Highway to Hell: Untreated Depression, Anxiety & ADHD Drove Me to Addiction

By James Tilley

I always knew something was wrong but could not figure it out. I had trouble relating to others and making friends. I hated school and I was miserable. At age six I was tested at school and with doctors. Sure enough, I was diagnosed with ADHD, depression, anxiety and dyslexia. In those days, these disorders were not widely accepted. I started meds and counseling. And I attended special education classes and even an after-school study program.

I felt alienated at school, which made everything worse. Eventually, I stopped counseling and doctors. It seemed like everyone knew I hated school so I gave up. I never studied or did homework. I was so disorganized, I don’t know how I made it through grade school. I really think they passed me because my dad was the dentist in our small town and knew everyone.

I started looking for ways to feel better, and I think my problems started with taking Benadryl, an allergy medication. Between that and caffeine, I found I could control my moods most days. Soon I was taking white crosses every day – it was basically legal speed. Then weed entered the picture and I discovered Xanax too.

By the age of 16, I had dropped out school and was using drugs daily to cope with life. Eventually, I was taking two bottles of white crosses every three days and smoking weed daily.

When I was in my twenties, I had an accident. I fell off a ten-foot deck and broke my back! This led to my discovery of hydrocodone. It was a perfect fit for me. It helped both my physical and mental pain. I felt great, had more energy, was more social, I could focus and even started make friends. All was going well and I even got my G.E.D.

But I did not know how addictive it was. I didn’t pay attention to how much I was taking. What followed was twelve years of hell! I overdosed a few times. I spent time in jail and psychiatric hospitals. Still, when I got out, I had to have it or I couldn’t function. By this point I was taking 25 to 30 hydrocodone a day. I even spent time homeless, all to get my fix.

Because of my broken, back the drugs were easy to get. I had three to four different docs and each one was giving me 120 lorcet plus.

Finally, after years, I realized my addiction was killing me. I tried Methadone for two years, but I swore I’d never do that again. I had to go into detox to get off of it. It took three months! Finally, I found suboxone, which has helped me remain clean for seven years.

After my brain had time to heal, I decided to revisit my mental troubles. I found a great psychiatrist and therapist. He told me that 70% of his patients who went undiagnosed for ADHD, either as children or as adults, became addicts. They needed something to deal with the sadness, loneliness, and anxiety.

He was willing work with me but there were conditions. I had to sign a contract agreeing to drug testing and pill counts. I had to give him permission to talk with my doctor so he could monitor my suboxone usage. He put me on Vyvanse, klonopin and Zoloft and reduced my suboxone dosage. Now I have better control and can choose the times I need to be focused the most.

I am on disability because of my back, epilepsy, and mental problems. Therapy helps to deal with feelings. Especially the ones you don’t know where they are coming from. It helped me learn live a normal life.

I’m 41 I have my family back. I have friends. I am happy and now I know where I’m going. Now, I help others online who suffer duel diagnosis of addiction and ADHD. I keep my house clean and organized and remember to do things I’m supposed to. I can start and finish things.

If this sound like someone you love, even it they’re a mess like I used to be, please know they can change and contribute. Now that I’ve got my head straight, I find helping others brings me what I was missing for so long. That is a reason for me to stay on meds, take them as prescribed and also stay in therapy. Helping people who are where I used to be feels like what I’m here for now. At the end of day, I feel content and happy.

I’m even planning on starting a non-profit group specifically dealing with people facing the duel diagnosis of ADHD & addiction. I’d like to help them get care from mental health professionals.

All this to say that, no matter how bad it looks, keep fighting. Believe me, if I can do, this anyone can. Thank you for reading my story. If I can make a difference for just one person, I will be happy!

    • Sandesh Sanjeev Phalke
    • June 19, 2018
    Reply

    Hi I am Sandesh I am 22 years old young adult
    I am going through sever mood swing sleepless nights anxiety
    I am getting addict to smoking
    I had a break up I can’t get through I am doing good in a case?Mics but can’t focus and make to the mark
    I have serious insomnia and dillusion

    • CJ
    • May 24, 2018
    Reply

    Hello I’m CJ 28 female, I never give out my real name to anyone unless it’s for my professional photography business.
    Anyways this Sounds a lot like me. 6yrs old diagnose and place to take 30-60mg of ritilan till high school, then went to 60mg of adderall till abt age 23. After I turned 22yrs is when they started doing the whole drug testing and well I smoke weed to sleep, eat, anxiety, depression. Well in iowa it’s illegal and I hate downers and pills period. I was force to go cold turkey by my doctor there was no lowering me off it safely.
    Later ended reporting the doctor due to a full 3 months detoxing of 18yrs of taking adhd meds. I’m now 28yrs old and I’ve been in one roll over car accident and 4 months after that in another car accident which made me lose 3 days of my life. From being in server accidents I developed ptsd, more anxiety, server depression, short anger/rage issues and Hidratitus Suppurative chronic pain. I work 7-8 different jobs a year cause I get bored w one n get another job.
    During age 23-28 I went to smoking meth and it was just like adderall but not healthy and very illegal. But I’m refusing to quit smoking weed here in Iowa sense it helps me better than any downer pills. I can’t take anti-depressions due to; too many attempts on killing myself.
    I’m a shy person with new people horrible social anxiety with crowds, but if I smoke weed I’m my normal hyper awkward adhd CJ. I like my adhd disorder I like spending time alone with myself.
    If I had the money I would move in a heart beat to south of Colorado where I can smoke weed legally and not worry about being charge by the pigs. But it will never happen in iowa to many stuck up mf. Sorry got mad for a second. I hate Iowa.
    I manage to barely pass high school probly due to family working for the state n government. Got my college degree in IT Networking after jumping around to different colleges. Don’t do a college that has 30+ people the professor will only focus on 7 students. Very grateful my folks paid for my colleges.
    Life is hard and Iowa just sucks only way to get the medical marijuana card you have to have only epilepsy, stupid.
    This is very long I don’t talk much I keep everything to myself and in my journal.
    Thank you,

    • Jayson Desjardins
    • May 12, 2018
    Reply

    It sounds like your describing me I’m still struggling to this day glad to hear you found away hopefully I find mine soon

    • Sharon
    • April 4, 2018
    Reply

    Congrats to you for all you have been through, your recovery and the courage to share it so others can learn!

    My son age 9 was recently diagnosed and we are doing neurofeedback as a first try to address the ADHD brain. We didn’t know until he had a brain map done that a secondary issue was his brain never shut down enough to allow proper sleep so he was always lethargic and needed constant help for simply getting ready for school and now we know why. This journey has led me to know my husband has ADHD but went his whole life (now age 48) with no diagnosis or treatment and self-medicates in our basement (3 drinks per day, chews tobacco, smokes, sleeping pills, etc.) but still can work. I love your story for giving us hope and showing us we have a chance. Thank you!

    • Gem
    • February 28, 2018
    Reply

    And how inspiring that you have conquered all this. I appreciate the challenge and strength it must take. Also coming off methadone in three months is amazing well done.

    • Gem
    • February 28, 2018
    Reply

    Hi James, my partner has had addiction issues (methadone, opiates, any downers basically) for 15 years. And I believe the root of this is ADHD which has never been dianosied. He is constantly restless, fidgety, impulsive, can’t sleep, and says his head just throbs and can’t stop racing. We are going to thr doctors tomorrow in the attempt to get a firm diagnosis..He is scared of getting addicted to new medication for adhd. What would you advise? And how do you now manage the agitation symptoms? Do you have an email address he could contact you on. I think you would be a great inspiration for him to speak to. It would be greatly appreciated. Thankyou

    • D
    • February 11, 2018
    Reply

    James,
    Thank you for sharing your story! I hope that, as a part of your work to support others, you will consider working with local schools to advocate and perhaps even provide education to teachers and counselors in junior and high school- for when children go undiagnosed, or like you, don’t find what they need post diagnosis, they are seem as simply “discipline” problems in high school, often self-medicating and feeling stupid. It is so, so tragic when so many with ADHD are actually brilliant and have so much to offer the world!!
    I watched my son struggle; he went undiagnosed due to our fears and ignorance of all available treatment options, and also his ability to get As and Bs despite the difficulties. Now, he is healing from the damage done by the public school system, and by us not knowing how much he was struggling or how to help him in high school.
    Thank you again for sharing your story, congratulations on the bold moves in reclaiming your life, and I hope your story and work inspire and help thousands of others!!

    • Diane
    • February 8, 2018
    Reply

    Thanks for sharing. I went through a similar time, though gracefully not as long. I was diagnosed at 7, started Ritalin and apparently “zombied” on it, so my parents pulled me off and kinda let things go. I have a high iq, so I managed school by halfway listening and passing tests. Homework was non-existent. It never got done. I tried college and burnt out the first year. Came back home, started working as a waitress and discovered meth. Two years of constant use. I worked doubles every day because I traveled an hour to get to work, I would smoke before work, between shifts, and again before my drive home. On my days off, I partied with friends. It was meth, weed, xanex, and alcohol. My house was spotless and I could turn over a table faster than anyone there. Never mind that I was tiny, my teeth were breaking, and coming down was horrible. I honestly thought I had found the cure for my problems. After a couple of incidents, a near wreck and a one night stand with a guy I had just met, my aunt started dragging me to NA meetings. It saved my life. I’m 13 years clean now. I have two beautiful children. I work as a CNA, which fulfills me very much. I finally saw a pyschologist, who diagnosed me with ADHD, hyper/impulsive subtype, and major depressive disorder. I take Prozac and concerta daily. My husband is my accountability partner. He fills my pill planner for the week and keeps an eye on it for me. I asked him to. I knew I needed to be on meds, but it scared the crap out of me to start them. I see a counselor weekly, who works with me on the practical life skills and overall mental health. I’m working on my self image now. Finally about to get my “meth mouth” fixed with the pulling of all my teeth and dentures. Working on losing weight by diet and exercise, instead of popping a pill, and going to a beauty salon to get my hair done the way I want it, because I’m worth it.
    My daughter is a mini me, and my experience has helped me to push for the treatment she needs. She was diagnosed at 5, and we have been through a slew of meds to find her fit. She takes Vyvanse now to focus, and clonidine to sleep. She also sees a counselor, goes to OT for fine motor skills delays, and has accommodations at school to help her do her best. I don’t want her to have to search like I did.

    • mltester3567
    • February 8, 2018
    Reply

    This story is so inspiring. My boy friend is also in recovery and had/has some of the same issues. The problem is findi NH a therapist who will treat his adhd appropriately without judging him for the suboxone. I am excited to let him read your success story. I am proud to hear of adhd other success story. Keep up the good work.

    • Sarah
    • February 8, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you for this.

    • Dana
    • February 7, 2018
    Reply

    Thank you for your succcess story. I did not get diagnosed until later in life and realized I was medicating myself with alcohol which I no longer have to do now that I understand what was going on and got the medications to help me get on the right track. You are very brave man ! Thanks so much for sharing and for wanting to help others !

    • Anne Heller
    • February 7, 2018
    Reply

    This is a good success story. I have two adult sons, 42 and 38, who have add and are drug dependent (not on add drugs). They are doing it to escape the failures of a life with add. My question is how did you have money for all the treatments you had?

      • Theresa Freeman
      • April 11, 2018
      Reply

      Hi Anne,

      Depending on your sons’ living arrangements, you can always try to get them on Medicaid if they don’t have insurance through anyone else. I live in NC and when I first started going to my psychiatrist, I told them that even with being on my husband’s insurance, I still couldn’t afford the co-pays for the office visits and medications. I’m not sure exactly what they did, but I ended up getting Medicaid and they pay 100% of my office visits with my psychiatrist and my therapist plus my co-pay for any of the medications that I’m on is only $3.00 each. I know in NC, we have MCO’s and I think that someone in my psychiatrist’s office somehow got me approved to have all of my psych services covered even though I have regular insurance through my husband. I know that depending on which state that you live in, it can be harder to find someone who is caring and genuinely concerned and wants to help you rather than treating you like a drug addict or a number. The first thing that I would recommend is to do a Google search for a good provider in your area and read the reviews. If you see that most or all of them are negatives, stay away. You’re not going to find a place that has perfect reviews, because noone is perfect and there are some people that are just hard to please no matter who they go to. When you find someone that you think might be a good fit, call them and briefly explain your situation with your sons. Ask them if they would be willing to help them not only come off of whatever drug(s) they’re on, but to make sure that they are properly tested (if necessary), diagnosed and treated. Also, ask them if they would be willing to either help you fill out an application for Medicaid or even if they can do it themselves (if they do it, because they’re better with the diagnoses, medical lingo, etc,) you MAY have a better chance of your sons getting approved, even if to start out with, it’s getting help with ADD meds). I’ve been going to my psych who I found through a Google search for almost 3 years now and she truly cares and takes the time to listen to me. She also trusts my judgment if I tell her that I think that one of my meds needs increased or changed. I think that is wonderful if you can find someone that you can establish that kind of a rapport with. I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, ADHD, OCD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and just last month, Bipolar II, so I’m on a few different meds. Also, remember, that depending on the condition that they are diagnosed with (especially any depression diagnosis) that those meds take at least 4-8 weeks, depending on the medication, to fully build up in your body, so don’t expect those types of medications to work instantly. I think I’ve seriously been on almost every depression med out there (SSRI and SSNRI). In March, I ended up having to go to the walk-in clinic because I was diagnosed back in November with Fibromyalgia. My Primary Care Doctor and my psych both thought that Cymbalta would be the best med for me to treat both issues. To make a long story short, that’s why I ended up going to the walk-in clinic, it was so bad being on Cymbalta, that now, my husband and I’s marriage is literally hanging by a thread because that medication caused me to become a very horrible person. My normal provider wasn’t there that day, so I had to see another one, who was equally fantastic!! After telling her what was going on and how the med was making me feel, she instantly asked me if my regular provider had mentioned anything to me about being Bipolar. I told her that I had asked her many times if I was, but she had said no. I also didn’t think I was because my husband’s first wife was bipolar and he said that I wasn’t even close to the way that she was. However, the provider I saw at the walk-in clinic proceeded to explain to me that there are now 2 different types of Bipolar, Bipolar I and Bipolar II. Type I is the kind where people experience the mania highs and lows. Type II, which is what I have, is the extreme mood swings that I have and how (I know it sounds weird), but I can actually feel my mood change. She prescribed me Lamictal, which is technically an anti-seizure medication, but is also approved by the FDA for Bipolar. Don’t get me wrong, just because I now despise Cymbalta and have thankfully been able to wean myself off of it faster then expected (and I NEVER want to take that med again, EVER!) Point is, expect it to take some time if they are diagnosed with any kind of depression. As far as ADHD and OCD, my meds for those kick in pretty quickly. So, again, depending on the diagnosis and med that is prescribed, will depend on how long it may take them to see/feel results. Be patient! It’s hard sometimes because you’re so miserable that all you want is the med to instantly take effect, but unfortunately, some take some time. Also, NC Medicaid will pay for the genetic testing where they swab your cheek and then test to see how well your body metabolizes different/certain medications and then provide a report to your provider so that they can have a general or better idea of what meds may work better for your sons depending on how their body metabolizes meds. So, whatever state that you live in and if you can get them on Medicaid, find out if they will pay for that testing. It will help give the provider a better idea of what meds they may want to start them on instead of going through 10 different meds before they can find one that works for your sons. Sorry for the long post, but know that I feel your frustration, I’ve been there, although, no offense, I’ve never used any type of illegal drug, but there are places out there who truly do care and will help your sons. Good luck to you!! I’d love to hear from you with an update if you’re able to get your sons into a good place where they can get the care that they need/deserve without feeling like they have to resort to illegal drugs to medicate due to their issues. Take care!

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