Common Misconceptions About Recovery, Part 1


This is the first blogpost in a series titled: Common Misconceptions About Recovery. Yep, at least two ways to interpret that title. The first goes like this: “Springing from his years of experience, Joseph reflects thoughtfully on recovery.” (That’s the interpretation I prefer and intend.)

The other read of Common Misconceptions About Recovery is: “Joseph gets in touch with his resentments about ‘the program’ and rants in a series of posts.”

Let’s lean toward the first interpretation. Though I recognize that some of the beliefs espoused by 12 step programs are out of date and, medically speaking, factually incorrect — still, Crystal Meth Anonymous saved my life back in 2011.

Even today, I usually go to at least one meeting a week for the fellowship and recommend all my clients do the same — particularly if it’s their first time at the recovery dance. And I love the CMALA conference every spring in Los Angeles. I can’t imagine my life without either.

Emersion within a community that focuses on recovery instead of using is crucial at the beginning of our recovery. And the only ready-made and easily available groups I know of that meet this qualification are the rooms of CMA/NA/AA. If the rest of ”the program” works for you — even for just the first year or two — it’s a great way to get clean.

Where 12 step programs drop the ball is with returnees who have relapsed… guilt and shame, threat of ostracization are too common and, frankly, negative reinforcement like this is pretty much the least effective way to quit… that’s science not my opinion. (The most reliable estimates are that 5-10% of all alcoholics who come to AA are successful with quitting — and so I’m assuming it’s about the same for us meth addicts.)

Misconception 1:

“An addict is an addict is an addict.” Or, less colorfully, if you are addicted to one substance (say, meth), you are an addict-in-waiting for all substances (say alcohol, marijuana, pills).

Well, to begin with, it’s not medically true — and plenty of scientific data bears this out. Just because your brain reacts addictively to meth, it doesn’t mean your brain will react the same way to all substances. That’s not the way the brain works. I know for myself, personally, I could easily have a cold beer with pizza and not drink a drop of alcohol more. I’d just enjoy the beer with the pizza, not set off a domino effect of substance triggers that ends up, sooner or later, with me sticking a needle in my arm.

The fact is, medically, I’m not an alcoholic. Sure, I’ve gotten raging drunk before, but most of my adult life I’ve been able to drink socially, especially when eating. This “an addict is an addict is an addict” belief is a 12-step tradition that is simply not borne out by the facts.

Now, this is not to say that the liquor cabinet is open so come and guzzle all you want. The real concern is this: When we smoke pot or drink alcohol, it’s much easier to suddenly think using meth again would be a good idea. It’s a fact: many a relapse with meth began with alcohol or pot weakening one’s vigilance.

One of my best friends and mentors in recovery says categorically:

“No, sir. I know for myself, I cannot have that one beer or one hit of pot. Not one. Because even if I didn’t go any further that night or for several nights, eventually I would, and so eventually I’d get roaring drunk and, then, as if by magic, I’m at my dealer’s doorstep. That’s not what might happen. It’s what will happen. So, I can’t ever afford to have a drink, not a single one.”

And he is 100% correct. For himself. (And many others, as well.) My friend is the first to always begin any advice or direction regarding sobriety with something like: “In my experience, for me…”

Bottom line, just because you are addicted to one substance does not mean your brain will behave similarly with all other substances. That’s a medical fact. And if you want some anecdotal evidence, here goes: in my experience, a significant percentage of recovering meth addicts drink alcohol and/or use pot socially or medicinally without either serving as a gateway to meth.

Actually, in my experience, marijuana is a common (and effective)  “exit” drug from meth. (But that’s a previous blog post.)

More to come. Please feel free to disagree with me if you want. If it’s true for you, then it’s probably true for someone else. Let’s talk about it. Open minds, open hearts. A great addition to anyone’s recovery.

Peace, and until next time…