George Britt

Amanda Steen | Herald Standard

George Britt, 62, attends Mass at St. Therese Catholic Church in Uniontown, Jan. 12. Britt has been clean from his heroin addiction for over 20 years, but the cost of his addiction- his mother passing away before he got clean, not being able to get a job, and all the years he lost to his addiction- have stayed with him. With the help of a 12-step program and his relationship with God, Britt says he has been able to eradicate much of the guilt from his past.

Addiction is often fueled by love in the form of enablement.

George Britt’s drug addiction began at the age of 23 while he was working for a steel scaffolding company in Dunbar.

“That was the start of my journey into heroin. It escalated a couple of years later when I was laid off from work and had too much time on my hands,” said Britt.

It was 1975, the nation was in recession, the unemployment rate was high, and Britt used his savings and unemployment compensation to buy heroin.

“I was spending $50 to $100 a day, tops,” said Britt.

When unemployment ran out and the bank account was empty, Britt left Pennsylvania to start a new life in Fresno, Calif., hoping the change in geography would help.

“It took me two weeks and I sought and found heroin,” said Britt.

A few months in Fresno and then he went to New Mexico but returned home in six months.

“Everything ran out — family, funds. I jumped on a Greyhound Bus for the three-day ride home,” he said.

Unemployed and back home in familiar territory his habit went “full blast” according to Britt and he was back to spending $50 a day on heroin.

Unemployed, his mother took him in. Her well-meaning gesture, Britt explained, lead to further drug dependency.

“An addict can’t sustain an addiction without an enabler,” he said.

Britt said his mother thought she was doing the right thing and it eased the guilt. Enabling the behavior is common in the co-dependent relationship.

“They love us but sometimes they love us to death,” said Britt. “As long as someone okayed my behavior it would enable my addition.”

Addiction is often unknowingly supported through love. A person close to an addict thinks they are doing the right thing by helping the person they care about by continuing to bail them out of jail or give them money.

“In reality they’re contributing to their ultimate demise,” said Ashley Potts, certified recovery specialist with Washington County Drug and Alcohol Commission Inc.

Potts explains the difficulty of watching a son, daughter, husband or wife suffering addiction yet seeking out the feeling opiates offer.

“It kills all the pain and anxiety in your life and then once addicted they need the heroin not to feel sick. The dope sickness is unbearable,” said Potts.

Britt sought a more settled life that included a job and marriage but nothing could quell his desire for adrenaline or heroin he said. Eventually, he lost the job due to layoffs, his marriage fell apart and Britt was back to his familiar lifestyle. This time, with funds completely gone, he turned to criminal behavior including theft and fencing which introduced him to the criminal justice system.

Britt served jail sentences in Fayette, Allegheny and Somerset counties and eventually he was sent to the state penitentiary for parole and other violations.

“My mother kept taking me home where my addicted life would resume,” said Britt.

Ultimately he served eight years in prison where he finally got clean.

At the peak of his addiction Britt was spending $350 to $700 per week on heroin. When he was employed, nearly his entire pay was “shot up” and as he explains, “food and any other expenses are not important, only feeding the addiction.”

Many families use a “tough love” approach when dealing with an addict.

“They say things like until you’re clean don’t come here or I will have you arrested,” said Potts. “But there’s also a softer approach where the family or loved one says, ‘I love you and I will support you emotionally but I’m not giving you any money. I’ll buy you food if you’re hungry but I’m not giving you money for drugs’”

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