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Twenty. That’s how old my daughter was when she never woke up one day. Oxycodone. The pill slowed her heartbeat, it stopped, and before anyone could revive her, she died. My heart was broken. That was eleven years ago.

The drugs didn’t define who she was. Stephanie was a vibrant young woman who loved helping others; art, music and animals comforted her when she felt depressed. Since she was so young and away at school, we were shocked she was experimenting with drugs. My family has survived with faith, hope and love. The support was overwhelming for a tragedy that has become an epidemic. Young people get addicted to opiates every day. There are many places with skilled people who can help them survive. I’m proud of the hard work my daughter did with a talented team once we realized she needed more support than what we could give her. She wasn’t lucky enough.

Deciding to stop drinking or using drugs is the first step toward recovery, but the most feared and physically challenging step is detoxification, particular for those abusing opiates.  Detoxing from opiates is so challenging that it's often the reason a person relapses. However with supportive physical and emotional care and by understanding what to expect, detoxification can be successfully accomplished and recovery can begin.

1. Why are opiates so addictive?

Opiates and synthetic opiate-like drugs are substances that latch onto opioid receptors on the surface of certain nerve cells like keys fitting into locks. When drug and receptor connect, the reward circuitry in the midbrain turns on, and there's a flood of the feel-good brain chemical, dopamine.  The dopamine surge creates an intensely pleasurable sensation, a mix of relaxation and elation. In fact, researchers have found that the amount of dopamine resulting from opiate abuse is 2 to 10 times that of naturally rewarding experiences like sex or eating!

My parents forced me into rehab and I stayed for 90 days. I would have left sooner, but I had nowhere else to go. My counselor told me that my next step was a 'sober living' place. I didn't know what that was but I learned that I could go there and learn how to have friends, work, and start to become an adult all without getting loaded. I learned how to budget, go grocery shopping, started a part-time job at a skateboard shop, and started to pay for my own cell phone bill. The sober living house took me and my friends to AA and NA meetings in the area. I went to meetings and met other guys who skate, and look like me, but don't drink or get loaded either.

"I was the CEO of a successful company, and I was able to retire early when I sold the company at forty years old. I began to travel with my wife and kids and was living the good life. Without the structure of a day-to-day schedule, I became restless and felt empty, irritable and began to drink more. When I working I was able to keep my alcholism at bay, but in retirement, my alcoholism escalated and my wife left me within 2 years. I began the process of attempting to get sober. It took another three years and four treatment center programs. I got sober the last time three years ago when I detoxed at home under the supervision of a doctor and nurse.

"I've done many detoxes in my life. None of them worked except for the last time. I was finally ready. Every other time my parents, the court, my girlfriend and my friends were the ones that I did it for. But this last time, I detoxed for myself. The last time I detoxed was the first time I felt I had the proper care, the previous times I felt like just another patient. Those previous times were hospital-based and I felt like I was part of a system that worked like a revolving door for people who detoxed over and over again.

As I've seen people grow in recovery, the people who seem successful approach their recovery with several different tools.
  1. Spirituality: New recovery often includes a focus on spirituality. For some this means prayer, meditation, journaling, working the 12 Steps, taking yoga, attending church or attending solo workshop retreats.Nutrition: Maintaining a well-balanced diet including breakfast, lunch and dinner is important to feeling sane and balanced. Often when someone is new in recovery, planning to eat in healthy ways is a new skill. Many folks start with learning to plan to eat nutritious foods like oatmeal or fruit, and then when they've mastered simple foods, they often find that they'd like to experiment with cooking more complicated and interesting foods.

I've been asked why someone would want their family member to start their recovery in Los Angeles. Concerned parents have wondered if LA might be a risky place for someone to get sober because it's a big city with seemingly lots of temptation for a person who is attempting to get sober.

I've been polling my friends who have all had many successful years of sobriety about what they've found in the Westside LA recovery community that they haven't seen in other communities where they've lived.