Down And Out From Too Much Alcohol And Too Many Drugs, Addicts Fight To Clean Up Their Lives
RedEye / Alison Neumer
Scott Chubb estimates he slept with 1,000 people over seven years of heavy drug use. One-on-one, group sex, multiple encounters a night--"It adds up," he says.
"Even when I was in a relationship I was always cheating and had drug use in the back of my mind. Crystal meth would make me have no control over the fact that I had a boyfriend. The sexual urges are so strong that you don't care at that point," says Chubb, now 31.
Chubb's story is becoming frighteningly common. Meth use has risen steadily in the U.S., making it the fastest-growing segment of drug abuse in the country.
Nearly 5,000 people in Illinois sought treatment for methamphetamine use in 2004, according to the Illinois Department of Human Services, up from just 740 in 2000. And those numbers don't reflect the people who do not seek treatment.
To battle what some call an epidemic, Chicago lawmakers and health officials are renewing their efforts to curb the use of crystal meth. The Health Department and the AIDS Foundation of Chicago are developing an extensive outreach program to educate the public about the dangers of meth. A battery of radio and TV ads, posters and brochures--designed by Chicago advertising agency Leo Burnett--is expected to hit the market by the end of June.
As part of the crystal meth campaign recently announced by Mayor Daley, police will be trained to identify labs where the drug is produced. Last year, 900 meth labs were busted in Illinois, an increase of nearly 70 percent since 2002, according to state police. Officials will also educate business owners on how to keep meth out of their clubs and bars.
That's Ground Zero. That's where Chubb got started.
He moved to Boystown from the suburbs at 23 and started partying at bars and clubs, using any drug he could get his hands on. Eventually he tried crystal meth and quickly ramped up to daily use. Life became a paranoiac blur. He passed out regularly and threatened to kill a friend. He contracted hepatitis, and his whole body swelled up. At the end, too weak and tired to go out, he switched to the online scene, spending hours arranging for both drugs and sex through PNP--"party and play"--chat rooms.
Chubb eventually reached a point when he wanted the obsession to end, but like many addicts, he spent almost all of his money on drugs and didn't have health insurance.
"I was so sick and tired of doing the same thing. I was hungry, tired and sweating all the time," he says. "I did a lot of soul searching."
Checking into a monthlong inpatient rehab program, which can run more than $15,000 for a 28-day program, was out of Chubb's financial reach. He started going to Crystal Meth Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings every day, several times a day, to learn how people stay sober.
Former addicts and counseling experts say group therapy settings--whether a free 12-step meeting or a physician-run session--are the best ways to recover from addiction.
"What saved me was walking into a room that was full of people who knew what I was talking about," says Pat, 37, who stopped drinking 10 years ago.
Addicts know the lies you tell yourself, and they call you on it, says Greg Simpson, director of the New Hope Recovery Center's rapid detox program at Lincoln Park Hospital.
Health professionals define addiction as when someone, in spite of negative consequences, continues to engage in abusive behavior.
Pat--who as an AA participant asked that his last name not be used--learned that powerful fact in recovery: "I was always a binge drinker. That was my way of rationalizing it: 'If it's not a party I don't have to drink.' It wasn't an everyday thing," he says. Later, when he lost whatever imagined control he had over drinking, Pat made more excuses. "If I got into trouble with the authorities I rationalized it as, 'Hey, they didn't understand.' "
But Pat realized during his rehab process that reason isn't part of an addict's vocabulary. "At that moment when you want to numb out, you don't think logically at all," he says.
That's how Edward Negron had felt most of his life.
Negron grew up in Humboldt Park and started experimenting at age 9 with pot, alcohol and cocaine. At age 23, when he came out as a gay man, he moved into hard-core use.
"I had a lot to catch up on," Negron said. "I tried every friggin' drug. I think I invented my own."
Negron, now 34, let his life fall apart--alienating friends and quitting his job to party. He bottomed out after a six-month addiction to crystal meth.
"Imagine not ever being sober," he says. "I knew I couldn't stop on my own."
Salvation came by way of an arrest for dealing drugs. "It was a blessing for me. I had a sense of relief when they came out with their guns," he says.
After two weeks in Cook County jail, Negron entered an intensive outpatient recovery program. For hours a day, several days a week, he learned how drugs affect the body and shroud emotions. How users fool themselves and those around them to avoid the truth. How to rebuild his life.
"The most difficult part was to face all the people I screwed over, to go back like a dog with his tail between his legs and ask forgiveness."
Addicts also say they can't hang out with their old party crowd for fear of relapse.
Chubb, who has been sober for a year and a half, says the key is to replace bad behaviors with good behaviors and avoid the triggers that made him crave drugs.
"For some, it's hard to disassociate fun and using," he says. Chubb said he never drank or used drugs until he came out just a month before his 19th birthday. Now he has pulled back from the party scene.
"I don't go to bars; I don't go to the places that caused the most problems. If I walk down Halsted Street, I'm going to a meeting. I'm in bed by 11," he says.
Negron has been sober for more than five years, but like all former addicts, he considers himself a recovering user, not "recovered." Addiction never disappears. "Even today I get urges, using dreams," he says.
Negron now works with community leaders to spread awareness about the growing crystal meth crisis. He's also training to become a substance abuse counselor.
"There's no way anyone can do it on their own," Negron said. "If they say so, they're lying to themselves."
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