In my teens, I found myself fascinated by a particular television series for a brief period. Throughout the series, the audience was introduced to numerous people all with the most bizarre obsessions with performing activities ranging from eating glass light bulbs to drinking paint and at it’s most extreme, having an intimate, sexual relationship with one’s car. I became completely bewildered by the programme and the absurd cravings it documented. The series was called My Strange Addiction and this was the first time I truly realised that addiction comes in all forms.
Personally, until having watched My Strange Addiction, I had only ever associated the word addiction with drug addictions; by this I am referring to heroin, cocaine and the sorts. Addiction, to me, looked like a frail, ghostly white male or female with greasy hair and bruises along the veins in the arm. It also looked like a consistent drunken state. Stereotypical I know, but even to this day I feel that the only time when unhealthy addiction is ever really spoken about in society is with these societal “addiction norms” referring to recreational, usually but not always illegal, drugs. With My Strange Addiction beginning to open my mind to what the term really described, it still wasn’t until 2013 when I learned that drug addictions can be to legal, prescription drugs also.
This is a topic I very briefly touched upon in my blog discussing Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and one of which today I will explore more closely and is probably (but wrongly) risky given the fact that my Facebook friends consist of both previous and current work colleagues and employers.
The first time I ever really misused prescription medication without even considering that I may be addicted was in the May/June of 2013, during the period of time where my eating disorder diagnosis had recently been changed to anorexia nervosa and my brain was riddled with constant thoughts of food, self destruction and self criticism. These thoughts literally never stopped; they clouded every conversation and manifested themselves in my dreams. I had no escape and it was tiring. In May, I suffered a foot injury and in response my family GP prescribed me a course of codeine to relieve the pain. I found however that the codeine relieved more than pain, it also relieved my mind. The medication gave me such a high, almost causing me to dissociate from my own body as if watching myself and the previously demonising thoughts were no longer mine. My mind was entirely clear and it was the most exhilarating experience. I felt safe; I didn’t feel happy, but I no longer felt traumatised by my own mind and the feeling was one of pure relief. As a result of this I decided to up my own dosage of codeine. The supply of which was supposed to have lasted a month, lasted a week and without it the thoughts returned, so when I came across a stash of 100 cocodamol amongst my nan’s medication I took it, craving the high like a heroin addict craving their own heroin fix. I thus continued to abuse the cocodamol to acheive the same relief as I did with the codeine, but for those of you who may be unaware, cocodamol is in fact a combination of both codeine and paracetamol so the highs were not as strong and I was oblivious to the fact that the paracetamol would be intoxicating my blood stream, targeting and attacking my liver. I thus took more and more, until enough codeine was in my system to completely clear my mind. It wasn’t long before the cocodamol also ran out and in pure desperation, I turned to pure paracetamol in aim of the same results. I was so wrong.
Taking 20 paracetamol all in one go before leaving for school one morning, I very quickly began to feel incredibly ill. Since a very young age, I have been a warrior when it comes to being unwell; I just get on with it and seek no sympathy or refuge. Throw a cold at me and I battle on, a headache and I’ll just quietly slip myself away to a dark room without a word, but the one thing I really cannot handle is being physically sick and I can tell you, 20 paracetamol does just that. An hour or so later, I found myself doing my usual rounds of obsessive stair climbing as I did every day at school in a bid to lose weight but these rounds could not be completed as the more I moved, the more sick I felt. By the end of the day, the sickness was so overwhelming that I finally admitted to a member of staff of what I had taken. An exhaustive trip to A&E found that the paracetamol had caused no damage as the high degree of purging I had carried out in the same couple of weeks had fortunately (if you can call eating disorded activities fortunate in any circumstances), prevented too much of the paracetamol from being absorbed by my body. Although I would’ve hoped this to be a warning sign for me to stop abusing medication, it was unfortunately only the very beginning.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that my level of medication abuse is minute compared to some other people, but it is enough to be able to talk about the subject with honest understanding.
An addiction to the highs of codeine soon transformed into the addiction of medication abuse in itself. Instead of taking medication to escape self destructive thoughts, I intentionally abused medication to fulfil them, most of the time impulsively and only rarely premeditated. Only five weeks later, I found myself in A&E again after a more extreme overdose of (lets just say a lot of) paracetamol. Little did I know that this time round, the content of the drug which had been absorbed into my blood was high enough to have affected my liver (to this day, I can no longer take even a single paracetamol without being violently ill) and I was not to return home from hospital for over six months.
On discharge from the psychiatric hospital of which I resided in for this period of time, I was healthier in many ways but still continued to suffer with difficulty in taking medication as prescribed; this becomes such a bigger issue when it is such mental health difficulties which lead you to be prescribed a whole cocktail of medication in the first place. For the three years since being discharged, I have found myself in a revolving cycle of alternating medications, forming addictions to this medication, to being changed all over again. A result of this abusive tendency towards medication was that for the past 18 months, I have been allowed to collect no more than a week’s worth of medication at once.
Whilst at Durham University last year, this cycle became more pronounced once again. Becoming overly generous with my anti anxiety medication in October (pregabalin), discovering that the more I took, the drowsier I felt and thus my anxiety evaporated and my suicide thoughts were eliminated, I continued to increase this dosage until landing once again, in A&E and consequently being taken off the medication.
Most notably and the last time I have risked self medicating was in May this year; this time, the warning was much more severe. Until this point, the most extreme of my overdosing had always been with paracetamol – I knew how the drug affected me so it was easier to be brave. But in May, not only did I take an immense amount of my specific psychotropic medication prescribed for my mental health, but I took a vast combination. Combining antidepressants, painkillers, anticonvulsants and most worryingly, beta blockers, gave me the worst consequences I could ever have possibly expected. Experiencing seizures, black outs, extreme vomiting, drowsiness and the inability to even stand without assistance, my parents were immediately called up to Durham as according to the paramedics, there was a genuine risk to my life. Thankfully, this time I take self medicating more seriously and have not, to date, taken anything any more (or less) often than as prescribed. Yet still, I cannot touch codeine through fear of uncontrollable addiction.
The point in my story is not “hey listen to this I nearly died”. The point in my story is that nobody talks about the abuse of prescription medication. Heroin overdoses, ecstasy overdoses, even cocaine; they’re constantly headline news or the explanation for yet another celebrity’s unfortunate (or selfish, depending on who you ask) death. Yet every day millions of individuals are abusing prescription or over the counter drugs and nobody says a word. It is not treated as a serious issue and until it is, those affected will be much more restricted of help. I have watched peers withdrawing from 30+ years of codeine abuse. I know what this abuse does to the body, I have both on a smaller scale felt it, and on a wider scale observed it. Nobody deserves to go through this alone.
Please, if you feel in any means incapable of taking control over your medication consumption, reach out. If you have started to realise that you judge your next medication dose on an emotional craving rather than for it’s intended use, talk to somebody.
Prescription medication abuse is serious, as serious as is an addiction to heroin or alcohol or any other recreational substance. It’s real, it happens and it kills.
Speak out and seek help before you no longer have a choice x x x