When hearing the words ‘drug addict’, for most people certain stereotypes come to mind.

But it appears the stereotypes often associated with people battling a drug addiction couldn’t, in many cases, be further from the truth.

Experts claim that many people in respectable jobs, including teachers and nurses, are living in the city and across Sussex as ‘functioning addicts’ and hiding the truth from their colleagues, friends and family.

In 2012, nearly one in five drug addicts helped by the charity CRI in Brighton and Hove was a professional person – with 263 treated in total.

Pete Davies organises Brighton’s annual Recovery Walk and runs the Cascade Creative Recovery group for former addicts.

Last year he helped scores of professionals overcome serious addiction.

He said: “The stereotype is that all addicts are down and outers – but that’s not the case.

“In Brighton the problem runs much deeper than that. Drugs are everywhere here, right in the heart of suburbia.

“I know successful businessmen with heroin addictions, teachers too. I even know a policeman with a secret cocaine problem that is taking over his life.

“People just wouldn’t believe that someone in a good job might have a hidden drug problem – but in this city, addiction does not discriminate.”

Hidden problem

Mr Davies, a former addict himself, said many professionals in Brighton and Hove were keeping their problems hidden from their unsuspecting family and colleagues.

He said: “Shame is a great motivator for people to stay in addiction. You’d think it would work the other way round but it doesn’t.

“Most people, especially in high-powered jobs, would rather manage it on their own than risk the sack or their family finding out.”

David – not his real name – from Brighton is a recovering addict who previously worked in a middle management position.

Extended lunch

Despite battling a serious long-term cocaine addiction, he managed to stay in his job for five years before resigning to concentrate on overcoming his problems.

He told The Argus: “I was taking extended lunch breaks to go and meet my dealer and do drugs. I would come back every afternoon in a complete state but everybody seemed to turn a blind eye.

“Hardly anyone suspected I was a drug addict. To be honest, I don’t think it even occurred to them.

“I worked that bit harder to distract attention from myself, but eventually it got to the stage where it was becoming obvious and I had to leave.”

Functioning addicts

Daniel Gerrard, director of the rehab advice guide Addictionhelper, said Brighton and Hove was a “hotspot” for functioning addicts.

Statistically, his organisation receives more calls from nurses and teachers than all the other professions in the city put together.

Through a special intervention programme Addictionhelper, also works with a number of lawyers and a university lecturer.

He said: “We deal with some high-powered people in Brighton who have been secretly addicted to heroin for 20 years. Many of these are in high-stress jobs.

“Even though heroin is such a destructive drug, some addicts can live a fairly normal life.”

Heroin dose

In fact, Mr Gerrard said many addicted professionals actually needed a regular shot of heroin to keep them on an even keel.

He said: “They will manage their doses with care so they appear normal during the day.

“In many cases, they actually need heroin to appear stable and normal.

“No one around them suspects what is going on.

“These are people who still have a degree of control over their lives – but they are unable to escape their addiction.”

Serious addiction

Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, runs the largest drug and alcohol treatment services in the city.

He said many drug-addicted professionals had “struggled to let go” of their younger days and now found themselves mired in serious addiction.

He said: “Often you’ll find that they took drugs at university with their friends where it didn’t seem like a problem.

“Then in their 20s, they carried on, while other people stopped doing them.

“By the time they reach their 30s, they are often doing them in large quantities, on their own, perhaps hidden from friends and colleagues. Sometimes they have moved on to harder drugs.

“Their addiction begins to take over their life.”

Professional settings

Mr Winter said there was “certainly an issue” with medical workers in Brighton and Hove struggling with drug addiction.

He said: “The health services are not always the best in dealing with the addictions of their staff, especially smaller private firms.

“It’s not just doctors and nurses though – there’s a problem with a number of professional settings in this city.”

He added that the pervasive drug culture in Brighton and Hove made it “particularly difficult” for people to get clean for good.

But the figures from CRI also revealed that hundreds of working people are struggling with substance abuse problems in other parts of the county.

Affluent areas

Last year, 16% of the addicts treated by the drug charity in East Sussex were professional people – 195 in total.

In more affluent West Sussex, where 23% of addicts were in work, 292 professionals were treated.

But Mike Pattinson, head of drug charity CRI, said he feared the number of people getting help was just the tip of the iceberg.

He said: “In almost every job in Brighton you are likely to be working with someone struggling with a drug problem. Many of the people we help are working while addicted to heroin.

“Often, people are blind to what their colleagues are doing – perhaps they just think they are constantly hungover.

“The important message is that there are places where people can get help to overcome their problems.”

Drugs at work

Many addicts in Brighton and Hove are able to hold down respectable jobs despite a constant need for drugs.

One bank worker who eventually managed to get clean told The Argus about his daily struggle with his addiction.
The married father-of-two said: “I did drugs everywhere, especially at work.

“Every break I’d smoke skunk in a phone box across the street from work or walk around the block to smoke a joint. 

“When I progressed to my cocaine addiction most of my breaks were spent in the disabled toilet hitting the hand dryer every three minutes drowning out the sound of me sniffing my brain out. 

'Sweaty mess'

“I was a red eyed sweaty mess five days a week but somehow my productivity didn’t suffer too much otherwise I wouldn’t still be here at the same employment.

“Fellow colleagues had their suspicions and some definitely knew what was going on.  Many times I’d be off my face on ecstasy pills at 8.30am sweating like a maniac, red in the face and panicking.

“Having been up all night doing cocaine too, I would be literally barking, growling and dribbling at my desk.  It did scare a few of my older colleagues but yet again I got away with it. 

“Maybe that’s the benefit of working with so many diverse people – such behaviour goes generally unnoticed by management. Only the little workers notice and no one listens to them anyway.”

Experts want to see more help for addicted workers

Most experts agree there should be more targeted help for working people struggling with drug addiction.

Andy Winter, chief executive of the Brighton Housing Trust, runs the largest drug and alcohol treatment services in the city.

He said: “A lot of attention is rightly focused on people who are homeless, struggling and addicted to drugs. But we need to make sure that professionals can also access the help they need.

“Most services are only open during the working day so it makes it difficult for professional people to get help.

“This issue certainly needs much more attention.”

Change in attitude

Mr Winter also said there needed to be “a real change in attitude” from firms who might automatically sack a worker if it was found they were struggling with substance abuse.

Only then, he argued, would people feel comfortable coming clean about their problems.

He said: “A lot of work has been done to put HR practices right – but there is still much more to do.

“I think there is certainly an issue there, particularly within smaller firms.”

Michael Mergler, deputy service director of substance misuse services at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, said there were services available to professional people who needed them.

The Argus: Los Albertos football team

He said: “The approach we have is working. People who have come through this themselves are helping addicts to recover.

“We need to make sure services are available to the people who need them so we do open at different times of the day so working people can get help.”

Some experts claim one way of helping addicts recover is to get them involved in sport.

In Brighton, the football team Los Albertos is made up of recovering addicts.

If you are struggling with drug addiction, call CRI on 01273 607575 or visit www.addictionhelper.com.

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