TWO years ago, James Argent was at his lowest ebb.
In December 2019 he was rushed to hospital twice after locking himself in his home and overdosing on drugs, with family and friends terrified his addiction would end up killing him.
The former The Only Way is Essex regular spent Christmas Day alone with a greasy kebab in place of a turkey dinner, scrolling through YouTube videos on his phone.
Arg, 34, recalled: “I’d been in hospital for my birthday. That was pretty horrible.
“Then on Christmas Day, there was no food in the fridge. No family, no friends, no giving or receiving of presents.
“I was suffering terrible paranoia and anxiety. I wasn’t in a fit state to be around anyone and I wouldn’t leave my house. I ended up ordering a takeaway kebab.”
It’s one of the brutally honest episodes he shared with a group of people in recovery as he became an ambassador for the Verve Health clinic in Watton, Norfolk.
Arg admitted: “It was scary because I’d been to so many meetings and seen so many other people sharing their story, but I’d never done it myself before.
“I felt quite emotional. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how bad it was, especially when the months go by. Then you remind yourself how dark it was, how much it affected your life.”
Arg was hooked on cocaine for seven years.
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He was suspended from TOWIE for using drugs in 2014 and went into rehab, then he was booted off the show for good for the same reason in 2019.
Arg says: “It’s not something that goes away. I have to work on it for the rest of my life.”
He calls it the “stinking thinking” when his mind occasionally wanders dangerously close to a craving, but he stops it in its tracks by calling his sponsor and attending Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
So it’s with courage that he has taken on this new role, in a bid to help others struggling to kick the habit.
“I am really pleased I did it. It isn’t just to help others, it’s to help me too,” he says.
“Sponsors will tell you the same. They are amazing people who are there to answer your call day or night and talk you out of relapsing, but they say they get just as much out of it because it also helps their recovery."
Last week, Boris Johnson announced a new 10-year war on drugs, during which he will invest millions into rehabilitation.
The PM also said he would consider confiscating passports and driving licences from addicts.
Arg applauds the investment in rehab, but warns: “Taking away my passport might have made me more angry and frustrated and a lot more rebellious.
“I don’t see how taking people’s passports can be a positive thing at all.”
He adds: “Potentially taking driving licences off people who are caught for drink or drug driving could be a good thing to keep people safe.”
Arg, who refers to his addiction as his “big demon”, says no matter what punishments, threats and ultimatums a drug addict receives, ultimately there is only one person who can make the change.
He explains: “I think you’ve got to completely hit rock bottom. You’ve got to get to a place when you think, ‘I can’t do this any more, enough is enough. I’m effing done.’”
I think you’ve got to completely hit rock bottom. You’ve got to get to a place when you think, ‘I can’t do this any more'
Arg’s cocaine and booze addictions went “hand in hand” with his eating disorder, something he didn’t realise he was suffering from until he went to Thailand for rehab in 2017 – the first of three separate stints for therapy in the southeast Asian country.
He says: “I would never say I had a fantastic time on drugs. Never. It was always hell. It was always very, very horrible.”
Now, two years clean, he feels like “a million dollars”.
Arg says: “I’ve been through a hell of a lot but I feel like going through addiction has made me a better person in a way because I don’t judge anyone else.
“I’ve changed my own life, and now hopefully I can show others that they can be happy and healthy too.”
Mentally and physically, the contrast now compared to two years ago couldn’t be more stark.
Having had a gastric sleeve fitted earlier this year at Transform Hospital Group, after ballooning to 27 stone, Arg has reached his target weight of 15st 7lbs in record time.
The Sun revealed his incredible transformation in November.
Comparing his weight loss to singer Adele’s, Arg says: “I think people are in shock to be honest.
Listen, I love Adele, I’m a big fan, but I made her weight loss look average
“Listen, I love Adele, I’m a big fan, but I made her [7st] weight loss look average.
“I don’t think anyone has done what I’ve done. I’ve exceeded all expectations. They thought it would take a good year, year-and-a-half to get where I am, but I’ve done it in eight months.
“I stuck to my diet, I carried on swimming, boxing and weight training and I’ve done it.
“I am at my perfect weight now, I’m happy with the way I look.”
Although he is happily single, there have been rumours that Arg has been getting close to his first love, fellow TOWIE star Lydia Bright.
The pair split in 2016 after Lydia found him “out of it” on cocaine, and Arg went on to date their co-star Gemma Collins, an on/off relationship that spanned eight years.
Lydia is now a single mum to baby Loretta, and Arg insists the pair will never date again – because they don’t want to ruin their perfect friendship.
He says: “Lydia is my ideal best friend. We’re extremely close. She is always there for me and likewise, I’m always there for her.
“If we got back together, there is such a risk of it going wrong and then ending up never speaking again and it being a disaster.
“If we remain friends, then that’s the best way we can always be in each others’ lives. And I think that works better for both of us.”
Lydia is my ideal best friend. We’re extremely close
As for this Christmas, the TV personality, who sings with The Arg Band, says he’s looking forward to the simple pleasure of being surrounded by those closest to him.
He says: “I’m going to be spending quality time with my family at my beautiful home, and swapping presents with all my loved ones.
“I want to be on good form, and for 2022, all I want is to stay fit and strong.”
Although Arg has had to dramatically reduce the amount of food he eats, nothing will stop him tucking into his turkey dinner, even if it’s a small portion.
And there won’t be a kebab in sight.
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