McClain moves from addiction to treating addicts

Posted 11/25/18

Tracy McClain, a former alcoholic and current Tennessee recovery navigator, works with those struggling with addiction by pointing them in the right direction of treatment and uses her past decisions …

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McClain moves from addiction to treating addicts


Tracy McClain, a former alcoholic and current Tennessee recovery navigator, works with those struggling with addiction by pointing them in the right direction of treatment and uses her past decisions to offer her a unique insight into the mind of addicts.

McClain works for the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and says she loves her job.

“I’ve been in this role since May, and I’m part of the Tennessee Together initiative, so we specialize in addressing the various issues that arise surrounding the opioid crisis, like implementing comprehensive strategies to prevent overdoses and spreading awareness throughout our area’s 10 counties,” she said.

The counties they address include Grundy, Marion, Sequatchie, Bledsoe, Hamilton, Polk, Rhea, Bradley, McMinn and Meigs.

As a child, McClain said she often felt anxious and depressed, but these feelings were numbed when she began drinking as a high school sophomore. Once in college, she started drinking throughout the week, but despite her increasing alcoholism, was never given a ticket, arrested or given any legal consequences. She said people in recovery call this a “high bottom.”

Swearing off alcohol each time she got a hangover, McClain married and had two children. Following her pregnancies, she was no longer able to metabolize alcohol, which reopened the door to her anxiety and depression and ultimately affected her marriage with her husband, John. 

Seeking treatment in 1994, she entered a 12-step support group and said she has been in long-term recovery for 24 years.

“Years ago, they started a program called ‘Certified Peer Recovery Specialists,’ which was mostly to work with people who have mental illnesses,” McClain said. “The people who went through the program would eventually go on to work there and give back to the company that had helped them. They started doing this in other states, but also included addiction, so those of us in long-term recovery can become certified and work with people who are struggling with addiction like we were. That’s how I started on this path.”

She believes former addicts’ secret weapon is the ability to tell current addicts “I’ve been there” instead of hearing a diagnosis from a doctor who has no personal experience with addiction. This allows the addicts to talk with someone who understands their addictions, their struggles and their shame.

“I got out of it and you can too,” she asserted.

In 2013, McClain went to work for a halfway house after leaving a career in public relations and marketing. After this, she went to work for a nonprofit agency working with peer centers, which house those suffering from mental illnesses, for a year and a half.

After receiving her certification, she went to work for a methadone clinic, which works directly with heroin users.

“I believe we have an addictive society, and if we aren’t drinking, smoking or on our phones, we seek something to fill that void,” she said. “Some say addiction is a terminal disease, which means people can’t get enough of what you’re trying to fill that void with.”

One trend she noticed while working for this methadone clinic was how the counties that had the worst drug problems also had the worst alcohol problems.

Knowing how to go about getting help can be confusing, but knowing basic steps to take will help you. Some easy steps McClain advocates include going through detox services; seeking treatment, outpatient or residential; transitional living; and having a recovery support group.

McClain added how many addicts simply need one aspect of treatment to get them on the road to recovery. For example, there may be someone who’s gone through detox, but may have lost their way for a brief time, and all it may take is a family member to check on them and encourage them to seek treatment. This is where the term “intervention” comes from.

“After decades of being trapped in emotional pain and a cycle of alcohol abuse, through recovery I found a way to overcome both,” McClain said.

McClain encourages anyone who needs resources for treatment —whether it be inpatient or outpatient — or community support groups, to contact her at 423-643-1663.


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