting drug use should be as easy as just stopping. It wasn’t, because substance use disorder is a mental illness.  

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, substance use disorder is a treatable mental disorder that affects a person’s brain and behavior, leading to their inability to control their use of substances like legal or illegal drugs, alcohol or medications.  

It started for me with cigarettes and pot as a teenager. Eventually, I got into heroin, crack and other hard drugs.  

At 24, my son was taken away from me when I couldn’t pay my bills or function as a father. I was able to control my addiction long enough to get him back. I took one pill to celebrate, and before I knew it, I was back into active use. 

I was homeless and in and out of jail; then in my late 20s, we were living in a park, I signed way rights to my son for good, hoping he would have a better life. I overdosed twice and nearly died. Finally, I sought help at SalusCare and went into their detoxification and rehabilitation program. I stayed in a program for 28 days. Feeling I was again in control of my life, I skipped out on meetings and disregarded the rehabilitation guidelines. Within three weeks, I was using drugs again. 

What I didn’t understand then, but understand now, is that the 40 to 60% drug use relapse rates are comparable to relapse rates for medical conditions like hypertension, diabetes and asthma when patients stop taking their medication. Relapsing during recovery is common, and it is misunderstood. A relapse does not need to prevent long-term sobriety.  

A year after my first detox, I went back to SalusCare for detox and rehabilitation. Finally, I was able to get a job, a car, and an apartment. Again, when I thought I had control of my life, I stopped going to meetings and started drinking. Before long, I was using again. 

After another round of detox and rehabilitation, I stayed with the program and secured a job I loved, until I blew out my shoulder weightlifting. I started taking pain pills, and it wasn’t long before I was using and lost everything again. 

The last time I went to detox six years ago, I knew from my previous experiences that I would need to stay vigilant to maintain ongoing recovery. 

Now I have a home, a family, my own business and my faith. I work to help others who are trying to overcome substance use disorder. I finally have the life that I always deserved.  

Medicine Assisted Treatment (MAT) made the difference. At first, I was on the fence about MAT, which has its own stigma, with people questioning the wisdom of taking drugs to keep from taking drugs. However, now that I’ve been prescribed suboxone to treat the addiction, I don’t think I could stay sober without it. 

Even though I’ve been in recovery for six years, the effects of illicit drugs are still in my brain. Suboxone keeps my mind from thinking about them. An addict’s mind is constantly playing tricks, encouraging more use, telling you that you can’t live without it. Suboxone gives me the stability and ability to resist these mind tricks.  

Along with MAT, I have the support of my wife and family and the continued support of the people who were there for me during treatment at SalusCare, I have respect for myself and have regained my dignity. I am finally free to live the life I didn’t think I could ever have. 

However, I know I will still face the stigma that substance use disorder brings. For some people, I will always be a junkie or an addict. For many dealing with substance abuse disorder, this judgement is one of the biggest barriers to seeking treatment.  

I know that sharing my story may result in negative opinions and judgment. But I am proud of how far I’ve come, and I want others to know that help and hope is available. I encourage those suffering with addiction to reach out to SalusCare for help.  

About the Author 

George Jones, 40, is grateful to SalusCare for his recovery. In recognition of the rise in substance use disorder, SalusCare has expanded its medical detoxification services for benzodiazepines, opioids and alcohol to include methamphetamines, kratom, molly, ecstasy and cocaine. SalusCare is also conducting a community survey about addiction stigma through the end of May.

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