I became addicted to drugs at 13 years old

I still remember the feeling of the first joint: I was so calm, relaxed and at ease with the world around me. 

A few weeks later, I took speed in my local park, with a crowd of older boys from the estate I lived on. This made me feel really confident and full of life. I suppose peer pressure made me try it.

By the age of 14, I had been expelled from secondary school for setting off fire alarms just to get out of class. I was bunking off school on a regular basis and generally being disruptive. I was also smoking puff on the way to school every day.

That same year in 1977, I got a job as a full-time landscape gardener. I had been working for just one week when one of the men I worked with offered me a line of cocaine in the pub, after a day’s work. 

I took it in the toilet, and again, I loved the feeling it gave me. I felt energised and it gave me the confidence I was lacking. Suddenly I felt part of the crowd and had the ability to talk to girls.

I knew straight away it was the drug for me – but I didn’t quite realise the impact it would come to have on my life going forward. 

From then on, I was drinking and taking drugs every day, I’d have around three pints of Stella and four to five joints a day. Every Friday night I’d snort two grams of cocaine. But I was still living at home and, by the time I was 19, my mum had had enough of me smoking cannabis in the house. 

She gave me a choice: stop taking drugs or move out of the family home. I chose to move out and ended up in a bedsit not too far from home. 

My mum was really upset but at this time drink and drugs were more important to me than anything; I couldn’t see the damage that I was doing or imagine any other life. Drink and drugs made me a more confident version of myself; in my head, I wasn’t able to live without it. 

When I moved into my bedsit, I was still working but I kept being sacked from jobs. I had become unreliable and there were days when I just wouldn’t turn up. 

There was a lot of confusion in my head at this time. I knew my life was spiralling out of control and remember wondering how could my friends lead normal lives but still use at the weekends, when my first thoughts every day were: ‘how much money do I have to get alcohol and cocaine?’ 

I knew I had a problem at this point, but I couldn’t see a way out.

While living in the bedsit, I felt extremely lonely as I was losing my friends and family. I also felt afraid as I was unable to pay the drug dealers.

Despite feeling like I wanted to stop, I made no attempts to. I had no idea how I could get through a day without drugs or alcohol. 

The physical damage I was doing to myself started to become apparent, too: I would only eat once a day and most days I would wake dry retching. 

The nerve endings in my legs were very bad, damaged by alcohol, and some days I felt as though I was walking to the off-licence like a 90-year-old man. But I was only 22.

No-one knew how I was living, not even my mum. I had been living alone for around six months when my auntie eventually intervened. She turned up one day unannounced and saw the mess I was in mentally, as well as the state I was living in. My place was strewn with empty cans and drug paraphernalia. 

She was shocked, extremely upset but very sympathetic and asked if I wanted help to get clean. I said yes; I had been hoping that someone would offer.

With her guidance, I was admitted to a treatment centre in Edenbridge, Kent and was told I’d be there for six months. The thought of it was terrifying, as I had been under the influence every day since I was 13. 

But the staff were really nice, and the facility followed a Christian 12-step programme, which offered one-to-one counselling twice a week, group therapy and AA meetings.

After I got out, I was clean for three months and felt physically well and hopeful for the future.

But over the years, I kept relapsing. However, at 25, I got clean for what I thought was the last time when I went to work in financial sales in the city. A friend of mine had landed himself a new role in the industry and asked me if I wanted an interview; I went for it and got the job.

After two years, I was earning around £150-200k annually. Plus, I had a partner I was living with at the time and was engaged to be married. Things were back on track. 

However, after four years clean, in 2015, I believed I would be OK to stop doing the things that were keeping me stable – for example, meditation, writing daily gratitude lists and helping other addicts.

I thought I was more in control of my life. I was wrong. I was complacent and arrogant enough to think that I would be OK.

After 10 months without these daily practices, I felt in control enough to believe that maybe it would be fine to have a drink on holiday with my then-partner. I got drunk most nights but never imagined I’d fall back into addiction. 

After the holiday, I convinced myself that I could carry on drinking and keep it in moderation. Things spiralled and before long, I was coming home with three grams of cocaine and a few bottles of wine every weekend and getting prostitutes to come round to my house.

After 11 weeks, psychosis kicked in. I would constantly look out the window and was convinced I was going to be robbed so I had weapons hidden all around the house. One night the television was muted but I was convinced the people on the TV were looking and talking to me. 

Within no time I was drinking and using drugs 24/7 again. When my partner and I eventually split up, I felt relieved: now, I could party with other women and not have a guilty conscience. 

I ended up living in hotels for almost eight months, but my income had dried up after I stopped working after my fifth week in the hotel. Things got so bad that I tried to end my life three times – I just couldn’t see a way out of my situation. I felt alone, scared and constantly paranoid, a symptom of constant drug use.

At this time, each day I was spending £200 on cocaine, £100 on a hotel room, £30 on booze, and £200 on an escort. I didn’t pay attention to what I was spending, and I didn’t really care as I couldn’t see a way out.

In October 2016, I moved into a friend’s home and rented their spare room. My money had started to run out and I had no job but by this stage, I was constantly in psychosis.

I finally got to the point where I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I called a rehab I knew. I knew this was the only way out. Within four hours they sent someone to pick me up.

I spent 28 days there working very hard on myself. This was a turning point for me. I had hit rock bottom internally and externally.

Since coming out of rehab two and a half years ago, I have changed my career and my attitude towards life and people. 

In 2019, I trained to become a recovery coach and interventionalist for other addicts. I know it’s the right path for me, and I truly believe I have the ability to connect with an addict like no other can. 

With the life experience I have, using alcohol and drugs and in recovery from this addiction, I am living proof that no matter how bad things seem to be, anyone can turn their life around with the right guidance and advice.

My advice to others would be: if you feel you may have a problem with alcohol or drugs, then ask for help as soon as possible. Don’t wait until it’s possibly too late. Addiction is a life and death illness, so take action as quickly as possible. 

To anyone that suspects someone in their family is misusing alcohol or drugs, please don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t be scared to upset or hurt your loved one’s feelings by intervening – doing so could save their life. Take it from someone who has been there. 

If I hadn’t been through years of addiction and recovery, I wouldn’t have made this career change, which enables me to do something for a living that I am not only passionate about, but that allows me to help others have the same second chance in life that I have had the pleasure of enjoying for the past few years.

I no longer suffer hangovers; I go the gym regularly and keep a healthy body and mind. My family wants to spend time with me now, but above all of this, the very bright spot of my life is watching another addict get well.

David Gibson runs Sober Success & Partners and is a fully accredited Interventionist and Recovery Coach, providing private, discreet at-home and inpatient mental and behavioural health care services. 

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