This Is What It’s Like To Be An Addict

Joel Sossa
Joel Sossa

Producer’s note: Someone on Quora asked: What does it feel like to be addicted to drugs? Here is one of the best answers that’s been pulled from the thread.


Stages. Everything comes in stages.

I was always such a prude. No, not a sex prude, but a drug/alcohol prude as a kid. My best friend and I (in fact, my entire circle of friends) were pretty snooty about any addictive substances. I made it through high school without ever touching tobacco or any “street drugs”. I remember refusing to take pain killers after surgery. I didn’t drink that much (though, I don’t ever deny having drunk alcohol in high school). Generally, I was well focused in that regard.

I remember seeing the stoners in high school and laughing at them and calling them losers. I remember wondering what, WHAT! in the hell were they thinking. How fucked up can you get?

I watched some guys do drugs and just wondered what the hell they were thinking. Seriously, one time I watched guys smoke some weed and I got all nervous and had to leave a party. I just didn’t touch any drugs.

21st year. 22nd year. And then my 23rd year. I was living in Key West. I started drinking heavily. See, KW doesn’t really have that much to do beyond ocean stuff and night life. I really partied a lot. And tons of guys were popping these newish pills called “Ex” (they called it that in Key West) and it seemed so easy and they really seemed to enjoy the stuff. But the thought of it just made me shudder.

I didn’t do drugs.

And damn, I kept thinking about how much fun it looked like they were having. So, my friend at the time (a lady I still talk to who, herself, has moved well beyond that era) was sort of in a relationship with some French Canadians living in the Keys who had a whole “business” going that was focused just on ecstasy. And you have to remember, the US Federal Government at this time hadn’t even caught up with the stuff; it was still something like Schedule 2 or 3. At this time it had a reputation as a white kid, non-violent, non-deadly party drug. It was not a high priority.

And given how it didn’t seem to have any weird side effects, I finally gave in to the curiosity and asked to buy a pill. That was a big deal. The big night came and I took it. Tick tock, tick tock. Nothing. Another hour went by and nothing. Damn, and by the time we realized that it was not going to happen, there weren’t anymore connections. Fuck. What a waste of 15 bucks!!! Worked for everybody else, just not me.

So, the next weekend came and we were prepared: TWO PILLS!!! We did that shit right and popped the pill right as I got to the club (I’m actually getting jittery thinking about it now). Tick tock. Tick tock. Nothing. “GODDAMN MAN! You must have an iron metabolism. No worry. We came prepared. Second pill . . . CRUSHED! Now open up. This’ll be a little gross buddy, but it’s sure to . . . .”

Alllkkkkk! Splattt! Clakk! Grulp. Ugh. Oh, holy motherfuck, there’s nothing that can describe the horror, the absolute gag-reflex-inducing, hellish, bitterness of a crushed up pill of ecstasy in the mouth. Aspirin doesn’t even come close. Fuck me sideways that shit was horrible.

Then suddenly after swallowing the crushed-up death-tasting powder, it hit me. “Wait a second, even a crushed-up pill of Ex can’t hit you that fast. Oh SHIT! That’s the first pill kicking in. OH GODDAMN DAN! You gotta hold on buddy because when the second dose kicks in, you’re gonna be in for a hell of a night.” —–

This is why I’m still an addict. This is why I will be “in recovery” for the remainder of my life. As I type this answer, an answer I’ve had marked to answer for a while, my eyes are dilating and my hands are shuttering so much that I have to get up and take a break. My right leg has been bouncing on the floor so hard and so fast that my boyfriend had to walk into the office to find out what the pounding was . . . . . He knows. He knows me well. He knows this emotional force emanating from me right now like coronal flairs.

NOTHING about this isn’t exciting right now. That’s something he rightly fears, though having never seen the addict. I’ve been clean for 11 years.

—- From that moment in time, from that moment forward for the next four years and four months and three days, I was a barely-functioning (and rarely functioning) drug addict. I didn’t stop. Every weekend for the next four years was spent on some kind of drug, culminating in the last year of my life spent endlessly on drugs and at times without a home. But we’re not there yet. We’re at the fun stage where no problems seem to be caused by the drug.

Only good times. And that night was a really good time. The intensity of pleasure and joy and connection I felt with those people in that minute was profound. That’s what MDMA does. I know its history. The Dan Holliday who spouts proudly his knowledge of history existed back then as well as today.

3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine was invented a long time ago. In fact, it’s celebrating its 100 year anniversary this year, 2012. Invented in Germany as a test drug for treating psychological issues, it is highly “empathogenic”, meaning that it just makes you a happy, cuddly, loving person while you’re on it. I’ve witnessed — live — many closed, shy, homophobic, hateful, angry people turn about and confront their inner hangups about things and become the happiest people I ever knew. Ecstasy just has that effect. You cannot hate on that shit.

And I used and used. I burned through thousands . . . oh so many thousands of dollars over the next few years. Night after night, week after week. The intervening two-ish years are unimportant because they were all repeats of the same weekend and same night, over and over again.

Until I met Luke.

No, his name isn’t Luke. It could be Tommy or Jake or Omar or Juan. But we’re calling him Luke because his name really isn’t important. Luke was a good guy, I mean it. A heart of gold, but just as misguided as I was at that time. Luke was, well, he was my dream guy: very attractive, friendly (gay-friendly), and totally straight. We were instantly friends. Luke was well ahead of me in self-destructiveness and he’d had a love affair with meth and coke for a while.

Ever wonder how a person who “fears” a thing can instantly break down their barriers stopping them from doing that “thing”? Lust. I don’t know a single person on earth who hasn’t engaged in the stupidest shit over lust, and I lusted after Luke. Luke’s all I thought about. On our second night hanging out we went to a gay bar and Luke did something that utterly melted my heart and — from that moment on — made me completely infatuated with him . . . addicted to him in ways more powerful than drugs.

At the club I could see that he was a bit loopy. His heart was beating faster than it should. The pulsing veins in his neck were visible and he was breathing differently. I was curious, so I asked. Without a second thought, he grabbed my hand and put it on his chest to feel his heart. Pounding. Pounding. Pounding. Nothing about that powerful of a heartbeat is safe. A goddamned battering ram pushing through his rib cage.

It’s been 13 years since that day. Humans have been born and entered puberty. A global war on terror has come and nearly gone. Millions of lives have entered and left the Earth. Regimes have changed and taken the course of history with them.

13 years is a long time. But I remember.

I remember every person in the bar, what I was wearing, what he was wearing, the music, our drinks, the looks (Luke always got lots of looks), the conversation and his face. I call that a “crystal moment” (appropriately coincidental considering the subject matter). I felt his heart through his chest, and every muscle on his chest. Luke didn’t think about what he was doing and had no clue what I was really feeling. He was just a guy, but my hand on his chest feeling his heart beat made me completely enslaved from that moment on. Luke, beautiful Luke, was on meth that night.

I wasn’t far behind.

The next day, we snorted crystal together. A week later we did coke. Within a few months I had lied to my wealthy grandfather and convinced him to send me a sizable chunk of change. All of which was spent on drugs. Huge Christmas gifts came in from the same grandfather (by “huge”, I mean: new car or down payments on houses, big). All of it spent on drugs. All of it spent on Luke.

And then the money started running out and I’d lost my job and I’d moved out of my one stable friend’s house. My friends were all worried about me. I’d stopped talking with my family. I’d stopped eating right. I started losing weight. Weeknights and weekends were spent “casually” using meth, while spending the entire weekend at raves or after hours night clubs in Phoenix that catered to drug users.

I was there, and it was so exciting. Then, somewhere along the way, the ecstasy stopped being as fun and I’d switched to “just coke and meth” (because I didn’t want that drunk feeling). And along the way I’d stopped parachuting meth (putting a few grains in a wad of toilet paper or napkin and swallowing it like a pill). I’d switched to smoking it out of a pipe. And along the way I’d begun using alternate methods to make income and pay for my addiction.

And then I lost my house. And then I lost my car. And then I had to start sleeping on a buddy’s couch because I had nowhere else to go. My friend, Luke, stopped being my friend and like a shot in the head, I spiraled out of control. It took YEARS to admit that I was in love with Luke, but not then, I was in denial (about a great deal). I started completely numbing myself with more and more meth. I smoked a full 8-ball a day (8th of an ounce — enough to keep an ordinary person strung out for a week). I’d lost all my friends.

My apartment had been robbed long ago and all my good shit was stolen so I couldn’t sell that. And everything, EVERYTHING was just completely lost. FUBAR. I was fucked and even my last friend, the guy whose couch I’d been sleeping on, had had enough of me and kicked me out. Homeless! I was so emotional (drug emotions are like being severely bipolar — indistinguishable, in fact). I was up and down. I was insane and incorrigible. I was alone and on the verge of just killing myself. It was so painful. I remember wanting out and not knowing how; trapped in a world of drugs, drug selling and the caramel river of one pointless day oozing into the next, without enough velocity to crush me against the rocks, but not solid enough for me to get a grip and swim to shore.

People were looking for me. I owed money. Goddamn, I owed so much money to so many people. Death was the quickest and easiest way out. I’d spent my last relationship. I had nothing left and the years that I should have spent doing something of value were spent doing nothing of any worth and so, having no recourse, I’d decided that I was just going to kill myself.

And I called my dad to say goodbye.

We hadn’t spoken in years. Three-ish years, but our relationship ended long before that. I was certain he’d written me off. I was always more than the black sheep; the pink sheep, of the family. I never fell in line. I never ever feared being different and I didn’t have a problem making other people suffer for me being different; so what would he care if I was gone?


So many people make so much of biology. My dad who raised me was not my biological father. At something like when I was a month old, my mother left my biological father. At something like when I was 9 months old, my mother met my dad and as far as both of them tell me, I instantly considered him my dad. The other guy wasn’t around and when he finally showed his face I’d already bonded with my dad. The other guy was just a sperm donor.

My dad was there through it all. When I was attacked by dogs, he stayed with me through the surgeries. When we were in a car accident and my mother was killed, he was our rock. When I struggled in my early teen years with letting go of my mother, he held out and gave love to this irascible, splenetic teenage boy. And while he wasn’t a perfect dad (and who the hell gets to put that kind of pressure on father?), he was a great dad to a less than great kid.


None of you have any fucking clue what it means to know what a dad is until you’ve pushed that relationship so far; sullied it; cursed it; insulted it; belittled it; lied to it; used it; pissed and shit on it; defiled it in ways that rightly IT SHOULD NOT BE THERE; that rightly you should have been left rotting in a ditch for what you’d done . . . only to turn around and find a granite block of unmovable, unbendable, unstoppable love . . . and arms wrapped so tightly around you that for the first time in years, you realize you were never alone and that you’d never fall.

And my dad caught me before I hit the ground. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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