Christopher Poulos talks with local law enforcement agents and officials at the Rumford Falls auditorium recently.

MEXICO — When Christopher Poulos was actively using drugs, he was like a tornado, causing harm and damage to everyone in his path, he said.

But now that he is in long-term recovery, he is often the person his family and friends go to for advice, he said at a recent presentation at Mountain Valley Middle School.

Poulos was born in Portland and lived with his single mother.

“In some ways, I had a lot of privileges because my grandfather was an attorney and former judge, but then with my mom being a single mom and my dad not in the picture, there were also a lot of challenges growing up in Portland,” he said.

As a child, Poulos was drawn to anything he wasn’t supposed to do, and this frame of mind continued beyond his teenage years and into his 20s, he said.

“As a teen, I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin,” he said. “I didn’t know how to talk to girls, how to dance (or enjoy other teen activities) and as soon as I found alcohol and drugs, as soon as I put that into my system, I instantly found relief. All that tension and anxiety was gone. It was just like ‘phew,’ relief.”

For a number of years, his abuse of alcohol and drugs seemed to serve his purposes and was his solution to anxiety.

But after years of using mind-altering substances, he stopped getting the relief he sought from them.

“I’d love to say I had some moment of time where I realized I was harming myself, my family and my community, but it really was (that) the alcohol and drugs were not providing the same type of relief that I was getting before,” Poulos said.

“I was 24 years old, and for the first time in my life I became willing to ask for help,” he said. “It seemed obvious to me at that time that I needed to (either) die or get some help because I couldn’t sit in my own skin without alcohol or drugs.”

He had access to treatment for his addictions, which he said was incredibly important and made a huge difference. He received treatment in the spring of 2007 at Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook, where he entered an intensive outpatient program that helped him find a 12-step program, he said.

“And through God’s grace and the 12 steps, I have not had to have (another withdrawal) experience again,” he said.

But following about six or seven months of his recovery, federal agents came to his mother’s home where he was staying and incarcerated him for his past years as a low-level drug dealer.

“They knew I was in recovery, but I had to make amends for my past,” he said.

He received a three-year federal sentence that included a recovery program, which “made all the difference in the world,” he said.

Poulos believes early intervention for people who are addicted to drugs could prevent them from going to federal prison or from committing other serious violations of the law.

“What may have been effective (for me and others) is if somebody in recovery in one of those times when I overdosed when I was 15, 18 or 21, and was brought to the hospital or the Cumberland County jail for a misdemeanor would have said to me, ‘I used to be in the spot you’re in, this is what happened to me and this is what my life is like now.’”

He said he didn’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that a person has to hit rock bottom before getting treatment. Poulos believes people should look at addiction as a health issue and get treatment for it as soon as there are signs of a problem.

“I couldn’t imagine if somebody had early diabetes that we’d say, ‘You can just keep eating Twinkies; you have about a month yet and we’re going to wait until you have a major heart attack before we (take this seriously).'”

Following Poulos’ three years in federal prison he was accepted into law school at the University of Maine School of Law and has recently graduated. He also had a monthslong internship in 2015 and 2016 at the White House where he was a full-time staff member of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

He lives in Texas and is the executive director of Life of Purpose, a substance-abuse disorder treatment center.

Oxford County River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition and River Valley Rising presented Poulos’ talk.

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Christopher Poulos, who grew up in Portland, tells an audience recently at Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico about the anxiety he felt as a teenager and how it led to drug and alcohol abuse. He is now in long-term recovery.

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