Line of Duty’s Steve Arnott portrays harsh reality of opioid addiction

aphoto of a crime scene with a yellow police line do not cross

Series 6 of Line of Duty had the nation gripped last night, as years of speculation was unravelled in the season finale. We may still not know the identity of “H”, but this series has presented more dilemmas from the AC12 trio, with another bent copper revealed to be involved with the OCG and Steve Arnott’s prescription drug addiction causing deceit. We have invested years of loyalty to the Line of Duty anti-corruption team, with many of us questioning if the storyline is an accurate depiction of our police force. Whilst Line of Duty is not a real story, Steve’s addiction to prescription drugs is a reality for many people in the UK and is far more common than you may be aware of.

Prescription drugs and functioning alcoholism

Steve Arnott’s addiction storyline began after being thrown down some stairs in the previous season, after which he was prescribed painkillers for pain management. Now in series 6, Steve is heavily reliant on prescription drugs, as well as the usual round of alcohol, which is often coupled to satisfy addiction cravings. Prolonged use of harmful substances leads to a higher tolerance, so multiple substances are commonly taken to achieve a greater ‘high’.

In Line of Duty, we have witnessed the Detective Inspector struggle to abstain from alcohol or prescription drugs during a drug-testing period at work, resulting in him deleting occupational health emails and keeping quiet around DI Hastings. Appearing to be handling his injury whilst hiding an addiction is the behaviour of a functioning alcoholic. The person does not appear to be under the influence of any substances and can complete their usual daily tasks without arousing suspicion. This behaviour is particularly harmful because the addiction continues to go unnoticed in day-to-day life. Steve Arnott has a highly pressured job and, to colleagues, appears to function without any aid. This suggests he is a high functioning alcoholic and drug addict.

Our opioid crisis

Over-the-counter painkillers are part of a group of drugs called opioids prescribed for acute pain. They include medications such as codeine, hydrocodone, and morphine. Opioids are made from the poppy plant and fall under the same family as heroin, which is a harmful and highly addictive illegal class A drug.

How addictive are prescription drugs?

The NICE guidelines advise against opioid medication to treat chronic pain due to their high risk of addiction and lack of evidence on their effectiveness. Yet, the MHRA report more than 20 different opioid drugs that are approved to prescribe in the UK. These prescription painkillers offer effective pain relief for short term use, but this can unconsciously develop into addiction. At the end of 2018, the NHS found that 1.2 million people in the UK had been taking prescription opiates for at least a year. This highlights our growing opioid crisis with increased use and less management of treatment.

Signs of addiction

Throughout the BBC drama, we have seen Steve become more irritable (during his encounter at Steph’s house) and suffer from anxiety and withdrawal symptoms as he fails to abstain from drugs and alcohol ahead of his occupational drugs test. Addiction always has a physical impact on a person, as well as alter their personality. There are many physical and behavioural signs of addiction that can relate to cocaine addiction, gambling addiction and drug addiction. We have listed some of these below:

Physical changes

  • Physical withdrawal
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Changes to appetite
  • Increased tolerance leading to higher usage
  • Dishevelled appearance
  • Mental health issues

Behaviour changes

  • Stopping hobbies or activities
  • Cancelling social plans
  • Erratic behaviour
  • Irritability or aggression
  • New friendship groups

Addiction is a complicated condition that people tend to ignore or deny due to the negative reception they expect. However, there is nothing wrong with asking for help with an addiction. It is an issue of increasing concern which needs to be addressed. The latest episode shed light on the denial Steve Arnott portrayed when questioned by the medical officer. Viewers likely willed the character to be left in peace while he focused on the case in hand, but this powerful scene illustrates how important it is to have the conversation with those suffering from addiction as they can run themselves down. If you’re worried about someone, encourage them to  seek help and take time to deal with stress in a healthy way.

How to know if someone is a functioning alcoholic

Functioning addiction can go unnoticed for a significant amount of time. A person who is able to conceal their addiction to drugs or alcohol does not fit the stereotypical image of a substance abuser. Denial is a prominent characteristic of a functional alcoholic; they believe they can maintain their substance abuse because they are upholding their daily responsibilities. This is exemplified in series 6 of Line of Duty, where Steve Arnott deletes occupational health reminders to suppress this issue. Looking out for the signs listed above can be a great way of noticing changes and opening dialogue to suggest professional support.

How does addiction develop?

Drug and alcohol addictions develop when you start to experience physical and mental withdrawal symptoms after a period of abstinence. This is due to chemical processes altering the brain to become accustomed to the substance in the body, which leaves you craving the ‘high’ created by the drug. Each time the substance is taken, the body builds up a tolerance and needs more of the drug to feel the euphoric effect, which fuels repeated use in increased dosages.

You may associate these side effects with illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin, cocaine, ketamine and ecstasy. However, prescribed medication is one of the most dangerous addictions as people are not aware they are addictive when misused.  In painkillers, opioids target your pain receptors to relieve the intensity of the pain your feeling and also boost your feelings of pleasure. This may not appear to be harmful, but continued use leads to a higher tolerance or even a gateway to other substances. Prescription medication containing opioids comes with addiction warnings on the packaging. You should always read this carefully and follow the dosage instruction provided by your doctor.

The impact of addiction

Addiction takes control over your life by becoming the forefront of your mind every day. This often clouds anything that you were passionate about previously and causes you to act out in ways that are out of character.

Functioning addiction places great strain on your work and relationships because you are constantly covering your tracks to avoid any suspicion. As illustrated by Steph and DI Hastings, addiction also has a huge impact on those close to you – worrying about your health and dealing with the burden of unlikely character changes.

Addiction is usually a coping mechanism to mask an underlying problem. Yet, that problem remains unresolved until you seek proper support. As we have seen in Line of Duty, Steve Arnott’s opioid addiction is fuelled by his back injury. We can see the stress he is under being at risk of suspension from work due to his missed occupational health appointments. Although Steve is worried about discussing his problems, his addiction must be dealt with. Without doing so, his situation is only continuing to worsen. This is also the case for emotional issues, such as money worries, childhood trauma and grief.

Help for addiction

We understand how hard it can be to seek support for drug and alcohol abuse. However, the build-up of reaching out and having these discussions is always worse than the conversations themselves. There are addiction rehab programmes for drug abuse that include treatment for prescription drug abuse. You can conduct a simple online search for ‘rehabs near me’ for drugs that will provide you with the options for support. It will include the type of help available and how to pay for drug rehab. Although rehab can seem daunting, you will receive an abundance of support in detox, therapies and peer support to help you end your addiction and regain your life.