Chris Kirkland has shared the punishing physical side effects of quitting painkillers cold turkey in an interview marking a year of being clean from his 10-year addiction.
The former Liverpool and Wigan Athletic goalkeeper had previously confronted his addiction in 2016 and quit the drugs, but Kirkland suffered a serious relapse during the Covid 19 lockdown which saw him start using again during the ‘testing time’.
Forming habits and building up new routines has helped him stay clean since he decided to commit to sobriety, as has the support of his family.
But the ex-England international was honest about his continuing mental health struggles and the importance of sharing advice via social media to help fellow addicts seeking their own recovery.
Speaking to the i, Kirkland shared the ‘extremely dangerous’ process he underwent to wean himself off painkillers.
Chris Kirkland has opened up about his experience of quitting painkillers cold turkey last year
The former Sheffield Wednesday keeper took his first pill in 2012 to aid a bad back injury
‘I had done it once before in 2019 and I was fine back then, I maybe had a sniffly nose for one or two days,’ Kirkland began.
‘So I thought I’d be fine, I’d done it before. But this was horrendous. I wouldn’t wish those seven, eight days on anyone.
‘I had hallucinations, constant sweats, cold, vomiting, aching and I cramped all over my body.
‘I didn’t sleep for five or six days, basically. (My wife) Leeona slept in the room next door to me because I was tossing and turning and she came in to check I was still breathing properly.
‘It is extremely dangerous and it’s not recommended but I didn’t want to taper off, I just didn’t want to put another tablet in my mouth.
‘The seconds feel like hours but I made it through. Once you get past the six- or seven-day mark you have to start functioning again – ice-cold showers help, baths, going out for walks helped. Then it’s a case of having things set up so you don’t go back into them.’
Kirkland believes he in a good place with managing his recovery ’95 per cent of the time’ and thrives on routine and physical well-being, which includes being part of a walking group alongside ex-Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley, and offering keeping coaching in exchange for foodback donations.
Habits formed in the wake of going clean involve taking random drug tests administered by his wife, and not accepting packages handed to him by the postman.
At one stage Kirkland (pictured in 2015) was taking 2,500 milligrams of painkiller Tramadol
Kirkland credits his wife Leeona (pictured) and his daughter Lucy for supporting him throughout the turbulency of his recovery
The decision to kick the habit came after Kirkland purchased what he thought were painkillers over the internet in March 2022, and within minutes of taking the tablets he ‘knew [he] was in trouble’.
‘I just didn’t know who I was. I didn’t know where I was or what was happening. I put “home” in the sat nav and somehow managed to get home, then I was violently ill and slept for 18 hours.
‘I got up the next day and flushed them down the toilet. I still had some proper ones in the house but I knew that day there was no going back.’
Last August, Kirkland shared how at the height of his addiction, he was taking 2,500 milligrams of Tramadol a day, after initially suffering from painful back spasms during his second season at Sheffield Wednesday in 2013.
In an interview with the Times, Kirkland revealed he had come close to taking his own life in 2016, standing on the edge of the roof of then-club Bury’s pre-season base in Portugal before feeling himself ‘pulled back from afar’ by his wife and daughter.
Kirkland continues to manage mental health issues, taking anti-depressants, and has shared that doctors suspect he suffers from bi-polar disorder as there are ‘three to four days a month [he] just can’t function’.
‘It feels like a black cloud is over you. You can hear people talking but it’s like you’re not there.’
The goalkeeper, who is preparing for his first game in years as part of the Walking Brilliant team that will take on a Harry’s Heroes XI – coached by Harry Redknapp – in aid of a number of mental health charities, is keen to share his story in a bid to raise addiction awareness.
‘When you’re an addict you’re sneaky, you know you can get away with it, hiding them all around the house, in the sock drawer or under the bed,’ he added. ‘So it just feels so liberating being honest about it, talking about it. You can’t have little secrets any more.’
Painkiller and sleeping tablet addiction remains an issue amongst players across the football pyramid, with ex-defender Ryan Cresswell highlighting the problem in August last year.
Kirkland (in 2018) believes his playing career was stymied by injury and addiction, and he eventually retired in 2016
Ryan Cresswell is another former pro who has been vocal about addiction issues in football
‘I think there is a big issue in football with sleeping tablets and I mean from the top, as high as you can go,’ Cresswell said.
‘For me it started with one after every game, which was great and I think is an alright purpose to use them. But then it went from one after games, to one a day to two a day and then I knew I was addicted to them.
‘It was not me craving it, it was my body, I knew it wasn’t the right thing. It’s horrible.
‘There will be 22 or 23-year-old lads now in the Premier League, Championship, wherever taking too many painkillers.’