A Dunedin criminal who turned his life around to become a respected drug-and-alcohol counsellor has come full circle.

Blaine Waaka Stevenson (44) had spent 13 years out of the court system after racking up an unenviable list of convictions for dishonesty and violence during his earlier years.

After overcoming his addictions, he obtained two degrees and became a senior clinician in addiction therapy.

Between 2006 and 2017, he was employed at Dunedin's Moana House, a residential rehabilitation facility for men.

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But his own recovery came to an abrupt halt yesterday at the Dunedin District Court when he was jailed for three years.

Judge Michael Crosbie called the process "quite a sad exercise".

"I know just how difficult it is for some men to break the cycle of offending and you made really, really strong attempts to do just that, becoming involved yourself with the rehabilitation of other," he said.

Stevenson's spiral began in November 2017 when he used his trusted position to obtain goods from two wholesalers.

He gave an account number to a female associate and she ordered $1547 of cigarettes and groceries from the first seller.

The same day, Stevenson contacted the second and ordered nearly $1000 of frozen meat and fish.

None of the items ended up at Moana House and Stevenson told police they had gone to ''needy people''.

In January 2018, the defendant went into a Princes St home where he stole items worth $2000.

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In a letter to the court, Stevenson said he was most ashamed by the offending that took place the following day when he punched his girlfriend after smashing a window of her car.

He said he was "disgusted" with himself and defence counsel Ann Leonard put it down to a relapse into drug abuse.

Stevenson had been prescribed pain medication for a health complaint and got some devastating news about a family member, which led to his descent, the court heard.

To cap things off, he appeared at court for a judge-alone trial and asked a witness: ''I'm really sorry and can you say you don't remember anything from that day?''

She went to police and he was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

Moana House said it was "severely disappointed" by the actions of the former employee and Stevenson's partner said she continued to feel embarrassed about what had happened.

The defendant was ordered to repay more than $6000 to cover the wholesalers' bills and the emotional harm to his girlfriend.