IT began with the Hacienda music scene and rave culture of late 1980s Manchester, and a little recreational drug use.
But before long Stuart Nevin, who grew up in the Miles Platting area of the city, was a heroin addict.
Initially, Stuart, now 38, says he “didn’t want to know” when there was an influx of the drug on to his estate.
Then, when he tried the Class A drug, he was sure he would be able to control his use.
“We did not know its addictive side, it creeps up on you,” says Stuart.
“It had a massive impact – it completely destroyed my life.”
Within six months, Stuart was shoplifting daily to fund his next fix. One of four children, he was still living with his parents and even stole items from the family home to pay for his habit.
“I was like a tornado,” he says.
“I brought a lot of embarrassment to my parents, and they put up with me again and again.
“I never had stable relationships with women.”
After just two years, he was in prison, the first of several sentences ranging from four to 11 months.
“By the time I was 24 I started seeing something needed to change,” he recalls.
“My parents were getting older and my brothers had grown up and did not want anything to do with me.
“For their own sanity my parents had by then said I could not live with them any more.
“My friends from school had grown up, had kids and settled down with jobs, and I was still where I was.”
While inside Stuart would “get clean”, but was usually back to his old ways within a week of being released back into the same neighbourhood.
When he explained his dilemma to a prison rehabilitation worker in 1998, she arranged for him to move into the Inward House residential drug recovery centre in Lancaster.
After 12 months there and nearly two years clean, he moved to Morecambe and then Poulton-le-Sands. But with little support available he first began binge drinking, and ended up on cocaine and steroids, holding jobs down only periodically from 2000-2006.
“I had gone from an environment of having lots of support 24 hours a day to having virtually none,” he says.
“I spent a lot of time in pubs and clubs and starting getting arrested by the police for fighting with my partner and the neighbours.”
By this time Stuart had two young girls, but he describes this period as his “most chaotic”. He needed reconstructive surgery on a shattered cheekbone after being attacked with a baseball bat during a fight.
“I caused a lot of problems and I was quite a nasty piece of work,” he says.
“Things got really dark and I became extremely violent – my partner left me and took the kids with her.
“I hit rock bottom, and began taking heroin again to take the pain away.
“I was crying out for help.”
It was then that Stuart turned to the DISC (Developing Initiative Supporting Communities) J2R (Journey 2 Recovery) drug and alcohol support service on Euston Road, Morecambe, where his support worker helped him overcome a few setbacks to stay clean.
He was prescribed methadone for the first time and went back into residential recovery two years ago.
Following his rehabilitation, Stuart returned to J2R as a volunteer to help others in recovery through SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training), which involves focusing on people’s strengths and setting them targets.
He then gained his first paid job in six years as a structured intervention worker at J2R, and is now six months into a new role delivering a project called DRIVE (Delivering Recovery in Voluntary Environments), which is commissioned by the Lancashire Drug and Alcohol Action Team (LDAAT).
Based at Lancaster District CVS (Community and Voluntary Solutions) in Middle Street, Lancaster, Stuart is one of four DRIVE workers across the county.
His role involves helping recovering addicts by ensuring they are not left isolated.
He points them in the direction of support, community activities and volunteering opportunities, and helps involve their family and friends in the journey to recovery.
“Someone might want to develop a music group, someone else might have an interest in fishing, so I will look at helping them get funding to start a fishing group,” he says.
For Stuart, those activities included sports like football and distance running and he became involved in sport and fitness coaching at Lancaster & Morecambe College, where he is now seeking to qualify as a personal trainer.
Even during the tough times he had completed courses there and at the University of Cumbria in areas ranging from social sciences and joinery to psychology and criminology.
“I knew when I came out of treatment that if I didn’t keep busy I wouldn’t last five minutes, and that I needed to be around people in recovery a bit further along than myself,” he says.
Stuart links people in recovery with groups like Peer Support, Addaction, The Friendship Centre and Help Direct, and works closely with organisations like these and DISC.
“If people do not know these groups are there they can’t get the support they need,” he says.
“I am now supporting people to do what I have done – I am just giving something back because I took from my community without thought for so long.”
Amazingly, Stuart, who now also has a little boy, still lives in the same house in Poulton as he did in the dark days.
“Some are no doubt relieved I have changed, but a majority still wonder how long it will last.
“While that makes me determined to prove them wrong, I am really doing this for myself and my family.
“I sometimes work 60 hours a week but it’s not about the money, I enjoy helping the community. I’ve now seen some success stories and it is very satisfying.”