Chris Kirkland opened up on talkSPORT about his addiction to painkillers that left him close to suicide.
The former Liverpool and Wigan goalkeeper gave a powerful and emotional account of how a back injury led him to become addicted to Tramadol.
Kirkland revealed he stood on the edge of an apartment block roof and contemplated stepping off when he was on a pre-season tour in Portugal with Bury in 2016.
The painkillers had deepened his anxiety and left him with hallucinations before he finally went to a rehab facility to get the help he so desperately needed after a decade long battle.
“The tablets messed me up,” Kirkland told the White and Jordan show on talkSPORT. “In the end, they don’t work, they don’t do what they are meant to do. They change you as a person.
“I withdrew, I didn’t want to do anything, lost interest in everything. Just a different person.
“People say now we’ve got the old Kirky back, but I just didn’t want to live.
“I was in that much pain with the painkillers. The back has always been an issue but it has always been manageable.
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“What the painkillers were doing to me mentally, I’d just had enough. It was about 2am, I went out and was on the top floor, stood on the roof and I was just going to jump.
“But I felt a pull back. No one was there, but I know it was my wife [Leeona] and my daughter. That’s when I rang her straight away then and said ‘look, I’ve got a big problem with painkillers and I need help’.
“She said ‘right, make some excuse and come back’. I came back from Bury from Portugal.
“I phoned the PFA and got off them the first time.”
Kirkland eventually went back on the painkillers and was taking 2,500mg of Tramadol a day when the maximum limit was 400mg.
The former England goalkeeper revealed how contacted the PFA again for help, and they suggested Sporting Chance – the clinic founded by Tony Adams – but faced a long wait for treatment, so decided to find a place himself.
“It nearly killed me a few times,” he said. “I was hallucinating, I remember certain nights I forgot who I was. I was violently ill, violently sick.
“I didn’t want to do anything at all. Didn’t answer my phone or text messages. After those incidents you think ‘I’ve got to stop, I’m going to die’.
“I’d stop for three or four days, but then your body will be in bits as you’d be addicted and your withdrawal symptoms will be as bad.
“You go back on them, and I did. I said to Leeona the second time ‘I’ve got a big problem’. She said you need to go away now and go to rehab.
“I totally agreed with her as I knew I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.
“I rang the PFA, as you do when you are a former player, but unfortunately the waiting list was too long to get into Sporting Chance.
“I think it was three months. I said I didn’t have three months, I’ve not got three days.
“We just got on the internet and we found a place.
“I don’t like being away from home, so the thought of being down there was daunting, then we found Parkland Place in north Wales.
“I rang them and said I’m addicted to painkillers, I’m a former footballer and can you get me in.
“They said yes and I could go today if I wanted.”
Kirkland underwent group therapy at Parkland Place where he heard eye-opening stories from other addicts. He also had one-on-one sessions and fondly remembers his time there.
The retired goalkeeper is now calling for more to be done by clubs to help players and stop the warning signs of addiction.
“I’m not going to come here and slaughter clubs,” he added. “It’s for them to do their own internal investigations.
“I got them from outside of football. From GPs, the internet and basically anywhere I could.
“Certain people – it was not their fault as they had no idea.
“Football clubs have maybe got to start testing in house as it is so easy. It’s alcohol it’s everything.”
Kirkland now works for a charity in his local community and also takes part in Walking and Talking Charity Hikes, a mental health group started by the former Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Mark Crossley.
It supports related charities and he has completed the Three Peaks and Coast to Coast challenges, with climbing Kilimanjaro their next major goal.
Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or email [email protected].