Warning: This article does not contain medical advice and should not be used as a substitution for medical advice. If you are experiencing symptoms of drug withdrawal, see a medical professional or present at a hospital urgently. For help with addiction, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the 24-hour website Counselling Online.
I was in university when I had emergency gallbladder surgery. Once the organ was out, the pain was gone. I had one remaining box of codeine – the drug I’d been taking daily for almost a year to deal with agony I’d been in.
And when it was down to the last two pills, I remember feeling oddly anxious. I didn’t need the medicine anymore, but I also didn’t want it to run out. So I went to the pharmacy, and bought a box over the counter – 15mg codeine with ibuprofen.
Addiction didn’t cross my mind – I was recovering from surgery, there was still pain, I reasoned.
But I didn’t stop taking the pills, even when the scars were healed. I didn’t stop taking them for years afterwards. Eventually, I was taking upwards of 25 a day. I’d reach for pills every three hours so the effect never wore off.
In those days, you could get them straight off the shelf. I’d buy five boxes at a time to raised eyebrows, but no other consequence.
Then, my kidneys began failing. I knew what it was right away. But those pills had comforted me. Given me a warm, floating sensation, keeping me a few safe inches from reality. They placated the anxiety disorder I've suffered since childhood.