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Support systems help people with addiction recovery, experts say

Posted at 12:47 PM, Apr 15, 2022

After nearly two years of addiction, Victoria Thierens said her life changed Nov. 30, 2019. In a cry for help, she called police and was taken to a behavioral unit to have a psych evaluation. There, she found out she was four weeks pregnant with her daughter.

"They let me know that due to that, that they would be calling Child Protective Services and that within a day's time that they would be coming to the house and we would be establishing some sort of plan to make sure that my children were safe," Thierens said.

Thierens has gone from being a victim to being victorious.

"I have been sober for two and a half years, and it's been an incredible journey," Thierens said.

Her story starts in high school. She said she's always been a very ambitious person and she was determined to graduate early so she could become a nurse-midwife. She also became a fitness coach who competed in body-building competitions and she started a business.

"At a certain point, I felt like I was kind of just, missing out on, like, the party scene and just exploring what was, you know, what life had to offer at the time," Thierens said. "What started out as just, you know, partying a little bit here and there, you know, I did a little bit of cocaine and was just like exploring and experimenting. Nothing too serious turned into quite a slippery slope. And I ended up getting addicted to crystal meth."

She said her descent into addiction was very gradual.

"It's kind of challenging in times to decipher when is it that you're no longer in control, you know," Thierens said.

The thought of losing her newborn and her other child wasn't something she could imagine, and it instilled in her the motivation to make a change. From that moment on, she's had the strength to stay away from drugs.

"I knew that it was a pivotal point and that these people were here to help me and that I had to choose to help myself," Thierens said.

According to a study conducted by Harvard Medical School professor of psychiatry Dr. John Kelly, roughly 10% of Americans are in recovery from an alcohol- or drug-use disorder.

"There are about 20 to 30 million people in recovery right now in the United States," Kelly said.

Kelly is also the director of the Recovery Research Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital. He said it may take a few or many years for someone to recover from addiction, but the latest data from the CDC and National Institute on Drug Abuse shows a majority of people who battle addiction eventually recover.

"75% of people who experience at some point in their life an alcohol or other drug use disorder will achieve remission," Kelly said.

Dr. Nora Volkow is the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. She said the more time a person is in remission, the greater their chances are of staying that way. The path to recovery differs from person to person, but she says there's one common denominator.

"A key component, that is extraordinarily important, like our backbone, is those social support systems that can help the person stay in recovery," Volkow said.

Those social support systems are what Thierens said have been very helpful for her.

"Having a group of women and like support teams that are there for you even if they haven't gone through addiction," Thierens said. "Just having a good group of friends who have aligned interests or similar interests as far as like wanting to progress as a human, as a being, as somebody that's dealing with life right now."

She says good sleep, eating habits and self-care have also been important in her journey. Now she's using her experience to help others through a book she recently co-authored, and one-on-one sessions to guide people who are struggling with addiction or depression and anxiety.

"I just love being a mom and I love really helping the world and sharing my story with the hopes of empowering other people and just showing up as my best self and my most authentic self as often as I can," Thierens said.