My First Rehab Experience
Updated: Feb 6
I was thinking the other day about what sort of video or blog I would have liked to have seen when I was in the grips of ADHD related addiction and depression. As you may or may not know I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until 31. I’m 32 now...33 soon. I had issues with alcohol since I was about 18. Often, I would be the most drunk at the bar, but it was all fun and games until about the age of 23. I then started to self- medicate my anxiety and depression bought along by my ADHD. I started to drink alone to combat the voices in my head, the depression, the feelings of worthlessness and anxiety. They came from not understanding myself, being in the wrong jobs, losing friends and just having no self-esteem, purpose, or self-identity.
So, when the topic of rehab came up when I was about 29, I think I knew I had drinking problems, but I would never have said I was an alcoholic!! God Forbid. I still will not call myself an alcoholic by the way. I dont want it to define me for the rest of my life.
People are addicted to alcohol because they are self-medicating something much deeper and darker in their mind that they can’t confront. Or maybe won’t confront. But I think ‘can’t’ confront was more applicable to me as I didn’t know about my ADHD. I tried sobriety many times, but as I didn't know the underlying problem, drinking always reared its ugly head. Running was one-way I coped. I grew up in a drinking culture, so eventually I would drink. And then the next day I would drink some more because the hangover for someone with ADHD feels 100 times worse mentally than the hangover for someone without ADHD.
Think about it. You drink. You get dopamine. You drink a lot, and you get a lot of dopamine. You may feel good. But in the morning the dopamine is gone. It is in a deficit. You already don’t produce enough so its way lower than it is even normally. You are in hell. What do you do? What can you do? SUFFER EXCRUCIATING THOUGHTS? OR just have more beers to take the edge off. I often chose the latter, but I sometimes chose to run 10 miles. This took the edge off too. But running 10 miles or having more beer is a will power choice. Will power is finite. It is like a muscle.
Addicts are self-medicating a mental illness. The thing with ADHD is you do not produce enough dopamine in your brain. Your brain may have a smaller prefrontal cortex which is where you self-regulate your emotions. You also don’t have as many dopamine receptors. Dopamine is the neurochemical that helps people focus on a task without their mind wondering or getting fidgety. Therefore, they are restless and anxious ALL the time.
If something minor or major happens to you like you get a bad performance review at work for example most people after a few hours or days get over it with rational thinking. Someone who can’t regulate their emotions i.e., people with ADHD could stew on it for months or get angry or just go on a drinking bender. It’s not that they are bad people. They have a brain that can’t operate like a neurotypical brain. Especially if they have no idea that they have ADHD and are not either on the right medications or practicing ways to help them self-regulate like exercise, sleep, nutrition, meditation, journaling breathing deeply etc.
There is a myriad of reasons why people with ADHD are much more likely to become addicted to things like smoking, eating, sex, drinking etc. Also, the lack of dopamine and norepinephrine their brain produces means they are constantly anxious and if they can find a substance like cocaine or alcohol, which gives them dopamine they will grab hold of it with TWO HANDS as it calms them down, and they feel somewhat normal for a while until they don’t. And then more than likely it spirals out of control and you need drink or cocaine before you can basically interact with the world. When we take these external stimuli to compensate for the body's inability to generate it's own dopamine, it is almost impossible to satisy our needs, which it leads to excessive consumption and ultimately addiction. Its like a well that can't be filled.
I was at this place at about 28/29, but I had been at that place at various times in my 20s. Life was tough. But it was made much harder because I couldn’t control my emotions unless I drank or did drugs etc. Which made life much much harder. Add to that the incredible levels of cortisol (stress hormone) that my brain/liver produced daily because I was in a job I hated and was terrible at. It was a recipe for despair anxiety depression and suicidal thoughts.
HOWEVER, going to Rehab was completely unthinkable for me at the time. It was for alcoholics and losers I had stupidly thought. And it was tremendously scary. And humiliating. I didn’t want anyone to know of course. But my old man was adamant that I needed to go and after many arguments I gave in and so I went. It was two days after I had been best man at my best mates wedding, On the morning of that wedding I ran 14 miles so I was able to control my emotions and not drink too much so I wouldn't mess up my speech. It worked. I had a great day. I still got drunk of course, but no more than all my mates. Now the difference was the next day I carried on drinking. I was supposed to drive home but because I carried on drinking, I had the sense, thank god, not to attempt to drive. I got a train home. It was a 3hr train in which I missed my stop as I had fallen asleep. Next thing I knew I was in London. 3 hrs away from home. I fucked up. I finally got home well after midnight in a state. The following day I had to get my car so that meant getting the train back to the wedding venue and driving back. It was a terrible day.
The following day I was off to rehab. Depressed, anxious, ashamed, and scared. I was met by a big blonde assertive woman who was quite friendly, but she was firm. I was tested to see if I had any drugs in my system by having to piss in a cup, which was humiliating but I soon got accustomed to it. Little did I know I would be pissing in cups on and off for the next 18 months.
Immediately I was told I could never drink again. To be honest I thought I was going to learn how to curb my drinking, not stop all together, but something happened in me on that first day that woke me up. I knew I could never drink again. It was something in the woman’s eyes and in my own heart. Then I spent the next 4 weeks cooped up in a small rehab centre with some of the most interesting people I had ever met. Some of them were very sad cases with very sad lives, but most were nice normal people who had similar issues to me. We were not allowed phones or internet, so I spent my time reading and sitting in small groups talking about our lives. We were asked to write our life stories and then began working on the alcoholics anonymous 12 steps. After the 4 weeks we were supposed to get to step 3 of the 12 steps. Here are the 3 steps.
We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
As I’m naturally an open person I took to it immediately and worked as hard as I could trying to figure out why I drank. I admitted I was powerless. I believed in God or some form of being greater than myself, so the second two steps were easy. We went to AA meeting 4 times a week. We ate shit food. We had no exercise facilities. We had a lounge area where people would watch TV together. I never watched TV with them. Not because I didn’t like the people, but I have issues watching TV with big groups of people. I was constantly anxious and worried someone would talk to me and I struggle to focus on two things at once. I can either watch TV or talk. Not both. So, the very fact I was in a room full of people watching TV, where someone could say something to me made me feel like my skin was crawling. I wondered how they could do it.
However, I was liked, and I could sit and talk to people no problem. But big groups of people where anything could happen….no way.
The transformations people made over the 4 weeks were incredible. They would come in like a scared little mouse and leave fresh faced and healthy with a big smile. At first There was part of me that thought I’m not like them, but as time went by, I realised I was much worse. Most of these people could hold down jobs. They could sleep easily. They had relationships. I was living like a ghost consumed with shame and guilt.
Of course, at the rehab there were a few clashes of character but not as many as you would think. It was a strict environment. One woman who was about 60 was found with vodka in her room. She had been there for 3 months ….and was being forced to stay over Christmas by what little family she had. So, I think she somehow snuck to the supermarket and bought the vodka. She was a lovely little dear and it was so sad to see her unceremoniously chucked out after 3 months without so much as a goodbye.
There was a fun side as well.
I met one guy who I thought was hilarious and told him he should be a stand-up comedian because he would stand up in AA meetings and tell stories that would have everyone in hysterics. Little did I know at that time I would be performing in front of 100s of people as a stand up comedian in two years. Then COVID hit and that dream was put on the back burner.
Another guy didn’t want to be there, and he’d tell me stories of emptying bags of cocaine into his jean pockets to get through security at airports and how he would sniff it in the plane toilets. I liked him. He was a greengrocer. Apparently, greengrocers and scaffolders are rife with cocaine users. I’m not sure why. Maybe something to do with the hours they work, but I know the real addicts have underlying issues unsolved. Most Greengrocers who do cocaine are not addicts. They just like cocaine. Scaffolders and roofers have a propensity for ADHD. Ive met many. This might explain their addictive natures.
Anyway, it was there where I first got into guided meditation and something called gong baths. Everyone would lie in a room and a gorgeous lady would come in with some gongs, the lights would be turned off and for 2 hrs she would burn incense and use weird instruments and gongs. The percussive sounds had every single person asleep within 10 minutes including me. I couldn’t believe it. It was like magic. She would then come and stir us after the two hours, and you would feel incredible. I began doing workouts in my room. Really intense HIIT sessions and had vowed to myself I would never drink again.
I left rehab with a spring in my step and new light in my eyes. I stayed sober for 6 months after rehab and went to 5 AA meetings a week. I would meditate and run 12 miles every day. I would use cold showers and saunas. I ran multiple ultra-marathons and completed tougher mudders and much much more. Winning a lot of races and was fitter than ever. However, I had 6 months of no work and constant self-care. I volunteered at a dog shelter, but apart from that I had no purpose, EXCEPT TO STAY SOBER. THAT IS NOT HOW YOU STAY SOBER.
We had been warned at Rehab only 10 percent of people there last a year in full sobriety.
After 6 months I relapsed. I drank a corona on a hot sunny day, and I had no idea what compelled me to do it. It came out of the blue. Next thing I knew I was ordering cocaine and having sex with some woman from AA who used to cyber stalk me. To say the following day was gruesome and brutal would be an understatement. IT WAS HELL. I had to drink again. There was no way I couldn’t. Then I had 3 months of drinking everyday and doing a lot of cocaine that I paid for with payday loan companies. Lovely organisations.
To cut a long story short my family knew something had to be done. I was mentally ill. I was self-medicating. I wasn’t drinking for a laugh!! I didn’t see anyone. I was drinking on park benches and cemeteries for fuck sake. So, after a stint in hospital, I saw a psychiatrist and was diagnosed with ADHD. Relief. Something to hold on to. There is much more to this story. A three-month spell in rehab in Thailand where I was arrested but that’s another story.
For the sake of time, I will just say I am sober now and have been for some time. I don’t count the days I don’t go to AA. I take my ADHD medication which funnily enough is a slow-release methylphenidate. It drips dopamine into my brain as the day progresses, so my terrible anxiety and restless thoughts are supressed slightly. I don’t long for the days where I could drink. I have a purpose. I am doing a master’s in psychology and have a YouTube and podcast platform.
People are not ‘addicts’ or ‘alcoholics'. They are people. People who are suffering and the only way they feel they could ease their suffering was through a destructive behaviour that helps them in the short term. People are not one thing. It is so unhealthy to describe yourself as an alcoholic or recovering alcoholic. In fact, it is ridiculous and mad. It puts you in your past when you should be looking to your future. Also, people should not count how many days they have been sober. Why on earth would you count? If you’re not going to drink again why are you counting? Do you want a pat on the back? Because that is what it is. ‘I’m 90 days sober, here’s a coin…. good boy!! Now I am not attacking AA or NA, because it does great work. The reason it works is it gets people back into a community, a tribe. It makes people accountable and gets them out of the house. The best thing it does is help people who are suffering with addiction in the form of being someone’s ‘sponsor’ or mentor. It allows people to help others which is a wonderful thing.
But my question is…..why were they drinking? Really WHY WERE THEY DRINKING??? What were they self-medicating? How many people are self-medicating from the anxiety and depression that inevitably comes from undiagnosed ADHD? My bet is half of them. But I don’t have the studies because there are no studies. At least there are no studies big enough for anyone to take notice of. I’ve checked. For an adult to see a psychiatrist through the NHS is almost impossible. I am lucky. My Dad paid a private psychiatrist. Most people don’t have that luxury. If my theory is right and much of the addiction, we see in this country is ADHD related then the implications are enormous. My goal is to somehow see if I am right and then do whatever I can to help fix it. 30 percent of people in jail have ADHD. I’ll leave you with that.