January 2022 - Hader Clinic Queensland

Phil’s Addiction Recovery

After this 5-year-old son had a life-changing accident in his care, Phil’s teenage drinking habit became a lifestyle. This is the story of his residential addiction treatment and recovery.

Before everything happened, I would only drink on the weekends.

When I was a kid, I was quite nerdy (I played dungeons and dragons). When I was 15 though, I grew out my hair and suddenly became popular. I got into the party scene, and my new friends and I would party and drink on weekends. After finishing school, I lost those friends and took up ice skating as a hobby. Me and my ice-skating friends would go for a drink after skating on Friday and Saturday nights. At some point I ended up having a drink before skating as well.

And I did this for years until I was about 26, when there was big snowfall that ended up destroying the ice rinks.

But I maintained my habit of drinking. Occasionally I smoked weed as well.

I met my wife in November of 1996. We got engaged in February, and then a year later, were married in January of 1998. My first daughter was born in 1999, and in 2004, my family decided to move to Australia.

In 2005, my son Jordan was born. We built a house, and life was very normal. We were your typical nuclear family you’d see on TV.

In 2010, Jordan had an accident.

It was a Wednesday night. My wife wasn’t at home at the time, so he was with me.

He choked on a piece of Lego.

He basically died in my arms.

He turned blue and stopped breathing, and did CPR on him until the Ambos arrived. They managed to get his heart beating again. They rushed him to the hospital, got the piece out, but by that time the lack of oxygen had damaged part of his brain.

I think because of that, I do suffer from some PTSD.

He now can’t speak or swallow or move his arms or legs. We just communicate through blinks, smiles, cries, and laughs, but that’s about it.

That’s kind of when things started.

I was drinking on weekends, but then it spiralled. I don’t know how it happened, but it became every day. I would go from work straight to the bottle store and buy a bottle of Jim Beam. I’d drink three-quarters of that on the way home, then pretend I wasn’t drunk. But obviously, my wife saw through that straight away.

For years it was a blur. I wasn’t there for my family; I wasn’t there for my wife. I basically isolated myself. I’d be in one room, and they’d be in the other.

I guess somewhere in my head I thought if I can’t see it, it isn’t there.

It got to the point where she had had enough. On September 16, 2020, she said she wanted to separate. That just hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt overwhelming emotion and I broke down.

She said, “Oh. I didn’t think you’d take it this hard, I thought you’d be happy.”

I was like… “No way.”

I said I’d do anything. I googled all the rehabs and got into Hader Clinic Queensland. I went there for alcohol addiction treatment, not knowing what was going to happen. I still had hope at that stage, that things were going to work out between me and my wife.

I did my thirty days, which was very interesting.

It wasn’t what I expected rehab to be.

You hear about rehab and see it on TV, and you think hospitals and doctors, and a clinical setting. But it was different. It was good. You got involved in everything. You were responsible.

The biggest thing I learned in rehab is that addiction is a disease – a physical and psychological disorder. I never knew that. I had once thought it was a choice.

Learning that it’s something that’s hardwired in your brain was a real eye-opener for me.

The whole concept of it changed. I’d tried to get my wife at the time to go to al-anon to get some perspective on it. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

It was also eye-opening to see other people who had the same problem. Even though the drugs were all different, the psychological effects and symptoms were the same.

We could relate to each other’s stories. There were people in there I’d initially just thought were “druggos”, but they were really just everyday people. It was crazy finding out how many people have these problems. My old way of thinking was that I was the only one. But it’s a widespread problem. So many people are going through this.

It was a very supportive environment there. The staff were strict but caring. There was always someone to talk to if you needed it, and they took everything you were saying very seriously. They didn’t just brush you off.

You’d get phone calls on Sundays. During my last phone call to my wife in rehab, she said she was done, it’s over.

I said, “Please don’t say that yet.” That was heart-breaking.

I got home and she was still there. I didn’t get any hugs or anything.

I got out of rehab October 23rd and Christmas was really awkward. I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know if we’d still be together or not. But come January, she said, “I think we should start talking to some lawyers.”

That’s when it hit home that this was actually happening. I thought coming out of rehab, I’d be different. But I was still the same person, just not drinking.

I reluctantly had to go to a lawyer. I went through the motions, ended up selling the house.

I’ve been living alone since February 6.

It’s kind of ironic – February 6 is the day I proposed to her. And it’s also the day I moved out. 24 years later.

Living alone isn’t bad. Sometimes it gets lonely and boring, but I just keep my mind active by doing things.

When I got out of rehab and things were spiralling, I was very suicidal for a while there. I lost a whole lot of money trying to find ways to euthanise myself, with drugs from overseas.

At the end of the day, I didn’t end up doing anything. I guess there was a reason for that.

I got through that. And I’m still here. But there was a time, just last week, where I felt the same way. I think it’s because of Christmas. This will be my first Christmas by myself. The kids have kind of ignored me. I haven’t had a visit from them at all since February. I have to go down there to see them.

I think my daughter pretty much blames me for everything. Unfortunately, like a lot of people in this world, my now ex-wife seems to think that it’s just a choice. That you can choose not to pick up.

I tried to explain to her that it’s not quite that easy.

I tried to do everything I could to fix things, but obviously for her it was too little too late. She’d made her mind up. I don’t see us ever getting back together, even though I’d like to.

I’m not proud of what I became, but every day, I’m trying to be a better person.

I think my heavy drinking started just to numb the feelings and the pain and guilt of my son’s accident. Those feelings will probably stay with me forever.

It’s just the way it is. I can’t change what’s happened. If someone had a time machine, I would go back and change things.

But I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what the reason was, that Jordie had his accident, but maybe if he hadn’t had his accident, a week later he could have been in a car crash and died, I don’t know.

When I feel down or negative, the best thing that works for me is going for a drive. I live in the Gold Coast, so I like to drive up to the Hinterland. Or jump on my bike and go for a ride. Go kayaking. Anything that keeps my mind active and not getting in my own head. It’s easy to slide downhill when your mind goes to that place. Even just the other day, I thought, what if she’s got another boyfriend, what if she’s moved on? What if this guy is treating my kids as his own?

Then I had to snap myself out of it. That thought would have gone somewhere bad. I’m still on medication for antidepressants and stuff. I don’t know how long that’ll be for, but I leave that up to my GP.

Really, I just put one foot in front of the other at the moment and live in the present.

If I look too far ahead, I worry. But you never know what tomorrow might bring.

My advice to anyone starting rehab is this:

Do it for yourself. Don’t do it for anyone else.

I went into rehab for my family. More than myself. And that was the wrong reason. I learned, and it’s an unfortunate thing, but anything you put in front of your recovery, you will lose. So do it for you.

And listen. Listen to the staff. They know. They really know.

Rehab is not a quick fix. It’s not like you go to rehab and come out “Yay! Things are great again!”

No. It’s just the first step. It’s a massive journey, a lifelong journey. So be prepared for the long haul.

If you’re struggling, ring somebody. Get phone numbers. Ring somebody. Even to say “Hi, how you going?”

You’d be amazed the difference that makes. Getting it out of your head, on paper or speaking to somebody, it changes your perspective on what’s going on. That’s important.

I’m not ashamed to say I’m an alcoholic. I’m no longer an active alcoholic. I’m a recovering alcoholic.

And I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.

The Perils of Polydrug Use

In addiction medicine, polydrug use refers to the practice of using more than one substance of addiction at the same time or one after another.

There are many reasons that this can occur – for example, one substance of addiction may be used to enhance another’s effect or a substance can be used to ameliorate the effects of withdrawal or “come down”.

Polydrug use can involve both illicit drugs, for example, heroin; and legal substances, such as alcohol and prescription medication.

As previously stated, people mix drugs for various reasons. There are many ways that drugs are mixed and used.

As well as for both enhancement and oppositional effects, a different drug may be substituted for the person’s drug of choice if it is not available. For example, methadone or fentanyl may be used when heroin is not available.

Different combinations of drugs may be used in the hope of reducing dependence on just one substance of abuse.

Alternatively, a drug may be unknowingly ingested when intoxication or impairment of cognition is present, due to the effects of using the drug of choice.

Depending on whether a substance is legal or not, it can be difficult to assess its effects.

The issue with polydrug use is that it presents even more difficulties in predicting the effects than just one substance. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 60% of fatal overdoses involved more than one substance of abuse.

Polydrug users can also develop tolerance to more than one substance of abuse, which complexifies the detoxification and withdrawal process.

Here are some common substance polyuse combinations and their side effects.

Combining Stimulants (For example, methamphetamines(ice) with cocaine and/or MDMAs)

Mixing drugs of the same class generally amplify their effects and increase the risk of overdosing.

In the case of mixing stimulants, a life-threatening condition known as “Serotonin Syndrome” can occur, where the levels of serotonin in the body rise. In mild cases, patients can present with:

  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • dilated pupils
  • fever and flushing
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • irregular heartbeat
  • muscle rigidity
  • poor coordination
  • profuse sweating
  • rapid breathing
  • restlessness
  • shivering
  • slow or fast pulse
  • jerky movement
  • tremors

Elevated serotonin levels become life-threatening when there is:

  • high fever
  • loss of consciousness
  • seizures
  • rapid swings in blood pressure and pulse.

Combining Depressants (eg opioids, benzodiazepines, alcohol, prescription drugs)

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants act by slowing down the nervous system and depressing breathing rate. Combining depressant medication exacerbates their effects.

The resulting impacts are:

  • breathing difficulties
  • accidents and injuries due to slow reaction times/poor coordination
  • vomiting
  • loss of consciousness
  • coma
  • death

Combining Depressants and Stimulants

When depressants and stimulants are combined, the challenge of metabolizing these markedly different drugs places a lot of stress on the body. This can result in many potentially life-threatening scenarios where vital organs shut down – most commonly heart and kidney failure.

Combining Prescription Medications and Illicit Substances

Prescription medications can interact with other medications both positively and negatively. This is considered by a doctor when prescribing medication to treat certain conditions and illnesses.

Prescription medications are often mixed with illicit substances or used as a substitute for illicit substances. Certain prescription medications carry the risk of dependency, and therefore subsequent abuse.

Examples of prescription drugs/illicit substances that can have negative effects include mixing benzodiazepines and alcohol. This results in a decreased breathing rate and increased risk of overdose.

Prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines, anti-psychotics, anticonvulsants, prescription pain killers and certain anti-depressants can be abused to offset the effects of methamphetamines (ice) and cocaine.

This can lead to dependence upon multiple substances.

The Alcohol Effect

Alcohol acts as a central nervous system depressant. Therefore, combining alcohol with depressants such as opioids, GHB and benzodiazepines increase the depressive effects. This means that an affected person may not be able to complete simple tasks, be at risk of falls and accidents due to poor reaction time, and suffer with breathing difficulties.

Alcohol combined with stimulants is often used to help methamphetamine users “come down”.

It should be noted that the combination of alcohol and cocaine is particularly dangerous. The combination produces the chemical, cocaethylene, which is toxic to humans, causing (and exacerbating) liver tissue damage and seizures.

Detoxification from Multiple Substances

When withdrawing a user from multiple substances, it is essential that a proper detoxification process is undertaken. This allows clinicians to ensure a safe detoxification, an understanding of the status of the user’s disease of addiction and space to allow the user to participate and have ownership of their treatment.

Polydrug detoxification can be complex and depends on the combination of substances that have been abused. As Queensland’s only dedicated detox private hospital, Hader Clinic Private Queensland specialises in addictive medicine and complex detox and withdrawal cases.

Typically, after being thoroughly assessed by our admissions team, detox is initiated by our addiction medical specialists, including our psychiatrist.

The aims of detox are to provide a safe and peaceful environment for our patients and to keep them as comfortable as possible whilst undergoing physical withdrawal.

We provide mental health support, both one on one with our psychiatrists and psychologists, and in a group setting in our psychosocial wellbeing program, which begins to unpack the causes of addiction and starts to engage the behaviours required for long term success.

For more information visit Hader Clinic Queensland Private Hospital or call 1300 856 847


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