I spent most of my 20s in a spiral of codeine addiction, completely disconnected from myself and everyone around me.
It started innocently enough when a friend of mine, who loved experimenting with painkillers, told me that Nurofen Plus was the absolute bee’s knees.
Nurofen Plus is a different kind of beast to regular Nurofen (ibuprofen) as it also contains a hefty dose of codeine, which is an opioid. An opioid is basically legal heroin.
Fun for the whole family.
At first, when taking it for headaches at work, it just made everything easy. Soft. I felt like I was floating on clouds. I noticed it made my boring job fun and easy. Soon I was winning employee of the month six months in a row.
My addiction spiralled rapidly – before I knew it, I was taking 16 pills at once to stop the shakes and the sweats. As I popped pill after pill from the pristine plastic sheet it dawned on me that I might have a problem. I was 19 years old.
For the following 10 years, the struggle was real. I’m not sure how many of those years I spent sober (read: not taking painkillers) but I would estimate it was no more than 3 years in total.
I would detox, and come back to the pills within 6 months. I would then detox again and come back in 3 months. The next time would see me sober for maybe another 6 months.
The merry-go-round continued.
Over the years a pattern emerged. I would suffer through a three-day detox simply for the purpose of lowering the dose to something “reasonable”. Reasonable for me meant no more than 10 pills a day. If I reached the limited, I would detox, return to a low dose of 1-2 pill per day, and detox again when I reached 10 pills.
Detox is brutal. Imagine the worst flu ever, weakness, hot sharp pain everywhere and the inability to easily go to the shower and toilet. Sweating through your clothes and bedsheets three times in one night.
The regular negative effects I had were a complete loss of sex drive and extreme constipation which had a huge impact on my life and health. I also developed stomach ulcers which had to be treated (and thank god, eventually healed).
I am lucky enough that no permanent damage was done during this period of time. My liver and kidneys are 10/10 and my stomach lining is back to normal.
Being in the throes of addiction is fucking exhausting. There were many moments where I truly believed that I would never be free of this addiction. I pictured myself at 45 years old, still visiting different pharmacies in order to get enough drugs to survive the next week.
Pharmacy hopping is a regular activity for functioning addicts who take over the counter medicine. Usually, stronger drugs have a purchase limit – at least in Australia – so you cannot just go to one pharmacy all the time. You had to mix it up. To this day I could tell you all the closest pharmacies in the proximity of my old houses and workplaces during this 10 year period. Absolute insanity.
I kept it a secret from most people. Those who knew probably didn’t understand the magnitude of it and my partner at the time, whilst supportive of my being clean at the beginning of the relationship, definitely put his blinders on towards the end.
That being said – there is nothing anyone can do for an addict until they are ready to face this problem and deal with it once and for all.
I definitely was not ready. In fact, if a friend noticed the problem, or brought it up to me, I would ignore it and if they persisted, eventually I would limit and sometimes cut contact.
At 27 I decided that I wanted to enter my 30s with a clean slate. I had no idea how it was going to happen. I continued to take codeine til 4 months before my 30th birthday.
I would hit what would become my rock bottom.
- I had a long-term addiction, took up to 10 pills a day and would get incredibly sick without them.
- My health was declining in many ways.
- I was newly single (which felt like alone without support), after ending my 6-year relationship.
- At this time I was also doing a lot of other drugs recreationally – cocaine, marijuana, amphetamine and alcohol which were not helping my mental state.
- I ate absolute shit, was still 20kg overweight and didn’t exercise.
- I was approximately $15,000AUD in debt (to private persons as well as credit cards) and I had a car loan for an additional $23,000AUD.
- I had no money to my name and needed to move out of my shared house with my ex – never having lived independently, ever.
- I was responsible for 6 animals.
- I hated my jobs, felt no fulfilment or satisfaction from either one.
- I had no family relationships at the time and felt very alone.
So… fuck, what do you do?
I saw the gravity of my situation. I had no idea how to fix it. I was just barely surviving. I was going day to day and hoping that one-day things were going to shift.
One day everything changed.
Today I am over 3.5 years clean from codeine. How that came to happen is a story for another blog.