"I needed to get caught," Irvin said in the interview with Neil Davidson. "I needed to get in trouble for it and wake me up and get off of those things."
The 31-year-old Californian returns to the cage this Sunday at UFC on Versus 1 for the first time since the nine-month suspension issued for his methadone and oxymorphone positive test following his loss to Anderson Silva in July 2008.
In the revealing interview, Irvin says he began taking painkillers three years ago for a knee injury suffered in a loss against a different Silva, Thiago. Irvin suffered ACL and MCL tears on his right knee in the UFC 71 fight, putting an end to the bout in 66 seconds.
His doctor wrote him a prescription for Vicodin and although he was able to stop after three months, he found himself turning to painkillers again after suffering more injuries. Unfortunately, with the accumulated use, Irvin couldn't stop.
"I never even heard the word withdrawal," Irvin said. "I didn't know what withdrawals were. I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know to speak to a doctor about it. I took it the wrong way, kind of the cowardly path. I just kept on using the prescription drugs, but it's a tough push-pull kind of thing in my line of sport."
Irvin, whose parents both faced drug addiction, claims he never touched a drug until he arrived in the UFC.
With the constant tolls on an athlete's body from training and competition, and the difficulty in turning down a fight (and the subsequent paycheck), it's tempting for fighters to manage pain through medication. But like steroids, the other prohibited substance buzz word in sports, athletes risk long-term health for short-term gains.
While it would be foolish to pretend there are no fighters out there that don't encounter on a daily basis the temptation of painkillers in such a physically demanding sport, it's great to hear that Irvin has overcome the problem and for it, is at a better state mentally and physically.
"Since then, since I've had that suspension, I've been drug free, it's been the happiest time of my life," Irvin said. "I can honestly say that. A lot of people throw that around, but I can tell you with my family, with my wife, my training. I've found a new love in training again, it's something that I had lost while using prescription drugs and I just feel like a new person."
And Irvin, in particular, is taking a more proactive approach towards the issue, sharing his learning experience on a monthly basis by visiting schools and educating fellow fighters.
Irvin, who was the first-ever WEC heavyweight champion, debuts as a middleweight against Sakara in the opening bout of the televised portion of Sunday's card.