I Don’t watch Glee and before this weekend I had no clue who 31-year-old Corey Monteith was but, nonetheless, his death was sudden and there are thousands of friends, family, and fans who are mourning the loss. A successful young actor with a pretty girlfriend, Monteith had a lot going for him. While it’s sad to hear of his passing, the nature of his death — a fatal mixture of heroin and alcohol — grabbed my attention.
I have almost finished reading Beautiful Boy by David Sheff, a memoir of Sheff’s dealings with his son’s methamphetamine (among other things) addiction. Prior to reading this memoir, I had always thought that heroin was the most dangerous drug out there. In reality, heroin plays third fiddle internationally to meth with “…more than thirty-five million users; [making it] the most abused hard drug, more than heroin and cocaine combined” (Sheff). Cocaine rakes in 15 million international users and heroin sits at seven million.
While the majority of the book focuses on meth, heroin makes an appearance every now and then (especially when Sheff realizes his son, Nic, has worked it into his daily drug regimen). When recounting his own drug use, Sheff recalls having a roommate in college, Charles, who lived fast and partied hard. After years of partying and being reckless with what he put into his body, Charles died at 40 years of age from liver failure. As Sheff notes, “Alcohol and heroin are metabolized by the liver, meth by the kidneys,” which puts abusers of both in greater jeopardy of being victims of liver failure or accidental overdose (as with Monteith’s case).
Sheff includes this tidbit from a New York Times Magazine article by Peggy Ornstein which interviews the co-director of the UCLA Drug Abuse Research Center, Douglas Anglin: “For heroin users with a five-year history of addiction, it may take ten or fifteen years to help them come out of it, but if you start when they’re twenty-five, by the time they’re forty they’re pretty much rehabbed. If you don’t, most of them burn out by forty.” His reasoning stands true with Monteith.
According to People Magazine, Monteith was checked into a rehab facility for substance abuse that lasted just short of a month back in March of this year (People). According to his Wikipedia page he struggled with substance abuse since he was 13-years-old (although it fails to post a reference for this). In previous interviews, Monteith told reporters that he had also been in rehab when he was 19 for substance abuse as well (People). Rather than saying he continued to struggle with this problem, People goes the lighter route of just making mention of “past struggles with substance abuse.” This isn’t an uncommon way to put it, either. Many articles, no matter the publication, refer to “past” episodes when following up on someone’s rehab stint’s. Rarely do you see reference to a struggle as ongoing.
As Sheff’s memoir as well as Anglin’s statistics make painfully clear, overcoming substance abuse takes a lot more than a month in rehab. When back in the real world, the user is faced with cues that remind them of using and presents them with the desires and urges that may trigger them to pick the habit back up. These urges are even harder to face without structure and appropriate support, often times through out-patient programs and with the help of a sponsor. Not even two weeks after getting out of rehab, Monteith and girlfriend Lea Michele were seen vacationing in Mexico (People). Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seems anything but structured and free from substances. Granted they may have had a sober trip together, but many people associate Mexico with partying, drugs, and alcohol.
However, by all means this may have been Monteith’s first time using since (or maybe even before) his last stint in rehab. Once a person stops using a substance as frequently as they used to, their tolerance is lowered. In turn, this makes it even more dangerous for the next time they decide to use considering most pick up doing the same dosages right where they left off (FOX News)
Another idea is that becoming clean can boost the user’s confidence. They feel they have control over their lives including their using and don’t see the harm in using once more if it’s not excessive. Unfortunately, this often leads to a greater relapse than the user expects. They’re not able to have control over when they stop shooting, snorting, or smoking as they thought they would. As Sheff’s son put it, “”I got cocky. It’s this trick of addiction. You think, My life isn’t unmanageable, I’m doing fine. You lose your humbleness. You think you’re smart enough to handle it.””
We might never know how long Corey Monteith was clean prior to his accidental but fatal overdose, nor will we know how much he really struggled with his addiction. I can only hope that his death puts into perspective just how long a struggle with addition really is and how every single day presents itself with new challenges and more obstacles the user must overcome if they want to make it. I also hope that it encourages others to seek the help they need and to continue accessing those resources before it’s too late.