Sean Alexander, 36, from Wimbledon, found his addictions spiralled so out of control that he owed over £60,000 in drug and gambling debts. Facing threats from dealers, he lost everything and became suicidally depressed until rehab turned his life around. He now helps others battling similar issues.
Looking back, my addiction issues stem from childhood. I had a good upbringing and was raised by lovely parents, but I was bullied at school for being overweight. I’d go through the biscuits, comfort eating, and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Then I started drinking at 14. I’d go to the pub on weekends and drink until I couldn’t take any more and, once I went to university, I felt encouraged to get blind drunk every night. Binge drinking and having blackouts became normal.
At university I felt encouraged to drink every night – binge drinking and having blackouts became normal
I gained five stone from all the alcohol and late-night pizza, then the insecurities I had as a child came back and I used alcohol as a crutch for confidence.
Afterwards, I went into the corporate world, working for a bank, where I suddenly had triple the amount of money I’d had as a student. I’d be nervous in social situations that came with the new job so, on nights out, I’d turn to turbo shandies – Smirnoff Ice mixed with pints of Kronenberg. I also did my first gram of coke. Before long, it was once a month, then twice a month, then once a weekend, twice a weekend, until gradually it became every day.
As the drug addiction took hold, I became reclusive because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of people. I managed to work from home for months by making up loads of excuses why I needed to – and I even got promoted during that time.
I’d get five grams of coke dropped through my letterbox every morning and on a typical evening drank six cans of cider and a bottle of wine – more at the weekends. I carried on like this for a solid 10 years.
I’d get five grams of coke dropped through my letterbox every morning
I covered up my addictions at work and no one ever said anything. I became a qualified financial adviser, bought a house, and managed to hold down a relationship for two years.
My girlfriend was never into drugs and I’d snort coke in the toilet at home, making excuses that I was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Eventually, I confided in her that I had a problem with addiction – she was the first person I told – and, shocked, she upped sticks and left me. At the time I was angry but looking back I’d probably have dragged her through hell.
I tried to fix myself over the years, but it never worked. I went to the doctors and tried NHS counselling, but I didn’t find it a helpful experience and life got worse.
The cocaine made me paranoid. I wouldn't sleep for days and I’d drive in to work having been up all night. There were weeks where I didn't sleep for four days straight and I’d be hallucinating from sleep deprivation.
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Staying up all night led me on to yet another addiction – gambling. I started on the fruit machines in the pub, which transferred into poker and then online roulette, which is disastrous because you can spend £100 plus on one spin that takes five seconds. I won £6,000 on one spin and then, that was it, I was forever chasing.
My gambling went horribly wrong and I ended up with £50,000 of debt
It all went horribly wrong and I ended up with £50,000 of debt. To add to this, I owed £14,000 to a drug dealer. It's normal for dealers to break people's legs and shoot people when they don't pay debts - that's the life you risk when you buy drugs.
It got to the point where I was suicidally depressed. I never consciously tried to kill myself, but I had no regard for my own life. I didn’t care if I lived or died. I drove from a wedding for over two hours and I can barely remember the journey. I was hitting every’ f*** it’ button going and I didn't care what happened to me.
Obviously, I couldn’t go to the police about the threats from the dealer, and I didn’t have money to pay them so I ran away to Thailand. But then, of course, I ran out of cash and had to come home.
I couldn’t go to the police about the threats from the dealer, and I didn’t have money to pay them so I ran away to Thailand
I was in a desperate situation and had no choice but to go to my mum and dad to ask for money to get the dealers off my back. I’d been worrying every second of every day that they would physically harm me, but the mental harm it did with not knowing what they would do was almost worse.
It was a huge sense of relief to have it paid off. I should have asked for help a lot sooner, but I couldn’t do it, I didn’t want to let my family down.
It was a complete shock to them. Mum had a motherly intuition that things weren't right, but she had no idea of the extent of how bad it was. They helped me through their savings, and I was forced to sell my house to pay off the gambling debts. I went to Australia to get away, but I found similar people and did all the same things over there.
All the money from the house sale disappeared – I spent £100,000 in nine months – and so I came home and got another job but carried on the same way.
I ended up in a position where I was working as an investment consultant yet I didn't have enough money to get to work. I was about to get kicked out of my flat for not paying the rent. I couldn’t keep asking my parents for money and so I hit rock bottom, admitted the extent of my addictions to myself and finally got help.
Luckily I had private health insurance and spoke to a psychologist at a psychiatric unit who told me to go straight into the addiction unit where I was locked in for 28 days. It’s not a point in life that I ever thought I’d get to.
My psychologist told me to go straight into the addiction unit where I was locked in for 28 days
I talked to therapists and counsellors about my emotions for seven hours a day, and, when you've used alcohol and drugs to numb those feelings, it's difficult – you don't really know what emotions you're feeling or how to convey them.
But they asked all the right questions that allowed me to explore why I did what I did. When you fully understand that addiction is the band aid for deep-rooted issues, I realised that early childhood bullying led me to overeat, which started the food addiction that then transferred into alcohol and drugs.
I knew I wanted to give up alcohol and once I had the will to stop drinking, my issues with drugs and gambling began to fall away too.
Rehab breaks you down and you're thrown out into the world, almost like a newborn baby, having to feel the emotions that come with the stresses of life that you would have alleviated with alcohol.
My whole friendship circle had been based around alcohol and, once I got sober, I didn't get invited out or, if I did, I felt triggered. So I made a clean start and set up The Sober Golf Society for people like me in recovery that love to play golf.
I moved in with my parents and, six weeks later, went back to work, which was a horrible experience because I felt like they didn't want me there and didn't want to take the time to understand what I'd gone through. My cash flow situation quickly got better though, as I was saving more than £500 a week from not drinking and doing drugs.
After 18 months, I’d saved enough to quit and qualified as a personal trainer because exercise was such a transformative tool for my recovery. After listening to a lot of self-help books, I decided to do my own series of books to help people – the first one questioning why you drink alcohol, and the benefits of not drinking, is selling over 1,000 copies a month.
The first year of recovery is about understanding yourself but two years ago, I met my partner on Hinge – we've got very similar stories; she was in rehab the year after I was – and I’m now financially secure enough that we’ve bought a house together. I’ve achieved more in the past four years than I did in the rest of my life put together.
This story was first published in June 2022.
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