Substance Abuse: My Recovery


I used to believe alcohol made me so happy, confident and relaxed, but it is also a depressant and one drunken night of happiness is now no longer worth the emotional agony that follows. 

Summary of my experiences of substance abuse:

  • I started drinking when I was 16; my parents have always been kind of strict with me drinking alcohol underage, and not drinking themselves meant I didn’t really have anyone to learn from. I drank alcohol “normally” through sixth form and first term at university.
  • I had a massive depressive episode in term two of my first year, which resulted in me abusing alcohol to such an extent that I was completely out of control of my actions, I have no memory of the times I spent intoxicated, and was often ending up in vulnerable situations.
  • When both the college welfare team and college office got involved, I was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame about my inability to control my drinking. I began to isolate myself, and whenever I found myself in an environment with alcohol I was in absolute panic and distress, whether I was drunk or not.
  • I avoided alcohol and drunk situations, as a way of dealing with my issues.
  • In my second year at university I was prescribed sleeping tablets by my GP to help with insomnia, and I would overuse them to “make sure they worked” or to knock myself out, sometimes for days.

I finally got referred onto the Lifeline Project, now known as Change, Grow, Live (CGL), by the counselling service. I was a bit sceptical at first that it wouldn’t be useful as I “was over that now” and am reluctant to trust support services. However, my counsellor was incredible and reassured me about the confidentiality of the service, which is completely separate from the university. I would see Lifeline on Mondays when they come to us at the counselling service because it was easier for me, but its also possible to meet at their Centre for Change by the prison on Whinney Hill, in which case no one will know what you’re doing. Notes were also kept separate from my medical records although they can discuss with doctors and the police if need be (for example if you need methadone, confess suicidal intentions, confess to a crime or knowledge of a crime that endangers you or someone else, etc). This is only if they absolutely have to because they believe you or someone else is at immediate risk. I was also told I could contact my counsellor at the service by phone any time I wanted to.

“you don’t need to explain the way you heal to anyone”

The first meeting was very difficult. I had to answer so many questions and became quite overwhelmed and distressed. However, as much as I thought I’d gotten through my substance abuse, the emotional damage was still on my mind every day. Of course my recovery wasn’t all that easy, as usual I felt worse to begin with, and stopping one bad habit often leads to another. But, week by week, my counsellor taught me how to control my alcohol levels, learning about alcohol units, and planning my nights in advance to prevent any vulnerable situations. I had to log every pill I swallowed and every alcoholic drink for months; I knew that if I wasn’t honest I wouldn’t get the help I need. Anything I struggled to say I could write it down.

“recovery is always going to be hard, but always worth it”

It did wonders for my second year at university, having someone I trusted to talk to each week, and learning how to drink normally again so I can once again enjoy parties and the rest of my student life. Even though I am now discharged from the service, I know I can still ring up anytime I want to speak to my counsellor, and can immediately get more sessions if necessary.

Now, I am happy to say that I have recovered from this, despite wishing that I had got this support much earlier on. I still find alcohol and places like college and the bar triggering, but it is no longer stopping me from enjoying my nights out. Since my sessions with CGL I am able to put in place strategies to keep me safe, and I have the best housemates and course friends to look out for me when necessary. It doesn’t mean that I no longer enjoy drinking and partying, but it has changed my perception on student drinking culture and given me confidence in myself to say “no” if I don’t feel up for going out drinking. It’s so important to raise awareness and help at least one other person in a similar situation to me.  I’ll leave some other contact information below if you would like to know more:

“there is nothing wrong with who you are”
  • Lifeline/Change, Grow, Live:  Website: Address: 81-88 Whinney Hill, Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3BQ. Telephone: 03000 266 666 (option 2)
  • Talk to Frank (confidential drugs advice for young people): Website: Telephone: 0300 123 6600
  • Samaritans: Telephone (Durham branch): 0191 384 2727 or 116 123 Email:
  • Nightline: their number can be found on your campus card or on Duo. They also offer an online chat.
  • Counselling Service: Website:

If you have any questions or queries please message the Heads Up team via our Facebook page or email and we will try our best to help! Also contact us if you are interested in blogging for us. Keep your heads up! Carys.

All artwork is thanks to @sonaksha on Instagram! 

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