Addiction knows no boundaries. It can strike any family or community—any race, age, gender or social environment. Bradley Barnett, licensed substance abuse therapist with Appalachian Health Services, knows that all too well.
“Although I was an addict for over a decade, I didn’t realize what addiction was. I was quite familiar with the physical dependence aspect, but didn’t understand the mental and behavioral dysfunction associated with addiction,” Barnett said. “I thought addiction was for other people, not me. I came from a stable family. I lived in a nice house. I thought I was better than it. But that’s the thing about addiction, no matter where you come from or who you are: It keeps you from seeing the truth. Addiction does not discriminate.”
Barnett’s struggle with addiction started with an ATV accident and chronic back pain that introduced him to opioid painkillers. Barnett worked in a pharmacy as a teenager and “knew how the system worked.”
“I’d call in my own prescriptions,” he said. “I was on extremely high doses of opiates, and to overcome the drowsiness I was also on amphetamines. T
o overcome the effects from the amphetamines, I added benzodiazepines. That was my routine, all day every day, for a very long time.”
That routine eventually caught up with him, and he landed in jail for one week before entering treatment. Sober since 2009, Barnett is still familiar with “the system.” He’s an expert on the history of opioid abuse, especially in Appalachia, where pharmacies known as “pill mills” were shut down and people almost immediately turned to heroin. He understands the science of drug abuse and how a person’s vulnerability to addiction is both physiological and psychological. Today, as a licensed therapist at Appalachian Health Services, Barnett uses the knowledge gained through his experience and education to help others.
“Since becoming sober, I’ve furthered my education, established a meaningful career, become a father and maintained a healthy, happy marriage,” he said. “I’ve restored family relationships. I’ve left behind that sense of hopelessness and found hope instead. And with the medication-assisted treatment program at Appalachian Health Services, I’ve had the opportunity to help other people find hope, too.”
He explained that medication-assisted treatment is a way for addicts to alleviate painful withdrawal symptoms while they participate in counseling and behavioral health activities that promote recovery.
“In medication-assisted treatment, you combine a medication that helps you maintain clinical stability with a therapist who’s there to help you in any way you need. If you want to come off the medication eventually, we can work on that. If you have a fear of withdrawal, we can work on that, too. We can develop and implement effective coping strategies that provide the foundation to a purposeful recovery. We can address the root of addiction, which at its heart is a mental health problem. We can take a look at all those things—and, hopefully, you’ll experience the freedom from active addiction that recovery provides.” He said that’s often the primary motive clients have when they arrive at Appalachian Health Services.
“By the time someone enters a clinical treatment program, addiction isn’t about feeling good. It’s about not feeling bad,” he said. “It’s about escaping from pain and sickness or from a chaotic home environment or from an abusive relationship. If you are my client, it’s because things are not working. So, let’s look at some things together that will get things working better for you.”