A member of my family is well on the way to drinking and drugging themselves to death. It is a very sad situation but unfortunately far from unique — almost everyone knows someone who struggles with drug addiction or, as the folks who just opened the sober house in Camden call it, “substance use disorder.” By either name, this disease is an equal opportunity destroyer of lives. For the purposes of this life story, I will call my relative “Chris.”

Before the awful disease of addiction claimed him, Chris had a great life: He graduated from the University of North Carolina with a degree in law, passed the bar in Massachusetts and joined a big law firm. In a few years, he had a beautiful family, a big house in Boston and lots of money.

But Chris always liked to party and that behavior continued unabated after college. Speed, pot and alcohol remained an integral part of his life. Despite his using, Chris and his family appeared pretty much normal. Now we know the family wasn’t at all normal.

In hindsight, there were warning signs: Chris procrastinated. He was always very late and sometimes inexplicably missing. He changed jobs frequently. All illusions of normalcy ended about 15 years ago.

Was it the prescription for Ativan that was intended to help him manage anxiety while in the courtroom? Or was it the painkillers (probably Oxy) that he took for a shoulder injury sustained when he fell off a ladder? Or was addiction in his DNA?

We will never know. What we do know is drugs and alcohol took over Chris’s life. When he could no longer get prescription drugs locally, he found a “doctor” in Mexico who provided him opioids by mail.

But it seems alcohol did the most damage. When an episode of rubber legged drunkenness at an important business dinner threatened his job and his marriage, Chris agreed to seek help for his addictions. The key here is: He agreed to seek help versus admitting he needed help. Like many addicts who check into treatment to mitigate the fruits of their outrageous behavior, Chris did not want help; he was in denial ― everything was fine. But everything was not fine at all.

Three weeks in rehab just increased Chris’s appetite for drugs and alcohol (this is not unusual). And, within a few years, Chris was jobless, divorced, estranged from his children and effectively disbarred. For an addict, catastrophic life events like these are minor inconveniences and certainly not their fault. And, things only got worse.

Chris got to keep one of their houses as part of the divorce and had access to enough money to carry on his life in a somewhat normal fashion, which is to say he was not living on the street. But with no job to occupy his time, drinking and drugging became a 24/7 lifestyle.

His friends included a series of low-life, money-sucking, live-in partners. Chris was always a mean drunk and there were frequent, profanity rich, screaming arguments and physical fights. Chris was soon a frequent flyer with local law enforcement and at the local hospital.

Not long after his divorce, I began getting drunken phone calls from Chris demanding     money and threatening me. I knew things were bad, but I learned the full extent of the situation when I called the local police to request a wellness check.

The police chief was glad to hear from a family member and filled me in on Chris’s situation. He assured me Chris’s threats to harm me were just that and, regardless, he had already confiscated Chris’s firearms, at which point the chief told the following story:

A few weeks earlier, Chris had shown up at the police station demanding his shotgun back. Suspecting he was drunk, the cops administered a breathalyzer and Chris blew a 0.30, almost four times the legal limit. This at 11 in the morning!

Needless to say, Chris did not get the shotgun back.

The downward spiral continued: Increasingly outrageous behavior. An arrest for public drunkenness (which could have been assault). Then a DUI. At age 50, this previously successful person had no license, no job and was estranged from all family. Chris’s “friends” were literally dying around him and he himself was in and out of the hospital. Yet this was still not “the bottom.”

This summer Chris agreed to try IOP ― Intensive Outpatient (treatment) Program. But, after three weeks, he was expelled for continuing to “use” during treatment. This triggered another epic bender that ended in another arrest. His behavior now included frequently threating to commit suicide. Yet, he refused to admit he needed help. Chris was still in denial.

Unless you have been through a similar experience, it is unlikely you understand how frustrating it is to watch a family member slowly succumb to the disease of addiction. My emotions included anger, pity and, most of all, frustration. Caregivers and law enforcement want to help, but the reality is, in this country, adults can legally drink themselves to death. There is nothing you or I can do to stop them.

Then a few months ago I got another call from the emergency room at the local hospital. The nurse told me Chris wanted to try rehab again. Great news! While Chris was detoxing, we were fortunate to find an open bed at an inpatient treatment program in the Portland area. The price tag for a 30-day stay was $18,000. From the get-go, I was skeptical. It seemed to me highly unlikely that 30 days of treatment would cure a disease that had endured most of a lifetime. But it was worth a try.

It didn’t work. The longer Chris was sober, the angrier he got that “we put him in this place.” Chris left the rehab facility early and resumed drinking and drugging.

Christmas came and went and no one, not even his lovely daughters, heard a word from Chris. Much the same way dementia eventually takes the mind and leaves only the remnant body, the Chris I once knew is already dead. May he rest in peace.

Writing this column was cathartic for me. I hope in some way Chris’s story helps others.

Randall Poulton lives in Winterport. His columns appear every other week in The Republican Journal.