It’s like two different people going through a battle you can’t see

My brother’s experience overcoming drug issues highlights why it’s so important families and friends don’t give up on their loved ones.

We Are With You
Aug 27, 2019 · 4 min read

By Clare McKenny, Addaction Senior Pharmacist

The tipping point was in Barcelona. We were there for a Shakira concert and getting ready when my brother, Paul, found a hole in his new t-shirt. He texted our mum not to throw out the bin in his room, hoping to retrieve the tag when we got home and return it. Her reply was blunt, “There’s no tags in there. It’s just full of straws.”

I tried to be supportive. Evidence of his drug use shouldn’t be used to make him feel bad, not while we were on holiday. But our friend was shocked. “You’re still taking cocaine?” he asked.

My brother and I got into partying around my second year of university. We’d be out most weekends with friends and cousins. That whole scene was full of drugs, everyone was doing it. What’s more it was always Paul’s place people would go back to after the club.

Sometimes I wish I’d spoken up sooner, “snitched” to my parents or something. Over time most of the group calmed down. They would still take drugs, but nowhere near as often and only on nights out. We realised too late that Paul was the only one still going and that he was having to take them every day. Cocaine mostly but a lot of ketamine as well. It even got to the point where it didn’t do anything to him which is scary.

Things were so desperate at one point yet he never wanted to give up. My parents, when they found out, felt they had no option but to just deal with it — as long as he kept within what he could afford. It didn’t affect his work so as a family we didn’t talk about the problem. My parents especially couldn’t face talking about it. They felt ashamed, which stopped them from confiding in friends or other family members. We just pretended it wasn’t happening. But eventually he would go beyond his means and it would all kick off. The difficult conversations would happen and my parents would pay his debts, only for him to do the same again months later.

As small as it seems, our friend’s reaction in Barcelona was the push he needed. When we landed back in the UK he spoke to his manager and got a health referral. It took a bit of time, he had to be assessed by a psychiatrist and referred by his GP, but he eventually entered residential rehab for 28 days.

Dropping him off was hard. It felt like we were abandoning him but only because of the hope that some good would come out of it. I am an emotional person and I was trying to keep it together, but I looked at my dad when we were saying goodbye and he had tears in his eyes. That set me off. As his sister I was so upset, what it’s like to have to do that as a parent I can’t imagine.

It’s been a year now since Paul last took drugs and it’s like I’ve got my big brother back. Despite being the oldest sibling he has a kind of innocence about him. A big kid. He’s present again, he also looks amazing. My cousin asked him to be godfather to their baby and at the christening people were commenting on how well he looked. He’s got these really blue eyes and they’re sparkling again. My mum got quite choked up seeing him at the altar. Knowing it could never have happened a year ago but seeing how far he’d come, we were all so proud.

As a family we are closer than ever and have a new perspective on life. The day to day stresses that bothered us in the past don’t anymore. We know what matters most is our health and wellbeing and that Paul is doing incredibly well.

When someone close to you uses drugs like that everything feels false. Conversations feel forced, like they’re putting on an act. We all felt like Paul didn’t care about us. From the outside, it looked as if drugs were all that mattered to him.

It’s only through talking to him over this past year that I found out how much it was eating him up. When his drug use made him seem selfish I would say to my mum and dad, “It’s not him.” The person still cares about you and is still in there. But it’s like two different people, going through a battle that you can’t see. I would urge families and friends not to give up on loved ones, deep down they do still love you. Addiction is so difficult, even for those with a good support system. For those without anyone around them the battle must be ten times harder. This is something that Paul has been so appreciative of and so thankful for over these last 12 months, and knows how lucky he is — we all do.

As told to Rachel King.

If you or someone you love needs help or support, reach out. You can chat to a trained advisor at

we are with you

Bringing together voices from drugs, alcohol and mental…

We Are With You

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We are one of the UK’s leading mental health, drug and alcohol charities. We provide free, confidential support with drugs, alcohol and mental health.

we are with you

Bringing together voices from drugs, alcohol and mental health.

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