The disease of addiction has evolved drastically within the past few decades. More recently, the forced isolation we all endured throughout the pandemic led to an unfortunate rise in addiction. Lori McCarter has been an addiction counselor for more than 30 years, after overcoming her own personal battle with the disease. She’s dedicated to helping as many people as possible, and wants the world to know that when it comes to addiction, there’s always hope and recovery, you just have to be willing to take the first step.
Taking the first step to accept one’s struggles is never an easy feat. This is especially true when it comes to the disease of addiction. In today’s world, there are luckily a multitude of treatments, therapies, rehabilitation methods, etc., but none of that matters unless the individual is committed to seeing themselves through the journey of recovery.
Lori McCarter, LADAC II. QCS, NCAC I, is an addiction counselor with three decades of experience offering individuals hope in their journey to recovery. Throughout her career she’s seen the disease change and evolve to unprecedented levels, but she always remained hopeful in the power of counseling, as it also evolved.
McCarter endured her own battle with addiction for 16 years. After finding solace in her sobriety, she dedicated herself to helping others who’ve had the same struggle, and has worked hard within the past 34 years to create a safe space for anyone who was ready to do the hard work and find their own peace in recovery.
“I want people to understand that there is hope, and there is recovery from addiction. We don’t see enough of that success today, there’s more of a focus on the people who have died from this disease than those who have found that peace in sobriety.”
McCarter earned her LPN degree in nursing from the Lubbock School of Nursing in 1980. Her path to recovery began eight years after this point, which would be the beginning of a long and hopeful journey towards helping herself, and others, become the best version of themselves.
“I went into treatment for addiction in 1988, and was in treatment for seven and a half months. When I went through my recovery, I didn’t want to jump right back into nursing or the medical field directly, because it wouldn’t have been a healthy environment for me to be in. So I began working at a souvenir shop at the base of the Smoky Mountains for a while.
Around 11 months clean, I got a call from the man who ran the program that I went through, Bill Hood, who was also my mentor, and he told me he was opening a new program called Cornerstone Of Recovery. He asked me if I would be interested in coming to work for him as a detox nurse, so in August of 1989, I began my professional journey within the recovery space.
I worked in detox nursing for a couple of years, and as time went on I became more interested in the counseling aspect of these spaces for people to rehabilitate themselves and recover. As a detox nurse, you see the patients, give them their medicine, and then they go off to a group, a meeting, or bed and that’s it. I wanted to do more, because a lot of the changes that happen within these individuals, myself included, happen in the group counseling settings.
Mr. Hood invited me to join him in some of his groups so I began building my skills and learning what it really takes to be in that position. I got to see firsthand how to create a safe environment that would allow everyone to feel comfortable enough to speak and share their truth. It was truly amazing to see the change first hand.”
In 1992, McCarter became licensed as an addiction counselor in the state of Tennessee, and has held the position ever since, helping dozens of individuals find a sense of peace in their recovery.
McCarter discussed how the disease of addiction has evolved within the past three decades, as well as the programs available to individuals seeking out treatment. One of the most significant shifts has been the types of substances people have gotten addicted to, the availability of these substances, as well as the variety of programs available.
“When I got treatment in the 80’s, all of the treatment programs were completely abstinence based, meaning that when you left it was expected you’d be completely abstinent from all substances.”
“The disease has evolved, and addiction to harder drugs, such as oxycontin and others like it, has become much more prominent. These substances are especially hard to get off of due to their makeup and the way it interacts with your body to make it so you quickly become dependent on it.”
“This shift kind of blew everything we knew about addiction, and treating it, out of the water, because it was uncharted territory.
In terms of treatment, medical-assisted treatment plans, such as using Vivitrol and Suboxone, started to become more prominent. Obviously this had a lot of pushback because it was hard for society to grasp getting a person off of drugs by giving them more drugs, but that’s a very skewed way of viewing what it actually accomplishes for some people.
The bottom line is, as stated by Dr. Stephen Loyd, we can’t treat them if they’re dead. Candidly speaking I didn’t agree with medical-assisted treatment either at first. I got treatment and grew up with abstinence-based recovery as the only option for recovery, so my mindset was also closed off to this new method, however, our practice was going to be implementing it regardless, so I educated myself, and began to see first-hand how it actually was able to help so many people.
One of the main purposes of medical-assistance in recovery is to hopefully get them to a place where they can be fully abstinent, but they need to be alive in order to do that, and that’s what the medication does, it keeps them alive.”
McCarter then began to speak about the major influx of addiction that the pandemic brought on. We all had to deal with remaining isolated throughout quarantine, but for those who struggle with addiction, this isolation is a totally different battle.
“Human beings are not meant to be alone, we’re meant to thrive in communities. So when an individual dealing with the disease of addiction becomes isolated, all they can do is remain stuck with themselves, and the vices that they’ve been trying to overcome are all they can think about, leading to a lot more using.”
“People died. A lot of people died from addiction throughout the pandemic. As individuals working in recovery, it was horrific to see how the numbers nearly doubled in terms of those who died from their addictions.”
Coming out of the pandemic, the world had a multitude of new battles to face. In the world of narcotics, a new epidemic arose from the distribution of fentanyl.
Fentanyl is currently the leading cause of death for individuals aged 18 to 55.
“The disease has progressed with the drugs that have become available, and it’s hard to see an end to this fight when there’s always something new, different, and exciting being distributed, but that doesn’t mean we stop.”
While a lot of work has been done to destigmatize addiction and the mental health battles that parallel it, McCarter believes that as the disease has evolved and advanced, so has the need to break the negative viewpoints society carries along with it.
In the US, there’s about 23 million people currently battling addiction to alcohol and/or drugs. The conversation surrounding addiction in the mainstream tends to focus on this aspect, as opposed to discussing the 23 million+ people who have recovered from their addictions, and are living to help others find the same solace.
“The stigma of being an addict and the shame that it carries needs to disappear. People who work in this field need to remove the competitor aspect of their institutions and techniques of rehabilitation, and instead work together to make sure people get the highest level of care. There have been too many instances of people struggling and reaching out to recovery centers only to be placed on a waiting list.
People die on waiting lists because they’re not receiving the care that they need to work through this disease.”
“It takes a community effort to make a change. We need to place people seeking treatment in a program the second they decide to pick up the phone and call, there is no other next step that’s more important than providing the help as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
“While therapy and therapeutic techniques have helped many individuals work through their addictions, more times than not what people need is to be told the cold hard truth. When I went through my own treatment it was built on confrontation. For lack of a better term, they would tear you down before they could build you back up through recovery.
Individuals struggling with addiction do need to work through the emotions of their situation, however, I do think the more stern approach gives them the opportunity to grow. There needs to be no room left for their own rationalization when it comes to the things their addiction has led them to do, there needs to instead be a clear communication that they were in the wrong, and this is what they need to do to fix it.
Let’s be clear, every individual is different, and every method of treatment has its own success stories, but this is a serious epidemic we’re talking about, and if an individual takes the steps to get help, that’s exactly what should be given to them, they need to hear the truth.
“Sometimes someone needs to hear straight up that this disease will kill them, and if they continue living like they are they’re going to die. No one wants to hear that, but it’s the reality, and accepting that reality is the first step towards moving away from it, and creating a new life for yourself.”
McCarter also believes that the new approaches to rehabilitation and recovery have found success through integrating treatment for mental health alongside the treatment for addiction, because they go hand in hand. In decades past, one would have to treat the two separately, one after the other. The combination of treating both allows both the individual, and the people helping that person, to see a clearer image of how and why they’ve suffered the way they have.
This clarity is integral for the recovery process, as it tells the individual that there’s multiple factors and explanations that feed into an addiction, it’s not just simply starting a habit one day and then becoming addicted to that habit, there’s layers.
McCarter also has been training people to become professional addiction counselors. She knows first hand that when it comes to this career, the right training is essential, and being able to help future generations of addiction counselors is one of the highlights of her career.
McCarter has also adopted holistic approaches to treating addiction. Holistic approaches to medicine in general emphasize the importance of treating the mind, body, and spirit of the individual at once. The spiritual aspect is especially important through the addiction recovery process, because a lot of the time individuals who have struggled tend to move away from whatever their own faith may have been.
This is not to say that recovery is about finding spirituality, but instead it provides outlets such as meditation, yoga, practicing gratitude, etc. to allow the individual to find faith in themselves. McCarter has utilized a lot of Native American practices as well in her own programs, as well as in her personal life.
“As my mentor Bill Hood said, ‘In order to get sober you need two things, a strong spiritual connection, and other recovering people, and I truly believe and live by that.’ You have to have that sort of outlet to give yourself a means of expression and belief.”
Going through recovery, you have to require yourself to take on different morals than what you abided by throughout your addiction, and doing that alone is essentially impossible. Having the support of others going through similar struggles as you, as well as a community to lean on, is integral.
Recovery gives you the ability to become someone you may not recognize, in the best way possible. To be able to find that person, and find meaning in your life is worth all the work and struggle that you go through to get to that point, but the first step is accepting that there’s a problem and a disease getting in your way.
Throughout her career, McCarter has taken on multiple roles in multiple establishments, reaching as many individuals as she possibly could within the past three decades. She served as a lead counselor at Brookhaven Retreat from 2005 to 2007 and as the owner and clinical director of White Spirit Lodge, Inc. from 2007 to 2011.
She was a treatment specialist for the East Tennessee Human Resource Agency from 2010 to 2015 and a program director at Serenity Centers of Tennessee for three years until 2018. In 2018, Ms. McCarter led L&M Counseling, where she continues to offer individual counseling, MAT accountability and alcohol and drug assessments for legal purposes through today.
McCarter also excels as a program director at Stepping Stone to Recovery, an alcoholism and drug addiction treatment center featuring residential and intensive outpatient rehab programs. The treatment center is designed to provide high-quality treatment using time-tested clinical and traditional models that have proven effective for almost three decades.
McCarter also maintains affiliation with the National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors and the East Tennessee Association for Addiction Professionals, where she served as president of the organization from 2013 to 2014. McCarter remains active with her local Alcoholics Anonymous and Fireside Sobriety Circle.
She’s also received Lifetime Achievement from the East Tennessee Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors (ETAADAC) in 2016 and titles such as Counselor and/or Professional of the Year.
If you’re currently struggling with an addiction, or coming to terms with the fact that you’re suffering, McCarter concluded with some words of advise:
“You need to ask for help. Reach out, even if you haven’t crossed the line into an addiction, there’s so many tools and resources available to prevent it. Life, in general, is not meant to be taken on alone, especially in times of struggle. Asking for help is not a weakness, in fact, it’s one of the bravest things you can do for yourself.
I want people to hear and know that there is always hope to get through this disease. You can survive this and put yourself into remission, but it’s all about taking that first step.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.