Preferred Name: Phoenix
Phoenix is separated and lives with two of his five children. He works casually in the media industry. He describes his ethnic background as ‘Australian’: he and his parents were born in Australia.
Phoenix says he grew up in a ‘violent home’ and that his parents were ‘alcoholics’. In his mid-teens his parents separated and he left home and began drinking regularly. In his late teens he had a motorcycle accident and sustained injuries that give him chronic back pain. He began drinking daily to help him manage the pain. Around this time his father died from causes that Phoenix says were the ‘direct result of […] alcoholism’. Concerned about his own drinking, he started going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but continued to drink daily. He later completed court-ordered residential treatment, counselling, and a residential detox, and was prescribed Campral® (acamprosate). He stopped drinking altogether for ten years, before resuming in his mid-forties. He now drinks every few days and takes buprenorphine to help him manage the pain resulting from his motorcycle accident injuries.
A year or so later Phoenix had a motorcycle accident and broke his back. To treat the pain associated with the injury, he was prescribed Panadeine Forte® (a combination of paracetamol and codeine) but says he began drinking alcohol because he found it more effective for relieving the pain than the prescribed medication. When his relationship with his girlfriend ended, Phoenix moved to another town. Around this time his father died from causes that Phoenix says were the ‘direct result of […] alcoholism’, and he became concerned about his own drinking. He began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings but didn’t find them helpful so he stopped going.
In his early twenties he moved interstate where he met his partner and they had their first child. To support the family Phoenix bought a business and worked long days during which he says he consumed ‘exceedingly large amounts of alcohol’. After a few years his relationship with his partner ended and he again moved interstate where he met another partner whom he later married. Over the next few years Phoenix undertook court-ordered residential rehabilitation three times but felt that it ‘didn’t make any difference’ to his drinking. When he was in his thirties, he, his partner and her children moved interstate. Soon after the move he was stopped by the police for a traffic infringement and after finding cannabis in his car he was charged with cannabis possession. As part of a court diversion program, he went to alcohol and other drug counselling and completed a residential detox. After the detox he was prescribed Campral® for over a year and found it ‘took away the cravings’ for alcohol. For the next ten years Phoenix didn’t drink but continued smoking cannabis. He was also prescribed buprenorphine patches to treat his back pain.
A few years before the interview Phoenix started drinking again, to manage his back pain, and over time his consumption increased until he was drinking daily. Around this time his relationship with his wife ended and he became a single parent. Needing to support his two youngest children on a single income, he cut back on his drinking to save money. He now manages his back pain with buprenorphine and maintains his mobility with regular physiotherapy, yoga, and chiropractic adjustments.
In the future Phoenix plans to get regular work in the media industry. He also plans to take his kids on an overseas trip.
Phoenix (M, 48, works in the media, alcohol and prescription painkillers) says his experience of addiction was shaped by the social context in which he grew up.
I grew up in a violent home. Both my parents were alcoholics, both very violent people.
I started drinking, I was about twelve, I think, and I stole alcohol from my parents. The original intent of the theft was so that they wouldn’t be so drunk, so they wouldn’t punch each other and punch me and carry on. I ended up drinking of course. What else was I going to do with it? So I began thieving and drinking. And of course they had no idea that they were not drinking as much as they thought they were, no idea at all.
What was driving it? A lack of knowledge of anything else. I just didn’t know any other way to live, I had no clue that this was not normal. That this was all I’d seen. Most of my friends from school had alcoholic parents. If I was at a sleepover, [it was] almost the same [as being at home with my parents], except they were drinking something different. It was a horrendous thing, plus there was no information, there was never any information back then about what happens or how to do things. It was all just very naïve.
Phoenix’s doctor advised him to cut down on drinking. He says that he ‘knew it was a problem’ but wasn’t aware of the long-term ‘effects’ of heavy drinking. (Note: strong language)
I remember drinking so much alcohol at that point in time that I hadn’t had a solid bowel movement for years. And [I] went and saw a doctor and asked about that, and he sort of said, ‘Well, stop drinking so much alcohol’. And I went, ‘Well, clearly you can’t help me’. Yeah, so I sort of dismissed his help. I knew it was a problem […] Well, I knew that I was doing something bad for me [but I] had no understanding of how bad. [I] had no understanding of the longevity of these effects. Like, [I’m] 48 and still copping shit. It still has effects on my life. Like, had I followed a different path like my siblings, I wouldn’t be here.
After breaking his back, Phoenix drank alcohol to manage pain before switching to prescribed pain medication.
I had a motorbike accident […] broke my back, wrecked my bike, lost my job. So, of course, I was self-medicating […] once I had gotten out of the rehabilitation-type system where they help you cope with your injuries and drug you up, and stuff. At that point I wasn’t doing a lot of prescription opiates, I was preferring the alcohol. Drunk essentially 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
I found that my pain levels were huge. I went off and saw a doctor a bit closer to the coast, just looking for a doctor to get my opiates and stuff off. At that point, didn’t really care who it was, so went off and saw this one doctor who said to me, ‘You’ve clearly got pain. You’ve got this deformity’.
[My use of pain medication now is] fairly constant. The patches are a weekly thing, I change that once every 7 days […] Buprenorphine, Norspan is the brand. They have given me a certain amount of stability that I never had before […] I wake up pre-medicated […] The only thing I’ve got these days, and it’s starting to get the point where I need to go up another notch with this, is the breakthrough pain […The buprenorphine helps] but it’s not perfect […] I’d wake up before and I’d grab a handful of pills, throw them down my throat and chase it with whatever was floating about, whether it was vodka, beer, rum, whatever was there, and that would be the start of my day. I found once that I was given these patches and they had time to get into me on an even sort of basis, I wake up and am able to get out and do things before I need to medicate, which was a completely new experience.
Phoenix had pharmacotherapy for alcohol dependence and says it took away the ‘cravings for alcohol’.
So [my counsellor] actually insisted I go and spend some time in […] the detox unit at […] the hospital […] And I spent nine days in there. I didn’t have any contact with my wife and kids for the [first] five or six or something. They put me on Campral, acamprosate, which took away the cravings for the alcohol. I came out of there and I’ve never experienced anything like that in my life. It still confuses me. Just that absence of the need to go to the pub. It was gone but because it was only a detox not a rehab, there was no follow up […] I had nothing to do with this new information. My wife and I got back together again at that point and we had ten years sober […] I did Campral probably for maybe 18 months, I think. I’m not sure actually how long, but yeah, 12 to 18 months, I think, so a fair while.
Phoenix says recovery should involve ‘reconnecting people’ and adds that when he feels supported and respected, he doesn’t have a desire to drink heavily.
Rather than focusing on taking something away from people, I think recovery ought to be focused on reconnecting people. I know that in a situation where I feel loved and supported, heard, respected, whatever, I’m not as thirsty. But if I feel I have to fight for recognition, not happy about that, and I tend to drink more. Yeah, I think that pretty well sums it up.
According to Phoenix, being open about his consumption with his children helps them avoid the issues he has experienced.
I’ve been very honest with my kids, all five of them, with the drug use from the time they were big enough to understand you are not allowed to talk about it at school [I have been] very, very honest. Consequently, I believe anyway, that’s why none of my children are into drugs […] They look at me when I get messed up and they don’t want that for themselves. And yeah, well, I didn’t want it for myself either, but I didn’t have the benefit of someone pointing out, ‘This is what happens’. Yeah, no I never [had it] explained it to me in those sort of terms. As far as it goes, I [give myself a] pat on the back for that because the kids are not drug users, not alcoholics.