Heroin user’s mom says addiction is a disease, not a choice

By Patricia Beech – 

Kelleyanne is a local 26 year-old heroin addict serving time in Ohio’s Reformatory for Women. Her descent into drug addiction began recreationally when she was 14 years old. She says that alcohol and opioid use was common in her peer group at the time.
By age 20 she was a deeply addicted, high-functioning heroin user. Her mother Diana “didn’t want to believe” her child was a drug addict, but over time she says, “Kelleyanne became someone I didn’t know anymore. There were times when it got so bad, I was mourning a child that was alive, but was no longer mine.”
After finding needles and other drug paraphernalia in her daughter house, she called the authorities and asked them to arrest her. She says, “I didn’t want my daughter to die.”
Kelleyanne was furious with her mother.
“She was so mad, she said terrible things to me,” Diana said. “She wanted to know why I hadn’t talked to her first, like I hadn’t been screaming at the top of my lungs begging her to stop.”
Kelleyanne agreed to go to a rehabiliatation center in Alabama where, Diana says, her daughter experienced a complete turnaround.
“When we arrived to take her home, there was my Kelleyanne,” Diana recalls. “There she was, she wasn’t mad at me anymore, she was healthy looking and bright-eyed and she hugged me like she was thanking me.”
Within days of returning home, Kelleyanne was arrested once again. This time for complicity to burglary.
“She spent a long time in jail for that, and I don’t know, I feel like it did something to her, she kind of gave up,” Diana said. “She was humiliated.”
“I was knocked off my high horse very quickly,” says Kelleyanne. “After everything I learned and conquered in treatment, there I was on the front page of the newpaper for complicity to burglary . I was devastated.”
Kelleyanne spent five months in jail, and three months in the STAR drug rehab program. She relapsed less than two months after her release.
Diana says she thought her daughter was “okay at that point” until she discovered her using heroin.
“She was going to take her younger brother to the arcade, so I went to her room to give her money, but she wasn’t there. She was in the bathroom. I walked up to the door, I got this terrible feeling, I just knew. The door wasn’t completely closed, and when I opened it, there she was, slumped over on the toilet. I scared her when I walked in. She raised her head and I could see from her eyes that she was high, really high. I made her leave and it wasn’t long before she got arrested again and went to another rehab.”
Kelleyanne entered a rehab center in Cincinnati. After failing a drug test, she was returned to the Adams County Jail where she remained for five months before going before the county judge.
“The judge said he just couldn’t do it, he wasn’t ready to give up on her, so he gave her one more chance in Adams County,” said Diana. “She did great, she got a job, she had a boyfriend, she had two cats, she was doing the normal, she had a life. Then, her boyfriend died and I knew it was done. His death would be another excuse to go back to the drug, every time something bad happened that was how she chose to cope.
Kelleyanne admits she uses drugs as a coping mechanism.
“I’m very aware that I don’t know how to cope,” she says. “After he died, I didn’t know how I would get out of bed in the morning without being high. I’ve used drugs in general to help me cope with my significant problems – I’ve used that as an excuse to use.”
Two weeks after her boyfriend’s death, Kelleyanne was arrested after failing her probation-required drug test.
“I was at work when I got the phone call that they’d arrested her, and I knew this time her chances were over, she was going to prison,” Diana says. “That feeling, as a parent, is the ultimate low. The little girl I loved so much, that I raised to be a good person – she is a good person – just got caught up in that and now, she’s in prison. That’s not ever a mother’s wish, but here it is, it’s over now, she’s there.”
Diana says she and Kelleyanne talk frequently, but she hasn’t yet visited her daughter in prison, and doesn’t know if she will. “Leaving her there – I think the ride home would kill me,” she says.
Kelleyanne says she understands her mother’s feelings. She told Diana, “As much as I want to see you, I don’t want to hurt you anymore.”
“There are thousands and thousands of mothers going through this,” Diana said. “Everybody knows somebody – a brother, a parent, or your own child, everywhere I go someone has a story and they’re so similar to mine.”
Historically, addiction to alcohol and drugs has been viewed as a moral failing, and the person addicted was thought to be lacking in willpower.
While that view is still held by many individuals, the scientific community has presented a new model for understanding addiction, and the research is there to back it up.
According to DrugAbuse.gov, “Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.”
The addicted person will continue using even when they see the harm their addiction is causing. They know their behavior is self-destructive, and they don’t want to be addicted, but the defining characteristic of addiction is the inabilitiy to stop.
“So many people think addiction is a choice – it’s not a choice, it’s a disease,” Diana says. “I compare it to touching a hot stove – you wouldn’t continue touching a hot stove – not if it’s really a choice.”
Diana is well aware that many people believe addiction is not a disease.
“People who aren’t close to the addict will say it’s a choice, but there is no choice in it,” she says. “I always tell them, ‘I’m so happy for you that you don’t understand, I would never want this for you or anyone else, I never want you to understand, I never want you to lay your head down at night and pray, please God, don’t let me get the call that she’s dead, I’m so glad you don’t know what that’s like’.”
According to the rehabilitation program, Recovery Village, “Drug addiction follows a similar pattern to other chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes. The patient will go into remission, but may have several relapses before beating the disease entirely. And like these diseases, addiction too can be treated and managed. Many people who combat the disease model of addiction will make the point that the addicted person chooses to start using drugs or alcohol. This is true, but beside the point. Some people try drugs or alcohol and never get addicted. Others, however, have a biological or situational predisposition to addiction.”
For addicts like Kelleyanne, who are introduced to opioids at a young age by doctors, there may not have even been a true “first choice’.
“Kelleyanne was only 14,” says Diana. “She wasn’t capable of making a good choice, she didn’t have the judgement, she was just too young.”
From prison, Kelleyanne tells Diana she is making a different choice, “I’m never coming back here, I promise you, I’m done, I’m never coming back to prison.”
“All I can do is just pray that it’s true,” says Diana.
“I really pray that it’s true.”
Look for the final installment of this outstanding series in the Wednesday, Aug. 2 edition of The People’s Defender.