The journey to addiction starts in many different places. It could be through prescriptions for pain killers prescribed by a doctor or by raiding a parent or relative’s medicine cabinet. That “high” that the addict is able to achieve through opioids is what keeps the individual on that path. Some find their way out of addiction, others don’t.
Gabe Allran grew up in downtown Lincolnton and is a 2010 graduate of North Lincoln High School.
“I was a part of the party crowd,” he said. “I liked to drink and smoke weed. All my friends were doing that. It was just a normal thing.”
After graduation, not knowing what he wanted to do when he grew up, Allran attended Catawba Valley Community College for a year and continued to hang out with the party crowd. Soon, the drinking and weed turned into the type of painkillers found in a medicine cabinet.
“That was a common thing in the crowd I was with,” he said. “You take a couple of them and you get a buzz. Everybody’s parent, it seems, is prescribed Xanax. It’s a normal thing. Once you realize they get you messed up, it’s very simple to get them from a doctor. At the time it was innocent to us. It was no different than drinking a six pack a night with your friends.”
The problem began when Allran realized the pills were better than drinking beer because he could function more normally than he could when he was sober. It was, he said, like a hidden pet.
In 2012, Allran transferred to Appalachian State University, and his addiction went beyond innocence. It became a way of life – a way that he felt was making him better.
“Then you start to have withdrawal symptoms,” he said. “I started to feel achy and my mind didn’t feel right, it was racing. Then I was trapped – I wasn’t taking them because they made me feel good and got more work done, I was taking them because if I didn’t, I felt sick. I had to take them just to get up to go to class. When you become dependent, you start going out of your way to find pills so you’d have what you needed. I spent all my money to get pills.”
At first, when Allran went to App State he was afraid he’d have a hard time getting pills, but he discovered they were both more available and more people were doing them. Then the pain pills turned into Heroin.
Allran didn’t want to tell his family what was going on because he was embarrassed. He went to a Suboxone clinic, which may work for some, but all it did for Allran was to make him dependent upon Suboxone which dragged his addiction out for several more years. Even though he went to the Suboxone clinic, Allran still wanted to keep his condition hidden from his family until it became obvious he was struggling when he was home from college for the summer.
“My family all showed up at the house and had an intervention,” he said. “I fought it at first, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I was afraid to ask for help.”
Fast forward to the present and Allran is almost five years clean and working at the Palms Recovery addiction treatment center in Palm Springs, Florida. He’s currently in school in Florida to become an addiction therapist.
Addiction is a disease that thrives in isolation and that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced therapists and other drug treatment professionals to discontinue in-person sessions has made staying sober difficult.
“A large part of recovery is staying connected with other sober people,” he said. “When I was in recovery, the people in my life knew exactly what was going on with me. They know where I was at, I saw them on a regular basis. With COVID, it’s made that connection a lot harder. It’s created a barrier especially for those early on in recovery.”
While Allran isn’t disputing the deadliness of COVID, he believes opioid addiction is a far deadlier disease.
“Once you’re at the point of addiction, you either find sobriety or you end up dead,” he said. “There’s only two roads. If you’re blessed, you get an opportunity to go to treatment and you find sobriety.”
Allran still stays in touch with people from Lincolnton and asked that his telephone number (704-472-8575) be given out in case anyone wants to talk.
“When I was in Lincolnton getting high, I didn’t know there was this community of recovering people and treatment available,” he said. “I know there’s people just like me who don’t know about it now. It could change their life if they knew about it.”