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Published on April 01, 2019

The Hope of Recovery: Overcoming Addiction

“It’s not a choice.” Three real individuals (their identities shielded to protect their privacy) featured in this story – each helped by United Health Services’ Addiction Medicine programs -- all offered this same sentence when asked what they would most like those unaffected by addiction to know.

Alan Wilmarth, UHS’ Administrative Director Behavioral Health, echoed this: “The first time someone tries drugs, it’s a choice. After that, many people lose the ability to control their use. Physical dependence is documented over and over in medical literature – your body comes to depend on that substance to avoid being in withdrawal,” he explained. “But,” he added, “there is hope for people who suffer from substance use disorders – people can and do recover.”

Anna, Jenny and Bob are three people who made it to the other side of their addiction experiences, with help from UHS’ addiction medicine professionals and their own hard work.

Anna, 30, began using heroin at 18, and used for seven years. “It took over my life – everything revolved around heroin,” she said. She sought help when she could no longer find a vein to get high. Rehab still took multiple attempts, both inpatient and outpatient; her successful attempt was the inpatient program at Binghamton General Hospital. While in rehab she found out she was pregnant – she started on methadone, then transitioned to suboxone, which she still takes. “It wouldn’t have been possible without methadone – the heroin rewired my brain,” she said. Her road to recovery included homelessness and time in jail. Today, she has a second child, is engaged and in the process of buying a house. “UHS’ services made all the difference for me. I wouldn’t have been able to get clean without them. I would be dead,” she said.

Jenny, 27, works full time and goes to college full-time. She began using prescription drugs at age 19, then turned to heroin. For three years, while living in her parents’ home, she sold all her belongings for drug money, and then stole from her mother’s bank account. “I went to rehab twice, but wasn’t ready. Then I got pregnant, and that made me want to get help – I joined the methadone clinic and started going to counseling and group therapy. I decided I needed to make difference choices to succeed.” Jenny credits hearing the stories of others in recovery with making things click for her: “I thought addiction was going to kill me. Hearing from people further down the road that addiction wasn’t a death sentence made a big difference.” She felt her recovery was successful when her mother – whose bank account she’d stolen from – handed her a credit card and asked her to gas up the car. “It was such a big deal because she trusted me with it, and I was able to relay that trust back to her by not using the card for something illicit.” Jenny is currently tapering off methadone, a slow process. “I have a safe, loving home. My child has everything. I don’t think about drugs, I don’t want to use. Some people always struggle with that, I’m so thankful for that,” she said.

Bob, 62, has been clean and sober for 26 years. He experienced 23 years of active addiction to alcohol and drugs, starting when he was just 14. “There came a day when I did not have access to alcohol, which put me into the hospital due to withdrawal. That hospital stay opened the door to a rehab opportunity. While I was in the program, someone in recovery came in and told his story, which was so similar to mine. I thought, ‘I can do this.’ That guy gave me hope for another day.” Bob attends his home Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups at least twice a week, and is frequently invited to speak in other venues, serving in the same role for others as that man did for him: Sharing the message that it’s possible to change your life, one day at a time.

UHS’ Addiction Medicine department offers expert evidence-based treatment for people with substance use disorders. Staff includes board-certified addiction medicine physicians, registered nurses, credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselors and licensed social workers. To meet the needs of a variety of people, UHS offers inpatient programs at Binghamton General Hospital and Delaware Valley Hospital, as well as an outpatient program, an office-based program, and a pregnancy/women’s health program. Participants can take advantage of counseling, group and individual therapy, and medication programs such as suboxone or methadone.

Anna, Jenny and Bob all began using at a young age, and Wilmarth suggested that parents invest time in knowing their children. He explained, “If you have a child who is chronically sad or depressed and someone tells them drugs are going to make them happier, that’s tempting. Learn what class of drugs might be most appealing to your child, and read up on those drugs.” Parents and others can read more at www.samhsa.gov, www.drugabuse.gov or www.oasas.ny.gov.

For those with no connection to the opioid epidemic or unfamiliar with addiction, Wilmarth reinforced that it’s a disease – chronic, progressive and relapsing in nature – which affects all areas of a person’s life. “It has real social, spiritual and financial consequences,” he said.

For more information or to get help, call UHS at (607) 762-2901 or visit www.nyuhs.org/care-treatment/addiction-medicine/.

UHS is a locally owned, not-for-profit hospital and healthcare system serving Greater Binghamton and surrounding counties. Founded in 1981, UHS provides a full range of medical, surgical, rehabilitative and long-term care services throughout New York’s Southern Tier.

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