THERE is no such thing as a drug problem – instead, people have problems and use drugs to deal with them. Self-medication, not self-destruction.

Most people don't take drugs, of course. This is true. And yet everyone has problems. More often than not, this trope is the last bastion of those who would dismiss, dehumanise and, in some instances, demonise addicts – either through fear, ignorance or in service to political ideologies.

But no two people are the same; no one's background is the same; mental health issues do not affect everyone the same; no trauma is the same; not all support networks are the same; financial stability, a safe and secure upbringing and opportunity is not afforded in equal measure to everyone – it is no surprise then that most recovering addicts often lament those underlying conditions that steered them into substance abuse.

Only, by that time, it is too late.

Paul Hipson was robbed of his 20s. He was barely in high school when he started taking drugs and drinking. Such behaviour was normal in his circumstances; a perilous path laid out at his feet.

When others his age were stepping into adulthood and embarking on careers, Hipson had moved from recreational drug use to injecting heroin. He lost more than most could ever bare, and then some. A story such as his normally only ends in one way.

However, Hipson was one of the lucky ones. Today he is a changed man. From entrenched addiction, he emerged. An eye-opening spell in rehab catalysed his transformation. He rebuilt his life, repaired some of the damage done and found solace in music. The sheer power of that creative outlet cannot be underestimated. He now fronts the band Hippy with bandmate Hugh Frizell; together, they have started to garner a loyal following around Glasgow. His voice and his story have real value – they challenge the public perception of recovery, of addiction itself.

Though he is focused on his recovery, he knows all too well his journey could have been much different. It could easily have ended long before he had his re-awakening.

"It's hard to reflect on that time," he tells The Weekender. "When I look back, all these years on, it just feels like another person – another life. I have changed so much that I can't really believe now that I was ever that person; that was ever my life. I'm a long-distance runner and so I won't even take sugar in my tea. But, in those days, I was injecting into my neck and groin.

"I was a bit of a chronic overdoser. On a few occasions, I was dead. That's part of the journey for most people who use heroin. When you come around from something like that, the only thing on your mind is thinking about getting more drugs. That's the psychology of an addict.

"A pal of mine died. It was just an accident but that was the turning point. They say everyone needs to get to their rock bottom – and that was mine. It was clear my time was running out. I was able to get it together.

"There are positives to focus on. Since rehab, I have transformed my life. I am an addiction worker now. I have repaired relationships with my family.

"I could never forget who I was, though. It's always there. That's why I still go to narcotics anonymous meetings after 16 years - I will not go back the way."


BACK FROM THE BRINK: Paul Hipson battle through his addictions, with music playing a major part in his recovery. Picture by Iain Smith/The Weekender

BACK FROM THE BRINK: Paul Hipson battle through his addictions, with music playing a major part in his recovery. Picture by Iain Smith/The Weekender


Most people will never understand. Addiction is not so much a choice but a lack of options – a respite for those who need a little comfort; a release for those who are unable to manage their internal struggles. It is a policy of last resort.

Substance misuse will rise in circumstances of stress. Social deprivation is often a key indicator, as is the breakdown of societal structures or loss of family connections. These are circumstances that can affect everyone from time to time. To make matters worse, impressionable minds that are often faced with these hurdles are placed into environments that normalise, trivialise and, in some cases, glamorise drug use.

"It can happen to anyone," Hipson says. "Some people talk about being born an addict – I don't believe that. Everyone you see with an addiction problem, I'm telling you, they are trying to escape from something. We all have some internal unmanageable problem that we are trying to get rid of.

"Crime, violence and drug-taking was normalised when I was growing up. It was just the way it was then – people took drugs to function. In fact, if you go to any housing scheme in the west of Scotland, you'll see people function through their vices, whether that is drugs, alcohol, food or gambling. They are all getting lost in it on a daily basis. It's how to cope.

"The majority of people feel like that. As soon as we don't like how we feel about ourselves, we want to change something. No one wants to feel down. So, if you are growing up in poverty, or dealing with trauma, and you are in an environment where emotion is not nurtured, then everything just goes inwards. And when that happens, things don't end very well."

Hipson's journey is one that he feels he could have avoided if he understood himself a little more in his youth. If the pressures on him were different, if he were not constantly burdened with hiding his emotions and burying any negative feelings, he might have had his 20s.

He looks back now and sees his younger self move inexorably from one deleterious milestone to the next. That mature reflection was informed by his time in rehab – a period where he interrogated the causes of his drug use. It became a revelation.

"I started using drugs very early," Hipson reflects. "By 12 or 13 I was smoking cannabis and drinking on street corners. The band scene exploded in the 1990s and I started getting mixed up in the recreational drug side of things with ecstasy and cocaine. And then I progressed onto harder drugs when I was 19-20 or so and started using painkillers and then heroin.

"I had no idea. I thought I would use it and then just stop taking it. But, then, 13-14 years later and I wake up in rehab wondering where I went wrong.

"I started going to narcotics anonymous and using the 12 steps. One thing it helped me to do was to look back on things from where I am now. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The reason I used drugs, in that chaotic way, was to escape how I felt. I did not feel good about myself. I grew up with a lot of insecurities and a lot of fear in my life. I didn't exactly feel comfortable in my own skin.

"I went into rehab in 2006, when I was 33 years old. Now, when I went there I was certain that ALL I had was a drug problem. And, so, if I deal with that, then I'd be fine. But, when I was in rehab, I realised that drugs were just a solution I used to deal with the real problems. Now, I know that if I deal with my feelings and emotions in the right way then I don't need to use drugs to make me feel better."


BACK FROM THE BRINK: Paul Hipson battle through his addictions, with music playing a major part in his recovery. Picture by Iain Smith/The Weekender

BACK FROM THE BRINK: Paul Hipson battle through his addictions, with music playing a major part in his recovery. Picture by Iain Smith/The Weekender


Recovery is an arduous enterprise. It requires a fortitude beyond what most people could muster. While Hipson was haunted by his past – by the events that saw the loss of a friend – he sought a positive outlet for his emotions; he needed a healthy space to focus his mind and challenge his soul.

It was music – a long-lost love of sorts. He was drawn to it in his youth and became reacquainted in his time of need. What would have started as a distraction became an ambition. Rehab was the start of a series of positive decisions that re-shaped his life. Music was the next step.

Hipson says: "I was always fascinated by music when I was growing up – always drawn to it. Even before rehab I was reading about music and listening to music all the time.

"But I grew up in an environment where that sort of thing wasn't really nurtured. I came from a west of Scotland housing scheme where it was all about violence and gangs. Not really a nurturing or an artistic environment.

"It wasn't until I was in rehab that I picked up songwriting. I was in with a few guys who knew how to play the guitar, so I asked them to show me a few chords and took it from there. I started writing shortly after that and learned how to structure songs.

"A while after that, I was hanging around with other musicians and though I didn't realise it at the time I was being nurtured. My confidence was growing and I was learning every day. It's a far cry from standing on street corners where that interest isn't nurtured – I couldn't have stood there and said: 'Here, lads, let me sing you a song'. That would not have gone down well.

"Writing songs is brilliant," he adds. "You have that outlet where you work on things but also get some feelings out there. I used to get embarrassed about writing lyrics, and it definitely made me feel like I was out of my comfort zone. But now it's second nature to me – it's what I do now."

Music is how Hipson is able to reach people. No matter the subject matter he can reach out a forge a connection he might not have been capable of in the past. The nourishing power of music is not lost on him. He credits having that outlet as a key part of his recovery. Something reliable and comforting to turn to; something to pour himself into.

The fact he performs on a regular basis all over the country, has had his music played on national radio and has worked with some great musical minds, is all a testament to not only his recovery but the very prospect of recovery itself. He came back from the brink and others can do the same.

A major sticking point for recovery is the marginalisation that addicts face. Much of the public find it too difficult to look beyond the unnerving and often frightening perception of those fighting drug addiction. Addicts are normally only heard about in negative contexts – crime, court, shock and horror. It is a big ask to address that culture of othering, but Hipson hopes to persuade a few with his story. Everyone can come back.

"Addiction is not a criminal justice issue, it's a medical issue. It's a mental health issue. If you saw someone who has fallen into the depths of depression, and their physical health and their appearance were suffering, then no one would have a problem saying that they have a mental health issue. But, if you were to see someone injecting drugs into their neck or their groin, then fewer people would look at them and think the same thing. For me, it's the same.

"I've found that most people do not have a very nice approach to people with addiction – until addiction chaps at their door. Then it becomes a different ball game. Then they start to understand."

He continues: "After leaving rehab, and going through all that, I have made a life for myself that was beyond my wildest dreams. If you had told me, 16 years ago, that I would have a band, with good songs, working with critically-acclaimed folk, being on the radio and people paying to come and see me play – I would have f***ing laughed at you."

Hippy will perform at Audio this Friday, October 14, supporting Martin Leary.

For tickets, visit CLICK HERE.