Selfie help

Two years ago Melissa Rice made the best use of specialist addiction treatment to stop drinking, and now she’s the host of a prize-winning podcast

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Melissa Rice doesn’t look like an alcoholic. That’s what she told herself when she was drinking vodka in the morning, or pouring Jack Daniels on her cereal. When she went on nights out with friends and ordered a double JD and coke with two shots of sambuca as her first drink, she told herself that’s what people do when they’re in their early twenties. She couldn’t be an alcoholic, she thought, because she didn’t drink cider on the park.

When the former primary school teacher from Kirby finally went to access help at an addiction service, the unhelpful stereotype of what an addict should look like was reinforced when
a member of staff at the service asked Rice if she was a social worker.

“I walked out and burst into tears, because of the shame I felt,” says Rice. “Even now, through no fault of their own, people say ‘you don’t look like an alcoholic’, and it’s just like hold on, it doesn’t discriminate and it doesn’t matter what you look like, but to be honest I fed into that as well and it kept me from accessing help.”

Rice, now 31, has been sober for more than two years. Her journey to recovery hasn’t been easy. She had to give up the career she loved and lost friends, relationships and, she jokes, her marbles along the way. But after accessing support in a rehabilitation centre Rice is now in a place where she can talk openly about her addiction and, along with friend Jade Wye, a former mental health nurse and drug addict she met in rehab, the pair are sharing their personal stories while attempting to challenge stereotypes and promote more compassion about addiction with their podcast Hooked: The Unexpected Addicts, which won BBC Radio 5 Live’s Rachael Bland New Podcast Award this year.

In the episodes Rice and Wye give frank and honest accounts of their lives as addicts. Wye admits she spent a long time believing she couldn’t be a drug addict, simply because she was managing to hold down a job looking after mental health patients. It was only when Wye’s own mental health deteriorated to the point where a suicide attempt left her in a coma that she admitted she’d hit rock bottom.

For Rice, her own rock bottom came when her mum had to nurse her through a Librium-assisted detox at her family home. It was six weeks before she was due to go to rehab but arriving sober at Clouds House, an addiction centre in Wiltshire, Rice admits she felt cheated.

“I think my family convinced me rehab wouldn’t take me if I was drunk,” says Rice. “And then I got to rehab and I thought everyone’s bloody drunk! I was fuming. I remember sitting there and thinking, oh god, they smell lovely. They smelt like stale booze. Then I was seeing everyone on detox and getting given Valiums and I was thinking, I’ll tell you what, I’ve missed the boat here.”

But the opportunity Rice had been given to access specialist treatment wasn’t lost on her. She was referred to the clinic through Action on Addiction after a number of failed attempts to get sober
in the community. Around-the-clock care amid cuts to funding felt like a “lottery win”.

“I was vulnerable on my own,” she says. “I was completely paranoid. It was a disaster for me and I have so much respect for people who get sober in their communities.

“I’m from a very working-class background and to pay for treatment – we couldn’t do that. There were murmurs at the time about whether there should be a house remortgage.”

After 12 weeks at Clouds House Rice moved into a recovery house run by the Amy Winehouse Foundation. The therapy Rice has received has helped her understand addiction as a disease and recognise triggers for her drinking.

“I’d had a longstanding history with anxiety but I didn’t know I had anxiety,” says Rice. “There were periods of self harm, I had a nervous disposition where I’d pull my hair out, but I never quite knew it was anxiety because to an outsider I looked like a confident, outgoing girl. But it was all a front. Inside I was an anxious mess and an inherent people pleaser.

“I never really knew who I was. I was a social chameleon. Whoever you wanted me to be I’d be, so when drink came in and partying, I kind of loved it, but I could never handle the next day and the shame that I felt. There were phases of my drinking but, looking back, what I was drinking and why I was drinking and what I was taking, it wasn’t for fun – it was to obliterate and knock myself out. My mental health between nights out would be on the floor.”

Through their podcast Rice and Wye hope to open up a wider conversation about addiction and its impact.

“We put our own anxiety and embarrassment aside, but what we’ve had at the centre of everything is if we can help one person and we make one person feel more comfortable about themselves and their addiction, and if we carry the message we might educate someone and they might think maybe it is a disease, and yes, it doesn’t discriminate and it can happen to anyone, then our job is done.”

Hooked is a BBC Radio 5 Live podcast for BBC Sounds. To listen visit or download the BBC Sounds app

Photo: Photo: Melissa Rice, right, and Jade Wye present the Hooked podcast

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