Science Interviews


Mon, 15th Aug 2016

Addiction: My path to recovery

Liam Farrell, Writer

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show Drugs: Time for a Change?

Heroin is part of a group of drugs called opiates. These all act in a similar way Medicineand are all very, very addictive. Liam Farrell is a writer and retired doctor with first-hand knowledge of the overwhelming power of addiction, and he described his experience to Connie Orbach.

Liam - Within seconds I feel a rush coming on. Firstly a tingle coming up my right arm, then a wonderful warm tidal wave stroking my whole skin - my whole body. It seems to find a centre deep within my chest. I try to savour each moment, each instant but, just as quickly as it comes, it is gone. Thatís it - done - all over. It lasted a few breaths at most.

Iím disappointed itís over and wish I could turn back time a few seconds. I also feel dissatisfied, a bit cheated. The rush wasnít quite as good as I hoped it would be. I wish Iíd held it off for a few hours, then Iíd still have the drug and the rush would been better. The drug makes me feel pleasantly languid like Iím wrapped in cotton wool. But, even at this stage, even so soon after injecting, not much more than a few minutes, reality starts to pull me back in. The modest euphoria which lingers after the rush begins to leak away.

I start to worry about getting rid of the evidence. Often I miss something - the syringe wrapping, a blood stained tissue, the occasional needle. Iím also becoming more aware that was my last ampule of seclamorph. I already knew this, of course, but I had put off the evil day of facing up to it. Now there is nothing between me and drug withdrawal. I dread the next 48 hours.

My name is Liam Farrell. Iím a retired family doctor and a writer. Iím from Rostrevor in County Down in Ireland. I am a morphine addict in recovery and Iíve been clean for eight years and I have a very good life now because I was helped by some very good people when I really needed it.

Connie - Thank you so much for reading that Liam. Thatís an extract from a piece that you wrote about your own experience.

Liam - Itís very hard to say how you first became addicted or how you first started using; Iíve asked myself that many times. But, at some stage along the line, I decided to try morphine just to see what it would be like. Itís very hard to analyse why I actually made that step of doing that but, thatís what happened.

Initially I would have used very infrequently; once every three to four months but then, at a certain stage, I began to use more. I remember very vividly one Sunday afternoon when I was feeling really tired and exhausted and not really knowing why, and I took a small amount of diamorphine and suddenly I felt normal. It was like a hammer blow to realise I was physically addicted to morphine at that stage.

Connie - Can you explain to me, as best you can, what withdrawal is really like? I imagine itís kind of impossible to explain to the intensity to which you feel, which why itís so hard for anyone to understand but yes, it would be interesting to hear your take on it.

Liam - In a very essentially physiological way. itís like your body is suddenly flooded with noradrenaline - the fight or flight hormone, but yet there's no reason for it. Itís like all the other pleasant symptoms of taking morphine as you go into reverse, instead of feeling languid and comfortable you feel agitated and fearful. Youíre cold and freezing and sweating. You get diarrhea and abdominal cramps. None of those on their own are any more severe than bad influenza, but what is really debilitating is the fear and anxiety which is associated with it. Thatís a memory that will stick with me forever although, theoretically, I knew in a couple of days Iíd be better. When youíre in that state rationale doesnít help.

The catch 22 of course is that, even though withdrawal was so distressing, it didnít stop me relapsing yet again.

Connie - Mmm. Itís so interesting, and I think so hard to understand what youíre saying, is that this withdrawal can be so completely horrendous and yet itís not enough - the drug is still in control.

Liam - Yes.  I mean it's the power of the drug thatís just amazing. One of the golden rules of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous is that the drug will always win. Iíd hate to put my willpower to the test. I remember the particular colour of the cyclimorph drug that I used to use is blue and red, and thatís just a key for me. If thereís a pack of cyclimorph lying in the road half a mile away I would probably pick it out. Itís ummÖ.. sorry.

Connie - Thatís alright. Youíve been clean now for eight years and it seems clean is never completely free but whatís it feel like now? Do you feel like this is part of your past?

Liam - Well itís always going to be a pivotal part of my life that I am an addict. I wake up every morning and say whatever happens Iím going to stay clean today and then, when I go to bed at night, I say well whatever happened I didnít use today. Theyíre small elements of self-discipline which Iíd forgotten when I had a relapse in 2008. At the same time it doesnít define me. Iíve many other parts of my personality and life which are equally important: Iím a husband, a father. I have good friends, Iím involved in music, Iím involved in writing. Iím very active in social media. And these are all different parts of my life which aren't affected but, having said that, addiction was a very pivotal experience.

And one thing it does make is Iím full of gratitude that I did get a second chance. That people that cared for me did stick by me when I needed them. That when I needed help I met good people that were willing to help me and it does make me appreciate the good times of life even more. It also made me a better doctor. My own frailty had been so starkly revealed that made me more understanding of frailty in others.

Connie - Mmm. So for you, your main message from this is yes, this is something that you wonít ever completely get away from but there is life after addiction - there is a way out there is something else?

Liam - Yes. There is such a thing as redemption, you can get better, there is help, there are good people out there who will help you.

If you, or someone you know has a problem and you want to talk, Liam can be reached through twitter on @DrLFarrell


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