Addiction is one of the most pervasive forms of social dysfunctional behaviors society contends with on a daily basis. The use of illicit drugs is increasingly widespread and its impact is not restricted to any particular ethnicity, social class or age group. An estimated 20 million Americans aged 12 or older are current users of an illicit drug, representing 8.5 percent of the population. The estimated economic cost of substance abuse in the United States exceeds a staggering half a trillion dollars per annum, including the costs of health care, drug-related crime and losses in productivity. This figure includes costs of approximately $181 for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco and $185 billion for alcohol. It’s a significant, ongoing and costly problem that can affect just about anyone. These are the stories of those who have been affected by addiction and how they eventually found hope.
John was born in Oakland, California, went to school there and grew up in the Bay area, staying until 2004. He became a successful sales director, and by his early 30s he owned a beautiful home and enjoyed a six-figure salary. John was happily married with two dogs and enjoyed weekend breaks in the wine region of Northern California. He developed a passion for wine and on occasion would indulge himself and his friends with a vintage wine costing thousands of dollars.
“Those were the good days,” says John. At 46, he found himself homeless in Savannah. “My problems began in 2001. My drinking and spending had started to get out of control and began to impact negatively on my life. But my real problem began when I started to take prescription painkillers. I had an accident some years before, in my early 20s. As a result of the accident, I sustained three badly damaged bones in my back and had three discs removed in my upper spine. Over the years they became arthritic. I started to take Vicodin. … The real hell started when I was then prescribed Xanax. That was when total darkness enveloped me. I stopped eating and became very anxious. I had stopped working as I received residual payments from my sales team. But as I stopped going into the office, I was alone a lot in a large house, suffering from anxiety and heavily medicated. I fell, or rather dug myself, into a pit of despair. The anxiety became overwhelming, and I was then diagnosed as bipolar. I was prescribed different combinations of drugs, but I believe the antipsychotic drugs made me worse and I began to have hallucinations.”
John’s world fell apart. His behavior became more erratic, unpredictable and anti-social. His wife filed for divorce, and afterward he bounced around between friends’ and family members’ homes. John’s behavior, however, was too much for anyone to handle and he eventually became homeless and tried to commit suicide on six occasions.
John is an intelligent and educated man, well read and possesses a dry sense of humor. Despite his plight, he is optimistic. Although he defines himself as a drug addict, he started attending AA meetings and is engaging in their 12-step program of recovery. John has been clean for some months and now has secured a job in sales. “You know, it’s not about new beginnings, but it’s about a good ending,” he says.
View photos at southmagazine.com/extras and don’t forget to pick up South’s December/January issue to read more stories!
Photography by Peter Fossick
Tags: Addiction, Peter Fossick