Chris Kirkland has shared the punishing physical side effects of quitting painkillers cold turkey in an interview marking one year of his 10-year addiction.
The former Liverpool and Wigan Athletic goalkeeper had already faced his addiction in 2016 and quit drugs, but Kirkland suffered a serious relapse during the Covid 19 lockdown which saw him start using again during the “testing period”.
Habit formation and creating new routines have helped him stay sober since deciding to commit to sobriety, as has the support of his family.
But the former England international has been candid about his ongoing mental health issues and the importance of sharing advice via social media to help other addicts seek their own recovery.
Speaking to the i, Kirkland shared the “extremely dangerous” process he went through to wean himself off painkillers.
Chris Kirkland opened up about his experience of going cold turkey painkillers last year
The former Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper took his first pill in 2012 to treat a bad back injury
“I had done it once before in 2019 and was fine at the time, maybe had a sniffling nose for a day or two,” Kirkland began.
‘So I thought it would be okay, I had done it before. But it was awful. I wouldn’t wish those seven, eight days on anyone.
“I had hallucinations, constant sweating, coldness, vomiting, pain and cramps all over my body.
“I haven’t slept for five or six days, basically. (My wife) Leeona slept in the room next to me because I was tossing and turning and she came to check that I was still breathing correctly.
“It’s extremely dangerous and not recommended, but I didn’t want to diminish, I just didn’t want to put another pill in my mouth.
‘Seconds feel like hours but I made it. Once you’ve passed the six or seven day mark, you need to start functioning again – ice showers help, baths, walks help. Then it’s about putting things in place so that you don’t come back.
Kirkland believes he is well placed to manage his recovery ‘95% of the time’ and thrives on routine and physical well-being, which includes being part of a walking group alongside the former keeper Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley and to provide retention coaching. in exchange for food donations.
Habits formed as a result of abstinence include taking random drug tests administered by his wife and not accepting packages handed to him by the postman.
At one point Kirkland (pictured in 2015) was taking 2,500 milligrams of the painkiller Tramadol
Kirkland thanks his wife Leeona (pictured) and daughter Lucy for supporting him through the turbulence of his recovery
The decision to quit came after Kirkland bought what he thought were painkillers on the internet in March 2022, and minutes after taking the pills he knew. [he] was in trouble.”
“I just didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know where I was or what was going on. I put ‘home’ in the sat nav and managed to get home, then I got seriously ill and slept for 18 hours.
“I got up the next day and flushed them down the toilet. I still had a few at home, but I knew that day there would be no turning back.
Last August, Kirkland recounted how, at the height of his addiction, he was taking 2,500 milligrams of tramadol a day, after initially suffering painful back spasms during his second season at Sheffield Wednesday in 2013.
In an interview with The Times, Kirkland revealed he nearly took his own life in 2016, standing on the edge of the roof of the then club’s pre-season base Bury in Portugal before feeling “removed from afar by his wife and daughter.
Kirkland continues to deal with mental health issues, taking antidepressants, and shared that doctors suspect he has bipolar disorder because there are “three to four days a month [he] just can’t work”.
“It’s like a dark cloud is over you. You can hear people talking, but it’s like you’re not there.
The goalkeeper, who is preparing for his first match in years for the Walking Brilliant team which will face a Harry’s Heroes XI – coached by Harry Redknapp – to benefit a number of mental health charities , is keen to share her story in an attempt to raise awareness about drug addiction.
“When you’re addicted, you’re sneaky, you know you can get away with hiding them all over the house, in the sock drawer or under the bed,” he added. “So it’s so freeing to be honest about it, to talk about it. You can’t have little secrets anymore.
Addiction to painkillers and sleeping pills remains a problem among players across the football pyramid, with former defender Ryan Cresswell highlighting the problem in August last year.
Kirkland (as of 2018) believes his playing career was hampered by injuries and addiction, and he eventually retired in 2016.
Ryan Cresswell is another former pro who has spoken out about addiction issues in football
“I think there’s a big problem in football with sleeping pills and I mean from the top, as high as possible,” Cresswell said.
“For me it started with one after every game which was great and I think it’s a good goal to use them. But then it went from one after games to one a day to two a day and I knew I was addicted to them.
“It wasn’t me who wanted it, it was my body, I knew it was the wrong thing. It’s horrible.
“There will now be 22 or 23 year old guys in the Premier League, Championship, wherever they take too many painkillers.”
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