Preferred Name: Opal
Opal is separated and lives with his four children. Due to caregiving responsibilities, he wasn’t working at the time of the interview but in the past worked in the agriculture and construction industries. He describes his ethnic background as ‘Australian’: he was born in Australia and his parents were born in Wales.
Opal started drinking in his late teens in the evenings after work. He continued to do so into his thirties, when he also began taking codeine and oxycodone to treat pain from a motor vehicle accident and work-related injuries. Several years later, at the suggestion of his family who were concerned about his drinking, he consulted a doctor who diagnosed him with alcohol dependence. He later attended Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) meetings, completed a residential detox and a residential rehabilitation program, and stopped drinking altogether. He also stopped taking codeine and oxycodone but a few years later, after experiencing another serious back injury, he resumed taking oxycodone. He says he then became ‘addicted’ to it and eventually decided to have opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (Suboxone®, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone) for opioid dependence. At the time of the interview he was still on treatment and was no longer taking oxycodone.
From his late twenties to early thirties he and his partner at the time had four children but their relationship became increasingly strained. After a series of vehicle and work accidents, Opal began taking over-the-counter and prescribed codeine for the pain associated with his injuries. He soon began taking larger amounts of codeine, which he says helped him to cope with anxiety and depression he experienced because of the relationship difficulties with his partner.
A few years later he says the construction industry ‘collapsed’ and he could no longer find secure employment. He moved interstate in search of seasonal work but his partner decided not to move with him and their relationship ended. She retained custody of the children and for some time after the move Opal was unable to have contact with them. He says that when his seasonal work ended he ‘fell into [a] terrible depression’ and started drinking throughout the day. He continued to take prescribed codeine and then started taking oxycodone, which he bought from a friend.
After his family expressed concern about his drinking, Opal went to see a doctor who diagnosed him with ‘chronic alcohol dependence’ and suggested he complete a residential detox program. Opal did so then attended Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings for a few months. He later took part in a residential rehabilitation program, where he stopped drinking and taking codeine and oxycodone. He says that taking part in the detox and rehabilitation programs helped learn him more about ‘the nature of addiction’ and how to ‘get over it’.
In his early forties Opal returned to work but was still experiencing anxiety and depression, which he attributes to being unable to see his kids. He says his drinking ‘slowly crept back’ and on one occasion after he’d been drinking he had a fall and sustained a back injury and a subarachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding in the brain) for which he was hospitalised. On being discharged he was prescribed oxycodone for pain management. He found it alleviated his back pain and ‘curbed’ his anxiety, and he began ‘taking more and more’.
A few years before the interview Opal left his job, moved interstate and regained custody of his children. Around this time he began to think he was ‘totally addicted’ to oxycodone because he says he was always ‘waiting’ for his next dose and taking more than the prescribed dose. He went to an alcohol and other drug service and began opioid pharmacotherapy treatment (Suboxone®), which he says helped him to stop taking oxycodone. However, Opal says he now feels that Suboxone® is ‘an anchor around [his] neck’ because he’s required to have regular drug tests and appointments with his prescribing doctor. At the time of the interview he was gradually reducing his dose of Suboxone® with a view to stopping altogether. In the future he plans to move back interstate with his children to be closer to his extended family.
Opal (M, 45, not working due to illness, alcohol and prescription painkillers) explains that drinking and taking prescription painkillers helped him to deal with his partner’s mental health issues.
I think [the alcohol and prescription painkiller use] really became a major issue when I had a lot of problems with my partner, the mother of my children. She had a lot of mental issues going on. A lot of mental illness there and it really became the only way that I could cope with […] the conspiracies and the paranoia that she had. Every day when I’d come home, the only way I could deal with it was to, like, drink and take codeine to […] like, knock myself out. Knock part of my emotions out so I didn’t have to deal with it. And it would just go over the top of my head, and I could ignore it a lot easier [rather] than having to try and deal with whatever was going on [on] any given day, because it was hell on earth trying to live with it […] I suppose […] my way to escape was to go and get drunk. And, you know, it took a long time for me to really realise that I think I was really suffering with major anxiety and depression due to the relationship with her.
After consulting his GP about his drinking, Opal was referred to a detox facility where he was diagnosed with ‘chronic alcohol dependence’.
Yeah [I have had a diagnosis of alcohol dependence…] The GP who recommended that I go somewhere and do something about it, start[ed] making some calls to look for a detox facility. Yeah, they actually gave me a diagnosis of chronic alcohol dependence.
Well, [the diagnosis] didn’t shock me. I knew, because I already knew myself. Well, my mother was an alcoholic […] Some people, they claim, are now more predisposed to be at risk of developing a tendency to become an alcoholic versus somebody who’s not. So I don’t know really. It just all happened. I think a lot of it […] stemmed from the anxiety. I was self-medicating a lot and that played a big part in [it].
Opal took antidepressants to manage anxiety and depression, but found their effects unpleasant. (Note: strong language)
I sort of realised I had to stop drinking again, but it was easy because it was like, ‘Well, I’m not using the alcohol to make me feel this way any more, or take away the anxiety’ […] This strong pain medication just took its place very easily and very quickly, virtually overnight almost. So then, of course, there was the court stuff [trying to get custody of my children] and everything and […] the only thing that kept me going early in the piece, with the huge amount of anxiety it was creating for me, was the fact that I was taking those pain tablets and the Valium (diazepam) that the doctor was giving me. But I got off the Valium very easily. I spoke to the doctor and said, ‘Listen, I don’t really think these are doing anything for me any more’.
Over the years, [I’ve] tried a lot of different depression tablets and stuff, but I just didn’t like what they did to me, because I really felt my depression was a result of my situation in life and what I was going through, more so than it [being…] a chemical imbalance or what[ever] they say. Yeah, I didn’t like how [the medication] knocked me out. They would just completely drop me like a log and I would wake up the next day like a robot. You know, I wouldn’t be able to function. You know, nothing was sad, nothing was happy, you know. And I just didn’t like that […] I was like, if I [have] had a shit day, I want to feel sad. So it was a very difficult situation.
In an effort to stop drinking, Opal decided to complete a residential detox.
So I started to go to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] and stuff, which partially helped […] While you were in the meeting it was sort of good and strengthening to stay sober. But all the talk of it seemed to encourage people to then want to go and have a drink. That’s what I found it was doing to me. It more or less encouraged me to want to go and drink, so that didn’t work very well for me. So I only had one option which was, with the doctor’s advice, to do a medical detox. I signed myself into a facility, which was a really, really fantastic place. It’s now closed, I’ve heard, which is a shame because it was a fantastic place. Everyone there helped. They did quite a lot to support you and give you all the knowledge you needed to understand what was going on. And you know, that was all really successful.
I did the detox and then I went from the detox facility into a live-in rehab place. And yeah, that was a bit ridiculous. Their whole mindset was totally wrong [in terms of] what they were trying to do. I’d gone from a place where it was really good, to another place where they had this structure that was taken from the prison system in America for people who would go into prison with addictions, and such. And it was just radical. It was just draconian what they expected you to do and how to do it. And behind it all, I think their belief was essentially to break everybody down and then re-educate them in the way that they felt you should have been.
Opal struggles to define addiction but suggests it can occur when regular consumption affects ‘receptors in the brain’.
[By learning about the brain] I really understood the nature of the addiction and everything [and] it really helped me to be able to get over it. Once I really knew what was going on with me, and the means of what addiction was doing, you know, with the receptors in your brain and everything. And how you really had this desire and need to take the stuff […] You were lost without it. [Realising this helped me get over my addiction].
As it’s been explained to me now, once you’ve had like an addiction to something like that, the pathways are already there. They are already set there already […] Like, what do they call those things in your brain? Like, the receptors in your brain, they’re already accustomed to accept that opioid, so then you’ve already got a tolerance already before you’ve even actually started to take it.
To look after his well-being, Opal enjoys relaxing, doing craft and going camping with his kids.
After so much turmoil, I really enjoy sitting down. I love the peace of the morning before the sun comes up. Like, that’s my time. You know, that’s why I get out of bed so early because that’s the best time for me […from] 4 o’clock until 7 o’clock when I get the kids out of bed. I love that time. But previous to that, I was always making things or doing things, you know, building stuff. Always very active. [I] never had a hobby as such you know, never been a hobby [family] but very active with everything we do […] We are always building things. Like, for instance, my daughter, we make papier-mâché things for school, you know. I was always in there doing it with her, and the painting, and the buildings, and all of her hobbies, and yeah, stuff with my son. So just all the crafts that they do, I’m always involved with.
Camping is a really big thing for us. We love to get out and go camping [at] every opportunity that we have. That’s a big thing for us […] and when we go camping, it has to be somewhere where there’s no concrete cowboys. I can’t stand going camping where there’s someone [who just] drove past bloody BCF [Boating, Camping Fishing store] and brought a tent. You know, I want to be away from everybody […] Yeah, nobody around when we go camping.