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Addiction and the Death of Garrett Reid

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When we think about our brain, if we think about it at all, we tend to think of it as the body's personal computer. The brain is the organ we use to make decisions and go about our daily life. But what many may not realize is that our brains aren't just used to make decisions but are trying to influence the decisions we make. What often gets described as temptation is really the brain releasing chemicals in an attempt to influence our actions.

Of course the brain doesn't have its own separate conscience and there's no tiny little man living in our head, but as we've evolved our brains have become wired in such a way as to reward actions that increase our chances of passing on our DNA and punishing actions that decrease those odds. Put more precisely, feelings evolved to get us to satisfy our basic instincts.

In a way feelings are like the carrot and the stick. The knowledge that you'll feel satisfied if you eat is the carrot while feeling hungry is the stick. The enjoyment of companionship and the pleasure of intimacy is the carrot, feeling alone and unfulfilled is the stick. Feeling warm and comfortable in bed is the carrot, being cold and miserable outside is the stick.

Yet what happens when we come across things our brains are not equipped to handle? In the past scarcity was the norm and death by starvation was a very real possibility. So when we find some calorie dense, fatty food, our brains are telling us to eat as much as we can so the body can store the extra calories as fat making it easier to survive later when food is scarce. However living in America today with a 7-11 on every corner and grocery stores packed wall-to-wall with food, death by starvation is not something many of us worry about. But our brains are still wired for how things were in the past so now America is the fattest nation on earth.

An overabundance of food isn't the only modern problem we face in America. There's processed foods, alcohol, tobacco, credit cards, commercials making us think we need something we don't, and of course, narcotics. Despite the overall harmful effects of drugs, they trick the mind into thinking it's something it needs. As a result an average of 100 Americans die from an overdose every day. A couple of days ago one of those who died was Garrett Reid, the oldest son of Philadelphia Eagles head coach Andy Reid.

More about Garrett Reid after the jump...

No official cause of death has been released yet but considering Garrett was only 29-years old and had been battling drug addiction for the better part of the last decade, it would seem the two are somehow related. Andy Reid even hinted at drugs being the cause when he said,

Even though he lost the battle that has been ongoing for the last eight years, we will always remember him as a fighter who had a huge, loving heart.

Garrett's drug problem started when he began taking marijuana and alcohol at the age of 18. From there he went on to the prescription pain meds Percocet and OxyContin, and eventually cocaine and heroin. He then started to sell drugs to his friends and their parents and even was selling in a notoriously tough section of Philadelphia. While recounting his time as a drug dealer he said,

I could go anywhere in the ‘hood'. They all knew who I was. I enjoyed it. I liked being a drug dealer.

But while he may have enjoyed it early on, he eventually came to regret what he'd done. After being arrested and sentenced to 23-months in prison for running into another car while driving under the influence he said in what would turn out to be a eerily accurate statement,

I don't want to die doing drugs. I don't want to be that kid who was the son of the head coach of the Eagles, who was spoiled and on drugs and OD'd and just faded into oblivion.

While Garrett was in prison Andy Reid visited him every Thursday for almost two years. The warden had Reid's cell phone number and Reid even gave the prison a box of Eagles hats after Garrett was released. He was hopeful his oldest son would be able to overcome his addiction.

In order to help him with his recovery Reid had Garrett working with the team as an assistant weight instructor. In the time he was with the team several players grew to like the friendly and outgoing Garrett. Guard Evan Mathis said of him,

I spent plenty of time with him. He was a happy-go-lucky guy and always a joy to be around, always telling jokes and having fun. Really just brightened your day when you were around him.

Safety Colt Anderson who spent 8-months with Garrett rehabilitating a knee said, "He was one of us. He was like a teammate." And long-snapper Jon Dorenbos who came to be very close to Garrett simply said, "He was just a cool dude."

Like many drug addicts Garrett wanted to change. He had been in and out of rehab multiple times and even though he was 6'4" tall his weight had dropped from 260 pounds to only 168 while he was living out of his car in Arizona. Many will say he got what he deserved, that when you play with fire sometimes you get burned. But things are never as black and white as they seem.

Maybe he was just a bored spoiled rich kid. Or maybe there are issues that we know nothing about and he was self-medicating. Only he knew why he did what he did. And even if it was simply boredom or peer pressure that influenced his initial experimentation, how many of us haven't experimented a little in college? Even the last three Presidents of the United States have admitted to experimenting with drugs in college.

So why do some people become addicted? Who knows. Why are 2% of Americans addicted to binge eating? Why are around 3-6% addicted to sex? Why are some people OCD and can't let things go while others are bi-polar? As much as we know about the brain there's still a lot to learn.

Garrett Reid made the choice to take drugs and I'm sure if he were alive today he'd tell us it was one of the worst decisions he ever made. At some point he became an addict and decided he wanted to quit. But once you're an addict it takes more than simply deciding to quit to actually quit.

Imagine you got lost in the desert and had nothing to drink for 24-hours. Then with the all-encompassing pain of thirst filling your every thought, you come across someone with a full canteen. Before they lie down for a nap they tell you it's their canteen and you can't have any. How many of us could honestly say we wouldn't try to drink some after the person fell asleep? Even knowing it's wrong to steal the brain is bombarding your senses with the promise of relief that would come from even a small sip and the pain of thirst you feel at the moment.

The death of Garrett was a horrible experience for the Reid family. There are few things in life that I think would be worse than burying your own child. Andy Reid has said he doesn't plan on missing any of the preseason games. While I couldn't imagine taking so little time off work if my son died, people deal with tragedy in different ways.

It would be easy to criticize Garrett and say he brought this on himself with some bad choices he made. It would be easy to criticize the Reid's and say if they had done more or been more involved this wouldn't have happened. But like so many things in life, the easy thing to do isn't necessarily the right thing to do.

Garrett's mom Tammy Reid perhaps put it best when she said,

You have no idea, as parents you have no idea what's right and what's wrong, what's going to work and what's not going to work. And so you take a stab at it, you talk to psychologists and psychiatrists and friend's who have been through it, anybody, to come up with a solution, what you think is best, and it doesn't always work. That's the bottom line, it doesn't always work.

Sadly for Garrett and the Reids, this was one of those times when it didn't work.