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Demi Lovato's drug overdose, my clay addiction, and the helpline.

I recently watched a documentary of Demi Lovato speaking out about her drug abuse and taking an overdose, which almost took her life. Demi, who is an American singer happens to be one of those teenagers who sipped vodka concealed in a sprite bottle while growing up. Sadly, many children have followed this path due to the fact that they were brought up in a dysfunctional family as well as the lifestyle of their parents. Nevertheless, addiction is a killer that drags you down slowly when you think you are in control of the situation but the moment you look away it drags you to a pit of pain and death faster than you can ever imagine. As a doctor, though I have a firm grasp of the pathway to addiction, its power still strikes me as a hard experience to totally understand when it comes to making decisions and taking responsibility. So, many people are battling various types of addiction. The fact about addiction that some people don't understand is that anyone can get hooked, you can be addicted to anything which you abuse ranging from substance abuse, as seen in drug addicts to life-threatening behaviors and lifestyle.

If you tend to abuse any habit or substance with the mindset that you are in control, you are walking towards the path to addiction. Addiction is toxic, especially when it affects health. No one ever planned to get addicted to any substance or maybe some people do, but most of the time, the majority feel like they are aware of what they are doing and taking in, but what they forget is that our brain receptors become overwhelmed after repeated exposure to these addictive substances. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that constitutes about 80% of the catecholamine content in the brain. It plays a role in how we feel pleasure. The brain responds by producing less dopamine or eliminating dopamine receptors, an adaptation similar to turning the volume down on a loudspeaker when sound becomes too loud (when dopamine levels are reduced a higher intake is needed to feel the impact of the substance) which finally leads to overdose in the case of substance abuse. Once a chemical enters the brain, it can cause a person to lose control of their impulses thereby craving this harmful substance. When someone develops an addiction, the brain craves the reward (the feeling you get after taking the substance) of the substance. This is due to the intense stimulation of the brain's reward system. It's what we know that we crave, what our body is familiar with that brings about those cravings.

I started eating clay from a very young age, a habit I picked up from my sister. I remember when my dad saw my sister eating clay, he got so mad at her and even made a rule at home stating that if he sees anyone eating clay the punishment would be severe but of cause, she started hiding even better. My dad instructed my younger sister and myself to spy on her and report back to him if we ever see her eating clay. It was quite easy for her to get away with it because after school hours when I get home I often see her consuming the forbidden substance, however, she ends up offering me a bribe with the same substance which made me an accomplice. This was the genesis of my addiction to this substance. 

I went through my Secondary Education living in a boarding school environment. I usually give money to students (day students) who live outside the school that also enjoy eating clay to purchase edible clay for me. This was regular and my parents weren't aware of this. My clay craving grew bigger in my little free space. I got an admission to study medicine after my secondary education. When I left my country the supply of this substance was not readily available because it was mostly produced locally. At first, each time I get inside the subway station the dry air rings a bell and reminds me of this substance. I couldn't get it but the craving didn't stop even though it wasn't available. I started asking around for a seller, I found one however her supply was not regular so I kept searching till I found a friend who was also addicted.

We both became ill at some point because of the consumption rate. We were anemic and after several medications were prescribed for us we still went back to buying a few more. We convinced ourselves that all we needed to do was to cut down on the intake, instead of complete abstinence. The funny thing is that we are both doctors and sometimes when we buy it in bulk, we sit together discussing the side effect of clay intake while consuming it happily. The type of craving this substance brings about is the type that makes you feel like eating one piece of clay will be sufficient but the moment you eat one, you end up eating so much and can not stop until your throat gets so dry. I became dependent on it as a stress reliever. When I'm stressed what I start craving is clay. Several times while writing I start craving clay. The effect became evident on my skin, causing dryness of the skin, breakouts, a pale look with brittle nails, and a generally unhealthy look. I was worried but could not stop I kept procrastinating my stop date which went from days, months to years.

I can remember just sitting at home and receiving a call from a friend who spoke with a faint voice informing me that she was admitted to the hospital. I asked her what the problem was, and she replied stating that she was being treated for Severe Anemia at the hospital. She had symptoms of anemia but could not stop eating clay. This led to non-stop bleeding while she was at work. I had a similar experience that made me ill and resulted in so much pain, excessive blood loss, and weakness. This was a turning point for us as we realized the implications of our addiction and the damage we are causing to our health as women. With the help of my partner who is also a doctor, abstinence, and prayer. I was able to overcome my craving for clay (Nzu).

Note: Consuming clay is unsafe. Eating clay has long-term side effects. It can cause low levels of potassium and iron. It might also cause lead poisoning, constipation, vomiting, diarrhea, muscle weakness, intestinal blockage, skin sores, or breathing problems. 

 How does clay (Nzu) consumption affect your health?
Iron deficiency anemia is the most common type of anemia. It happens when you do not have enough iron in your body. Iron deficiency is usually due to blood loss but may occasionally be due to poor absorption of iron. Anemia is a low number of red blood cells and/or reduction in the hemoglobin content of the cells, expected for age, sex, and altitude. In a routine blood test, anemia is reported as low hemoglobin or hematocrit. Hemoglobin is the main protein in your red blood cells. It carries oxygen and delivers it throughout your body. Clay interferes with iron absorption and worsens this condition. Clay can lower potassium levels and make this condition worse. 

We were all aware of the harm this clay causes to our health but being aware of the addiction was not enough to stop the cravings. Taking the right steps and seeking help is the right thing to do. You might be saying 'but I tried and failed,' yes you are allowed to fail because at a point I stopped taking this substance but went back to taking it after a short period of abstinence. This is common with people struggling with addiction so, you're not alone. Life is all about falling down and rising up until you reach your goal. Do not let that drug and bad habit be in control of you, fight because your life depends on it. 

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy from Pexels

To get help follow the following steps: 

You can not do this alone so you need help.
Go see a therapist. 

Follow all instructions given to you. 

Stop the use of that substance and avoid any form of contact.

Self-help: It all depends on you, your mindset, and your determination. The therapist gives you a guide to your victory but you are the fighter who determines the end. Make victory your priority today.  


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