Carolina Praderiomi Callie Ahgrim
One21 million Americans struggle with a substance use disorder(SUD) — the medical illness that is causedalcohol or drug abuse. In its most serious form, LDS has a much better known name: addiction.
nearly10% of people with these conditions receive special treatmentfor them, according to a 2016 report by the US Surgeon General.
According to the report, there are many reasons for this gap. Some people do not have access to care services or cannot pay for them. Some fear the embarrassment or discrimination that might result from speaking up. Others may not think they have a problem.
Statistics like these can make LDS feel desperate and hopeless.
But the truth is that these disorders, even long-lasting, life-destroying addictions,can be treated effectively.
INSIDER spoke to 16 people who learned this by living it. These stories and photos show their journeys from addiction to treatment and arduous recovery.
Editor's Note: A warning that this article contains language describing a suicide attempt and descriptive language that may be triggered by anyone struggling with or recovering from substance abuse.
Morgan Stroberg found his "savior" in Alcoholics Anonymous.
Morgan Stroberg's alcohol abuse began with his first drink at the age of 15.
"As soon as I took that first sip, my old life was completely over," she told INSIDER. "I was in a frenzy; ItivHave more. There was no defense."
At 19, Stroberg found his way toAlcoholics Anonymous(AA), an organization he referred to as his "savior." He has had significant periods of sobriety since his induction into AA meetings and is currently partying alcohol-free for six straight months.
“I have had so many doubts and insecurities my whole life. Alcohol and drugs allowed me to have a new identity that I felt empowered in for a long time," she said. “The reality is that drugs and alcohol are starting to wear off. Our solution to the sickness within us is failing. Then we have to turn to other solutions. The good news is there are many ways to stay sober.”
Now Stroberg is pregnant, a life change that has further fueled his desire to stay sober.
"I have to be that amazing mom I always dreamed of being," she said.
Pablo's life changed after a night of drinking.
On the night of April 28, 2014, Pablo went to a bar and passed out.When he woke up in bed the next morning, his blue button-down shirt was red with blood.
"They broke my jaw. They removed two teeth and one of them broke off. I don't even know what happened," Pablo, 38, tells INSIDER. "And I looked in the mirror that morning and I thought I need help."
Pablo, who only asked to be identified by his first name to protect his privacy, began drinking and smoking marijuana in elementary school. Over the next 20 years, as his addiction increased, he lost jobs, a relationship, his driver's license, and his car. He went to rehab once and started drinking again almost as soon as he finished.
But when he woke up in the morning with blood all over his shirt, something changed.
A few days after the incident, he attended an AA meeting. He'd been to many as part of punishment for previous DUI arrests, but he never really listened when he was around.
It was different this time.
"That night I met my sponsor," said Pablo. (In AA jargon,a sponsor is a fellow alcoholic who provides guidancefor newer members.) "I went up to him and said, 'Hey, I'm Pablo and I need help ... I'm either going to work on this show or I'm going back to jail or I'm going to die.'"
Pablo turned to AA and reconnected with his Christian faith. These combined forces helped him stay sober for four years that spring.
"It's different dealing with raw emotions without a crutch of marijuana or alcohol. That's one of the difficult parts for me," he said. "[But] the most important thing is to realize that I'm not a bad person, I just made some bad decisions. And that there is a good life out there for everyone if you want it.”
Austin Cooper says social media saved him.
When Austin Cooper was 20, trapped by alcohol addiction and contemplating suicide, he came across an old acquaintance's profile on social media.
"I saw someone I was friends with in high school on social media who I knew had a drug problem," he told INSIDER. “I've seen this person speak openly about rehab. I've seen their way of turning everything around - they've changed for the better. And that gave me a glimmer of hope.”
Six months later, after an intervention, he entered a 22-day treatment program and began attending AA meetings. In April, he celebrated five years of sobriety.
And in a way it has come full circle. Today, Cooper, 30, runs a business calledsober development, through which she offers personal development counseling, plans alcohol-free social events, and has a recovery-themed Instagram account with more than 40,000 followers.
"I wanted to use [Instagram] to get my story out there," she said. "To see if you can help someone the same way that person helped me years ago."
Jessica Dolan didn't look like a drug addict on the outside.
Jessica Dolan never quite fit the stereotypical addict image.
"I've always worked hard. I had a career, I was married, I had a home," she told INSIDER. "Outwardly, I've always been able to control myself so that people don't see what's wrong with me."
However, in his late 20s, his drug and alcohol addictions began to spiral out of control. He went to a treatment center in August 2007, but suffered a relapse for a few months after leaving the show. It was during this time that he noticed what he called "red flags."
"I started putting myself in unsafe situations and taking drugs that I had never done before," he said. "That scared me."
That fear drove her to recovery.
"I was busy going to meetings all the time and just surrounding myself with people doing the same thing I was trying to do," he said. "The first year wasn't easy...but I persevered."
Dolan, now 42, has come through a decade of sobriety and works as an alumni relations manager at the same institution she attended in 2007. She hosts events and workshops for graduates of treatment.
"Recovery is lifelong," he said. “It's okay if you're on a 30-day program, but what will you do when you leave? My department supports this transition.”
Roman Alexander feared that sobriety would make him an outcast.
When Roman Alexander was 19, four years after his first drink, he left a party drunk, fell asleep at the wheel of his father's car and crashed into a power pole.
Three months later, after outpatient rehab and his first AA meeting, he started drinking again.
"People don't understand how much it affects your life," Alexander, now 26, tells INSIDER. "People used to tell me, 'You just have to learn to limit yourself.' And they don't understand that there is no limit. It's a progressive disease. It will only get worse if you keep feeding it."
Alexander continued to nurse his illness over the next few years. Over time, drinking (and later drug use) cost him his car, his job, and his house. He had to go back to his mother.
Last September, however, those losses came on top of a second turning point. He stopped using and has now been sober for nine months.
"This time it was the best thing I've ever felt in my life," he said.
Alexander, who is gay, feared that sobriety in his community's social scene would keep him out of bars and clubs. He was pleasantly surprised to find that the opposite was true.
"The amount of support I've received has been really incredible, from my closest friends who I hang out with to the people I meet when I'm on the road," she said. "All the fears I had were just in my head."
The alcohol gave Kimberly Wessels a sense of satisfaction.
When Kimberly Wessels first started drinking at the age of 18, she drank two bottles of wine, passed out and vomited.
None of that stopped her from drinking.
"I was sick as a dog the next day, but I knew I couldn't wait to get back to it," she told INSIDER. “[When I drank it] I suddenly felt a sense of contentment and belonging. And that warm fluffy feeling calmed all my insecurities.”
Her turning point came at age 34 when she crashed her car in a parking lot and was arrested for drunk driving for the fourth time.
He spent 30 days in rehab and never drank again. She has been sober for six years and is an active member of AA.
Wessels, now 40, also underwent a dramatic physical transformation, losing about 30 pounds over the course of a year. He started small, walking his dogs and watching what he ate, but now he's in the gym six days a week. He can lift 275 pounds and is aiming for 300.
"For the first time in my life, I finally feel good enough," he said. "I've always been looking for that inner peace and when I went for treatment and started going to AA, they promised me it would happen. Today I can say that it is true. All these things they promised me have come true.”
Terin DeVoto was "completely broke" when he began to recover.
Terin DeVoto was just 11 years old when she began experimenting with alcohol and drugs.
"I've used and abused just about everything from snuffing paint to medication to alcohol, everything but a needle," DeVoto, now 28, told INSIDER. "In the end my main addictions were alcohol, cocaine and ecstasy to give me the opportunity to drink longer."
He suffered a series of material losses while continuing to consume: work, car, money, home. But it was something deeper that ultimately drove him to recovery.
"It came down to being completely broken mentally and emotionally," he said. "I was willing to do anything to never go back to that lifestyle."
At the end of June 2010, he was arrested for violating the terms of his probation. A friend got him out of prison on one condition: that he attend an AA meeting.
He did, and he's been sober ever since.
DeVoto fills his Instagram account with dramatic before-and-after photos, visual evidence of how recovery has transformed him. It's all part of an effort to reach out to those still struggling with drugs and alcohol.
"My hope is to show these people that addiction is not a death sentence," he said.
Brad McLeod's addiction started with a prescription.
Brad McLeod missed his first dose of opioid painkillers. She got them from a doctor who prescribed them after hernia surgery.
"I had no real education about the dangers of these pills," McLeod, now 30, told INSIDER. "It wasn't something anyone around me was talking about."
Eventually, McLeod became addicted to the pills and switched to heroin. He used both for about four years.
On January 11, 2010, McLeod was arrested for drug trafficking. As a result, he spent a year in prison. And by the end of his sentence, he realized he had a choice.
"This was my chance to make changes or continue as before," he said.
He decided to switch. His first step in recovery was amethadone clinic- took a dose of methadone, a drug used to treat heroin addicts, and certain painkillers every day for about a year. Then came a detox program to help him with his withdrawal symptoms.
Now sober for eight years, he works as a paramedic at a drug treatment center in Ontario, Canada, and also runs a virtual recovery training business calledBrad McLeod recovery. ("The reality is that not everyone has insurance to visit a beachside treatment center," he added.)
McLeod is living proof that addiction can affect all types of people, even those who have never tried drugs.
"People think they're immune to addiction," he said. "It can happen to anyone."
Samantha Cole used music to help deal with the harder parts of recovery.
Samantha Cole struggled with anxiety from a young age. When he started drinking at age 17, alcohol seemed to quell that fear.
"Drinking became my best friend," he told INSIDER. "If I had nothing to do, I would just buy a bottle."
But the alcohol took its toll on his body. She gained weight and her psoriasis got worse, leaving red spots all over her body. She started hurting herself when she was drunk. So he almost lost his life.
"The night before I made the decision to stop drinking, I drank for two days," he said. "I was tired of living with all my guilt and shame, so I decided I didn't want to live anymore."
Her partner found her attempting suicide and stopped her. The next day, he helped her find a detox program. Today, at 28, she has been sober for two and a half years.
Sobriety also helped Cole rediscover a lost childhood love: music.
"I used to play guitar and sing, but once I started drinking I felt like I'd forgotten," he said. "When I first started the detox there was a dented guitar - the strings were horrible but I played it anyway.
Once home, he continued and has since written six songs of his own.
"Music has helped me through the most difficult moments of recovery," he said. "I find when I'm in my head I pick up my guitar and it relaxes me."
Sobriety helped Chelsea Dueitt repair her relationship with her son.
Five years ago Chelsea Dueitt described herself as "the shell of a person". His longstanding alcoholism gradually escalated to daily drug use.
"My alcohol use led to meth use and my weed use led to meth use, and meth became my top priority every day," Dueitt told INSIDER. "I've tried quitting on my own multiple times and it's only resulted in 2 and 3 day sobriety periods. The only time I can remember being clean for any length of time was when I was pregnant with my son.”
In 2013, the Mississippi native completed an inpatient treatment program and relocated from Philadelphia. However, shortly after returning home for a funeral, Dueitt relapsed.
"My family knew as soon as I got home," he said. "I watched from the balcony as my son's father walked away with my son crying because he was taken from me so abruptly. I will never forget that cry. Even though I was high at the time, I will never forget that feeling.”
Dueitt remembers this event as a final warning. Though she didn't think she was "worthy of the good life," she knew her son deserved a sober mother.
He went through a 12-step program and has been "unrecognizable" ever since.Last year, the 28-year-old lost 30 pounds and graduated from college with a Bachelor of Science degree.in addiction counseling.
"For a long time I thought there was something wrong with me. That I was bad, unworthy and unlovable. Saying. “True recovery work is a total transformation from the inside out. It is a journey and an ongoing process throughout life. It's not a goal.”
Faye Vex believes his drinking habits could easily have "dipped into alcoholism before I knew it".
At 24, Faye Vex had been a regular drinker for over a decade.
"I think the first time I got drunk I was 13 years old. I thought it was normal and it stayed that way, and eventually it became a crutch without me realizing it," he told INSIDER.
Over the past year, Vex has gone through a series of eye-opening events in retrospect. Their long-term relationship ended and Vex assumed it was because of the drink. Her parents confronted her with a problem. Finally, a friend whom Vex refers to as his "drinking buddy" is suddenly killed in a car accident; Vex suspects she was drunk.
But even those events weren't enough back then to convince Vex to quit drinking altogether. He began giving up alcohol as a "temporary way to lose weight." In the process, he found a life that felt “brand new.” The symptoms of her depression and anxiety became more manageable and she felt more active, healthier and more confident.
With the help of therapy and a strong support system, Vex was able to stop drinking entirely. She has now been sober for 20 months.
"I feel like I've entered a whole new world that I've never experienced before," Vex said. “Anyone in recovery knows that no matter what, relapses will always come. shoot, get drunk, whatever'... but when I go back and think about how I acted when I was drunk compared to how I am now, I like that person a lot more than that girl in the past.
Sheresse Spence has been evicted twice after spending her rent on alcohol.
Sheresse Spence picked up drinking when a lot of other people do: in college. However, his social habits quickly took a worrying turn.
"Because I soon found that alcohol helped me with my socialization, it relaxed me and my anxiety went away, I became addicted," she told INSIDER. “I drank everything that contained alcohol. I used to stop by friends' houses to say hello all the time, but if they didn't have alcohol I'd go the fuck out. I literally couldn't live without him; I remember telling my friends that I would never have children because "I couldn't go that long without alcohol.
As of 2014, Spence "barely makes enough to buy groceries" due to the amount of money he spends on alcohol. He continued to be self-employed, although he paid very little so he could drink at home all day. Spence was evicted twice that year.
“After all, after the second eviction, I had to live with my boyfriend and his parents. That's when I knew I had to go," she said.
Spence managed to quit smoking without going to rehab, but she recalls her withdrawal symptoms as "the worst experience of my entire life." She has now been sober for four years; Your boyfriend has been sober for three years.
"Everyone always asks me how I ever got by without a support group or rehab. My short answer is simple: Jesus. I could never have made it without him, and if I could have made it without him, I wouldn't be where I am today," said Spence. "I went from covering the bills to managing the business center at the Minneapolis Convention Center, and [my friend and I] are now owners. All of this could never have happened if we had continued on our path.".
Karla León has lost almost 100 kilos since she stopped drinking.
For Karla León, drinking has always been part of her life. Despite his wife repeatedly asking him to quit, Leon couldn't admit she was a functional alcoholic until his son essentially revealed it to a room of 30 people.
He encouraged her to take part in an 18-day "Optimum Health" program. During the first session, each person was asked why they were there. León's son replied, "Because I want my mom to know that she can have fun and not drink."
"I was so humiliated. I felt so small. I couldn't say anything, I was just curled up in my chair," she said. "I didn't realize nobody knew I had a drinking problem, but now everyone knew. And after that, I knew I had to be strong for my kids. I had to be a role model for them. And from that moment on, So I didn't take another sip."
After quitting drinking, Leon lost 20 pounds in a month and finally realized how alcohol was affecting his body. Three years later he has lost almost 100 pounds.
"I wasn't happy with myself, so I started drinking," she told INSIDER. "I was so overweight. I just hid and covered my pain with alcohol...I don't think your size defines your happiness, confidence, or sexuality, but it was something I struggled with internally every day. I felt bad about it. I myself".
"Now when I go to bed I'm proud of myself," Leon said. "When I wake up in the morning I have things to do, to help people, to inspire people. I think people don't realize what they're missing because they think the fog of addiction is too strong. But once I got a glimpse of another life, a life I created that no one gave me, I saw what was in front of me the whole time."
Rachel Brady knew from her first drink that alcohol was going to be a problem.
Rachel Brady's drinking habits became "destructive" when she was a student in college. When I was older, people started to intervene.
"Even though I was in college and everyone was joking, 'It's not alcoholism until graduation,' for me it was literally alcoholism," he told INSIDER.
After graduating, Brady married an Air Force man, alienating her from her friends and sisters in Los Angeles. But his alcoholism continued to increase.
"My first reaction was that it was a character flaw," he said. "As a perfectionist, I thought, 'I'm going to try to control this. I'm going to get better, I'm going to try different methods, like just drinking wine or beer'. The same way."
Things got more obvious for Brady last year, she checked into rehab in October and was released three days later.
Today, she champions a sober and healthy lifestyle and documents her commitment to exercise, as well as her battle with addiction and mental health on Instagram.
“Sobriety teaches you to be honest with yourself. I hid behind alcohol for a long time," he told INSIDER. "Like literally like an addict, sometimes you're learning basic human communication skills for the first time and that can be scary. It definitely taught me how to ask for help.”
"Deciding to go into rehab and really accept it can be one of the most powerful and courageous things that I think a person can do," she said. "I've learned that vulnerability is one of the best ways to connect with someone."
Lea Gorecki's suicidal thoughts eventually led her to seek help for her alcohol problem.
In 2010, Lea Gorecki realized she was using alcohol to "deal with things in my life that I just couldn't deal with.” The following year he discovered that addiction and alcoholism were dangers in his family, but he still refused to stop drinking.
"I kept drinking for a few more years," Gorecki told INSIDER."Finally one night I thought, 'I could kill myself, what's stopping me?' That's when I knew I had to get closer."
Gorecki was able to find a psychiatrist and therapist covered by his insurance. He began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in May 2013. He had his last drink on June 12, 2013 and has not had a drink since.
He now works as a dental assistant with an expanded role. To obtain a license to practice dentistry, Gorecki was given a three-year term.Drug and alcohol testing program, which she says has helped her keep her sobriety in check.
She also began posting about her sobriety online to hold herself accountable, which led her to "a huge network of other sober people around the world who support each other."
"My life has changed tremendously since I stopped drinking, but I think most people don't realize that there is an underlying reason why you drink or take drugs. They treat the pain," he said. "Whether it's physical or emotional, we all suffer from something. I also believe that addiction is a disease and always needs to be worked on. You can become addicted to anything and it's important to identify your triggers to identify and learn how to deal with it. Coping skills are key to recovery."
Breanna Trevisanut's alcoholism was closely linked to her cocaine addiction.
Breanna Trevisanut took to drinking to cope with a devastating breakup. At the time, she wasn't worried, nor were her friends and family, because "bouts of intoxication are usually a normal part of a girl's life."
"I was so hurt and lost that I turned to alcohol to calm myself."Trevisa nutsaid INSIDE. “I had already started working in my current job as a hairdresser and that was the only constant in my life over the years.
While Trevisanut thinks people could probably tell he wasn't happy, no one really knew how bad his problem had gotten. She kept up her performance at work and lived with her boyfriend, but she also drank almost daily. She began using cocaine relentlessly when intoxicated.
Trevisanut said he had an "epiphany" last summer when he realized it wasn't worth drinking in moderation. For her, alcohol was a "temporary patch" that "never brought happiness." Since then she has adopted a healthier lifestyle and has lost over 30 pounds.
"When I eliminated drinking from my life, I felt very uncomfortable because I felt very uncomfortable with myself. I've had a lot of time to think about why I started drinking and using drugs in the first place," she said. "I feel like I'm having an affair with myself and I'm sorry for the broken girl I used to be. I have more time, money and energy to devote to my life. I won't drink or leave anymore." . I love being around."
If you or someone you know has a drug use problem, give us a callNationale SAMHSA-Hotline(1-800-662-4357) for free, confidential, 24-hour support for individuals and families dealing with substance use disorders. The service offers referrals to treatment centers, support groups, and more.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or have had thoughts about harming or killing themselves, seek help.National Suicide Prevention Hotline(1-800-273-8255) provides free, confidential, 24/7 support for those in need, as well as best practices for professionals and resources for prevention and crisis support.
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