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Recovery Stories Blog

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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.]

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‘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. 

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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.

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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.

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Recovery Stories Website: Aims

It’s good to be back writing for my ‘Recovery Stories’ blog after such a long time away. I plan to post on the blog at least every weekday, as there is plenty that I want to cover. I’ve already loaded up over 40 blog posts ready to save me some time in the future. My old blog posts are still available.

You will see the website contains other sections: Stories, Articles, Film, Resources, Healing, Book and About. I’ll be adding to each of these sections, and hope over time to also build two educational sections focused on recovery and on the healing of intergenerational trauma.

One of my aims with Recovery Stories is to help create positive social change through activating and ‘arming’ people at a grassroots level. I am convinced that real positive social change comes from the ground up through people cultivating the grassroots—it doesn’t come from politicians.

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Recovery Stories Blog

As some of you know, I first launched Recovery Stories in May 2013, with the aim of helping individuals and families recover from addiction and mental health problems. A core element of the website was a series of 15 Recovery Stories related by people who had been affected by a serious substance use problem, either directly or indirectly.

In addition to these Stories, I uploaded over 700 posts on my blog, as well as a wealth of other content over the following two years. Although the website was still available for viewing after that time, I stopped posting on my blog whilst I worked on other projects, including the educational initiative Sharing Culture which focused on the healing of intergenerational trauma. Addiction and mental health problems are two consequences of trauma.

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‘Our Recovery Stories’ Update

I just wanted to let you know that the eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction will be available from 9th April 2021. It will be available via Apple, Amazon or Kobo (price: £4.99, A$8.99, US$6.99, €5.99). I will provide links and any other relevant information shortly.

I have chosen this date for release, as it is my youngest son Sam’s birthday and is a day before Michael Scott’s, of Michael’s Story, 43rd Sober Anniversary. And I then learn that the 9th April is the 60th birthday of Kevan Martin, of Kevan’s Story. Couldn’t have chosen a better date.

Please note that the book will have to be read on a phone, tablet or a computer. I hope to publish a hard copy version at a later date. Here is what I have said in the publicity material:

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Website Developments

I just wanted to warn you that Ash Whitney and I are overhauling the website at the moment ready for my return to regular blogging. I’m also wanting to get this overhaul complete for when I launch my new book, Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction later this month.

As some of you may know, I launched Recovery Stories in May 2013. I posted over 700 blogs, as well as a wealth of other content, over the following two years. Although the website was still available for viewing after that time, I stopped blogging whilst I worked on various other projects, mainly around the healing of intergenerational trauma. Addiction and mental health problems are two consequences of trauma.

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‘A Journey Toward Recovery: From the Inside Out’ by Dale Walsh

One of my favourite articles about recovery was written by Dale Walsh back in 1996 which really summed up what recovery and recovery principles mean to a person who has been suffering from mental health problems. I thought I would highlight some of the main points here. [The article seems to have disappeared since the original website has been modified. I’ll put up the link if it resurfaces.]

The Problem
‘For many years I believed in a traditional medical model. I had a disease. I was sick. I was told I was mentally ill, that I should learn to cope with my anxiety, my depression, my pain, and my panic. I never told anyone about the voices, but they were there, too. I was told I should change my expectations of myself and realize I would always have to live a very restricted life.

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