The story of a drug addict: Opium was my drug, my addiction, my mistake
As someone who has been dependent on drugs twice in their life so far, if I had to tell you one reason why you shouldn’t do drugs it’s this: withdrawal is a b****.
There are many reasons to do drugs, but the only reason not to that really matters, is really vivid and visceral is that withdrawal is extremely rough. Having regulations won’t stop anybody anywhere, not in Pakistan, not in the US, nowhere.
This took me a while to understand, but here is my story, I hope it helps you.
My love affair with drugs
I started out pretty much like everybody else does, socially with hashish. I told myself that I was strong, I really did function quite well on drugs by the way; no one at university could tell I was using, my grades were fine, it wasn’t affecting my health and I had it under control. I thought to myself, what’s the harm in this? Clearly there was none thus far.
Now, for those of you who don’t know a lot about drugs, let me explain a little about hashish.
Hashish, weed and any cannabis derivatives do not cause physical dependence – there’s only psychological dependence. Which basically means if you haven’t smoked up and you’ve developed a habit of using cannabis, your body isn’t going to change in any way to tell you to smoke. However, your brain will. It’s like an itch on the inside of your head and at the roof of your mouth, and you want to make a joint and relax. That’s pretty much all that happens when you stop using hash, also known as charas.
Then how can withdrawal be such a b****, you ask?
It’s because of hard drugs.
My hard drug of choice was opium. After getting hooked on to it, I realised the Chinese predicament and how a whole nation, for a whole lifetime, didn’t want to do anything except sit and smoke opium and dream and be in peace.
That doesn’t sound so bad?
Yeah, that’s what happens before you’re addicted.
After you’re addicted, this is what opium does to you: your entire day and all of your thought processes are focused on making sure you have enough stash – always. You spend a lot of your brain power trying to find the perfect time and place to do drugs without being disturbed or caught.
Money, money, money!
And then comes the money problem.
Good drugs are expensive, so you end up spending a lot of money and everyone wonders if your employers are paying you anything at all because you haven’t bought anything new in months. When you’re using, you’re always looking for the next score, for better quality regardless of the expense and you’re always thinking about using. When you’re sitting in a presentation, all you can think of is getting high.
You go through public and social life just waiting to be alone for a while so you can use and satisfy your craving. Slowly you end up a hermit.
Addicts isolate themselves – our relationship with our drug is all-consuming; family-life or any life not including drugs seems useless. Soon you realise that when you do make the effort to go out and maybe see people, you will always choose people that you can use in front of; people who wouldn’t care what you put in your body.
One day, as I was sitting at a friend’s house and had an epiphany; I looked around me and there were five people in various degrees of passed-out, sprawled randomly all across the room. It was so sad. Brilliant, healthy, young individuals wasting their lives like that.
So if I recognised that it wasn’t healthy, then why did I continue to use?
Did I have a self-destructive streak?
Did I want to kill myself?
Did I think life was too dreary to be lived without drugs?
Partly yes, but that wasn’t why I couldn’t stop.
Was I depressed?
Yes, but again that still wasn’t why I feel like I couldn’t stop using.
Did I grow up in a family which thought that stuff like this was normal?
No, not at all.
Then why couldn’t I stop?
I’ll tell you; because withdrawal is a b****.
Ever wonder when a recreational drug user turns into an addict? Let me speak to the smokers here first. You will understand this. You know how when you don’t smoke, you get this headache and you’re irritable and agitated and all you want to do is smoke? Imagine how you feel after a trans-Atlantic flight.
So why do you smoke then? Because if you didn’t, you’d feel like crap.
To prevent feeling angry and irritable, you smoke, upping your nicotine levels again so you don’t bite someone’s head off. That’s when you become an addict: when someone uses a substance because the withdrawal is too much for them to handle.
For the non-smokers, imagine this. Have you ever asked a smoker why they smoke?
A typical question is,
“Do you do it because you feel good after you smoke?”
And what has every smoker in the history of time replied to this question with?
“No. No one smokes because they like what it does.”
People smoke because they can’t stand not doing it, not having adequate nicotine levels, because the cravings are insane. Guess what’s more addictive than nicotine? Morphine, which is present in opium and is also used to make heroin. Their withdrawal cravings just don’t let you be.
Since my downfall was opium, I’ll tell you how opium withdrawal works.
There are a myriad of physical symptoms. You feel nauseous, throw up a lot, have diarrhoea and cramping, your hands and feet tremble, you can’t really take a deep enough breathe because it hurts and worsens the nausea. Body parts hurt randomly and hurt quite a lot. You feel tired and agitated all the time. Anyone trying to talk to you gets something thrown at them. No hunger, a lot of thirst, more nausea. Everything is too loud, too bright, too irritating and too stupid. You feel uncomfortable and restless in your own skin.
Your heart races, your breathing quickens, you can’t stop shaking your leg even if you’re in bed, you perspire a lot, your nose runs, you tear up randomly, you can’t feel the cold and all you really want is to lie on the cold bathroom floor.
It’s a feeling of uneasiness like nothing else you’ve ever experienced. Think of everything that has ever made you anxious/ uncomfortable/ restless and then imagine all of them happening to you at once.
Reading these might not give you such a good idea of how bad it is but maybe this will: all of this happens for a week on average – an entire week of this. Imagine that for a minute.
To handle the physical symptoms of withdrawal you end up taking lots of medications but the entire time your brain and body knows that if you got your fix, all of this would stop at once. This is where the psychological dependence comes in.
Opiates basically increase, and with enough use replace, natural endorphins in the brain. Endorphin is what makes you happy after you’ve run. Every time you’ve ever felt good, it’s because of endorphin, dopamine and serotonin.
Back to opium; your brain becomes dependent on opium for the production of natural endorphin. Which basically means that if you become dependent and stop taking opium, then your brain can’t resume its normal mood level and for a week you live without any positive feelings at all.
But that’s not the worst part. The cravings are the worst part.
Remember how I said hash makes you feel like there’s an itch inside your head and on the roof of your mouth?
Yeah, when in withdrawal from opium, you feel like someone’s taken a rusty nail and tracked it down from the top of your mouth all the way to the back of your throat and down to the top of your windpipe. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, like everything is raw and agitated and you can’t swallow or breathe without being aware of it.
Sometimes it takes the form of a headache. You know how you feel when you haven’t gotten your morning chai? That dull headache you get? Yeah, that doesn’t happen in withdrawal.
In withdrawal, it’s worse, much worse! The headache is absolutely debilitating. Everything makes it worse. If you’ve ever had a migraine, imagine that; now imagine a pile-driver throbbing against the inside of your skull. Now imagine that happening after you’ve taken all the heavy duty meds you know to work against brain racking headaches.
You feel like someone has taken a rusty spoon and used it to gouge out pieces of your skull behind your forehead and your eyes.
And so it begins…
You want to use again but suppose you can’t get any immediately. You try to tell your brain,
“Don’t worry, I’ll get some tomorrow.”
But your brain keeps freaking out. You keep having these thoughts and you can’t think of anything but smoking up again. All you want to do is crawl up where you used to make your joints and smoke and just lie there till it passes for hours. You need to smoke, everything smells like your drug and you resort to holding the bag that used to contain the drugs and sniff and sniff.
I distinctly remember when I did that once. I don’t remember how long I sat on the floor of the bathroom holding the empty bag that once contained my opium. You regret every time you threw those random shreds of the mix after you made the joint and there wasn’t room to use that stuff. You think,
“I have enough; I can throw those dregs away.”
A few days later, when your stash is all gone, you want to hit yourself for doing that.
You feel like you’re missing something vital, like nothing feels comfortable, like you’re not whole any more. There’s this anxiety that consumes you. You feel like you’re going to die. You’re sitting in bed curled up and look outwardly peaceful, but on the inside, you’re repeating “oh no, oh no, oh no!” for hours.
Your brain just keeps saying,
“I’m not okay, this is not okay” over and over again, for days.
You feel the anxiety and the fear. Your chest is tight and you can’t breathe or swallow. Everything hurts. Oh and by the way, there’s never any sleep – ever. Even after a week of your physical symptoms calming down, there’s still no sleep. Not really.
The worst I’ve ever felt while detoxing is the first time it happened. I realised I looked exactly like the charsis they show on TV. I was rubbing my arms because I had goose bumps, I kept rubbing my chest and picking at my clothes and skin; I kept tugging at my hair, I couldn’t find any comfortable position to lie in so I ended up shifting for hours…
If you haven’t tried drugs, please don’t start. It takes a lot out of you as a person and it’s a lot to handle without completely ruining your life and your future. Every time you want to do something stupid, like snort coke or do hash, read this, and remember that there’s a price for doing drugs.
And the price is you and your life, because the drugs will end up owning you – make no mistake.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.