February 2019 - Hader Clinic Queensland

The Complex Relationship of Addiction and Mental Health

Co-occurring disorders, also often referred to as comorbidity, is the term we apply when a person is suffering from two or more disorders or illnesses at the same time.

When it comes to addiction to drugs and/or alcohol, the chances of a co-occurring mental health disorder are alarmingly high.

People suffering substance dependencies very frequently also experience symptoms of mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

In many cases the comorbid disorders are so deeply connected that it can be hard to determine which condition was present first, substance dependency or a mental health issue; however, unravelling the relationship between co-occurring disorders is important in order to design a successful treatment plan.

If you or a loved one is suffering from comorbid addiction and mental health disorders, it is vital to educate yourself and understand as much about both conditions as possible.

Yes, there might be moments when recovery seems out of reach but with appropriate treatment that takes all present conditions into consideration, it is by no means impossible to put an end to the suffering that come with addiction and mental health issues.

Co-relations between addiction and mental health disorders

Statistics show that around 50% of people struggling with substance abuse issues also present with symptoms of mental health disorders and that around 50% of people seeking help for mental health conditions also have a problem with addiction.

Therein lies the biggest challenge when it comes to treatment.

It is often seemingly impossible to tell whether substance overuse has caused a mental health issue or if an addiction has occurred in response to a pre-existent mental health condition.

This is why a thorough assessment of any potential client at a treatment facility is so important.

Substance abuse is often a result of people self-medicating to relieve the symptoms of a mental health disorder; in which case the treatment of the mental health concerns will almost always result in an automatic recovery from the co-occurring addiction.

On the other hand, when overuse of drugs and/or alcohol has caused a mental health condition – i.e. in a case of drug induced psychosis – it is very likely that all mental health symptoms will subside once a client has become drug free.

In either situation, it is imperative to address comorbid disorders alongside each other if a successful recovery is to be achieved.

Common co-occurring disorders

Mood disorders (i.e. depression, anxiety and panic disorders) are exceedingly common co-occurring disorders in people suffering from addiction.

However, some common comorbid disorders are less obvious.

Persons struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently co-present with substance abuse issues, as a result of alleviating their mental health symptoms.

PTSD-sufferers most often turn to alcohol to dull their pain; however, there are also many recorded cases of PTDS co-occurring with addiction to cannabis and ice (crystal methamphetamine).

The same goes for people suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

The socially debilitating symptoms of OCD are often underestimated; which is why many sufferers turn to drugs and/or alcohol as self-medication rather than seeking professional help.

There is also a strong comorbidity between substance dependency and eating disorders; often rooted in an attempt to use drugs to control and diminish appetite.

Ice use in particular can result in loss of appetite, which can be dangerously appealing for people struggling with body image issues.

Social stigma is a huge factor when it comes to substance abuse substituting for medical treatment; which is why an integral part of successful treatment is to understand just how common these co-occurring disorders are.

Combating shame is often the first step to making long-term recovery possible.

Treatment approach – Interdisciplinary/ dual diagnosis treatment

Dual diagnosis treatment, also known as the interdisciplinary approach to addiction treatment, means that all comorbid disorders are being addressed within one treatment plan.

As mental health issues and substance abuse are often so closely interlinked, this treatment approach has proven much more effective than treatments which address either mental health or substance abuse exclusively.

The aim of dual diagnosis treatment is to not only help a person to stop using drugs and/or alcohol but also to understand their relationship with substance abuse.

If a person is aware of their individual triggers, warning signs of cravings to come and their physical and psychological responses to triggers and cravings, it is much easier to develop coping strategies.

Long-term recovery requires a lot of work, but with appropriate addiction treatment and strong focus on developing individual plans for relapse prevention it is a thoroughly attainable goal.

Help is available

Regardless of how hopeless a situation might seem, help is available if you are brave enough to reach out and ask for it. There is no reason to continue an existence ruled by addiction.  You can start to reclaim your life today.

How to Help a Loved One Struggling with Ice Addiction

Knowing or suspecting that a loved one has developed an ice addiction is a confronting experience and often leaves people feeling completely out of their depth.

Friends and family of ice addicts often feel overwhelmed and useless, as they are unsure of how to best broach the subject or how to best help their loved one get treatment for ice addiction.

The most important thing to keep in mind when you have a loved one struggling with an ice addiction is that addiction is an illness and requires professional addiction treatment.

So if you want to help a loved one who is addicted to ice, the long-term goal should always be to get them into a professional rehab facility.

Unfortunately it can take time for an ice addict to admit that they are in need of a stay in rehab.

No matter how many doors you open for your loved one, they will have to walk through them on their own accord.

That said, there are a number of ways in which you can support your loved one while they are still trapped inside the cycle of addiction.

1. Educate yourself

Ice addiction is a complex, many-layered illness with effects on all aspect of the user’s life.

The more you understand about how their addiction impacts their behaviour, the better you will be able to cope with your loved ones’ antics, which might at times seem nothing short of malicious.

Realising that you are witnessing symptoms of addiction rather than conscious choices can make it easier to remain patient and supportive.

The internet is a good place to start and has a many excellent resources

You can also find numerous useful articles on ice addiction and family support here on our website.

There are also a great many helplines available that offer great support and information to friends and family of ice addicts

  • Lifeline Emergency Support 13 11 14
  • National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline 1800 250 015
  • Turning Point – Ice Advice 1800 423 238
  • Family Drug Support (24 hrs) 1300 368 186

2. Encourage dialogue

If you want to encourage your loved one to open up to you about their struggles with ice addiction, you need to create an environment in which they feel safe.

  • Be non-judgemental
  • Keep calm
  • Listen
  • Treat conversations as confidential
  • Don’t lecture on the dangers of drug abuse (they know)
  • Don’t offer unsolicited advice
  • Stress that you are available if your loved one wants to talk
  • Don’t simplify their illness (i.e. “You just have to choose to stop” – addiction is not a matter of choice)

3. Be present

Let your loved one know that you care about them and are always there when they want to talk.

When they do talk – LISTEN.

This remains an important way you can support your loved one even once they have entered treatment.

Ice addiction takes a huge toll on sufferers’ mental health and talking to someone they trust can be a tremendous help in processing their experiences with addiction.

4. Don’t become an enabler

Although it is important to be supportive of your loved one, it is important to distinguish between supportive and enabling behaviour.

Supportive

  • Allowing your loved one to vent when they are overwhelmed
  • Assuring you that your door is open to them when they need emotional support
  • Offering to help your loved one to find professional help
  • Taking part in your loved one’s recovery process

Enabling

  • Offering financial support – any money you give your loved one will ultimately help pay for drugs
  • Making excuses for your loved ones’ behaviour at work, school or social gatherings
  • Covering up your loved ones’ excesses to help them safe face

Watch our quick video explainer on what enabling is

 

There is a fine line between support and enabling, but it is important that you keep in mind that you should never help your loved one minimise the consequences of their addiction.

5. Remind them that help is available

While you cannot force your loved one to enter into a rehab facility, you can certainly point out to them – occasionally – that the option is open to them.

It is a good idea to find out what treatment options are available so you can give your loved one detailed information if and when they express interest.

6. Look after yourself

Having a loved one struggling with ice addiction can completely take over your life – so be mindful of your own needs.

  • It is alright to vent your frustrations, whether to a close friend or one of the support services available to friends and family of ice addicts.
  • It is alright to tell your loved one that you need a day to yourself.
  • It is alright to go out and do something you enjoy.

Remember, you cannot solve your loved one’s problem for them. The best you can do is to offer ongoing support and be ready for when they are ready for help; which is why it is important that you take time to recharge.

Breaking the Cycle of Addiction – Lucy’s Story

It’s hard to believe the poised woman sitting across from me is a recovering addict. Bright, intelligent and articulate, Lucy doesn’t fit society’s narrative of what an alcoholic looks like. It’s hard to imagine that six months ago, Lucy was caught in a web of alcoholic hell and worried that her out of control addiction would take her life.

This is her incredible story.

My name is Lucy. I am 29 years old and my primary addiction is alcohol. I’ve abused every kind of drug you can think of, but nothing has ever worked for me like alcohol did.

For the last four to five years, substance abuse has completely ruled my life.

I was a round-the-clock daily drinker who developed a heavy dependence on the substance. I used to think I was a ‘functional alcoholic’ but the truth is that I simply couldn’t function without it.

Towards the end, I needed it to do everyday things. My tolerance was so high that although I eventually received little to no effect from it, I couldn’t stand the withdrawals. So I kept going.

I had a great upbringing.

My parents are good people who worked hard to ensure that my brother and I had every opportunity to live happy and healthy lives. I wasn’t raised a spoilt brat, but I was told every night before bed how special, precious and loved I was.

For the longest time however, I struggled with who I was internally and never really felt connected to myself or others. I knew my family only wanted me to be happy, and that society just wanted me to be ‘normal’ but I somehow always felt different, like I wasn’t enough.

As a little girl, I was full of fear. I was highly capable and bursting with potential on the outside, but was never content with who I was inside. I’ve always had this compulsive urge to do more, get more, and be more.

I’m an extremist by nature; I hyper focus on specific things and trained myself from an early age to live in only two states of being – ultra perfectionism or complete self-destruction. I was pretty good at both.

I’ve known for many years that there was something missing inside of me, a hole that I tried to fill with everything I possibly could.

As an adult, I felt like an outcast from society, like everyone else had been given some secret manual on how to live a happy, normal life and I’d somehow missed the memo.

My primary purpose in life was a combination of wanting to ‘feel good’ (whatever it took) and simultaneously control the perception that others formed of me. I had no values of my own, no principles to live by, little integrity and no self-worth.

There is no reason at all for me to be an addict.

I am white, educated, and heterosexual. I grew up in the middle-class neighbourhoods of a first world country; I never endured any kind of discrimination, abuse or trauma.

I know how wanky that sounds, but I make a point of saying it because I want to challenge society’s description of an addict and the reasons why people ‘become’ addicts.

I functioned at high levels and appeared very normal by society’s standards.

Inside however, I just wanted to die.

In a weird way I kind of was, I was simply existing through life. I’ve certainly spent the most part of my 20s trying to hide the fact that I was reliant on drugs and alcohol.

I felt so much shame in that towards the end, like I was a total fraud. The most dangerous thing about living a complete façade is that you actually end up lying to yourself.

I was in complete denial about my addiction for multiple years; I truly believed that I had it all under control and that I could stop whenever I wanted to. I convinced myself that as long as no one knew about it, it wasn’t actually a problem.

I’m no stranger to mental health.

I’ve spent over half my life on different mental health plans and have seen countless doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists and nutritionists.

I was first treated at age 14 for a long term eating disorder that I still struggle with today. I’ve been diagnosed with chronic anxiety and depression and have been prescribed various medications to assist my mental state. I

tried everything I could to ‘fix’ the way I felt inside, but nothing ever worked for me like drugs and alcohol did.

Alcohol in my particular, was my solution. It was the answer to all of my internal problems and the tranquillity to slow my busy mind. It was my medicine, my best friend, and my chief purpose in life. As long as I knew where my next carton was coming from, I could cope (just) with life.

In the beginning it worked fantastically… then it just worked… then it stopped working… then it ran my life into the ground. When the walls came crashing down, I knew it was time to stop. But when I realised I couldn’t, I knew I was in trouble.

At the beginning of 2018, I made the decision to relocate to a new city for a fresh start.

My life was a mess; I was caught up in the toxic aftermath of a dangerous relationship, I’d isolated myself from childhood friends and I was in serious financial hardship.

My parents were supportive of the transition, they knew I had to start somewhere fresh and clean up my life.

Leading up to the move, I was still drinking every day – in secret of course.

My physical and mental health was beginning to deteriorate but I kept on going, living in hope for the ‘new sober life’ that I had promised myself would start as soon as I relocated. I had a brand new job to look forward to, a new apartment, new opportunities, new everything.

It was all there waiting for me to rebuild. All I had to do was stay sober – I knew that. But I couldn’t.

I remember the day I got my keys to my apartment. I had no furniture yet or anything, all of my stuff was due to arrive on the delivery truck that afternoon. But I found myself sitting on the floor of my new living room with a carton of bourbon, cracking open a drink.

I remember the insanity of it all really hitting me then. How the hell did that happen?

I look back on it now and think of course it did. I didn’t know any other way of processing my emotions – happy, sad, anxious, whatever – the solution was to drink. All I could do was continue what I knew, the geographical change was irrelevant.

The next 6 months saw the real beginning of my real downfall.

Alcohol, the one thing that had always ‘worked’ so well for me, was beginning to work against me.

The normal anxieties of trying to find my place in a new town, coupled with excess drinking, saw my mental health starting to deteriorate rapidly. I was losing the one thing that I’d always valued so much – my mind.

In January, I was hospitalised for suicidal ideations.

My parents were aware at this point and were thinking that it was just ‘substance abuse to get her through a tricky time’. To support me, they came and stayed with me on and off to supervise me and help me remain sober.

I’d go OK for a bit, and then I’d pick up again. I even went to AA where I got 16 days up and then relapsed.

I went on to try everything… Mondays… a new month… Dry July… Eat well… Go to the gym… Join a footy team… New medication. Nothing worked long term for me; I kept going back to drinking because it was my default mode.

I’d abused it for far too long.

I even asked my Dad to help me manage my finances. I gave him full access to my bank account so he could monitor the money going in and out each pay. I thought that surely if I knew he could see what I’m doing, I wouldn’t be able to pay for it in the first place. It didn’t stop me.

I was selling things, I was pawning things. I did a lot of things I’m not proud of to feed my addiction. I’ve carried that guilt and shame around for a long time, but I’m grateful to be free of it today.

By this stage I hadn’t been to work in weeks.

I love my job but I was simply in no fit state to go in. I was caught in the terrifying cycle of active addiction.

I work for the government, in a professional industry where it’s not a good look to show up ‘off your face’. So I just didn’t show up.

Instead, I went back to hospital a few more times. This time I didn’t have a choice. An ambulance was called to my house to check on me and I was told that by law, I was in an ‘unfit state’ and had to go with them to the hospital.

I refused so they called the police who eventually escorted me into the vehicle and off to the psychiatric ward.

I wasn’t violent, but I was scared.

I knew I was losing my mind but I didn’t know how to stop. I remember bringing a few cans with me in my handbag and being completely dumbfounded when I was told it was against the law to drink in an ambulance.

I was kept overnight but left in the morning against medical advice. I went straight to the bottle shop of course. That afternoon a friend drove me back to hospital when I noticed blood in my vomit and faeces. I was placed on a drip and told that I needed to do a supervised detox or I could die from alcoholic seizures.

I think that’s when it really hit me.

If I didn’t do something about this, and get some proper help, I was going to die.

I googled rehabs and looked up a few places online. I searched the public places first but the waiting lists were so long. I knew I needed to organise treatment while I was desperate enough to do so. Then I found the Hader Clinic Queensland and discovered they offered specialist women’s addiction treatment programs.

I spoke to Hayden on the phone and he advised me that he could get me in within a few days.

But I needed financial help. I had some money put aside but didn’t know if my parents would help me. I hadn’t spoken to them in a while, they loved me a lot but wouldn’t talk to me in active addiction.

I picked up the phone hesitantly and told them about the Hader Clinic Queensland. I said I’d like to go if they were able to help me pay for it. They agreed, telling me that they had wanted this for a long time but that it had to come from me.

I was relieved.

Going to rehab is the greatest gift I’ve ever received, but it would be a long time before I’d fully understand and appreciate that.

Initially I planned to do thirty days because I thought I need to sober up and that I was going purely for forced abstinence. That was what rehab was for, right?

I thought that’s all I needed – to get clean and sober. But I was wrong, I needed to learn how to live again. I ended up doing the whole ninety days and got a brand new life.

I did rehab tough.

I really ‘broke down’ in there. I had no coping mechanisms and really avoided looking at myself for a long time.

I broke all of the cardinal rules and was placed on a behaviour support plan because I clashed a lot with other residents and gave the support staff a bit of grief. I fought with everything and everyone. I challenged the system, the staff and the classes.

Put simply, I was a brat but I didn’t know how else to be.

I’d lived such a fake life for so long I didn’t really know who I was without alcohol.

I hated myself so much for allowing myself to get to a point where I needed to be there, so I hated everyone else as a result.

I made some good friends there, and had days that were enjoyable. But if I caught myself having too much fun, I felt guilty and hated myself again.

I wasn’t proud to be there. When I saw other people who came across that way, it irritated me. About one month in, my eating disorder resurfaced badly, so at that time I had no nutrition in me and my body stopped absorbing my medication.

So while I’d put down alcohol, I was actively engaging in and trying to manage another addiction. At the time, rehab felt like the worst decision I’d ever made.

However, something happened that I did not expect.

Towards the end, my experience started to change… or maybe I did.

I stopped fighting people and began to appreciate them for the lessons they were teaching me about myself and my addiction. I developed a real respect for Jay and the support workers who, despite my attitude, were unconditionally kind and patient with me.

I started to listen in meetings to other fellowship members who shared their stories with me. It gave me hope.

I started to develop some close friendships and I bonded strongly with others, even those I’d once clashed with. But time and time again, I would see people leave, pick up again, relapse, go to jail, and even die.

I got frustrated, I got sad, but most surprisingly – I actually got grateful.

Towards the end, I realised how lucky I was to still be there. I was still alive and still had a chance at recovery. I felt blessed, and with that I turned a corner. I remember Paula telling me that “sometimes you have to completely break down before you can rebuild something new”.

I decided right then and there that I was ready to rebuild.

I set up a desk in the dining hall and I started to read the literature I’d been given. I took my own study notes and became passionate about learning as much as I could.

I got a sponsor and actually starting doing the Twelve Step program.

The best thing about the Hader Clinic Queensland is that they attend NA and AA meetings. I don’t know how other rehabs aren’t.

We did one meeting a day for ninety days and I’ve been able to continue that outside of the rehab because there are literally fellowships everywhere.

For me, recovery started to work when I began to work the program… just like the staff said it would.

The support workers at the Hader Clinic Queensland are absolute gold. I didn’t value them enough at the time. It was only upon reflection that I realise how absolutely blessed I was to have each one of them put in my path.

The selfless work they do at the clinic is priceless. I hold each one of them with such high regard today.

I’m now just over 6 months clean and sober and have completed the twelve step program with my sponsor.

It’s given me a blueprint for living and I continue to live in and work the program to the best of my ability each day.

I’m a person who hit rock bottom, almost destroyed their life and rebuilt it for the better.

I was a drink driver, a thief, a liar and a fraud.

I had convinced myself that I was a burden to society and that the world would be a better place without me.

Now, I have recovery and it’s a downright miracle. My life today is a blessing, it’s one that I treasure and protect. I’m lucky to not just be alive but to have a new life.

My primary purpose in life now is to pass on the message of recovery and help and be kind to others. It’s a simple way to live, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I have recently re-entered the workforce and find pure joy and happiness in what I do.

I have strong, genuine friendships that I treasure and my family and I have never been closer.

I will be forever in debt to the Hader Clinic Queensland for introducing me to a program of recovery.

I went to rehab thinking I only need to put down drugs and alcohol and stop self-destructing. I knew I needed forced abstinence. But what I received is far beyond that.

For the first time in my life, I am completely content with who I am.

At times, I experience a euphoric sense of serenity and peace within that I’ve never had before.

I can make eye contact with strangers, I can smile and I can laugh. I respect myself as a human being who is worthy and loved. Because of that, I’m able to get outside of myself and connect with others.

That old hole inside of me has finally been filled with love; love for self and love for others. I no longer have a desire for ‘more’ of anything.

I am free.

The Top 5 Lies Ice Addicts Tell

Ice addiction has a profound effect on the sufferers’ behaviour, ranging from volatile emotional outbursts to complete social shutdown.

While no two cases of ice addiction are identical, there are common denominators which will occur in the behavioural patterns of all ice addicts; and lying is on the top of the list.

For ice addicts lying is a survival mechanism and can become second nature very quickly.

A majority of lies ice addicts tell are designed to mask their substance abuse; however, they can also serve the more sinister purpose of aiding and enabling their addiction.

Lie #1: “But I’m not high!”

Many addicts will go to ridiculous length to maintain the lie that they are not high on ice, even when confronted with tell-tale signs;

  • Bloodshot eyes?  “I’ve got really bad hay fever.”
  • Incessant sniffling?  “I’ve got this massive head cold.”
  • Compulsive scratching? “I’m having a reaction to this new washing powder.”
  • Sudden weight loss?  “I’m so stressed at uni/work, I just forget to eat.”
  • Insomnia?  “I’ve had, like, three *insert energy drink name* today, I’m buzzed.”
  • Practically crashing out mid-conversation?  “I’ve stayed up til four am doing this assignment.”

The problem with lies ice addicts tell to mask their drug use is that, while they are obviously untrue, they are very hard to argue with unless one goes out on a limb and calls the addict out – which often leads to unpleasant scenes and storming off.

Lie #2: “It’s just a social thing.”

While an ice addict might admit that they have used – most often when it is so blatantly obvious that lies become pointless – it is unlikely that they will admit to an addiction.

An addict may concede that they “had a smoke at the party” or “had a session with a mate”, but they are likely to be adamant that their ice use is by no means a regular habit.

Lie #3: “This was the last time.”

Because it is hard to consider the possibility that a loved one – be it your partner, spouse, child, friend or parent is suffering from ice addiction, this is a lie most of us are only too keen to believe.

When an ice addict is caught out using, their insistence that this was the final incident can be very convincing; in fact, addicts are often sincere in the moments when they promise that there will be no more.

Unfortunately, ice addiction is stronger than the best of intentions unless the addict gets professional help.

Lie #4: “I need some money because…”

Ice addiction is an expensive habit and can cause tremendous financial strain.

Many lies ice addicts tell are designed to procure funds to go and get more drugs.

Lost ATM cards, delayed pay checks, unexpected bills… the list of decoy expenses addicts invent in order to get loans (or straight-up handouts) from loved ones is endless.

This type of lie leaves you in the awkward position of either giving money to your loved one that you know will be spent on ice or refuse and bear the brunt of their anger, which can at times be truly terrifying.

However, no matter how horrific their reaction might be, if you suspect a loved one is addicted to ice, it is best to stick to your guns and refuse to be an enabler.

Lie #5: “That didn’t have anything to do with me being high!”

Ice addiction can have far reaching consequences, but most addicts will staunchly refuse to admit that their substance abuse is impacting their lives negatively.

Loosing employment because of inadequate performance can be put down to either a personal vendetta of management or, even more simply, budget cuts at the work place.

Being late to pick up the children from school is blamed on bad traffic.

Running the car off the road only happened because other drivers were behaving irresponsibly.

Most ice addicts will maintain the lie that whatever monumental missteps and misfortunes have occurred, they are in no way related to their substance abuse.

Stopping the lies

Putting a stop to their lies and facing the reality of their situation is, without a doubt, one of the hardest things any ice addict will ever have to do.

However, it is also the best thing they will ever do.

If you have a loved one struggling with ice addiction, the best thing you can do for them, even if they will not thank you for it at the time, is to refuse to enable their lying behaviour any further.

You may not be able to force them into being truthful; but you can choose not to engage with them when they are obviously lying to you.

If you are struggling with ice addiction, it is time to take a good luck at your situation and drop the pretences.

Admitting to yourself that you are not okay, you are hurting your loved ones, you are no longer having a good time partying and you do no longer wish to live this way is a gut-wrenching experience; but it is also the first step to healing yourself and your relationships.

The moment you allow yourself to admit that help is needed, you will find that treatment for ice addiction is available.

Sex, Drugs, Rock & Roll and Addiction

Immersed in an industry from a young age where alcohol and drug use was normalised, Sarah has kindly offered to share her journey to, and back, from alcoholism.

This is her story.

You should believe a lot about what’s commonly believed about the entertainment industry – it is indeed filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll.

I’m a veteran of this industry – I started my career up on stage before moving into film and television. I literally grew up in the entertainment industry. I now act, and run a couple of businesses including a fashion label. I’m also a recovering alcoholic.

Working in entertainment alcohol and drug abuse was everywhere. You’d finish at 11 o’clock at night but you didn’t go home and go to bed, you’d go out to a nightclub. 

Being surrounded by drugs and alcohol, I accepted it as “part of the territory” and you tend to start at a young age. I started drinking at 13 and went to nightclubs at the same age.

I never actually paid for a drink either due to my minor celebrity status. I’d be at the bar and everything was free. 

The pressures of being in the limelight do get on top of you at a young age and drinking was a way for me to cope with this on a daily basis.

When I left the stage in my mid twenties, that’s when I realised that my daily drinking could be a bit of a problem. I would switch from partying all night after a show and sleeping all day and repeating this pattern to maybe reducing my partying time to a few days per week.

Then I started film and television work, which was a day job, and a bit of a shock to the system.

I’d come home after work and drink. So, the drinking at home began from my mid twenties, whereas before, it was about drinking when I was going out.

It was then my alcoholism really started to ramp up.

I started drinking wine, I started collecting wine, I started becoming involved with wine clubs. My father had a wine cellar and was in the industry and it all sounded lovely, cosy, and romantic.

This was about the time when my drinking escalated into a daily ritual, a nice wine to wind down after work – wasn’t that the socially acceptable thing to do?

At around the age of 26, I started to develop panic attacks.

I’ve always been an extremely hard worker and been self sufficient in working for myself the whole way through. I guess you could have labelled me as a high functioning alcoholic. I’ve always had to run my own race, never had any family support as such – apart from a few mentors here and there, I’ve always had to do everything on my own.

And to have a drink? That was my release at the end of the day to switch my brain off, because it was always in overdrive. 

I tried so many things over the years – I’d “come good” for long periods of time, even a couple of years and then the panic attacks would start and so would the drinking. 

The panic attacks were driven by having to come up with new business, think of new business, get new ideas and make a living.  The drinking relieved that. I always had family issues too, nothing dire but they’re not the sharpest tools in the shed.

Because a lot of my friends were in the entertainment industry and were engaging in the same behaviours, it always helped me to rationalise things – i.e. I wasn’t “as bad” as my friends were, so I was OK, I was “normal”. 

However my internal mechanisms were telling me otherwise – that something wasn’t right. I did take drugs recreationally in my 20s but they did not have the pull that alcohol had.

My mother doesn’t drink and neither does my step father. I didn’t grow up in a household that promoted alcohol at all. But my uncle was an alcoholic and I loved him – he was somewhat of a role model for me.

Looking back on it, I can see a correlation. But I think my work in the entertainment industry was really the root cause.

My alcohol use really escalated after a large upheaval in my life.

I moved overseas, came back, worked and worked and worked and was dealing with the wrong partner in my life. He was in my life for 8 years – he’d just do what I would do with drinking. He had his own issues too and our partnership became quite poisonous. He stopped drinking, but I couldn’t.

My every-day drinking changed to drinking because I didn’t want to live anymore. I was literally drinking myself to death.

When I turned to try and end it all – I had two attempts at that, the drinking around the clock started.

And then I tried to get better.

I tried to get off alcohol by myself. I went to counselling. I even went to alcohol and drug therapy.  Though in hindsight, I made a mistake choosing a particular  therapist – for example they told me to avoid going to Alcoholics Anonymous telling me it was full of non professionals who didn’t know what they were talking about.

This was terrible advice really, because I now credit AA and Hader Clinic Queensland for saving my life.

I also tried buddhism and looked at other religions.

I knew I was doing the wrong thing by drinking and I knew it had a hold of me. I never lied to myself about the alcohol being a problem.

I would reduce it, so I wouldn’t feel as toxic or hungover – I’d try and “dodge” my way around the problem with these strategies to make it OK, so I wouldn’t have to let it go.

Only I knew that I wasn’t OK and that deep down I no longer wanted alcohol in my life.

Things got so bad in life, I had some trauma – it seemed one bad thing after the other happened and I just got sick of living.

Everything just seemed too hard.

I was alone, trying to work. I never had a decent partner and I’m so relieved that I never had any children to any of them – they were all complete idiots who I ended up taking care of.

To be honest I got to 40, got engaged and I though “oh great, I’ve met a sensible calm guy” but as we got to know each other, his true self was revealed.

I felt like life and everyone else was passing me by. I had nothing to look forward to.

My mother was sick with cancer, I wasn’t coping and I simply felt like I didn’t want to be here.

To be honest, I still have bad days, as we all do, but the difference is that today I don’t have a toxic alcohol fuelled brain driving my thoughts, which makes it easier to cope with.

Alcohol just clouds everything.

I know life is what you make of it. But when you’re affected by alcohol, everything seems way worse.  When I was in complete alcoholism, I felt like insanity was kicking in.

You look at someone on the street and can rationalise by saying “they’re insane and they don’t know what’s going on” but my experience tells me they do know what’s going on, and that’s the mental anguish, the prison that they find themselves in.

I just wanted to sleep.

The drinking around the clock started about 18 months before I went to rehab.

I just didn’t want to deal with the living arrangement I was in and I just couldn’t see a way out. When I saw a way out, it was too much work – I was sick or insane, basically.

By the time I got to the Hader Clinic Queensland, a girlfriend came and got me and took me to the clinic.

I had left the house I was living in with my then partner and had gone to my mother’s place.

She was looking into rehab places to send me to. I wasn’t kicking and screaming against it, but when my girlfriend finally said “it’s time” I knew that it was really time.

I had a broken coccyx bone, I had to be helped downstairs. The drinking really was killing me. I was cranky, severely underweight and malnourished, I was a complete mess. 

My friend saved my life. I wouldn’t listen to my mother as I thought she was an idiot, nor my partner, because I thought he was a maniac – and even after rehab, I could see that he was a bad choice for me.

When I got to the rehab centre, there were lots of younger people who I wanted to throttle, however I made friends with one mate who now works for me in one of my businesses. I’m quite a people person.

Initially, I found it confronting, I felt like I was in jail.

However as soon as that feeling of insanity started to lift – I was detoxing from the alcohol – things improved.

It was a lot of hard work, but I actually enjoyed working on myself.

It was terrifying walking into that environment when your ego is saying, “you don’t belong here”. Then there was the internal chatter – “you’ve really done it now, look how low you’ve gotten”. 

Like everyone, I had a few frustrations, but on the whole it was brilliant.

Every staff member there… just amazing.

I think the fact that they have all had their issues, they’re so well experienced, is what makes it work. 

Every other person I tried to get help from had no idea because they had never experienced what I was going through – they’d either read it in a textbook or learned about it at uni.

With that, how could they counsel me about a panic attack when they’d never had one themselves?

How do you know what the insanity of alcoholism is like if you’re not a drinker?

So the fact that I could sit down in a class situation with the guys that worked there and hear their stories made all the difference.

That’s why AA works, it focuses on our similarities not our differences.

This, I feel, is the key to it all, along with the 12 Step program.

The staff were all brilliant and I take my hat off to them for what they do for us. I also found that I was laughing more and having fun towards the end of my stay, something that hadn’t done for a long time.

I did everything I was asked to in my 30-day stay and then I did my ninety meetings for ninety days project with AA.

I recall having a terrible bout of flu at the time, but I got myself there regardless. I used the textbooks and workbooks that I was given during my stay in rehab, and that’s what I tell people if I share at meetings – you don’t have to do it all at once, but work on yourself, a tiny bit at a time, every day. 

I go to AA, we don’t talk about alcohol really. It’s a LIFE program, I’d really like to share that with everyone. It’s saved my life.

These days I’m at a meeting once a week. I’ve found a really wonderfully supportive women’s group.

Sometimes finding the right meeting with the right people for you takes a bit of trial and error. If I find myself getting frustrated with someone else’s journey, I resist the urge to judge, but pull back, do some work at home or find another meeting.

I read the “Daily Reflections” and “Just For Today” every morning to kickstart my day as well. I know that I’ve got to focus on keeping on working on myself.

Bite sized pieces!

Sometimes it can get overwhelming, but what they say is true, it does get easier.

You CAN get through a day without thinking about alcohol, whereas when I got out of rehab, my brain was still thinking about it every five seconds. Thank God the pull towards that softens.

I have to keep reminding myself of how far I’ve come and celebrate those wins.

I’ve still got to watch myself in my industry and, being a people person, make sure I’m with people that are good for my recovery.

I’ve been sober for the last 18 months and it is great to feel that life is meant for living, not existing.

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