Newcastle Dad Opens up on Drug Addiction After Becoming First Resident at City’s Recovery House

A dad-of-one has opened up about his battle with drug addiction after becoming the first resident to move into a ‘dry-house‘ in Newcastle.

Gary* said he found himself addicted to heroin at the age of 26, just one week after trying the drug for the first time. He had started taking cannabis at the age of 14, but later started experimenting with other drugs, despite warnings from friends.

Gary, now 43, said: “I had been using cannabis at first, and it was just a weekend thing. It never stopped me from functioning or leading a normal life, holding down a job and things.

“I hadn’t really realised it at the time, because it wasn’t every day, but I can see now that I was addicted to drugs at that point. It just spiralled. From cannabis it moved to party drugs. Cocaine, pills.

“I had a friend who used heroin. I remember people saying ‘never get on to that stuff’ but I remember watching him inject heroin and thinking ‘it doesn’t look too bad’ and I think it was just the curiosity. Within a week, I would say, I was hooked.”

As Gary’s addiction took hold, his relationships with family and friends suffered and despite several attempts to get clean, he fell back into addiction. His addiction drove him to crime and he almost ended up living on the streets.

But now he has become the first resident to move into a new ‘dry-house’ in the city, which is supporting Gary to battle addiction. Gary is one of six people who will eventually live at Recovery House – a facility operated in partnership between Tyne Housing and Phoenix Futures.

The site was specifically set up to support people in Newcastle who are at risk of homelessness and are working to overcome drug or alcohol addiction and provides open-ended rehabilitation, with support and structure to help residents rebuild their lives.

Gary said: “I’ve been here about six weeks now, and I can start to feel my mind clear and I feel focused now.”

He added: “I was at a point in my life where I had nowhere to go and was about to be on the streets, but coming here, well, I think it’s probably saved me.”

The dad-of-one, who was recently released from prison for committing a crime that was linked to his substance abuse, is being supported to beat addiction. He will then move forward with ongoing support from Tyne Housing to help him find suitable housing, as well as helping him take steps to re-enter the world of work when he is ready.

Gary said: “I don’t think I would have offended if it wasn’t for the drug use. I’ve done things I am not proud of, but I have to move forward. I try not to focus on the past, especially my time in prison. It was such a stressful environment.

“I know I was in there to be punished, and that’s fair, but it was terrible for my mental health. I suffered and it made lots of the problems I had worse.”

Now living in the Recovery House, Gary is given a structured day which includes a range of activities to help him understand the triggers that caused him to misuse substances.

As part of the recovery process, he receives support from Changing Lives at Oaktrees, a 12-week abstinence-based programme which includes one-to-one counselling, group therapy, meetings and workshops for developing life skills.

Gary also undergoes regular drug and alcohol testing and receives support and action planning to empower him to make and sustain positive change before reintegrating into the wider community.

He added: “I was nervous and anxious at first, but being here has given me the footing to move on. We look at the past and why we do the things we do. I learn something new every day and we play games on a Friday. It’s doing me good.”

Residents at Recovery House are directed to the service via Newcastle City Council’s Supported Housing Gateway – an online portal where professionals can refer people who are at risk of homelessness.

The drive to create this project came directly from a resident consultation group ran by Tyne Housing, where people the organisation has supported are able to shape the services it provides. A former Tyne resident who joined the group to provide a voice for people with addiction following his own experience with alcohol and substance abuse made the suggestion and it was something Tyne immediately explored.

There is a link worker based at Recovery House, on-hand to support residents. The worker is funded by Project Addiction, Diversion, Disruption, Enforcement and Recovery (ADDER), a £59m government funded project which seeks to ensure that more people get support to overcome addiction, with enhanced treatment and recovery provision, including housing and employment support.

Steve McKinlay, chief executive of Tyne Housing, said: “Tyne Housing is about more than just putting a roof over people’s heads.

“We recognise the vital role a stable home can play in giving vulnerable people a solid foundation on which to grow and reconnect with society in a positive way, and that is even more true for people battling addiction. But, with our partners, we’re wrapping support around them too, to ensure this is a stepping-stone to a better life.

“We’re looking forward to seeing the impact Recovery House has on the lives of the people we work with.”


*The name has been changed in order to protect the identity of the individual receiving support for addiction