First person: 'I lost everything to drugs'

Darren Gold, 37

I would never try to blame my addiction on my background. I came from a "good middle-class family" and wanted for nothing. But the trouble started at secondary school – I didn't fit in any peer group and I started comfort eating. By the time I was aged 13, I weighed 15 stone. I became miserable and got in with the wrong crowd; then I started shop-lifting, and had my first joint when I was 14. It made me laugh for the first time in years – and soon I was smoking every day and bunking off classes. My relationship with my parents started to break down, too, and the week before my exams, I was excluded from school.

My first stint in prison – for shop-lifting – came when I was 16. Being in a juvenile detention centre was a horrific experience. I never got over it. But back on the outside, I started smoking dope again – only this time it made me paranoid. The drug wasn't working, and before long I got into speed and LSD. They made me lose weight, and gave me a kind of confidence but I racked up huge debts – which my parents promised to pay off, so long as I went to stay on a Kibbutz in Israel. For the first six months, Israel was marvellous; a clean slate. Then I found some dope and moved away from the camp, to Tel Aviv, where I got caught selling cannabis and was sent to prison. It was awful: six beds in a 10-man room and the toilet was a hole in the floor.

When I got out, I met a girl who was using heroin. I was reluctant to try it, but ended up smoking a bit – and at first, it was amazing. It made me numb, and helped me forget all the bad things. By the time I returned to England, aged 23, I was using every day – and I ended up robbing my parents' house three times to pay for the habit.

After a while, smoking heroin wasn't giving me enough of a hit any more, so I started injecting, and I got on to crack too. By this point, I was in all kinds of trouble. I'd been kicked out of home, and was living between squats. The veins in my legs and arms had started to collapse, so I was injecting into my groin. I hit rock-bottom when I found myself waking up one night at a homeless hostel, and robbing the alcoholics while they were asleep.

One night I fell unconscious. There was an ulcer on my leg the size of a small football. I technically "died" on the way to hospital and had to be resuscitated; when I came round, all I wanted was more heroin. It took my mum telling me that it might have been easier if I had died, combined with the eight-stone mess that I saw reflected back at me in the mirror, to realise what I'd become.

That was the start of my recovery. It's been a slow journey, and there have been relapses. But I've now been clean for 10 years, have a wife and a 20-month-old son, Dylan. I spend my time speaking to school-kids about my experience, for Drugsline. I've wasted so many years of my life, but I'm making up for them now.

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