How Did My Back Pain Turn Into An Addiction to Opiates?

Olivia Pennelle of Liv's Recovery Kitchen explores the dangers of prescription drugs, as her back pain turned into opiate addiction.

When I was in the middle of my functional alcoholism—even though I don’t think there is such a thing, because that’s really an oxymoron!—I was very physically sick. I suffered with terrible skin conditions that required frequent trips to the ER; acute asthma requiring steroids, and due to my excessive 150 pounds I pulled my back muscles into frequent and debilitating spasms. I didn’t know that hurting my back would accelerate my spiral toward rock bottom and reveal a full-blown addiction.

At that point in my addiction, I was in complete denial.

I just thought I was depressed and because of that, I had no interest in life. All I wanted to do was drink to oblivion. If I could’ve fit in the bottle of wine, I would happily have jumped in and drowned myself. But I was so stuck inside the walls of addiction, that I hadn’t realized just how bad things were. Warnings and concern from friends and family seemed to hit deaf ears. I was numb in every sense of the word.

I didn’t know that hurting my back would accelerate my spiral toward rock bottom and reveal a full-blown addiction.

So when my back became injured, I was just on autopilot to go to the doctor and get a pill or quick-fix to manage it. I had zero desire to get to the root of the problem because I had zero desire to care for myself. The doctor told me that because of my weight, I had pulled the muscles in my back and was suffering with spasms. To cope with the pain, the doctor prescribed co-codamol (acetaminophen and codeine) in a stronger dose than available over the counter. I didn’t think twice about the prescription, and off I went to the pharmacy.

I found myself with a big bottle of pills and a relentless and incessant desire to escape myself.

It was never going to work out well. I thought nothing of taking them. And as soon as I did, it was like I discovered alcohol again for the first time; I felt a rush throughout my body, I had a warm fuzzy feeling, and suddenly the world took on a rose-tinted glow. Life seemed less of a problem and my existence in it melted into insignificance—just how I wanted it. Off I floated on a hazy cloud of opiates.  

I found myself with a big bottle of pills and a relentless and incessant desire to escape myself—it was never going to work out well.

Those feelings led to that familiar unquenchable thirst for more.

So more I took. I ignored the directions not to drink. And before I knew it, I was taking the pills all day long. Soon enough I was back at the doctors requesting more. I’d top up those pills with over-the-counter equivalents.

I’ll never forget a friend coming to my apartment and opening the top drawer of my chest of drawers; it looked like a pharmacy. His jaw dropped and he looked at me with eyes that finally seemed to pierce the denial I’d been living in.

But that wasn’t enough of a wakeup call. While it was enough to open my eyes, the uncomfortable feelings it generated only increased my desire to escape myself. And so I did. For at least another couple of years.

During that time, I began taking those pills with my first (of many) glass of wine.

The trouble was that I’d often forget having taken them and consume significantly over the prescribed dose. That wasn’t the worst of it; when I wasn’t at work, I lived in a complete blackout. And I couldn’t wait to get there. I would literally run home from work to get the pills and wine inside me as quick as humanly possible. I couldn’t bear to be sober, to be without any kind of anesthesia in the world. Reality was like an electric current on my skin—I felt it to be too painful.

I couldn’t bear to be sober, to be without any kind of anesthesia in the world. Reality was like an electric current on my skin

In some ways, I am grateful for the pills because they accelerated my journey to rock bottom.

I did more crazy things, had more severe consequences, and got so physically sick that I had to stop. Fortunately, that journey didn’t lead to street opiates. I am one of the lucky ones. My journey led to a rock bottom where I was given the grace to find recovery. And thank god I did. My life today is a world away from pill popping and wine chugging.


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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including The Fix, Recovery.org, Ravishly, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE.