The steps on the road to recovery can be met with mental obstacles. Between 40 and 60 percent of people seeking addiction treatment will experience a relapse.
Arielle Claypool, a then-24-year-old server at a local pub in Dickinson, North Dakota, was having the worst day.
The busy tables and belligerent customers weren’t to blame. On that day in 2014, Arielle’s boyfriend left her, taking their then-infant daughter with him to Oregon.
As her work day came to an end, Arielle couldn’t stand the thought of going home to see her baby’s things gone. She stayed at work after hours to drink with a friend. The same friend she would go home with at the end of the night to keep her mind off of things.
When Arielle and her friend got home after their night of drinking, her friend pulled out a plate. Confused, Arielle took a closer look. She saw a line of something powdery—methamphetamine.
The friend said Arielle would love it, and she had to admit it looked tempting. Arielle thought to herself: Why not? My life can’t get much worse.
Arielle took the plate and snorted the line of meth. Sobering from her drunkenness, she felt high in a way she never had before. She could tell immediately this was something she wanted to do again.
For more than two years following that night, Arielle was addicted to meth. She began using the drug to sober up from her drinking—which let her party longer. She eventually began drinking less and using more until she could not go without the drug.
As of 2016, 20.2 million Americans over the age of 18 had a substance abuse disorder, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA).
Tracy Traut, a counselor in a private practice who specializes in addiction and recovery, defines addiction as a chronic relapsing condition. It often starts as a way to find normalization during some kind of trauma or mental health issue.
Arielle could feel herself losing control as she continued to use. Soon her life spiraled out of control. Her boyfriend and their daughter were still states away, leaving Arielle without a job, a home, and custody of her only child. Her old friends abandoned her, leaving her with only the “drug friends”—people who used with her.
Feeling abandoned, alone, and lower than ever, Arielle fell deep into her drug use.
At the peak of her addiction, Arielle used more than a gram of meth a day. She usually snorted the drug, which gave her a deviated septum. The throbbing pain this caused dampened the rush she felt from the drug. So she switched to smoking meth, which involves using a larger amount of the substance. The pain from her drug use didn’t make her stop. Instead, the high she felt overpowered the agony.
“You’re chasing that dragon,” Arielle says. “Always chasing the dragon.”
Acknowledging the damaging effects of drugs doesn’t make quitting much easier, Traut says. It takes a lot of time and hard work to condition the body back to its normal state.
Drugs often halt certain natural processes in the body. Opiates, for example, act as keys that lock up hormone receptor sites in the brain. Eating a great meal, laughing really hard, or having great sex normally cause the brain to release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. Opiates block the reuptake process of that chemical, and the brain floods with more dopamine than it would naturally.
With continued over-stimulation of the brain’s pleasure centers, the body eventually starts producing less dopamine and other neurotransmitters that help people feel good. By then, the drug user relies on the substance to even feel normal.
If they stop using, they notice immediately—withdrawal. As Arielle worked to stay clean, she felt irritable and exhausted.
Withdrawal can be either physical or psychological. Without their drug, people begin to experience anxiety, depression, or inability to feel normal.
Traut says that psychological withdrawal is comparable to taking away an addict’s best friend. When that friendship is too strong, users trying to quit are often pulled into a cycle of relapse.
Arielle relapsed several times.
She felt she needed to change her setting, social circle, and overall environment if she ever wanted to overcome addiction. She left her home in North Dakota, escaping the environment she felt was sucking her into her old habits, and moved back to her hometown in Northwest Indiana. But she always found herself returning to the meth.
It took her four tries to finally get clean.
While getting groceries from her local Walmart one day last spring, Arielle was approached by a group of people who made her feel uneasy. They introduced themselves as agents for the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
Arielle’s family had apparently set up a covert operation in which she was to be given a choice: sobriety or prison.
Arielle was shocked. She felt trapped, and nearly chose prison.
Then the image of her daughter flashed into her mind. As difficult as the situation was, part of Arielle knew this would be for the best. She had tried several times to get clean on her own, and it was clear that wasn’t going to be enough. She chose to be committed for recovery—a choice she has not since regretted.
But deciding to quit doesn’t make recovery a walk in the park.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, somewhere between 40 and 60 percent of people seeking addiction treatment will experience a relapse.
Traut says social situations often cause these relapses when people around the recovering addict say things like: “You can have a drink—you were addicted to heroin, meth, etc., right?”
Though usually not intending harm, these people don’t fully understand the addiction cycle. Agreeing to indulge any kind of addiction reactivates pleasure centers, making it harder to quit. People recovering from addiction generally shouldn’t expose themselves to tempting situations until they are strong enough to say no.
Friends and social settings played a significant role in Arielle’s addiction. She usually didn’t plan, or even want, to get high during her recovery, but she felt compelled to partake in substances her friends offered her.
When Traut counsels her patients, she asks those with an addiction problem about how they do things, in what order they do them, and the settings in which they do them. One of her recent clients was visually triggered in a gas station. As he came through the door, a glass object caught his eye and abruptly reminded him of when he used to smoke crack. Traut says recovering addicts should remember that humans are visual creatures.
During recovery, the brain can urge a person to just go ahead and feed the beast.
After breaking her personal sobriety record, Arielle felt like she’d finally won. She regretted not making her daughter a priority, but she was ready to work hard and make a change.
Now a 27-year-old, and seven months sober, Arielle works to overcome her addiction while trying to help others in the process. She’s started a petition to raise awareness, and she helps get addicts moved from prison into rehabilitation facilities. According to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), about 95 percent of drug abusers return to their old habits after leaving prison. Arielle wants to fight the “vicious cycle” that sets people up for continuous failure.
Traut also believes incarceration without treatment isn’t very helpful. But she is starting to see more progress toward helping incarcerated addicts cope and recover. More and more facilities are implementing therapeutic communities, and some police departments have joined with treatment providers to give those caught with drugs the option to go to treatment centers instead of jail.
Although Arielle is making great improvements in her own recovery, returning to a regular routine was difficult at first. She started by moving back to her hometown in Indiana and working some odd jobs on the side.
She started her first official job since her recovery in June of 2017, and she’s working to reconnect with her daughter. Arielle’s daughter still lives with her father in Oregon, but the parents have an agreement that lets Arielle stay in touch. The two are able to visit, and Arielle is working to regain custody.
Most of the steps Arielle takes toward recovery are for the good of her family. Seeing her daughter creates a high she says no drug could match.
There are numerous methods of treatment and recovery, specific to each individual and their addiction. The website for addiction resources includes information on each type of addiction, treatment options, and guidance on finding the right rehabilitation facility. Addictionresource.com also includes the number for a free and confidential drug hotline, (888) 538-7057. Whether you seek group counseling, rehabilitation, or simply someone to talk to about your problem, you are not alone.