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!

    • D
    • February 11, 2018

    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

    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

    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

    Thank you for this.

    • Dana
    • February 7, 2018

    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

    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?

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