'I realised all I was doing was killing myself': How former heroin addict found his road to recovery

This video contains distressing images

Watch Charlotte Briere-Edney's exclusive interview with recovering heroin addict Leo. A warning that some may find the report distressing.

Recovering drug addict Leo started taking cannabis aged just 12, and within five years was hooked on heroin.

After trying other drugs through his teenage years, the young man found himself in the throes of an addiction that lasted two decades - and nearly killed him.

Leo shared his story with ITV Meridian as addiction support charities sound the alarm that are seeing demand for their services triple as people struggle following lockdown.

He explains that lockdown can make it more difficult for substance abusers to keep their habits in check.

"I think most addicts crave structure. Which, when you haven't got any of that, you're just going to fill your time with the other important thing in your life, that's whatever you choose to take."

Leo went to rehab at Yeldall Manor in Reading in 2018

DrugFAM says it has seen demand for its services triple since the first lockdown in 2020.

During the pandemic, some people turned to drugs or alcohol to cope. For those with existing addiction problems, furlough and less structured days meant substance abuse often got worse.

DrugFAM, which supports people affected by a friend or family member's addiction, says the number of emails it is handling has increased by 150% on pre-Covid levels. Meanwhile the demand for one-to-one help has gone up by more than 230%.

As well as hurting himself, Leo says he caused huge pain to family and friends. 

“It’s put me in prison, it’s put me in many situations where I’ve been beaten up, I’ve nearly been stabbed. I wound up towards the end living on the streets of Reading for four years.

Leo speaking to ITV Meridian's Charlotte Briere-Edney

"It took me to some really, really dark situations and dark places in my mind and that has an effect that will take a long time to get over."

Leo reveals that it took facing his own death to get help. He went to rehab in 2018.

“I came to a realisation, and quite a powerful one, that continuing doing what I was doing, because my addiction had got through the roof, that all I was doing was killing myself quite quickly.

"And that really scared me. So I decided to try and do something about it. And so far it’s worked out alright.”

He now facilitates support groups for families affected by a loved one’s addiction, running meetings over Zoom when meeting in person was no longer possible.

Leo argues there needs to be more funding for charities like DrugFAM, so that addicts and their families can be helped to recover sooner.

DrugFAM founder Elizabeth Burton-Phillips said: "We were absolutely overwhelmed by the volume of calls, the emails, the demand for bereavement services.

"It’s just shocking, but important that we are able to provide the clients with the support they so rightly need.

If you are affected by the issues discussed, see below for support and information:


Drug addiction: getting help

Turning Point: Drug and Alcohol Support

FRANK: Find support near you