Former English Football League defender Ryan Cresswell has warned of the danger of players becoming addicted to sleeping pills after it nearly claimed his life.
Cresswell, whose clubs included Rotherham, Southend and Northampton, achieved 12 months of sobriety earlier this summer after a second stint at the Sporting Chance rehab clinic and his life is now on the up.
He is back working in football as manager of Sheffield FC – the world’s oldest club – and is feeling positive about his future.
It was a different story when his addiction began with painkillers to treat a chronic knee problem while he was at Northampton, then came the sleeping tablets, followed by alcohol and that is when his world came crashing down.
After going into rehab for the first time there was a relapse and the 34-year-old was heading in a downward spiral.
And he believes it was only an intervention from fate that saved him.
“Painkillers, sleeping tablets and drink. I was way out of my depth. I can’t believe I did what I did,” he told the PA news agency.
“When I went into rehab for the first time I thought I hit a low but I hadn’t even dived in the pool.
“When I went in the second time I was gripping on for dear life. It was a matter of life or death. I didn’t want to die. Some people have passing thoughts about not wanting to be here anymore, I was living in those thoughts.
“I’d been in the depths of despair for a few months and this one morning I’d decided enough was enough and that I couldn’t do it anymore, I was thinking, ‘I’m hurting the people around me, I’m a s***t dad, I’m a s*** husband’.
“I thought I was either going to end it and know I am going to end it or continue doing what I was doing until I end.
“I was completely gone, reality had hit in. I felt like I was going to jump in front of a train, that is what I was telling myself I was going to do.
“Then the phone rang and it was like a higher power experience. The guy who phoned me was a train driver and I was thinking, ‘Wow, how does he know?’.
“For me I’d had enough of everything, I knew what I was going to do, where I was going to do it, and he was a train driver. I just thought something is happening to tell me ‘no’.
“I spoke to him and I went to get help and I just kept myself clean until I went into rehab and have remained clean until this day.”
Cresswell knows how easy it can be to become addicted to sleeping tablets and he is pretty sure he is not the only one in the game to be affected by it.
“I think there is a big issue in football with sleeping tablets and I mean from the top, as high as you can go,” he said.
“For me it started with one after every game, which was great and I think is an alright purpose to use them.
“But then it went from one after games, to one a day to two a day and then I knew I was addicted to them. It was not me craving it, it was my body, I knew it wasn’t the right thing. It’s horrible.
“There will be 22 or 23-year-old lads now in the Premier League, Championship wherever taking too many painkillers.
“It will not be for another three years that they realise they have a real problem. The sweats and the shakes at night will come and they just have to get through it.”
After two stints in rehab, Cresswell has come through it, but knows he still has work to do.
“I’ve not cracked it, I can’t think I’ve cracked it,” said Cresswell, who still attends regular Alcoholic Anonymous meetings.
“It’s an achievement that doesn’t need to be acknowledged because it’s the right thing to do. It isn’t an achievement, it is something that had to be done.
“If I can talk about what happened to me and it stops just one current player going through what I’ve done then that’s enough.”
He is certainly making a fist of his second chance in life as he manages Sheffield FC.
It may only be the eighth tier of the football pyramid, but the former centre-half is looking up.
“You have to set a realistic goal and a realistic goal for me now is being successful with Sheffield FC,” he said.
“Anything that happens after that will take care of itself. If I said I wanted to manage in the Football League or Premier League, the chances of that happening are quite slim today.
“But if I am successful at Sheffield then the next level of clubs might come knocking.
“Of course the plan is to be successful. I’d love to be at a full-time club passing on the experience I have got, whether that be football life or personal life.
“I do feel that I am being a better person, I feel like I have got a purpose. I’d love to take Sheffield FC to the Football League.”