My Journey: From Brain Chemicals to Human Connection

An ongoing serialised account of my career, with an emphasis on describing my activities and the people who have inspired me since I closed down my university neuroscience laboratory in 2000 and started a community initiative (Wired In) focused on empowering people to overcome substance use problems.

1. A Career in Neuroscience
Outlines my neuroscience career, from a three-year Postdoctoral Fellowship with Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson in Sweden to running my own research laboratory for 14 years in the UK. Our laboratory’s  research was focused on the regulation and function of brain dopamine systems, with a particular interest in addiction. In 2000, I closed my laboratory, as I did not think that neuroscience research was helping people overcome addiction.

2. Learning About Addiction Treatment – My WGCADA Experience, Part 1
I visited West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea in order to learn about addiction, recovery and treatment from treatment practitioners and people who have accessed the treatment service for help with their substance use problem.

3. Learning About Addiction Treatment – My WGCADA Experience, Part 2
I learn about the referral process, assessment, Pretreatment, Primary Treatment, Aftercare, DOMINO (Development in Motivation In New Outlooks) and community support from a number of the practitioners at West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea. In entering this new world, I learn about a number of key factors that facilitate recovery at this treatment service.

4. Learning About Addiction Treatment – WGCADA Stories
Three stories from the treatment agency West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea describe a medical student’s experiences during a day with community support worker Dave Watkins; a client’s experiences whilst interacting with Arrest Referral worker Becky Hancock, and a client’s experiences in the Primary treatment programme at WGCADA.

5. ‘Start Telling Recovery Stories’
When I first met Natalie back in 2000, I didn’t realise that she would play a role in my decision to change career from neuroscientist to addiction recovery advocate, researcher and educator. Her words also contributed to my decision to write a collection of Recovery Stories. Thank you, Natalie.

6. Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) Evaluation
Describes our 2000-2002 national evaluation of projects supported by the Drug and Alcohol Treatment Fund (DATF) in Wales, detailing two particular projects, the North Wales Community Drug and Alcohol Liaison Midwife position and the Option 2 project in Cardiff.

7. Early Reflections on Addiction Treatment
I outline the approach adopted by the government-led addiction treatment system in the early 2000s and describe a number of its shortcomings. I also relate what I saw at West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse (WGCADA) in Swansea to Arthur C. Bohart and Karen Tallman’s ideas about self-healing and the therapeutic process.

8. Wired In’s Early Online Presence
With the help of website developer Ash Whitney, I launched Daily Dose, a drugs and alcohol news portal, in early 2001. This website was followed by and the news portal Drugs in Sport. We later built, which focused on the wide range of work that Wired In was conducting.

9. Cracks in the UK Drug Strategy
Describes a piece of research I conducted relating to a 2003 article by Nick Davies for The Guardian newspaper in which he claimed that the UK Drug Strategy was failing as a result of government bureaucracy. I followed up this report by contacting  Drug Action Team (DAT) co-ordinators to see how prevalent this  problem was across the country.

10. Voices of Loved Ones Indirectly Affected by Substance Use Problems
We conduct a qualitative research project to gain insight into the problems faced by family members of people with a substance use problem. A number of inter-related themes emerge: confusion/lack of awareness; imbalance/pervasion of the problem; heightened negative emotions; family support/treatment; coping; outcomes; family, and other stressors. The important role of family support groups is emphasised.

11. Stories of Loved Ones Indirectly Affected by Substance Use Problems
Three short stories from people affected by a loved one’s heroin problem, two of which refer to the stigma associated with heroin addiction, whilst the third relates to ‘not taking ownership’ of a loved one’s addiction. The last two are excerpts from longer stories. The first story concerns a conference speech, given by a mother who attended a family support group.

12. Recovery Oozing Out of the Walls
In 2004, we conduct an evaluation of the structured day care treatment programme at Burton Addiction Centre (now BAC O’Connor). This highly impressive programme provides therapeutic and educational interventions, along with accommodation, in the community in which the person’s addiction has developed. We visit a genuine recovery community which demonstrates good outcomes for people with serious substance use problems. I learn that recovery is infectious.

13. Learning From the Experts at BAC O’Connor
Wired In conducts a qualitative research project with clients of BAC O’Connor to facilitate understanding of the recovery process. Treatment led to various positive personal changes other than a cessation of substance use. A number of factors facilitated these changes, including: an empathic and understanding environment; being with people at various stages of recovery; being able to discuss their problems in counselling and group therapy sessions; and an holistic approach to treatment.

14. Wired In Ups and Downs, Part 1
In 2004, I became a regular writer for Drink and Drug News, which was soon the UK’s leading magazine on addiction treatment. We conducted several research projects and wrote a booklet of Stories for the Peterborough Nene Drug Interventions Programme (Nene DIP), carried out qualitative research on harm reduction services in South Wales, and wrote an extensive profile of WGCADA. My talented undergraduate students played a significant role in our activities.

15. Wired In Ups and Downs, Part 2
My funding applications  to build an online recovery community to help people overcome substance use problems, and to help SMART Recovery ‘spread’ their approach in the UK, are unsuccessful. We launch our first Wired In film, the story of Mark Saunders, and I spend time with the inspiring self-change expert Linda Sobell in the US and Scotland. I start collaborating with the team at Clouds House, where I hear about the leading US recovery advocate Bill White.

16. A Major Life Change 
Wired In attracts new volunteers and stories of recovery, the latter of which are uploaded to our websites. I return from a holiday in Australia, only to experience bad anxiety at the thought of returning to the toxic environment in my university department. I am advised by my doctor to take extended leave. Just before I am due to return to work, I visit a counsellor who diagnoses me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). An interesting conversation follows in the university.

17. Wired In’s Cardiff Recovery Community
I move to Cowbridge, near to Cardiff, and my house becomes the centre for Wired In operations. Lucie brings together a group of recovering local people to form our first recovery community. We make a film about young heroin users, and give talks at conferences on this topic and on drug overdose. I talk at the Annual FDAP meeting about Wired In’s recovery advocacy work, and challenge government policy focused on substance use problems and the way that the treatment system operates.

18. A Charter, Vision and Film
I develop the Wired In Charter and a new strategy early in 2008, and launch ‘the prof speaks out’ blog. At the first Service User Conference organised by Drink and Drugs News (DDN), NTA CEO Paul Hayes says that ‘as drug users are seen as a threat, the government is prepared to spend money on drug treatment.’ Kevin Manley launches his ‘I did it my way’ blog, and Wired In releases a 35-minute film of his Recovery Story, made by Jonathan Kerr-Smith in association with Lucie James.

19. Factors Involved in Facilitating Change
Lucie James conducts a qualitative research study with inmates of one male and one female prison participating in the RAPt (the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust) treatment programme. Four factors are shown to create positive change in the inmates—gaining a sense of belonging, socialisation, understanding and support. Positive changes in these four factors enhanced self-esteem and increased the participants’ motivation, and confidence in their ability, to change.

20. On the Road and Filmmaking
Lucie James, Kevin Manley and I meet recovery advocates, and people on their recovery journey, in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Liverpool and Manchester. I write about problems in the treatment system in my Google blog. Members of our Cardiff Recovery Community tell their stories, start posting on their personal blog, and participate in Wired In films made by our colleague Jonathan Kerr-Smith. One of our YouTube films now has over 300,000 views.

21. Wired In To Recovery
I finish a very rewarding period as External Examiner for the Foundation Degree on Addictions Counselling run by Action on Addiction and the University of Bath. The Wired In team and volunteers work hard in the period leading up to the launch of Wired In To Recovery. We launch our online community on 19 November 2008, with me lying in bed with a serious back injury.  I eventually decide to move to Perth in Western Australia to be with my new partner Linda.

22. Two Sides of the World
I return to UK from Western Australia in March 2009 to give a talk alongside Bill White at a conference in London organised by Wired In and Action on Addiction for leading UK recovery advocates. I then visit Scotland to attend recovery conferences, fly to Dubai to pick up my children and take them to Australia, return them to Dubai, and travel back to the UK to visit various recovery initiatives. Wired In To Recovery is developing fast, but we are not able to attract funding.

NB. Further chapters to come.

After completing his PhD research, David Clark spent 20 years working as a neuroscientist. He worked for three years as a postdoctoral fellow with Nobel Laureate Arvid Carlsson, spent two years in the USA, and then ran his own university research laboratory in the UK for 14 years. He closed down his laboratory at the beginning of the new millennium, since he did not feel that neuroscience was helping people overcome drug and alcohol addiction.

David developed the grassroots initiative Wired In (originally called WIRED) with the aim of empowering—by creating hope, understanding and a sense of belonging—and connecting people, in order to facilitate recovery from addiction. Wired In involved a range of activities including storytelling, a qualitative-based research programme, online education and information initiatives (including the news portal Daily Dose), filmmaking, real-world and online community development (Wired In To Recovery), and recovery advocacy.

After moving to Perth, Western Australia, David created this Recovery Stories website and later published the eBook Our Recovery Stories: Journeys from Drug and Alcohol Addiction. He became increasingly interested in trauma (and transgenerational trauma amongst Indigenous peoples), and the healing of such trauma. He developed The Carrolup Story website with social anthropologist John Stanton, and published the eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe, an inspirational story of the overcoming of trauma. David more recently launched the Recovery Voices project with Wulf Livingston, for which a primary focus is on peer-led recovery communities.

‘My Journey’ is a serialised account of David’s career and wide-ranging activities, and the people who have inspired him. He is a Professor Emeritus of Psychology.

Below are some of the core members of David’s Wired In team over time. From Left: Kevin Manley, Lucie James, Sarah Davies and Becky Hancock. The photo was taken at my farewell in the King Arthur Hotel, Reynoldston, Gower, just before he moved from the UK to Perth Australia in December 2008.