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Dublin: 14 °C Monday 14 October, 2019

Opinion: Codeine addiction has taken over my life – and yet I don't feel that I can stop

Are there many more codeine users in Ireland out there?


SO WHAT DO I say…..

I often wonder how I got here. I was a happy child, probably always a little anxious but nothing out of the ordinary.

But 10 years ago and I woke up and felt misery. I can’t count the number of doctors, mental health workers, nurses I spoke to. Or the amount of times someone had to bring me to the Emergency Department because I’d taken an overdose or needed stitches. Oddly after these ‘incidents’ I always felt better – briefly. It was like a huge release. And I then easily slipped on the mask again to get on with everyday life.

Nine years ago, sitting in the waiting room about to be admitted the psychiatric unit, I thought very clearly to myself that was I making a mistake. Looking back now, it was never the place I should have been. Locked away, quite literally, while other patients routinely tried to hang themselves with the cord of the radio or screaming as they put their fist through some glass, it was scary how “normal” this place soon became. I never found true help there. Medication, CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) group sessions, none of them ever really sorted “what was wrong”.

I always think there are two me. The day-to-day me – who’s tried to get on with life, a job, friends, family – and then that other horrible me who’s sitting waiting in a jack-in-the-box waiting to explode.

I never thought things could get much worse.

Then I found something that gave me a feeling of calm, warmth and contentment. Something I hadn’t felt in a long time, maybe years. And where did I find it? Codeine. I could see a using pattern emerging but always just assumed it was something that would just work itself out. But no matter what the side effects, or how sick I would be afterwards, I kept taking it.

It started with Syndol. Then I moved to Solpadeine, but the paracetamol in it would often leave me puking green bile after taking 20 in a five-hour period. Still, I would buy another packet the same day. Then I found that if I took Nurofen Plus, which has ibuprofen and not paracetamol, I didn’t feel half as sick. No matter how many times I would be in physical pain afterwards, it never quite turned me off. I knew it wasn’t right but always put it to the back of my mind. ‘I’ll finish this packet and then wean myself off later’, I kept telling myself.

I probably didn’t know the real extent of how much I relied on them until last summer and I tried to go cold turkey. Living hell was the only way I could describe it. The shivers, sweats and diarrhoea was like nothing I had experienced before, and that was just after one day.

I did seek help… but this is where I feel like real fraud. I don’t want to give them up. No matter how bad the constipation gets (yes, I know, not a pleasant side effect) or if I would actually rip the inside of my bowl leaving me in agony going to the bathroom, it just doesn’t matter. I see a drug counsellor every week and although he is quite nice I find myself lying to him about the amount I’m taking. I can’t see a way I can get on with life without them. Everyone keeps telling me what they are doing to me but I was miserable before.

In my head I see them as almost a saving grace, at least I know now that when the demons come and my head is too much to handle they are there for me. When I go to Narcotics Anonymous meetings (which, as you can imagine, are more directed to heroin and more serious drug users – there is nothing specifically geared towards prescription or over-the-counter drug abuse) I almost envy the other users. They somehow have the motivation to get themselves together, they have made the decision to stop using. But, writing this at 1.30am, my only concern is that I don’t have any Nurofen for the morning. Maybe I haven’t hit rock bottom yet to give them up, but I can’t see how much further I have to fall.

Are there many more codeine users in Ireland out there? I can’t find that much information or forums to write on.

The author of this piece wishes to remain anonymous.

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