Thursday on "Glee," fans and cast members said goodbye to the late actor Corey Monteith.
The episode, called "The Quarterback," paid tribute to Monteith's character Finn Hudson. Despite multiple stints in rehab, Monteith died in July from an overdose of heroin and alcohol.
Two local men, who have a lot in common with Monteith, were willing to share their addiction stories with us. They are both 31 years old and both made multiple attempts to overcome their drug addictions before they succeeded. I asked them to describe the process of drug relapse to try and shed some light on why it happens.
Scott Sutter described the risk of relapse as a division within the soul.
"The other half of you is still in a kind of covenant with drugs and the effect they have on you," Sutter said. "You're really divided amongst yourself as to what you really want and you can equally desire to get clean and continue to use."
Jason Crowder talked about the bargains he tried to make with himself when he would go back to drugs.
"When you stop using, you stay clean for a while and then you say, 'Well, I can go out and do it this way," Crowder said.
Crowder said he had to hit bottom to realize the only way he could survive was to say no to it all.
"There's no way that you can compromise when it comes to doing drugs," Crowder said. "That's the lie that pulls people back in. They think they can smoke weed and not do this other thing, but it really takes you saying no to all of it and complete surrender to it, to that lifestyle."
Dr. Mark Stafford is the Associate Medical Director at Bradford Health Services in Birmingham. He says nine out of 10 heroin addicts will relapse when trying to quit because of the intense physical cravings, but he believes it doesn't have to be hopeless for addicts.
He describes the opioid receptors in the brain like baby birds in a nest, begging for a hit with their beaks open.
"It's demanding in the sense that there's an urgency to be fed," said Dr. Stafford.
Heroin is a powerful addiction. Dr. Stafford says once those "baby birds" are fed with the drug, the chemical dopamine takes over the brain. He described the physiological process.
"Their body and brain is just flooded with this massive amount of dopamine," Dr. Stafford explained. "And when the brain is flooded with that much dopamine, the receptors are overwhelmed. And so the receptors then regress and get smaller because they don't want to be overwhelmed. And then when the heroin is gone you have diminished dopamine receptors, so then you have a person who can't even enjoy a sunset."
Many addicts make multiple attempts to get clean before they are successful. Dr. Stafford says patients can learn from each relapse and shouldn't be ashamed when they slip.
"Patients, when they have relapse, they go out and don't really have time for those hungry birds to calm down and so they're still gnawing at them," Dr. Stafford explained.
With time, he says, brain receptors are reset and addicts can get better. It is a difficult journey through withdrawal, followed by intense emotional and spiritual healing. Dr. Stafford says it's important for families of addicts to be forgiving and supportive.
"I think a lot of times families personalize it and they feel like they've done something wrong," said Dr. Stafford.
So what does he tell loved ones?
"You haven't made a mistake. Your loved one has a disease and they can't help it any more than you can help it," he said.
Sutter and Crowder agree that unconditional love is necessary for addicts to heal. They both found that love and acceptance through God.
Crowder says young people should not accept social pressures to drink and do drugs. He believes they should look for strength in faith.
"If I had it to do all over again, the main place that I would get my identity from would be the word of God," said Crowder.
"When I strayed away and was pulling my identity from all these other places, what ended up showing up in my life was a mixture of all the wrong things," Crowder said.
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