Straight Talk: Money, charm able to hide symptoms of addiction


“Andrew” could sell snow cones to Eskimos. Before he was 30, he was a partner in an insurance business, and by 35, the owner. He was successful, inspiring, outgoing and to all appearances had it all together.

But Andrew had a secret that only two people knew about. He was a heroin addict. He had found ways to hide his habit behind numerous physical complaints, such as “a sleep disorder,” and the fact that he was the boss meant he could come and go as he pleased and was above reproach in the eyes of most. A few close friends suspected but were afraid to say anything for lack of a clear picture.

Andrew’s mother knew, as did his wife. His father, from whom he had bought the business, was kept in the dark. Like many addicts, hiding, avoiding, scheming and the perfunctory enablers were part of the deal. He had promised his mom he would get clean for years. He had convinced her he was in a methadone program for almost three years until she accidentally found his rig.

Andrew’s dad had been physically and verbally abusive when he was a pre-teen and teen, and Andrew played his mother like a fiddle with that one. Although Andrew’s trauma was real, he used it to manipulate his mom with guilt rather than work on or expose his pain. She, for her part, fell into the guilt trap, felt sorry for Andrew and excused even the most inexcusable behavior.

His wife was a trophy wife – “arm candy,” Andrew called her. Although she had genuinely cared for him at one time, the Andrew she married was long gone. Their relationship was a quid pro quo: she stayed quiet about his secret and stayed out of his way; he gave her anything she wanted. They lived in a mansion like strangers.

Andrew had started his addiction, like many opiate addicts, with opioid pain medication. He had a back injury in his early 20s, started taking Percocet and Vicodin, then graduated to other well-known and more potent scripts. He was physically dependent within the first several months. When the doctor visits, doctor shopping and prescription process became too cumbersome, he graduated to the street, where the supply was plentiful and no permission was required.

Eventually, like pretty much every other case in history, the drug won. Andrew’s tolerance was so high the distance between getting high and overdose was indistinguishable. In fact, there was no getting high anymore. He was missing appointments, having temper tantrums and mood swings in the middle of his sales training gigs and finally overdosed in the bathroom of a hotel in a town he didn’t even know the name of.

All of Andrew’s money and charm couldn’t keep him sober, and on his 39th birthday, he entered rehab.

• Rick Atwater is a licensed clinical professional counselor. He hosts the weekly radio show Straight Stuff on Addictions at He can reached by email at