18 Best TED Talks for Addiction & Recovery

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The best TED Talks for addiction and recovery, along with other powerful YouTube videos to play for clients in a treatment setting – or for yourself or for anyone who desires to learn more about substance use.

The following best TED Talks for addiction are entertaining, insightful, and though-provoking.


18 Best TED Talks for Addiction & Recovery

1. The 12 Steps According to Russell Brand (2018)

A 10-minute clip of Russell Brand’s interpretation of the 12 Steps. Humorous and honest.

2. Addiction: A Story of Stigma, A Story of Hope | Scott McFadden (2020)

This 18-minute talk delivered by Scott McFadden is one of the best TED Talks for addiction as it addresses stigma and sends a message of hope.

Excerpt: Scott McFadden is a Licensed Addictions Counselor, who also identifies as a person in long term recovery from heroin and other drugs. He shares a harrowing story of incarceration and a long journey to recovery while explaining the dynamics of addiction and the labels, shame, and stigma which have become the greatest obstacles to turning around the opioid epidemic.

He shows us the need to talk to one another to overcome the secret places where shame resides. This is a story of vulnerability and hope!

5. Addiction Neuroscience 101 (2018)

Approximately 25 minutes, an overview of the neurobiology of addiction.

4. Chris Herren Speaking on His Addiction Recovery Story | PeaceLove (2015)

A 17-minute motivational speech delivered by Chris Herren.

Excerpt: Hear former professional basketball player and motivational speaker Chris Herren speaking about his recovery from drug addiction. Since August of 2008, Herren has been drug-free and alcohol-free, and has refocused his life to put his sobriety and family above all other things.

5. Disconnected Brains: How Isolation Fuels Opioid Addiction | Rachel Wurzman (2018)

This fascinating 19-minute video clip from Rachel Wurzman is one of the best TED Talks for addiction as a biopsychosocial disorder.

Excerpt: Addiction to opioids is now officially a national emergency. But why are addiction rates spiking and what can we do about it? Neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman shares new research about how the brain reacts to opioids, replacing the sense of community and belonging human beings are losing. We are beginning to understand that solving the opioid epidemic will require us to focus on social factors surrounding those addicted.

6. Do You Have More Heart Than Scars? | Zackary Paben (2017)

A 17-minute inspirational talk by Zackary Paben.

Excerpt: How can resilience and interdependence impact the arch of our personal narrative to transcend from victim to hero? Since 1991, Zack has been empowering adolescents and adults as a mental health/recovery professional in a variety of modalities, including wilderness and residential.

As he continues to face his own visible and invisible scars, he innately has to acknowledge the wounds of others and encourage them in their own healing process.

7. Everything You Think You Know About Addiction Is Wrong | Johann Hari (2015)

A 15-minute video from Johann Hari. This piece is somewhat controversial because it suggests that addiction is a social/environmental issue while failing to address the impact of trauma, genetics, brain chemistry, etc. This clip is an excellent tool for generating discussions and is one of the best TED Talks for addiction.

Excerpt: What really causes addiction — to everything from cocaine to smart-phones? And how can we overcome it? Johann Hari has seen our current methods fail firsthand, as he has watched loved ones struggle to manage their addictions. He started to wonder why we treat addicts the way we do — and if there might be a better way.

As he shares in this deeply personal talk, his questions took him around the world, and unearthed some surprising and hopeful ways of thinking about an age-old problem.

8. Great Leaders Do What Drug Addicts Do | Michael Brody-Waite (2018)

An 19-minute talk from Michael Brody-Waite, entrepreneur and addict in recovery.

Excerpt: This is my story from drug addiction and homelessness to founding and leading a company on the Inc 500 list. There are 3 principles that saved me from death and set me apart as a leader. They are small enough to fit in your pocket, yet big enough to change your life. The best part is that anyone can take these principles and immediately implement them after watching this talk.

9. The Harm Reduction Model of Drug Addiction Treatment | Mark Tyndall (2017)

This 17-minute video from Mark Tyndall about harm reduction and recovery is one of the best TED Talks for addiction treatment.

Excerpt: Why do we still think that drug use is a law-enforcement issue? Making drugs illegal does nothing to stop people from using them, says public health expert Mark Tyndall. So, what might work?

Tyndall shares community-based research that shows how harm-reduction strategies, like safe-injection sites, are working to address the drug overdose crisis.

10. How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris (2015)

16-minute talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris on the impact of trauma.

Excerpt: Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain.

This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer.

11. Let’s Quit Abusing Drug Users (2015)

19-minute video clip about addiction and recovery reform from Dr. Carl Hart. He discusses drug use in the context of poverty, social injustice, and ignorance. An excellent video for generating discussion and one of the best TED Talks for addiction and policy reform.

Excerpt: Carl Hart, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at Columbia University, offers a provocative, evidence-based view of addiction and discusses how it should impact drug policy.

12. The Merits of Harm Reduction | Melissa Byers (2019)

14-minute video clip from Melissa Byers about addiction, harm reduction, and recovery.

Excerpt: Melissa shares her family’s personal story of addiction and how harm reduction plays a much more significant role to recovery than people realize.

13. Nuggets (2015)

A 5-minute cartoon clip of a kiwi bird who tastes a golden “nugget.” This simple animation doesn’t require words to send a powerful message about addiction. Hauntingly accurate.

14. The Power of Addiction and The Addiction of Power | Gabor Maté (2012)

This 19-minute speech delivered by Gabor Maté is one of the best TED Talks for addiction.

Excerpt: Canadian physician Gabor Maté is a specialist in terminal illnesses, chemical dependents, and HIV positive patients. Dr. Maté is a renowned author of books and columnist known for his knowledge about attention deficit disorder, stress, chronic illness and parental relations.

15. Recover Out Loud | Tara Conner (2017)

One of the best TED Talks for addiction, this 10-minute video clip from former Miss USA, Tara Conner, is all about her personal experience with substance use.

Excerpt: Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006, shares her life-long struggle with addiction and what she has learned from 10 years of sobriety. Addicts are not bad people that need to get good, but sick people that need to get well.

In this challenging and at times humorous talk, she calls for a different response to the addiction crisis.

16. Revitalize | Living With Addiction | Amber Valletta (2015)

16-minute inspirational talk delivered by Amber Valletta.

Excerpt: Supermodel, actress, and fashion icon Amber Valletta opens up for the first time about her daily struggle of living with addiction.

17. Rewriting the Story of My Addiction | Jo Harvey Weatherford (2015)

10-minute video clip from Jo Harvey Weatherford about her personal recovery journey.

Excerpt: Jo Harvey Weatherford develops and implements drug and alcohol prevention programs on the campus of The University of Nevada. In this candid talk she discusses the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about our behavior, and how she rewrote her own story of addiction to alcohol.

18. The Stigma of Addiction | Tony Hoffman (2018)

This 15-minute video from Tony Hoffman is one of the best TED Talks for addiction. He shares about his substance use and stigma.

Excerpt: There is a stigma which many assign to drug addicts, even long after they have overcome their addiction. Tony discusses how his first time smoking marijuana led to his eventual drug addiction, homelessness, prison, and finally redemption.


6 Powerful Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness

(Updated 5/20/20) A list of movies about mental health and substance abuse – includes PDF printable discussion questions

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Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

The following is a list of movies about addiction and mental disorders that are appropriate to show in treatment settings. This post includes movie summaries and downloadable PDF handouts with questions for discussion.

Please note that some of the films on this list are graphic and may not be appropriate for children or adolescents.


Hint: The handouts contain spoilers; do not provide until after the movie ends.

Movies About Addiction & Mental Illness

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases.


Ben Is Back (2018)

103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), R-rating for language and drug use

Summary: Julia Roberts plays a mother, Holly, whose 19-year old son, Ben, surprises her by returning home for Christmas. Ben is newly in recovery; his addiction has placed a tremendous strain on the family in the past. Ben’s younger siblings are happy to see him, but Holly, fearing that he is not ready, is apprehensive.

That evening, the family attends church. When they return, they find their home burglarized and the dog missing. Ben blames himself, believing someone from his past took the dog to get his attention; he leaves to look for the dog. Holly goes with him, but they’re later separated, and Holly attempts to track Ben. Eventually, she ends up at an abandoned barn where she finds her son on the floor, unresponsive. The movie ends with her administering Narcan to Ben.

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

127 minutes (2 hours, 7 minutes), R-rating for strong language and content relating to drugs, sexuality, and suicide

Summary: Winona Ryder plays Susanna, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, who is sent to a psychiatric hospital after a suicide attempt in the late 1960s. She befriends Lisa (Angelia Jolie), who carries a diagnosis of sociopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Initially, Susanna is in denial about her mental condition and is not open to treatment. However, she reaches a turning point after a tragedy.

Pay It Forward (2000)

123 minutes (2 hours, 3 minutes), PG-13 rating for mature thematic elements including substance abuse/recovery, some sexual situations, language, and brief violence

Summary: Trevor (Haley Joel Osment) starts a chain reaction of goodness for a social studies project with a plan to change the world for the better. In this film, Trevor is a high school student whose mother, Arlene (Helen Hunt), struggles with alcoholism and whose father is abusive. He rises above unfortunate circumstances with the kindhearted idea to do a good deed, but instead of requesting payback, asking the receiver to “pay it forward” to at least three people – and on and on. While the movie has a bittersweet end, the message is uplifting and powerful.  

The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012)

103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes), PG-13 rating

Summary: Charlie is an unpopular high school freshman, a “wallflower,” who is befriended by two seniors, Patrick and Sam (Emma Watson). The movie is about their friendship and Charlie’s personal struggles with the recent suicide of his friend and his own mental illness. Throughout the film, Charlie has flashbacks of his aunt, who died in a car accident when he was 7. It’s eventually revealed that Charlie’s aunt molested him; a sexual encounter with Sam triggers Charlie’s repressed memories. Charlie has a mental breakdown.

Rachel Getting Married (2008)

113 minutes (1 hour, 54 minutes), R-rating for language and brief sexuality

Summary: Anne Hathaway plays Kym, a troubled young woman, who returns from rehab to her family home for her sister’s wedding. The film portrays how Kym’s addiction has placed strain on the family.

When a Man Loves a Woman (1994)

126 minutes (2 hours, 6 minutes), R-rating for language

Summary: Meg Ryan plays Alice, a woman with an alcohol use disorder. The film is about how Alice’s addiction impacts her family and how she recovers.

Bonus: The Netflix original films Heroin(e) (2017) and Recovery Boys (2018) have PDF discussion guides with a summary, questions, and resources posted on the Recovery Boys website.


Other great resources for using clinical films as therapeutic interventions include the book Movies & Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathy, 4th ed. (by Danny Wedding and Ryan M. Niemiec) and the site Teach With Movies.

#JunkieLivesDontMatter

A person who struggles with a substance use disorder is choosing that life. Why interfere? (Especially when all that money could be spent saving more DESERVING lives.) “Junkies” don’t deserve second chances because #JunkieLivesDontMatter.

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Image by Pexels from Pixabay

#JunkieLivesDontMatter

Disclaimer: If you happen to believe that addiction is a choice – “They’d quit if they really wanted to” or “They made the choice to use so they’re making the choice to die” – then scroll on to the next blog post. #JunkieLivesDontMatter

This article is inspired, in part, by an ignorant (not ill-intended) meme posted by a healthcare worker on social media.

The meme said,

“So if a kid has an allergic reaction the parents have to pay a ridiculous price for an Epi pen. But a junkie who has OD’d for their 15th time gets Narcan for free? What a screwed up world we live in.”

Implication: A “junkie” doesn’t deserve a second chance at life. (#JunkieLivesDontMatter) They’re a waste of resources because they lack the willpower to stop using. A person who struggles with a substance use disorder is choosing that life. Why interfere? (Especially when all that money could be spent saving more deserving lives.)

If you believe it is screwed up for a “junkie” to have a chance at life (and recovery) because they “chose addiction,” your opinion is contrary to the National Institute of Health, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and decades of scientific research. You’re also a part of the movement: #JunkieLivesDontMatter

Image by SplitShire from Pixabay

Many have joined the movement, as evidenced by the following social media posts:

“Out of all of the houses, 2 hobos decided to overdose on my front steps… thank god the medics got here in time to ensure they could die another day…”

“I think we had less ODs before Narcan came on board. They realize they can be saved if gotten to in time. Maybe they need to be locked up & not let out until they attend rehab while in jail.”

“If it can be easily established that they have a recent history of drug [abuse]… then yes… withhold the lifesaving drug because they chose this. It’s harsh, but justice is not served by saving them.”

“If you don’t have it figured [out] by the 3rd overdose, you are just prolonging the inevitable and wasting tax payers money.”

“If we are repeatedly saving your life and you are not willing to change this behavior, why should we be obligated to keep saving you?”

“My personal opinion is we can’t keep letting people overdose and saving them just so they can repeat the cycle.”

“By continuously administering Narcan, sure, we’re saving their life, but are they really living? I don’t think so.”

#JunkieLivesDontMatter

Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Addiction & Stigma

According the the American Psychiatric Association,

Addiction is a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with addiction (severe substance use disorder) have an intense focus on using a certain substance(s), such as alcohol or drugs, to the point that it takes over their life. They keep using alcohol or a drug even when they know it will cause problems.

Addiction is a scientifically proven brain disease. Despite this, many persist in the belief that it’s a choice, or worse… a moral failing. (Note: This notion comes from an early model of addiction, “the moral model,” which was deeply rooted in religion. Addiction was attributed to a sinful nature and weakness of character. Therefore, the addict must repent… or suffer the consequences of his/her actions; addiction warranted punishment, not empathy. Unsurprisingly, this created stigma. It also prevented those struggling with addiction from seeking treatment. Centuries later, many hold on to the view that an individual suffering from a substance use disorder is lazy or weak… or a worthless junkie.)

Today, in the midst of the opioid epidemic, stigma’s unrelenting grip perseveres. Stigma is a poison; it’s dehumanizing. It’s easy to forget a person is a person when you view them as garbage, trash… a “junkie.” Stigma tells us, “Take out the trash.” #JunkieLivesDontMatter

Image by Hamed Mehrnik from Pixabay

To fully recognize stigma’s impact, compare addiction to other diseases. Consider common medical emergencies; many are related to lifestyle. Imagine being hospitalized after your third stroke, and the doctor telling you, “This is the third time I’ve saved your life, yet you refuse to exercise. I shouldn’t be obligated to continue to provide life-saving care.” Or, imagine a long-time smoker who develops lung cancer; they’re not demeaned, called names, or denied treatment. Moreover, an EMS worker wouldn’t withhold CPR from an individual in cardiac arrest if they were obese. It’s not a debate.

If You’re Dead, You Have a 0% Chance of Recovery

Image by Simon Orlob from Pixabay

We’re in the midst of an epidemic.

According to the CDC, 115 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day.

In 2016, over 42,000 individuals died from opioid overdose.

Life expectancy in America is actually declining due to an increase in fatal overdoses.

Narcan does not enable addiction. It enables life. (The dead can’t recover.)

#Recovery #Empathy #FightStigma #EndTheEpedemic #SaveALife


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9 Dangerous Myths & Misconceptions About Mental Illness

Are mentally ill people violent? Can mental illness be overcome through willpower? Is addiction a choice? This post addresses some of the myths and misconceptions about mental illness.

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There is stigma attached to mental illness and substance use. The media, unfortunately, perpetuate stigma by spreading misinformation.

For example, every time a school shooting occurs, the media attributes it to (or at least references) mental illness. Journalists first, and then social media trolls sensationalize news stories about the shooter’s eccentricities and all the signs that were missed. Upon learning that the shooter was having problems at home and didn’t get along with his peers, one might suspect mental illness. And suspicion becomes certainty when mental illness is viewed as the only plausible rationale behind the senseless violence. (It’s also rationalized that ‘normal’ people don’t shoot each other for no reason. So when there is no apparent motive, mental illness is blamed.)

Next, mainstream media circulates the story about the depressed kid turned killer. The message received is “mental illness is dangerous” or “people with mental disorders are criminals.” This misinformation is absorbed and regurgitated in society, online and off, and misconceptions about mental illness persevere.

Unfortunately, misconceptions about mental illness are common, and not just with the media. Even healthcare workers, including mental health professionals, believe common myths.

In this post, I will address some common myths and misconceptions about mental illness.



Ignorance is the root of stigma.
 The more you know, the less you fear, and the less you’ll stigmatize. Read on to learn about myth versus fact.


9 Myths & Misconceptions About Mental Illness

1. Bad parenting causes mental illness.

Mostly Myth!

Even today, there is no single identified cause that explains mental illness.

However, there are multiple known risk factors (biological, environmental, and social) that contribute to the development of mental disorders. Having a genetic predisposition to mental illness is the biggest risk factor. Genetics largely determine if a person will develop schizophrenia, depression, substance use disorder, etc. About 40-60% of mental illness is determined by biology.

Physiological factors (such as structural differences or chemical abnormalities in the brain) are another risk factor. Additional biological risk factors include prenatal damage, brain injury or defects, illness or exposure to toxins, and damage from drug and alcohol use.

Environmental and social factors include fetal exposure to a toxin and childhood trauma, among others.

Childhood abuse and neglect undoubtedly fall into the ‘bad parenting’ category. What’s more, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are associated with chronic disease, obesity, decreased immune function, substance use, and mental illness in adulthood.

While childhood abuse, neglect, and even spanking are linked to poorer mental health outcomes, bad parenting does not cause mental illness. Bad parenting can be a risk factor, depending on severity and impact, as well as the presence or absence of protective factors. (Protective factors include resiliency, health, feeling safe at home, etc.) Also, ‘bad’ parenting is somewhat subjective.

Generally, the more risk factors (and fewer protective factors) a person has, the more likely they are to develop a mental illness.

2. Mental illness is not a medical disease.

Myth!

Heart disease affects the heart. Colon cancer affects the colon. Autoimmune disorders affect the immune system. Brain disorders (i.e. mental illness, addiction, brain cancer, dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, etc.) affect the brain.

Like other organs, the brain is susceptible to disease. Brain disease manifests as changes in behaviors, thoughts, memory/processing, speech, emotional regulation, judgment, and more. Because your brain is the body’s control system, brain disease may also impact balance, muscle coordination, the ability to use your sense of taste, smell, touch, etc.

You cannot ‘see’ mental health symptoms the way you can see some physical health symptoms (such a rash or a broken bone), but you also don’t see most physical health symptoms.

When you have a headache, no one else can see it. You don’t even know what’s happening to the neurotransmitters and synapses across the lobes in your brain. You’re solely responsible for describing the pain to your doctor so they can prescribe the right treatment.

In reality, there’s not such a huge distinction between so-called physical and mental illnesses. They can both be painful and debilitating, and may require medical treatment.

3. All sociopaths are dangerous.

Misconception!

The term ‘sociopath’ (or psychopath) is frequently associated with serial killers. The reality is that you probably know a sociopath and they aren’t a murderer.

In fact, ‘sociopathy’ and ‘psychopathy’ are no longer recognized as diagnoses in the mental health world due to negative connotations. The diagnosis became associated with a sterotypical portrayal of a psychopath as a ruthless and insane serial killer. The stereotype is perpetuated by filmakers and TV producers and continues to show up in movies and series even today, despite the glaring inaccuracies with the diagnosis.

The correct term is antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), a mental illness characterized by an ongoing disregard for and violation of the rights of others. An individual with ASPD may also be exceptionally charismatic. (Some of the most charming and engaging clients I’ve ever worked with had ASPD.)

However, research indicates that an individual with ASPD is more likely to become involved in criminal activity,to have a substance use disorder, and to be aggressive; about 50% of individuals with ASPD have some sort of criminal record. 

While it’s a misconception to say all individuals with ASPD are dangerous, the link between ASPD and crime is not unfounded.

4. Mental illness can be overcome with willpower.

Myth!

This is 100% myth. The notion that mental illness can be overcome with willpower goes hand-in-hand with the belief that mental illness is not a ‘real’ medical condition. 

A mental disorder typically requires treatment, such as medication and therapy, and ongoing illness management. 

All the willpower in the world will not help someone overcome heart disease. And it does not work that way with mental illness either.

5. Addiction is a choice.

Myth!

Substance use disorder is no more of a choice than diabetes or cancer. Like most diseases, addiction develops when a combination of genetic, physiological, psychological, and environmental factors are present. Lifestyle choices also play a role. Unfortunately, the myth that addiction is a moral failing persists.

An individual who has an addiction receives more blame than someone with a heart condition, even though lifestyle choices heavily impact both disorders. I have even heard the argument that addicts who overdose should not be revived because it was their ‘choice’ to use. If that is the logic, then should we stop providing life saving care to someone who is obese when they have a heart attack or to a smoker with lung cancer? Of course not.

At times, we all make poor decisions. For someone with a predisposition for addiction, the choice to drink may lead to alcohol use disorder. For the person with a predisposition for diabetes, eating an unhealthy diet or living a sedentary lifestyle will result in consequences.

Furthermore, once a person develops a substance use disorder, physiological and structural changes in the brain dissolve the element of choice. The brain misinterprets a craving for drugs or alcohol. (Remember the last time you experienced extreme thirst? That is what it is like to be addicted to something.)

Having a substance use disorder is miserable, lonely, and shameful. No one chooses that.

6. People with mental illness are violent.

Misconception!

Having a mental illness does not make someone more likely to commit a crime or act of violence, especially if that person is following treatment recommendations for psychotherapy, medication, etc. Rather, biolocial, psychological, and environmental factors are associated with violent behavior. In the general population, younger males in lower socioeconomic classes with lower levels of education and employment are the most likely to engage in violent acts, not persons with mental illness.

While the media would have us believe that mental illness is at the root of every mass shooting, this isn’t the case. Most people with mental health problems do not commit violent acts or crimes, and most violent acts are not committed by people with mental illness. It’s also true that persons with severe mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime.

Moreover, individuals with mental illness are more likely to die by suicide. Persons with schizophrenia have higher rates of suicide than the general population. Depression, bipolar disorder, and borderline personality disorder are also linked to suicide.

A mental disorder is a medical condition; having weak morals is a personality trait, and while it seems mentally sick, it’s not fair to compare a lack of morals to a condition like depression or anxiety.

7. Mental illness is the same thing as mental retardation.

Misconception!

I am friends with a nurse who did not know the difference (until I pointed it out). A person with a mental illness may seem less intelligent due to various factors, but mental illness is not comparable to mental retardation. Today, we refer to mental retardation as intellectual disability (due to the negative connotations attached to the word ‘retarded’).

A person with an intellectual disability (ID) struggles to understand, comprehend, and/or form memories. A person with mental illness, on the other hand, may have superior intelligence, but could seem slow due to distractions brought on by their illness. (For example, it is difficult to focus on a conversation when you’re having racing thoughts or hearing voices.)

8. A person with schizophrenia has multiple personalities.

Myth!

A person with schizophrenia may hear voices and even respond to what they hear, but they do not have multiple personalities. Multiple personality disorder (MPD), on the other hand, is associated with distinct personalities.

Today, MPD is referred to as dissociative identity disorder (DID). A person with DID has at least two distinct personality states, and suffers from gaps in memory. The prevalence of DID is largely unknown, but it’s estimated that 1-2% of Americans have DID. DID occurs so rarely that its existence was once disputed in the scientific community. There is a strong correlation between DID and childhood trauma and abuse.

With schizophrenia, the voices may be distinct, have their own names, and can be experienced as different personalities (male, female, child adult, friendly, cruel, etc.) or entities, but someone with schizophrenia has only one personality. Dissociation is not a typical symptom of schizophrenia.

In addition to auditory hallucinations, someone with schizophrenia may experience visual hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thoughts, cognitive deficits, and/or what’s referred to as negative symptoms. A negative symptom is a lack of something that is typically present in someone without schizophrenia. For example, a person with schizophrenia may be socially withdrawn or he/she may seem very flat, or without emotion.

9. Alcohol makes you depressed because it is a depressant.

Part Myth, Part Misconception!

Yes, alcohol is a depressant. but as a depressant, it depresses your central nervous system, leading to slurred speech, trouble with coordination, etc. The intoxicating effects of alcohol are not symptoms of depression.

However, heavy alcohol use is associated with depression and other mental disorders. Someone who has depression or anxiety may drink to self-medicate. Alternatively, someone with an alcohol use disorder may develop depression, as alcohol upsets the chemical balance in the brain. What’s more, a person may regret the things they do while intoxicated, leading to intense guilt, shame, and/or hopelessness.


Help to fight stigma and misconceptions about mental illness by sharing this!

Interview: Breakfast Beers, Bloating, & Blackouts

“Every night, I would drink until I passed out, often fully clothed with a beer in hand. I would then wake up, brush my teeth and immediately vomit. I would brush my teeth again and then go to work.” This was the daily routine for JMS, who wore his alcoholism as a badge and didn’t plan to live past 30. In this interview, a recovering alcoholic discusses addiction, sobriety, what everyone should know about alcoholism, and why you might be a jerk if you believe a common myth.

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Interviewer: Cassie Jewell, LPC

JMS, a recovering alcoholic, has been sober for nearly six years. He started drinking at the age of 13. He continued to drink throughout his 20s, a “dark and miserable existence,” and didn’t think he’d live to be 30. In 2012, a suicide attempt nearly claimed his life. He woke up in a psych unit, having no memory of what happened, and decided he wasn’t ready to die.

JMS’s “official” recovery date is July 5, 2012. The following is an interview about how he got sober, why AA isn’t for everyone, and why you’re a shitty person if you believe addiction is a choice.


What’s your definition of recovery?

JMS: I don’t see recovery as an end goal. To me, recovery is a path towards my end goal, which is contentment. I have found that I will never be content and happy with my life if I am using some sort of substance. For me, recovery is complete sobriety from all mentally and physically altering substances. I have tried and learned that I cannot pick and choose what to use. It does not work for me. More than just abstinence, recovery is a way of life. It is about being accountable for your actions, admitting when you are wrong, trying your best, and letting things go. Just trying to be a better person than I was yesterday.

  

Is alcoholism a disease?

It is difficult for people to accept that alcoholics suffer from a disease and are not just a bunch of selfish degenerates that don’t care about their lives.

JMS: I feel the word “disease” can be quite polarizing when discussing addiction. Alcoholism is chronic, progressive, and fatal. Much like diabetes, alcoholism is a relapsing disorder that needs a lifetime of monitoring and treatment. Based on these facts, yes, alcoholism is a disease. I feel this is a difficult idea for people to swallow. Much of addiction has been seen as a moral issue or a failing of willpower. It is difficult for people to accept that alcoholics suffer from a disease and are not just a bunch of selfish degenerates that don’t care about their lives.Obesity holds a similar stigma, though fat shaming has started to catch a bad rap.



When did you realize you had a drinking problem?

I knew for a long time that I was unable to stop drinking, but I didn’t care. I never had any intention of making it to 30 years old

JMS: Hmm, that’s a tough question to answer. My gut response here is to say when I went to jail for my 3rd DUI in 2010, which is when I started to actually try to get sober. But if I am honest with myself, I was well aware that there was a problem years before that. I knew for a long time that I was unable to stop drinking, but I didn’t care. I never had any intention of making it to 30 years old.I lived a really dark and miserable existence for most of my 20s. I could identify story after story about when I should have realized that there was a problem. Destroyed friendships, arrests, hospital visits, blackouts, poor choices, breakfast beers, etc. The truth is, I knew that I drank differently from my friends when I was a kid. When we would wake up hung over after a party, I was the one that would sneak vodka shots. So, I think somewhere in there, I was always aware that it was a problem. I come from a family of alcoholics. My father, his sisters, and his parents are/were all alcoholics. So it was almost a badge of honor to be another alcoholic [last name].



In active addiction, how did alcohol affect your health and appearance?

I learned that it is not normal to have diarrhea everyday for 10+ years.

JMS: I lost 60 lbs. when I stopped drinking. I changed absolutely nothing other than cutting out beer and dropped 60 lbs. I looked and felt a lot less bloated. I also learned that it is not normal to have diarrhea everyday for 10+ years. Honestly, the biggest physical change I experienced, that I am still grateful for today, is acid reflux. While drinking, I kept TUMS in business. I never went anywhere without them. Today, I need to eat some TUMS when I eat pizza or spicy food… you know, like a normal person. I never noticed the impact that drinking had on my sleep until I was no longer drinking. The first few months I really struggled to sleep well since I never had healthy sleep hygiene. Allow me to paint you a picture. Every night, I would drink until I passed out, often fully clothed with a beer in hand. I would then wake up, brush my teeth and immediately vomit. I would brush my teeth again and then go to work. Shower or not, I always reeked of alcohol, so showering was not a top priority. I always thought that I never got hangovers, but once sober I realized that I only thought that because being hung-over was my normal and I was experiencing them every morning. Ugh, the physical impact that had on my life is really something I do not miss.



How (and why) did you get sober? Who and/or what helped? Also, share about some things that were not helpful to you.

JMS: I got sober because I did not want to die. I tried to kill myself the last time that I drank. I do not remember what happened, but I remember waking up in a psych unit in the hospital. There are a bunch of people that were integral to the success of my sobriety at this time. My family is number one. They never gave up on me, despite the hell I put them through. I moved back into my mom’s house when I got out of the hospital. She and my siblings were nothing but supportive of me then and still to this day. I do not know if I would be sober today without their unconditional love and support.There are four other people that I owe my life to at this point. My therapist, my addiction counselor, Bob, my friend Alex, and my friend Jon.  I had been working with my therapist for a few years prior to my last drinking adventure. She has always been willing to challenge me and has been a safe space for me to work through some of my biggest fears. She has really helped me understand the nature of my addictions and helped me reframe my thinking and processing of my emotions.

I didn’t buy into [AA].

I have been through multiple addiction treatment programs in my life and none of them stuck. I always approached them with a cynical eye and was just going through the motions to get my family or the courts off my back. A condition of my discharge from the hospital was to enroll in an intensive outpatient program. This is where I met Bob. I figured this was another bullshit program that I was going to have to work through to keep people off my back. Bob was different. He encouraged us to go to 12-step meetings. Of course, I refused. I didn’t buy into those programs. Bob challenged me here. He asked that I attend one meeting in the coming week and write a list of everything that I hated in the meeting. I gladly did this and came back and an entire 8.5×11 sheet of paper full of my gripes. Bob listened to my list and challenged me to go to another one the next week and make a new list with different complaints. I rose to this challenge and did it again, glad to prove my point that AA was stupid and not for me. Bob again listened to my list (without arguing against any complaints) and provided another challenge. Bob asked me to go to another meeting and make a list of the things that I liked from the meeting. I did and, as any alcoholic can tell you, you are bound to hear things in an AA meeting that resonate with you, whether you buy in to the program or not. Bob continued to challenge me to go to meetings, not to go and drink the kool-aid and say some prayers, but to see what I can find that I like. There were other aspects of Bob that I couldn’t figure out why I liked him until one day, I walked into an AA meeting and he was sitting at the front table leading the meeting. Bob is an alcoholic. In that moment I knew that he understood my struggle. Bob was sober and doing meaningful work. Bob was ok. I wanted to be like Bob.

I owe my life to Alex.

I met Alex in the IOP [program] that Bob ran. Alex and I came from different worlds (he was smoking crack on the streets in Baltimore [and] I was drinking in bars in DC), but we had the same reality of sobriety or death. Alex went with me to those AA meetings [around the time that] Bob was challenging me. Alex also brought me to the meeting that would become my home group and introduced me to the people that would soon be my AA family. I owe my life to Alex. I would be remiss not to pay homage to Alex. Alex was murdered in an Oxford house a year in to our sobriety. Alex died sober, which was something he never believed would happen. I miss him every single day.

Finally, my friend Jon; he and I started drinking together as kids. He and I lived together after college and blossomed into the full fledged alcoholics we became. And he and I got sober around the same time on different coasts of the country. When I got out of the hospital, Jon moved back east from California and moved into my mom’s basement. He and I went to AA meetings daily, often more than just one each day. We then spent that first year of sobriety living together trying to figure out how to live.

I did not give a damn about anything while in my active addiction, so telling me you were going to breakup with me or I was going to lose my job did not matter.

What was not helpful? Counselors who tried to tell me about sobriety that clearly did not understand addiction. Ultimatums also did not help. I did not give a damn about anything while in my active addiction, so telling me you were going to breakup with me or I was going to lose my job did not matter. Probation was useless. The biggest impact the state had on my drinking was when I was sent to jail.



What prevents you from going back to drinking?

There is nothing in your life that a drink can’t make worse.

JMS: My life now. I love the person I am today. When I was drinking, I hated myself. I never want to be that person again, and I don’t have to be as long as I don’t drink. I have come to the realization that my worst day sober is infinitely better than my best day drinking. I don’t attend AA meetings anymore, but many of the slogans still bounce around in my head. The most important one I ever heard was, “There is nothing in your life that a drink can’t make worse.” I’m not going to lie and say that now I am sober, life is easy and happy and super fun all the time. It’s not. However, I am better equipped to handle the bullshit in life with a clear head. I would be lying to say that I don’t experience cravings but I know that a drink is not the solution to life’s problems.



What’s something you wish you had known before you became addicted to alcohol? (If you could go back in time and have a word with your younger self, what would you say?)

JMS: I feel like most people will expect me to say something like, “I would slap that first drink out of my hand!” That is not true for me at all.I am the person I am today because of my history with drinking. I am proud of the person I have become and I am not sure I would be who I am without the struggles I went through. I would want to assure myself that it was going to turn out okay and that I would not be that miserable forever. I do wish I had understood and cared about (at the time) the severity of the pain and worry I put my mom and siblings through.



What something you wish everyone knew about alcoholism?

JMS: It is not a choice. Alcoholics don’t drink the way they do because they don’t care about you or their families. They drink the way they do because they cannot control the cravings and urges and are overcome by guilt/shame/fear/pain. I am fairly confident that if every alcoholic could “just stop drinking” they would. Alcoholism is exhausting.

What are your thoughts on AA?

JMS: AA can save lives. I attribute my sobriety to the teachings of, and people I met in, AA. That being said, AA does not work for everyone. I like to [view] AA [as] a religion. AA meetings are akin to going to church, the Big Book is the bible, and sobriety is heaven. Some people need to go to church daily to find their way to heaven. Others only need to read the text to understand the tenets of the religion to find their way there. And some people find their way into heaven following other religious texts or none at all. There is no wrong way to get sober. I do have complaints about AA and I feel there are aspects of it that prevent people from finding their way to sobriety. The focus on actual religion in AA is a major turn-off for people. While AA espouses that it is non-denominational and that we alcoholics are welcome to choose the God of our understanding, we are then thrown into a prayer circle to recite the Lord’s Prayer at the end of the meeting. For a low-bottom newly sober person, it is difficult to believe that there is a God that would allow us to sink so low and experience so much pain. But as I mentioned above in my story about Bob, he challenged me to find what I hated (and you better believe that GOD was written in huge letters on that first sheet of paper) and taught me to focus on what I liked.

If you are struggling, try it.

So, my thoughts? If you are struggling, try it. Ignore the God part for now. Listen to other people tell your story and see that it is possible to get better.

How do you feel when people drink around you?

JMS: In a word, annoyed. Slurred speech, glassy eyes, stumbling, and repetitive stories are not a cute look for anyone. I often feel embarrassed for the people I am around as well. It is always a nice reminder of why I don’t drink. I see absolutely nothing attractive to it and I am glad I don’t do that to myself anymore.

What’s the worst thing about being in recovery? The best?

JMS: The worst part [about] being in recovery is trying to explain to people that they don’t have to behave differently around me once they find out. I can’t count the number of times people have asked me if it is okay to drink around me or warned me that there was going to be alcohol at their house. You don’t ask a person with Diabetes if it is okay if you eat a Twinkie, you don’t have to ask me if it is ok for you to have a beer.

There is just an indescribable freedom that comes along with [sobriety].

The best part is being free. I was a slave to my addictions for years. I do not have that struggle anymore. I do not have to worry about where I will find money to buy alcohol. It is a huge struggle in my life that does not exist anymore. There is just an indescribable freedom that comes along with it.

In your opinion, what’s the biggest misconception out there about addiction?

[If you believe addiction is a choice], that just makes you a shitty person.

JMS: I mentioned it above; that addiction is a choice. That idea is closed-minded and short-sighted. And I think it speaks volumes about the person [who] believes that. I cannot fathom believing that someone would do this voluntarily. It is not fun, it does not feel good, and does not make us proud. In my eyes, the belief that this is a choice tells me that you could choose to behave in this manner if you wanted to, and that just makes you a shitty person.

Please share your thoughts on addiction and recovery in a comment!