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My boyfriend has been secretly abusing his pain meds

Question:

Me and my boyfriend have been together now for about 3 years, he is the best guy anyone could ever ask for. He is so loving, intelligent, uncommonly kind. I love him so much and I even though I can hardly bring myself to believe it, I have noticed that he has been running out of his pain meds much earlier than they should and that his personality has changed. I notice when he runs out because he gets all irritable and has like flu like symptoms. He also been more distant, not just to me but to everyone and everything. Unfortunately he is also an obsessive perfectionist which I think is really at the root of a lot of what is wrong with him at the moment. The way he takes failures and disappointments are very unhealthy as he has the tendency to harm himself,

It all started when two years back he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease which totally derailed his own plans to go into the military and his other back up plans that he had as well. It really hit him hard, he got real depressed and to be honest I do think he has really recovered from that. He always told me he took the whole situation as a failure that he was personally liable for, as if he did do something wrong to kicked out of the armed forces, which he did not. It was all totally out of control and I think his whole perfectionist personality won’t let him see it that way. It is so hard having to see the one you love suffer so much physically and mentally, I have been literally doting on him ever since. I was also pretty proud that he did not just totally shut down though and fought hard to preserve in making something of his life despite all of his hardships but I also notice how broken he is now, like a part of him died. He does not seem to same energy for life like used to have. And from that sense of brokenness I feel in him I do not know what caused it, the drugs or the situation he was in.

He goes to university where he excels in his classes and he even works as a research assistant for their history department, right now his goal is to try to enter academia which he can totally do. He works translating Chinese text, I don’t how he does it since he began studying it when we first met but I guess it is a credit to his intelligence. He can speak Spanish, Portugese, English, French and Mandarin Chinese. He has gifts that others would kill to have. He can do so much with his life with what he has I do not understand why he is abusing that crap, I know if he does not stop it is going to ruin his life.

He has been opiate painkillers such morphine, codeine, tramadol and a lot of others that I can’t remember ever since he began treatment for his condition but it was only in the past year when I have noticed real big changes in his mood and in his physical behavior. I do not know where his legitimate use of the ends and his abuse of it begins though.

I just had a huge argument with him over this, he tell me it is not a problem and that he needs the meds to function and that he has not changed at all. He vehemently denies abusing the drugs even going as far saying that as long as he can go to school and hold down a job then I should butt out of how many pills he is taking. I don’t like when he goes out at the dead of night to God knows where to get what I know is more pills because he always does it when his scrips run out. He even accused me of not loving him anymore and that the only reason why we are still together is because I am sorry for him, this is not like him at all.

He is not as much the warm and caring guy I know he is, now he is so cold and like dead, almost like a zombie. The other day I literally saw him passed out right next to the sofa with all his books scattered on top of him. How do I know if he is not going to die the next time I see him because he passed out in a way the suffocated him or something like that?

I can remember a few months back to a conversation we had, how he told me of how worthless he felt because he could never be what he idealized himself to be and how he told that I was wasting my time with a loser like him and all that. I can not believe that he really feels that way about himself. How can he not see the good in him? I can, so many other people can too. He also told me a lot stuff along the lines of his need to be punished for failing what he set out to do and that the circumstances behind it are irrelevant, he is still needs to be punished. I have tried to tell him that this twist in the road he has is not the end of the world and that it does not change him or who he is to me.

It is confusing because on the one hand he seems like he wants to live life and have a future but on the other hand he is living a lifestyle right now that is going to kill him quick. Maybe all of this stuff he is doing with school and all of that is just a front and that his true self, his repressed agony is beginning to surface? Does he really want to die?

I do not know and it chokes me up every time I think about it. I just try to enjoy what times I can with him now but I feel like I am losing him, everyone of his friends and family is feeling like their losing him.

I saw this episode of Intervention not to long ago too, it was about this girl who had the same exact disease that my boyfriend has and how she was abusing pain pills just like my love, it was like staring at a mirror. I cried so much watching it because it looked exactly like his situation, it was so close it was not even funny. I really think he needs an intervention.
He is so blind to what he is doing to himself and to those who love him, he has to be blind to it because the man I know would never in his wildest dreams do this to us.
I am sorry this is so long it is just so much to cover and talk about and I don’t want to lose my best friend, I do not want to lose my baby.

How do I even begin to talk to him about this without it turning into an argument?
How can I convince him to go to a treatment center when he seems to have very strong sense of denial?

Letter submitted by:

Answer:

Johnny,

I’m very pleased that you decided to reach out to The Trevor Project and open up about the struggle between you and your boyfriend. That takes tremendous courage because its not easy telling someone, especially a stranger, about our personal and deeply emotional challenges. Your articulate letter tells me that you are strong and intelligent. But the most important thing I picked up on from your letter was how amazing your love is for your boyfriend, and just how much you care about him. It shines bright through your words and I can clearly see that you have a genuine heart and a deep yearning to help him. I hope your boyfriend knows how lucky he is to have someone special like you in his life, who is so supportive and understanding about what he is going through.

I can see you are very insightful because of the conclusions you’ve drawn from analyzing his behavior and attitude. You also try to tackle some of his struggle from a philosophical stand-point, when you talk about whether his true self is his optimism or his agony finally coming to the surface. What you wrote was very smart! It seems to me that your boyfriend is so talented and intelligent, and I think that’s the real him. He seems very special, like you. But sometimes in life our agony really masks who we are until we almost become a different person to people we love. He’s obviously facing a whole spectrum of issues- ranging from self-esteem, drug abuse, and most likely depression. He’s scattered and losing a grounded sense of himself. It breaks my heart to hear him talk about his feelings of being a loser, and his struggle to meet an “idealized” version of himself. In my many years observing and listening to others, people rarely fit the idealized version of themselves. And I certainly recognize how painful his battle must be against low self-esteem and guilt. Guilt and low self-esteem can be very crippling to our psyche, and along with the possible drug addiction, your boyfriend has a lot on his shoulders. My heart goes out to him, and also you for the heavy toll it is obviously taking on you.

The first thing I want to make clear is that this letter is only a small step towards mending the situation because we’re dealing with many different deep rooted issues. I sincerely hope that some of the things I mention below will give you a starting sense of direction or peace of mind. Also remember when reading some of my tips, that our goal here is not exclusively to help your boyfriend, its also to alleviate the suffering you are going through too.

In regards to your boyfriend’s possible abuse to painkillers, I think an intervention is a fantastic idea. One of the best pieces of advice I can give you is to follow your intuition. If you feel like its the right time to start formulating an intervention, then follow your heart. At the end of the letter I’ve given you resources to help you start a successful intervention if you so choose. Whether or not you decide to hold an intervention, it will help you to start taking notes on how much you think he’s using meds vs. how much he’s being prescribed. Also include notes on strange behavior, and the time of day you notice it (he seems extra tired, times he goes out at night to get more meds, etc). Also note when you think these behaviors started. Share these notes with a trusted adult or doctor and get some feedback on whether its enough evidence to be concerned, and if it can substantiate an intervention or confrontation. You can also help by simply giving him our crisis hotline: 1-866-488-7386. Encourage him to call if he is ever in crisis or needs to talk to someone immediately. Please call the hotline yourself if you think he is about to commit suicide, has overdosed or is about to overdose, or if you need to speak to someone for more advice. Listen to any signs of suicide- if he starts saying things like, “I wish I was dead,” etc. and call if you think he’s contemplating suicide.

It also sounds like he is suffering from depression. Depression should not be taken lightly because its a serious illness. I know it may initially sound bad to add medication on top of what he’s already taking, but there are many anti-depressants that have been proven effective in helping to treat depression and that won’t interact with his other drugs. I myself have taken them and it has changed my life for the better. Helping treat his depression may also start to weaken his addiction to painkillers.

Understand that both medication addiction and depression are brain issues. You wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to be able to heal themselves, so your boyfriend needs help from professionals who are experienced with his situation. Depression and serious addiction are both diseases and should be handled as such. He needs some kind of structured guidance that will help him sort out his life, his emotions, his self-esteem, his addictions, and his goals. A therapist included in the intervention and/or in scheduled appointments could really help him.

What it all comes down to is his choice. You may know what can help him, but in the end he has to be able to admit to himself that he has a problem if he has one, and be willing to get the help. You and family/friends can only push so much before you must leave it up to him. Its his life, and he has to make the right decisions to help himself.

I can’t tell you what to do, but if he continues to refuse your support or outside help, you may need to consider leaving the relationship. I know this is very difficult to hear. I’m not saying its the right decision necessarily, but Its just an option that you need to weigh along with everything else over time. You can still agree to be friends. I know that you deeply care for him, but you also can’t forget your own well-being. If a relationship begins to get destructive and its taking a larger and larger tole on you, then sometimes its best to split because sometimes people need that push to realize they need to get their life together. You can’t just stand by and watch him abuse himself and you emotionally. Then you have two people suffering together in what seems like a never-ending cycle. That is not a healthy relationship. Tough love is necessary at times, and you will have to decide where that line is drawn. Sometimes loving someone means letting them go. If eventually you decide its too much and leave him, then someday perhaps he will find it in his heart to courageously understand that what you did was for his own good, and that’s an uplifting thought to hold onto for yourself.

If you decide to stay in the relationship, the best thing you can do besides an intervention (if intervening feels right to you), is to simply continue being his rock. Continue your support and understanding because it may be positively influencing him more than you think. Listen to him. Make sure you take time to listen to him without giving advice because sometimes the most healing thing for us is to be able to vent to an empathetic ear. Be patient. Admitting you have a drug problem or that you might be depressed is very hard, and it may take some time for him to come out of denial. Expressing your concern between giving him space may eventually get him to open up. Also continue to support his academia goals and highlight his positive traits. I know it hurts and its hard to see someone you love destroy themselves, but there is only so much you can offer because its his life and his choices. These things I’ve mentioned are wonderful ways to continue loving him no matter what.

Here are some helpful resources for you:

How to help someone in denial:
http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2011/10/23/11-ways-to-help-a-loved-one-in-denial/
Signs someone is abusing painkillers:
http://www.cbsnews.com/8334-504763_162-57418991-10391704/five-signs-a-loved-one-is-abusing-painkillers/?pageNum=7

More info on painkiller addiction:
http://www.michaelshouse.com/painkiller-addiction/

Steps for creating an Intervention:
http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/intervention/MH00127

Substance abuse and mental health service locator:
http://www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov/

Symptoms of depression:
http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/detecting-depression

I truly hope this letter helps you in some way, and that you rest a little easier at night knowing you are doing your best by offering your support to him. I also hope your boyfriend finds the healing he needs. You are such a kind, caring, articulate, intelligent, and insightful guy who has so much to offer with your love. You are a gem, always remember that! Don’t hesitate to write to us again or call our hotline if you need more advice.

Sincerely,
The Trevor Project