When we think of people being addicted to prescription drugs, we usually think of opiods or stimulants, however there are a growing number of problems associated with drugs used to treat mental health disorders.
After struggling through childhood with debilitating asthma, Joseph Barnes became withdrawn from school and life.
“I slacked in school a great deal because I was depressed,” says Barnes.
When he was about 16, his family doctor prescribed Valium, a drug used to treat anxiety.
“I felt relaxed around people. I felt more competent, more assertive,” says Barnes.
Barnes says he became his own doctor, taking more valium than the prescribed dosage and mixing it with marijuana and beer. “You’re not thinking about tomorrow, you wanna feel good today.”
After marrying his wife at age 26, he switched from Valium to Xanax, another anti-anxiety drug. He acquired the presription from a psychiatrist.
Barnes added powdered cocaine to the mix, taking increasing amounts of Xanax to come down from the stimulant high of the cocaine. He became hooked on the combination and started selling Xanax to help support his habit.
As he wound through the cycles of addiction, his home life began to suffer and he often found himself out of work, willing to do whatever it took to get drugs. He conned doctors into giving him prescriptions and got money however he could.
“When you’re stealing from your wife to get high, and you’ve told her time and time again you wanna stop, and then you can’t — that person gets fed up,” says Barnes.
Prescriptions for the anti-anxiety medications helped him cope, but when he began abusing the drugs, seeking a high, his life spun into a cycle of addiction that eventually destroyed his marriage and landed him in a homeless shelter.
Becoming homeless was a catalyst for him to change his life. He asked the shelter for medical help with his addiction. The amount of Xanax he was taking was gradually lowered and he was prescribed Zoloft and other anti-depressant drugs to help handle his anxiety.
Now Barnes regularly attends addiction support meetings and visits a counselor twice a month. While it has been a difficult journey, he is proud to be be sober for 18 months.
“Some days, it isn’t easy,” says Barnes. “But it’s made me stronger.”