Beyond the Field
Growing up in the South, Jacob Jones, 30, was raised on football. Jacob always committed himself physically and emotionally to the game that would lead to team victories and good times alongside his dad, also known as ‘’Coach.’’ But for nearly a third of his life, Jacob Jones had his own share of personal losses. Jacob suffered from an addiction to opioids.
In 2006, Jacob, a native Alabaman, was recruited by the University of Alabama Crimson Tide football program to play as a wide receiver. But during his freshman year, he struggled to acclimate himself to college life nearly four hours away from home. Jacob, who suffered from anxiety and panic disorder for much of his life, had difficulty sleeping and controlling his anxiety. He turned to drinking and smoking marijuana. During the same year, Jacob developed pneumonia, and was given a prescription for liquid hydrocodone, a narcotic commonly used to treat coughs that also acts as a pain reliever.
“I remember loving how it took away my anxiety,” Jacob said. At last, he slept well and felt great. But this new feeling came at a price.
Within a couple of days, his prescription that was intended to last for weeks had lasted only a couple days. The narcotic had piqued his interest and, slowly, he introduced himself to other painkillers.
During his second year on the team, Jacob tore his quadriceps for his second time during practice, and started to experience more frequent tears with internal bleeding. After consulting with his family, team physicians and his coach, Jacob was placed on medical leave from football.
In an excerpt from him upcoming book, Jacob writes,“I remember saying to a friend ‘now I can sleep in, go to parties, be a normal college student and not have to worry about being hungover for a 6 a.m. workout.’ I could do whatever I wanted without any repercussion or regulation. This, at least, was my thinking.”
To ease the pain, he was prescribed hydrocodone for a short time, and started buying Xanax and OxyContin off the street. In 2008, Jacob continued his schooling and moved in with roommates who were also using the drug.
“Instantly, all of my anxieties, fears and pains were gone [while on drugs],” he writes. “This is exactly what I needed at this point in my life. My dreams of playing football were gone. My whole identity was wrapped up in being an Alabama football player, and now that I was not that, my life was dull. After the initial prospect of freedom and partying, I quickly became depressed, anxious and less social. I felt like I let everyone down. My grades continued to slip, there were no goals in my life, and my network of friends kept evolving to meet my lifestyle.”
As Jacob started to feel the euphoria associated with the drug, he also continued to suffer from anxiety and poor sleep. After three years of abusing drugs and alcohol, Jacob reached out to his parents for help. Surprised and concerned, his parents urged him to come home. He packed his bags, turned in his team football jersey and unenrolled from the university.
In 2010, Jacob went to his first rehab facility for 30 days, but none of his treatments stuck. He reverted back to relying on alcohol and starting using opiates only one month later. This time, going even further than he had left off before rehab. Two years later, he was arrested for possession of a narcotic and was mandated to go through drug court. For the next year, he was required to complete random drug tests on a weekly basis and attend court every Friday to review his progress.
In December 2014, he hit rock bottom. Jacob decided to withdraw from drugs cold turkey and started to feel manic. His increased heart rate was reaching a dangerous level, and he was admitted to a critical care coronary unit. After being discharged from the unit, Jacob spent three weeks in a psychiatric ward.
Three months after leaving the hospital, Jacob started feeling better. He received a phone call from a family friend who owned a restaurant franchise and asked him if he wanted to manage a store. For two years, Jacob spent countless hours focusing all his energy on the restaurant. Then, old habits returned.
“I basically crashed and burned,” he said.
Jacob quit his job at the restaurant as his life crumbled around him. His relationship with his family became strained, and his focus returned to using drugs.
“I remember my aunt telling me, ‘Your family has almost had enough of you where they’re almost done with you.’ I never thought that was a reality. They [my parents] have been there for the good and bad. I never really thought they’d say you can’t come around anymore, until now,” Jacob said.
Jacob wanted to throw up the white flag – this time, for good.
Initially, Jacob enrolled in a detox facility outside of Tallahassee and was scheduled to start at a Christian work camp for men suffering from substance abuse. After the completion of his detox program and en route to the work camp, Jacob had second thoughts. He was concerned that the absence of certified psychiatrists and psychologists at the work camp would set him up for failure after completion of the program – prompting his dependence on drugs to creep back up. Jacob asked a family friend who was driving to stop and help him think through his options. Over a smoothie, Jacob and his friend had a conversation about what to do.
The family friend, whose close friend had also dealt with addiction, suggested the UF Health Florida Recovery Center in Gainesville. After learning more about the center’s comprehensive approach, the decision was made for Jacob’s parents to take him to Gainesville to give him the best opportunity for addiction recovery. Jacob felt good about the decision, knowing that not only would he be diagnosed for his addiction, but treatment would be geared specifically toward his anxiety and panic disorder.
On May 15, 2016, Jacob arrived to the Florida Recovery Center and began the intake process, which involves assessing the patient’s condition. While being asked by Anthony Russell, M.D., about how he felt about his recovery on this go-around, Jacob responded: optimistic.
“Most people at that point are irritated or upset. I was going to do whatever they told me to do, whatever it takes. Just do my best,” he said.
Jacob enrolled in the three-month partial hospitalization program where he lived at the addiction treatment facility, and participated in individual and group therapies.
“The process groups were great because they were a very close-knit group,” he said. “I was able to share things that I never was able to share previously. It was good and tough. There were things at that point that I was ashamed of. The men’s community group was also very inviting. They were all men striving for the same thing and it was very inspiring to be around men who were open and honest.”
After spending 90 days in all-day treatment, Jacob spent another month and a half living at the recovery center, and meeting with a counselor once a week.
Jacob compares the process to a releasing a goldfish into a bowl. When a goldfish is brought home in a bag, the bag is submerged in the same bowl of water it will swim in. All the meanwhile, the fish is getting acclimated to the water temperature and its surroundings. Once the fish has spent enough time in the bag underwater, it is released into the bowl and continues to adapt to the outside waters.
Nearly two years later, Jacob has moved to Gainesville to build a new life.
“[While at the Florida Recovery Center] I started to invest in the people here and built a strong network over five months’ time,” he said. “I found a good church and I’m very active.”
Jacob continues to chronicle about his journey with addiction and is writing his first book.