Learning About Addiction Treatment, Part 1

In my last blog posts, I described how after nearly 25 years as a neuroscientist I decided to close my research laboratory in the Department of Psychology at Swansea University at the start of the new millennium. I wanted to learn more about the nature of addiction and how people overcame their substance use problem.

I spent a good deal of time at a treatment agency in Swansea, talking with both practitioners and people who attended the agency for help with their problem. In addition, I was travelling around Wales visiting treatment agencies, in my capacity as lead on a two-year national evaluation of projects supported by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund. This fund was created by the National Assembly for Wales, or Senedd Cymru (Welsh Parliament) as it is now known.

Read More ➔

Brain Chemicals to Human Connection, Part 2

In an earlier blog, I described how I spent nearly 25 years working as a neuroscientist in academia. In 2000, I made the decision to close my neuroscience laboratory and focus on working in the addiction field with humans (rather than laboratory rats). I set up an initiative called WIRED (later to become Wired In) and a charity Wired International Ltd. I continued by job as a Professor of Psychology, but when I wasn’t teaching I was engaged in a range of activities in the addiction field. The following section is taken from the last chapter of my new eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction.

Read More ➔

Healing Section of Recovery Stories

In more recent years, my work has in large part been focused around the healing of trauma. I set up the educational initiative Sharing Culture in 2014, which focused on the healing of intergenerational trauma amongst Indigenous peoples. [The website is still live, but I have not updated my blog for some time.]

Late in 2018, I launched a storytelling, education and healing online resource, The Carrolup Story, with Social Anthropologist John Stanton and our webmaster Ash Whitney (he built the Recovery Stories website as well). I published the eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe in June 2020.

This book, along with the website, plunges us into a world where traumatised Aboriginal children of Western Australia show resilience in the face of great adversity. Their achievements challenge the very foundation of a government’s racist and dehumanising policies. Their beautiful landscape art inspires four generations of artists… and takes a 50-year journey, encircling the world before returning home.

Read More ➔

It’s Not Just About the Drug, Part 3

I continue my series of blog posts focused on drug, set (the person) and setting (the social context) [Part 1 is here]. Drug, set and setting is not only of relevance to addiction, but also to overcoming addiction.

The path into and out of addiction
The ‘person’ and ‘social context’ factors influence early substance use and the likelihood that a person will develop problematic use and addiction. In general, individuals are less likely to develop substance use problems if they have fewer complicating life problems, more resources (social, personal, educational, economic), and opportunities for alternative sources of reward.

One explanation is that these individuals develop a weaker attachment to the substance in that for them substance use does not serve as many emotional, psychological or social needs.

Read More ➔

It’s Not Just About the Drug, Part 2

In my last blog, I introduced the idea that drug effects at a personal and community level are not just dependent on their biochemical actions—they depend on drug, set (the person) and setting (social context).

The Vietnam experience
The most dramatic illustration of the role of ‘social context’ centres around heroin addiction and the widespread use by American soldiers of heroin and opium during the Vietnam War. It involved one of the most ambitious and interesting research studies ever undertaken on the use of psychoactive drugs.

Read More ➔

It’s Not Just About the Drug, Part 1

In a previous blog, I’ve described how the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the USA has described addiction as a brain disorder. They have frequently described drugs as ‘hijacking’ the brain. I pointed out that drugs do not have the power in themselves to ‘hijack’ anything.

Many of society’s reactions to the so-called ‘drug problem’ are based on the premise that the problems faced by individuals and communities are caused by the drug. However, contrary to what is commonly assumed, psychoactive drugs do not produce fixed and predictable psychological effects that are dependent purely on their chemical properties. Moreover, drugs themselves do not produce societal problems.

Read More ➔

Welcome Home, Adam

As I write this, my good friend Adam Brookes, he of Adam’s Story, is just two hours away from arriving back in Australia. I will post this blog after I hear that he has landed in Darwin, en route for a two-week stay in Howard Springs Quarantine Facility. Then he’s heading back home to Dapto in New South Wales.

For those of us who know Adam, his arrival will be the most wonderful news. In fact, I was absolutely over-the-moon with joy when I heard he had passed through into the departure lounge at Heathrow Airport yesterday afternoon my time here in Perth. Why, you might ask?

Read More ➔

Some Magical Words About Recovery: Tim

I’d like you to ‘meet’ Tim, a medical doctor who found recovery from addiction. He is one of the Storytellers in my new book Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. In the seven-year update to his original Story, ‘Doctor in Recovery’, Tim wrote some magical words about recovery that I include below. But first, a brief summary of Tim’s original story, using some of his sentences.

‘Growing up in an alcoholic home is a challenge for any child and I was no different. I found school a haven from the unpredictability of my home life. I started to drink to deal with the stresses of work after medical school. Over time, my drinking became worse and worse.’

One morning, as I took the cornflakes and a bottle of whiskey off a shelf together, I thought, ‘This isn’t quite right.’ My first experience of treatment was medical-based—it had prescriptions, but lacked hope! I experienced terrible anxiety and cravings. After relapsing, I made the ‘discovery’ that opiates abolish craving for alcohol… and developed an opiate addiction as well.

Read More ➔

Michael’s 43rd (Sober) Anniversary

My good friend Michael (Mike) Scott last had a drink 43 years (15,695 days) ago today. Tonight, we will celebrate his 43rd Sober Birthday. This morning, I’m going to celebrate his achievement with a blog post focused on some of Mike’s experiences and reflections.

Mike first contacted me about our Daily Dose website back in 2002. He loved our drug and alcohol news portal that I had launched with Ash Whitney early in 2001. Mike met Ash for the first time (on Skype) a few weeks ago and the pair were mutually pleased to have their first chat.

I gave Mike a big shock when I called him one day back in 2009 and suggested that we have lunch together. He replied, ‘How can we do that? You live on the opposite side of the world.’ I told him that I had moved to Perth on Christmas Day 2008.

Read More ➔

60th Birthday Greeting to a Remarkable Man: Kevan Martin

Kevan Martin is sixty today. Coincidentally, the day that I launch my eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. Kevan’s Story, ‘He’s a Loser and Will Never Be Any Good‘ is one of 15 stories in the book. It’s an impressive and moving story about the overcoming of adversity… and a commitment to helping other people overcome addiction.

Kevan is one of the most remarkable people I have met. Actually, I better change that. I’ve never met Kevan in person, only on Skype. And yet I feel as if I have known Kevan for years. It feels as if we are best mates.

I want to celebrate Kevan’s birthday by relating a summary of his original Story written in 2013, just to highlight what he has come through.

Read More ➔

‘Our Recovery Stories’ eBook Available Tomorrow

‘Learn from the True Experts’

Recovery from addiction comes from the person with the problem. They do the work in overcoming their substance use and related problems, getting well, and getting their life (back) on track. Recovery is a process of self-healing. Practitioners, peer supporters and others may facilitate recovery, but they do so by catalysing and supporting natural processes of recovery in the individual. 

Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction comes out tomorrow as a self-published eBook (170,000 words). It can be purchased from Apple, Amazon or Kobo. It is available via Apple, Amazon or Kobo (price: £4.99, A$8.99, US$6.99, €5.99). Please note, that you must purchase and download the book from the supplier’s store in your country or region. Just search for the book using the words of the main title. The Amazon and Kobo links above are for the UK stores. There is no link for Apple, as their system works differently through the Apple Books app. Further information about purchasing can be found at the bottom of this page.

Read More ➔

Box Set of Healing Cards: Indigenous Healing as Mindfulness Practice

As some of you know, I was inspired to start working in the healing of intergenerational trauma field after reading Judy Atkinson’s book Trauma Trails: Recreating Song Lines – The Transgenerational Effects of Trauma in Indigenous Australia. A section of this website is devoted to the healing of trauma and intergenerational (sometimes known as transgenerational or historical) trauma. I believe strongly that Indigenous peoples have a lot to teach non-indigenous peoples about the healing of trauma and its consequences (e.g. addiction, mental health problems).

Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson is Patron / Elder Advisor of the wonderful Aboriginal healing initiative We Al-li Programs. Her daughter Dr Caroline Atkinson is the Chief Executive Officer.

We Al-li have recently started selling a box set of Healing Cards based on their healing approach. These Healing Cards and their accompanying booklet are very special. Here is the information that Carlie provided me about the box set.

Read More ➔

My Friend Natalie

I first met Natalie in my early days of working in the addiction field in the community. I still remember clearly her telling me that when she was using heroin, she did not know how to stop. She could find no information about how to stop using heroin. She knew no one who had stopped using.

Fortunately, Natalie accessed a high-quality treatment agency (WGCADA) and she found recovery. When we met, she told me that there needed to be stories of people who had found recovery available so that people with a drug and/or alcohol problem could read and learn from them.  I asked her if we could write her Story. She agreed.

Read More ➔

The Power of Story: Lewis Mehl-Madrona

Counting down the days now to the release of my new eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction on Friday 9th April. The book is available via Apple, Amazon or Kobo (price: £4.99, A$8.99, US$6.99, €5.99). Apple users can purchase and download the book through their Books app on their device.

In his interesting book Healing the Mind Though the Power of Story: The Promise of Narrative Psychiatry, Dr Lewis Mehl-Madrona, who I hold in very high regard, emphasises the importance of story. Here are some of his reflections about story (pp. 2 – 4).

Stories help us develop empathy. They allow us understand another person’s world from their perspective. Stories give us unique access to the inner lives and motivations of others. They contain so much more information than we can convey in the statement of facts.

Read More ➔

We are not the Slaves of our Brains: Peter Kinderman

In my last blog post, I criticised the approach of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the USA in treating addiction as a medical disorder. Of course, it is not just addiction that is thought to be due to brain dysfunction by many neuroscientists, psychiatrists and other medical practitioners. Mental health problems are considered to reflect neurotransmitter dysfunction by many people in these professions. And Big Pharma (the drug industry) encourages this view.

I am reading a fascinating book at the moment, A Manifesto for Mental Health: why we need a revolution in mental health care by Clinical Psychologist and academic Peter Kinderman. I thought the following quote from Peter’s book to be particularly appropriate to what I said about brain and behaviour in my last blog post. [I have shortened Peter’s paragraphs to make the quote easier to read online.]

Read More ➔

‘Addiction is a Medical Disorder’: No Way!

In my last blog, I described how I spent the first 25 years of my career as a neuroscientist studying brain function. After working in Sweden and the USA, I returned to the UK to set up my own neuroscience laboratory in the Department of Psychology, University of Reading in 1986. Six years later, I moved the laboratory to the Department of Psychology, University of Wales Swansea (later Swansea University).

At the time, the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) in the USA was receiving large sums of government money to fund neuroscience research focused on drug and alcohol addiction. NIDA considered addiction to be a brain disease and addictive drugs were thought to ‘hijack’ the brain’s reward system, which was thought to use dopamine as a neurotransmitter. 

Read More ➔

Brain Chemicals to Human Connection, Part 1

My career has been quite a journey. Some of you will know I initially spent 25 years working as a neuroscientist, studying the role of the brain neurotransmitter dopamine in normal behaviour and in so-called ‘disorders’ such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and addiction.

I had a great time as a neuroscientist and loved my work. I was lucky enough to spend three years (1981-84) as a postdoctoral fellow with Arvid Carlsson, the ‘father’ of dopamine and recipient of The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2000. I had such an amazing time in Gothenburg (Sweden) and our research was truly very exciting.

Read More ➔

Learning from the Experts

When I was a teenager, I competed in chess competitions around the UK, including the British Under-18 championship on two occasions. I was my county junior champion. To be competitive, I had to study chess theory and practice. I learnt from those people who were champions at what they did, including world champions. Not by being in the same room as them—although I did play Anatoly Karpov, who was later to be world champion, in a simultaneous exhibition—but by their games and introspections. I learnt from the experts.

You would have thought that people working in the addiction field would also be learning from the experts—the people who are in recovery, or are recovering, from a serious substance use problem. Many do. But… you’d be surprised to know that this goes on far too little, at least from my experience.

Read More ➔

‘Ruby’s Story’: Marion Kickett

It’s hard to believe that it is over seven years ago since I launched Sharing Culture, an educational initiative to facilitate the healing of intergenerational trauma. It is also over seven years since Michael Liu and I went out with Professor Marion Kickett to her home country in York to film her describing her life, country, culture, spirituality, family, education and resilience. Marion is a Noongar leader from the Balardong language group, who is Director of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth.

Read More ➔

How Trauma Flows Through the Generations

‘Our first generations were killed and imprisoned, and females sexually misused. Our second generations turned to alcohol or drugs as their cultural and spiritual identity was damaged; in our third generations we had spousal assault and societal trauma.

In our fourth generations the abuse moves from spousal abuse to child abuse or both. In the fifth generations, the cycle repeats as trauma begats violence, begats trauma. And in our sixth generations the grown children of the conquerors begin to live in fear of the grown children of the conquered.’ Judy Atkinson

The title of Judy Atkinson’s book is particularly well-chosen—trauma leaves trails across the generations. In the quote above, Judy briefly summarises the violence that has been experienced by Aboriginal people, violence that has produced trauma which has become cumulative and more complex across generations. This trauma has impacted upon individuals, families and communities.

Read More ➔