For many of us we might be “addicted” to the latest hot Netflix show or to our new favorite drink at the local Kwik Trip, but for some addiction is so much bigger than that. For people like Josh Gordon, addiction has controlled their life and plays a role in every decision that they make.
On December 20th, 2018, Gordon announced that he was taking a leave to focus on his mental health, but just a few hours later the NFL announced that the Patriots’ receiver would be suspended for failing yet another drug test.
Immediately, fans and media personalities all across the country were bashing the young man for his behavior, saying that he was “pathetic” and an “idiot”. But instead, shouldn’t his situation provide even more insight to the power and grip of addiction rather than the morals of a young man who has repeatedly seeked help?
Gordon began using drugs in the 7th grade and said in an interview with GQ, “I was given some Xanax, smoking weed, and sh*t like that. In that class I ended up – not passing out, but really nodding off, off the Xanax. [I was] only supposed to take half the bar, [but] took the whole bar and I’m like drooling over the desk. Kids started laughing in the class.” Gordon continued his life-long addiction with Xanax, marijuana, codeine, amongst other substances. When asked why he abused substances, he stated “childhood and adolescent trauma-based fear” as reasons. Gordon continued :
“I was using [substances] in my childhood. That environment brought me into that a lot sooner than normal – whatever normal is – kids should be brought into that, to be able to make a decision on their own of what to do. I didn’t want to feel anxiety, I didn’t want to feel fear. I didn’t plan on living to 18. Day-to-day life, what’s gonna happen next? So you self-medicate with Xanax, with marijuana, codeine – to help numb those nerves so you can just function every day. That became the norm from middle school to high school. So by the time I got into my 20s, I was on an accelerated pace.”
The polarizing figure that is Josh Gordon, grew up in Houston, Texas. Houston is one of, if not the most, drug infested city in Texas. Harris County sadly had 1,384 overdose deaths per year (per 100,000 people) and 289 lives were lost due to methamphetamine and cocaine overdoses in 2016 alone. Gordon repeated in his interview that his neighborhood was infested with gangs, drugs, addiction, and crime, all of which Gordon was too comfortable around growing up. Gordon mentioned he “smoked marijuana every day at Lamar [High School] and drank vodka from Minute Maid bottles” during class. This was his culture.
After using drugs for a majority of Gordon’s life, the idea of relapsing a handful of times sadly shouldn’t be a major surprise. Drugabuse.com, an American Addiction Center resource states that “recent drug relapse statistics show that more than 85% of individuals relapse and return to drug use within the year following treatment.” Researchers estimate that more than ⅔ of individuals in recovery relapse within weeks to months of beginning addiction treatment.
With Gordon’s long background of drug use and his previous relapse, some might just be bewildered with his choice of substance abuse over millions of dollars in the NFL, but addiction is more complex than just making a simple decision. An article by Harvard Health Publishing and Harvard’s Medical School titled How Addiction Hijacks the Brain stated, “the word addiction is derived from the Latin term ‘enslaved by’ or ‘bound to.” The article continues with, “Addiction exerts a long and powerful influence on the brain that manifests in three distinct ways: craving for the object of addiction, loss of control over its use, and continuing involvement with it despite adverse consequences.”
One of the main principles of the brain is that it values all pleasure the same. The brain can’t differ pleasures from getting an A on a test, scoring the game winning touchdown, or getting high. Once the brain signals a pleasurable experience, it releases dopamine into the pleasure center of the brain causing individuals to feel well and at ease. Most illicit drugs cause a sizable increase in dopamine released, causing an extremely pleasurable feeling and great reward.
The article digs into how dopamine interacts with glutamate, which in return overtakes the reward and learning portion of the brain. This system connects what humans need for survival (food, water, and reproduction) with pleasure and rewards.
As addicts overload this circuit, the brain adapts to the overload and makes the same amount of a substance that was once pleasurable less pleasurable, forcing the addict to use more of the substance to get the same amount of dopamine into the pleasure-causing center of the brain. This is known as developing a tolerance.
Once this tolerance is developed, it can cause major dysfunction for someone suffering with addiction. It can quickly become the sole center of a person’s life and cause them to spiral out of control, similar to how Gordon shared in his experiences.
Ending addiction isn’t as simple as to “just say no”. It’s a complex and dynamic process that is different for each person. It is a long, challenging and winding road that each addict has to travel if they want to fully recover.
Now before you go bash Gordon or another celebrity about their drug addiction on Twitter or at next Saturday’s coffee date, consider what they’re going through. Remember that non-addicts can’t even fathom what an addict is really going through. Rather than bash them, maybe let them know that you’re rooting for them in their battle to get their life back, because in the end, everyone is going through something.
If you are interested in hearing more about Gordon’s upbringing and battle with addiction, check out these two articles:
Sports Illustrated: Josh Gordon Needs You to Believe