For the media

Losing a loved one to addiction

By The Health News Team | September 12, 2023
Jessica Johnson of Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital

Jessica Johnson, RN, from the Chemical Dependency and Recovery Program at Sharp Mesa Vista, lost her brother to addiction several years ago.

Since joining Sharp more than three years ago as a registered nurse, Jessica Johnson has been treating patients in the Chemical Dependency and Recovery Program at Sharp Mesa Vista. Johnson lost her younger brother to addiction a few years ago and was inspired to act. “It made me want to help others by providing them with the care that my brother needed,” she says.

According to Johnson, her father’s death by suicide when she was young significantly affected her and her brother. “My brother was very close to him, and both were professional surfers,” she says.

At age 24, Johnson’s brother was injured at his construction job, and was prescribed oxycodone, a potent opioid. Like many individuals, he developed an addiction after misusing the prescription painkiller.

He tried to overcome addiction over the next several years as he traveled to various countries for his surfing career. “Although he was struggling, my brother was so supportive of me and my daughter,” says Johnson.

Jessica Johnson's brother surfing

Jessica's brother was an accomplished surfer, and his career allowed him to surf around the world.

However, substance misuse can seriously stunt people’s gifts, talent and potential, Johnson laments. “It can be so hard for loved ones too,” she says. “People with addiction can turn into someone they’re not. They’re not their authentic selves.”

Sharing her story to slow a national epidemic

Addiction has taken thousands of lives in the United States. The number of deaths has continued to rise, with more than 100,000 people dying from drug-involved overdose in 2021.

Johnson’s brother participated in a rehabilitation program, lived in a sober living house and attended recovery meetings. But when COVID-19 struck in 2020 — creating various constraints, like quarantining — he struggled with his recovery.

Johnson now hopes that sharing her story of losing her brother to overdose can support others and encourage them to find help.

“As a loved one to someone who has an addiction, it’s important not to enable them,” she says. “I understand that it can be hard, but there are various forms of help, like Al-Anon, which is a support group for people with a friend or family member that has alcoholism.”

Johnson adds that it’s important for everyone to carry naloxone, a medication that helps to reverse effects from an opioid overdose. She also reminds loved ones that substance use disorders are a disease that a team of health care professionals — including social workers, nurses, doctors, psychiatrists and therapists — can help treat.

As for those who may have a substance use disorder, Johnson offers words of support. “Give yourself a chance for a quality life,” she says. “Recovery can be hard and filled with relapse, but that’s okay. Give yourself enough time without using substances and know that you only have one life.”

Learn about addiction treatment services at Sharp Mesa Vista and Sharp McDonald Center.

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