Show cover of Flourishing After Addiction with Carl Erik Fisher

Flourishing After Addiction with Carl Erik Fisher

Addiction psychiatrist and bioethicist Carl Erik Fisher explores addiction and recovery from the widest possible diversity of perspectives: from science to spirituality, from philosophy to politics, and everything in between. He interviews leading experts in areas such as psychology, neurobiology, history, sociology, and more--as well as policy makers, advocates, and people with lived experience.A core commitment of the show is we need more than medicine to truly understand addiction and recovery. The challenges and mysteries of this field run up against some of the central challenges of human life, like: what makes a life worth living, what are the limits of self control, and how can people and societies change for the better? These are enormous questions, and they need to be approached with humility, but there are also promising ways forward offered by refreshingly unexpected sources.There are many paths to recovery, and there is tremendous hope for changing the narrative, injecting more nuance into these discussions, and making flourishing in recovery possible for all.Please check out to join the newsletter and stay in touch.


Stash, Sedatives and A Life In Hiding, with Laura Cathcart Robbins
One of the great gifts of being out in the world talking about addiction and recovery is I get to meet so many fascinating and talented people working on these issues. This is one of my deepest motivations for writing and speaking about my own experience; to connect with other values-aligned writers and thinkers. One wonderful recent example is the fantastic writer Laura Cathcart Robbins, our guest on this latest episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast. Laura is the author of Stash, My Life In Hiding, which hits a balance I love in addiction memoirs: simultaneously an insightful exploration of the phenomenon and a fun romp. We talk about her experience of addiction and of entering recovery, especially: “doctor shopping,” the use of prescription drugs (especially sedatives), divorce, and parenthood. The problems with treatment programs, rehab romances, boundaries and being honest with oneself. The process of writing about her addiction, journaling, inner work, her experience in publishing, reclaiming “Quit Lit,” the lack of representation in addiction memoirs, and her motivation to tell stories like her own. And, the way she makes sense of her recovery framework today.Laura Cathcart Robbins is the best-selling author of the Atria/Simon & Schuster memoir, Stash, My Life In Hiding, and host of the popular podcast, The Only One In The Room. She has been active for many years as a speaker and school trustee and is credited for creating The Buckley School’s nationally recognized committee on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice. Her recent articles on the subjects of race, recovery, and divorce have garnered her worldwide acclaim. She is a 2022 TEDx Speaker, and LA Moth StorySlam winner. Currently, she sits on the advisory boards of the San Diego Writer’s Festival and the Outliers HQ podcast Festival. Find out more about her on her website, or you can look for her on Facebook, on Instagram, on Tiktok, and follow her on X Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
56:46 3/27/24
Why We Can’t Therapize Our Way Out of Addiction, with Dr. Bruce Alexander
In this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I had the honor of speaking with Bruce Alexander, a towering figure in the field of addiction theory. As regular Rat Park readers will know, I named this newsletter after Bruce’s iconic experiment in the 1970s, honoring not just that experiment, but also the decades of contributions he’s made since to the broader understanding of addiction as a deeply human phenomenon. Now that Bruce is in his 80s, he’s said he won’t be doing much more writing and public speaking, so I’m especially grateful to have the chance to talk about the most important lessons of his work. We focus on his recent publication, "My Final Academic Article on Addiction," in which he distills his over fifty years of insights. We discuss what Bruce identifies as the greatest threats addiction poses to modern society. We explore the theoretical stagnation in understanding addiction, the limitations of medicalizing addiction, and the subtle yet pervasive remnants of irrational thinking that hinder our approach to addressing mass addiction. Alexander argues against the notion that we can simply 'therapize' our way out of the problem, urging for a deeper examination of how society contributes to and can help resolve the crisis. Listen to the end for his take on what professionals and clinicians can do—and cannot do—to help us with the current crisis. Bruce Alexander has explored many corners of the addiction field for almost half a century. Beginning in 1970, he has counselled people with heroin addiction, conducted psychopharmacological research (the “Rat Park” experiments); ran field research on cocaine use for the World Health Organization; critically analyzed theories of addiction by ancient philosophers and modern researchers; and served on the Boards of Directors of NGOs in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. He has published three books, Peaceful Measures: Canada’s Way Out of the War on Drugs (University of Toronto Press, 1990), The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit (Oxford University Press, 2008), and A History of Psychology in Western Civilization (Cambridge University Press, 2015, co-author Curt Shelton). Since retiring from the university as Professor Emeritus in 2005, Alexander has spoken frequently in Canada, Europe, and the United States. He posts many of his recent speeches on his website, He was awarded the Sterling Prize for Controversy in 2007.In this episode: - Bruce’s "My Final Academic Article on Addiction" - Naomi Klein, Doppelganger - Conspirituality: How New Age Conspiracy Theories Became a Health ThreatSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
47:27 3/5/24
What's Wrong? Personal Histories of Chronic Pain and Bad Medicine, with Erin Williams
As a bonus for this special episode with the artist Erin Williams, author of What’s Wrong? Personal Histories of Chronic Pain and Bad Medicine, I got permission to post some of the illustrations from her new book, What’s Wrong? Personal Histories of Chronic Pain and Bad Medicine. Head over to my Substack page to see those. You won’t want to miss them.Erin Williams is the author and illustrator of ten books, including What's Wrong? Personal Histories of Chronic Pain and Bad Medicine, Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame, How to Take Care and the Big Activity Book series (250k+ in print). Her writing and art have also been featured in publications including MoMA Magazine, Virginia Quarterly Review, and The Believer. She has over a decade of experience in healthcare, specifically data analysis and scientific research. She teaches illustration at Parsons School of Design and creative writing at Hunter College in New York City. You can find Erin on Instagram  and Twitter.
45:57 2/15/24
Taking Ownership of Your Recovery Journey, with Dr. Ray Baker
Dr. Ray Baker is a distinguished leader in the field of addiction medicine and a person in long-term recovery from addiction. This episode of Flourishing After Addiction particularly resonates with the theme of the longer-form writings I’m starting to post about frameworks for making sense of recovery, so I’m grateful to have the chance to talk with him.A highlight of the conversation is Ray’s insight into the various processes of recovery, as he advocates for a holistic approach across different domains. He breaks down the framework of recovery capital: the internal and external resources that help people on their recovery journeys. We discuss how that model and others can serve as  organizing frameworks for change, helping people to plan their recovery journeys with autonomy and agency. My hope, by the way, is that this Substack newsletter can help with both of those elements: making sense of recovery, and itself serving as an ecosystem where people can learn and share with one another.There’s a lot more here: Ray’s personal journey and the power of self-disclosure, including what one person shared with him that may have saved his life. His experiences in treatment, and the contrast between primitive and cruel forms of confrontational therapy, versus the principles of autonomy, agency, and compassion that he later came to value. Ray also entered recovery as a committed atheist and now identifies as agnostic, so we discuss secular recovery as one interesting recovery pathway. Ray also gives a balanced perspective on the uses of psychedelics and antidepressants in treatment. And, coming back to the theme of recovery frameworks, Ray shares his experience with exercise and physical health as a crucial aspect of his own recovery, and how that led him to a deeper consideration of physical health and wellbeing as a part of recovery processes.Ray Baker, an addiction medicine physician and a person in long-term recovery from addiction, spent over three decades as a clinician and consultant after initially working as a family physician. He developed the University of British Columbia's Undergraduate Addiction Medicine program and authored guidelines for Canadian railway workers with substance use disorders. Recognized for enhancing methadone maintenance therapy standards, he received the Nyswander-Dole Award in 2003. Baker has served on the American Society of Addiction Medicine's board and contributed to addiction research and recovery frameworks in Canada. Since retiring from clinical practice in 2016, he has focused on community-based recovery, culminating in his book, "Recovery Coaching, Knowledge and Skills," published in 2022. That year, he was honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine.In this episode:- Brief assessment of recovery capital - Barbara Fredrickson’s work on developing positive emotions - Secular recovery: Life Ring,  The Secular Recovery group,  and a post about the secular recovery movement - Recovery capital: a primer for addictions professionals (White and Cloud)Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
61:19 2/1/24
Brutalities: Exercise, Extremity, and Love , with Margo Steines
In the latest episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I am thrilled to be exploring the intricate relationships between addiction, recovery, pain, and embodiment with Margo Steines, a writer and person in recovery with a deep understanding of these themes.Margo Steines holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona and serves as a faculty member in their acclaimed writing program. Her work, including her memoir-in-essays "Brutalities: A Love Story," offers a truly unique view into diverse experiences of addiction, including substance problems, self-harm, risky sex, eating disorder, and what is unquestionably the most captivating literary portrayal of exercise addiction I have ever read.I was so happy to encounter Brutalities a short while ago. It’s a bold exploration of intensity, extremity, and physicality. It’s a cautionary tale of the thin line between discipline and compulsion. In the end, it’s an inspiring story of one person’s path toward a more balanced and healthy embodiment, including the impossible task of becoming a parent.If that weren’t enough, we also talk about relationships, orthorexia, chronic illness, sex, sex work, and money. Margo walks us through her current recovery practices and the edges she’s navigating today. Finally, of course, we talk craft, including writing from and about pain.Margo Steines holds an MFA in nonfiction writing from the University of Arizona, where she is faculty in the Writing Program. Her work was named Notable in Best American Essays and has appeared in The Sun, Slate, Brevity, Off Assignment, The New York Times (Modern Love), the anthology Letter to a Stranger, and elsewhere. She is the author of the memoir-in-essays Brutalities. Margo is a born-and-raised New Yorker, a journeyman ironworker, and serves as mom to a small person. She is also a private creative coach and writing class facilitator. She can be found at her website, Twitter, and Instagram. In this episode:-her book: Brutalities -Margo’s “Write your story” class-Margo’s other classes-Leslie Jamison-Marya Hornbacher-Jerry StahlSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
57:14 1/11/24
Shame and Self-Stigma: Strategies for Change, with Dr. Jason Luoma
Shame and self-stigma can be powerfully limiting and harmful, and they are especially common among people with addictions. We’ve discussed on prior episodes of the podcast that there may be valuable and wise forms of shame, but psychotherapy research has also shown that the wrong sort of relationship to shame can also inhibit growth and stand in the way of recovery. So for this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, we dive into the practical aspects of working with shame, guided by Jason Luoma, Ph.D., a psychologist and a leading figure in this field. Jason is a leading expert in the scientific study of shame, self-criticism, stigma, and the interpersonal functions of emotion in addiction. He has done crucial research on those topics in the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) since 2002, and as a practicing clinician and leading trainer in the field, he is a true expert in strategies for dealing with shame.Jason breaks down the complex process into tangible steps, including viewing the treatment of shame as a continuous learning process in which we work toward looking at shame, rather than living out of it, unconsciously. The answer is not removing shame, but becoming aware of it and working with it: using our pain as a signpost for meaning and purpose, and aligning with personal values to guide us through the challenges of shame.This is also a great conversation for anyone who wants to hear about an inspiring model of social enterprise in mental health. As an entrepreneur and co-founder of the Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, & Training Center, Jason also gives some insights into his pioneering and unique social enterprise, which dedicates its business revenue to fund scientific research and expand treatment for mental health.Based in Portland, Oregon, Dr.Jason Luoma is a researcher, entrepreneur, clinical psychologist, and psychotherapy trainer. Since 2002, Dr.Luoma has been deeply involved in researching shame, self-criticism, stigma, and the interpersonal functions of emotion, especially in addiction, including the first randomized trial of an intervention focused on helping people with shame in addiction. Heco-founded the Portland Psychotherapy Clinic, Research, & Training Center, a unique model combining therapy and research funding. As an author of key books on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and a leader in the field, Dr. Luoma also contributes through a popular blog for therapists and has held significant roles in the Association for Contextual Behavioral Science.In this episode:-Jason’s articles and books-Prior episode with Owen Flanagan - Slow and steady wins the race: a randomized clinical trial of ACT targeting shame in substance use disorders.-ACT Manual for Shame in Substance Use Disorder (which contains the “Feared Eulogy” exercise)-An introduction to loving kindness meditation from Sharon Salzberg -An investigation of stigma in individuals receiving treatment for substance abuse, Addictive Behaviors 32 (2007) 1331–1346.Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
53:14 12/20/23
Navigating the Complexities of Addiction Treatment and Recovery, with Dr. Brian Hurley
For this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I wanted a guest who could offer some insights into the journey of seeking help for addiction and recovery. What is going wrong with our systems and services, and where can people actually find care? Brian Hurley is the ideal person to help us with these questions, with his extensive experience as a practicing addiction physician, President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Medical Director for Substance Use Prevention, Treatment and Harm Reduction for Los Angeles County's Department of Public Health.We talk about Brian’s background in the performing arts in Los Angeles, and how his personal experiences seeing the rise of methamphetamine in the mid-90s inspired him to dedicate his professional life to addiction medicine. We discuss his take on the state of addiction treatment today, and what it’s like for someone suffering with addiction to look for help and support.Brian speaks about the fragmented nature of addiction care and how that affects us all. We talked a fair bit about the need to distinguish addiction from other kinds of substance use problems (considering, e.g., people who are on milder end of spectrum or who may not identify with idea of addiction), and the concrete effects of those considerations on our systems.Brian highlights the disparities in treatment access based on insurance and location, and the urgent need for systemic changes. He emphasizes the importance of improving language and understanding around addiction, not only for professionals but also for the public. By discussing the nuances of substance use disorder and addiction, Brian paints a vivid picture of the diverse experiences of people facing these challenges.Of course, we talk about the current overdose crisis and the urgent need for change. Brian gives some shocking statistics about the low percentage of people receiving specialized care and draws on examples from European models, particularly from Portugal, to illustrate successful strategies. He shares insights from his experiences on a recent trip to Europe, suggesting ways to modernize treatment in the U.S. and remedy the “treatment gap.”Brian’s approach to addiction medicine is deeply rooted in evolving public policy perspectives. He advocates for a systemic view that requires transformation in leadership, administration, and policy. In this way, he also urges for a more comprehensive and empathetic approach that incorporates recovery. Whether you are a clinician, person in recovery, or otherwise, you’ll find useful pointers for how to change, and how to participate in change.Brian Hurley is an addiction physician, President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Medical Director for Substance Use Prevention, Treatment and Harm Reduction for LA County's Department of Public Health. He works on projects that make services for people with addiction more accessible. He lives and works in Los Angeles with his husband and several dogs.In this episode:- The American Society of Addiction Medicine- The treatment gap: only 6% of people with substance use disorders received treatment- episode 12 with John Kelly - episode 22 with John StrangSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
55:21 12/6/23
A Buddhist Approach to Compulsive Eating, Food Addiction, and Emotional Sobriety, with Valerie Mason-John
Valerie Mason-John (Vimalasara) is a writer, Buddhist teacher, a person in recovery, and the founder of Eight Step Recovery. In this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, Vimalasara shares their transformative journey, beginning with childhood in an orphanage and evolving through various addictions, with a particular focus on their struggle with bulimia, to arrive at their current role as a spiritual teacher and author. Their story is a testament to the complexity of eating disorders and their commonalities with traditional addictions, with implications for all varieties of compulsive behavior.Through probing the nature of compulsive eating, Vimalasara describes the essence of addiction from the Buddhist perspective. We discuss how to work with craving, chronic relapse, and the drive toward substitute addictions, redirecting oneself instead toward “sobriety of thoughts and feelings,” highlighting Vimalasara's journey toward finding balance and peace, rather than simply stopping the behavior.This discussion is also a great exploration of various recovery methods and pathways, including especially the mutual help recovery community Vimalasara created, the Eight Step Recovery program. If you are curious to learn more about what actually happens in these types of alternative mutual help groups, this is a great introduction. This part of the conversation also highlights the value of a pluralistic, diverse approach to recovery, one that is necessarily in constant flux—for example, how Vimalasara is now in a relationship with a “big book thumper!”Finally, we discuss Vimalasara’s perspective on how addiction intersects with timeless issues in mental health and wellness, from her first addiction—“to be in control of life”—to her biggest addiction: “to be loved and noticed.” They give us practical pointers for practice, working with difficult feelings, and concludes with a brief guided practice that can be helpful for a variety of habitual behaviors.Valerie Mason-John (Vimalasara) is an award-winning author and editor of ten books, including Eight Step Recovery: Using The Buddha’s Teachings to Overcome Addiction, and Detox Your Heart: Meditations for Emotional Trauma. Their book I Am Still Your Negro: An Homage to James Baldwin was shortlisted for both the Dorothy Livesay and Gerald Lampert Awards. They are the co-founder of the mutual help group Eight Step Recovery, which holds meetings in the UK, USA, Canada, Mexico, India, Finland, and online. They are a senior teacher in the Triratna Buddhist community.In this episode: - Their book - Eight Step Recovery - The ethical precepts of Buddhism, stated positively. - Kevin Griffin, friend of the pod. My interview with him here.Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
56:00 11/15/23
How Not to Kill Yourself, with Prof Clancy Martin
Clancy Martin is a philosopher, an author, a recovering alcoholic, and the survivor of more than ten suicide attempts. His new book, How Not to Kill Yourself, is a chronicle of his suicidal mind, and—of particular interest to us here—an investigation of the ways his suicidal thinking functioned like an addiction. We dive into all that and much more in this week’s episode of Flourishing After Addiction. One of Clancy's central arguments is: "thinking about killing oneself and addictive thinking have a lot more in common than is normally recognized." There is a clear connection to his experience with alcoholism, and beyond that, he describes how he was addicted to a certain idea of himself and his life, including the ways he used luxury, consumption, and sex in similar ways. He argues that addiction is far more insidious and pervasive than usually believed. Also, while Clancy identifies as an alcoholic, he challenges the on/off or binary way of looking at addiction.During his recovery, Clancy turned to Buddhism and took a leap of faith in an existential sense. He explains how Buddhist practice is the centerpiece of his recovery and compares it to his experience with 12-step recovery, and he discusses the contribution of existentialist philosophy in his recovery.Speaking more broadly in the philosophical sense, Clancy is interested in the role of practical ethics in recovery. We discuss his changing perspectives on family life, work, and interconnectedness, including lessons from Bertrand Russell on how to be “free and happy,” as well as considerations about ego and self-centeredness. In the end, there’s even a little time to talk a little bit about craft and writing.Clancy Martin is a philosopher, an author, a recovering alcoholic, and the survivor of more than ten suicide attempts. He is professor of philosophy at the University of Missouri in Kansas City and Ashoka University in New Delhi. His previous books include the novel How to Sell and many books on philosophy, and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, New York, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, Esquire, The New Republic, Lapham’s Quarterly, The Believer, and The Paris Review.In this episode: - LitHub excerpt of Clancy's new book - The Drunks' Club, Harper's Magazine - Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind,  Shunryu Suzuki - Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche - Ethan Canin, of the Iowa Writers' Workshop - Bertrand Russell on How to be Free and Happy (a book; here is a fun gloss)Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
78:01 3/28/23
Understanding addiction through contemplative science, with Dr. Jud Brewer
Judson Brewer ("Dr. Jud") is a renowned addiction psychiatrist and neuroscientist who has spent over two decades studying the mechanisms of addiction and the effects of mindfulness on behavior change. On this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, it was great to talk with him about some extraordinary connections between the science of addiction and contemplative practice. We talk about Jud's own experience with panic attacks, how he found mindfulness to be a powerful tool to work with anxiety, and how this personal experience helped him to see the connections between addictive cravings and the fundamental processes of anxiety. More broadly, we discuss how the urge to control our experiences is often the root of our suffering ("control is the problem, not the solution"). He connects this notion in how the brain's reward-based learning system works and how it can lead to perversely reinforcing unhelpful habits. And connecting this work to broader topics in contemplative practice, he describes how Buddhist philosophy and the concept of craving relates to the underpinnings of addiction he's uncovered in his neuroscience lab. We talk about the role of values and ethics in recovery and in treatment, including how to work with ethics as a practice without getting bogged down by a sense of obligation or guilt--approaching ethics with a sense of curiosity and openness, rather than judgment or rigidity.And, to conclude the episode, Jud leads us through a beautiful guided practice of opening and curiosity, a mini-meditation to help us cultivate awareness and non-judgmental acceptance.Dr. Jud Brewer is an addiction psychiatrist, neuroscientist, mindfulness practitioner, and author. He is the Director of Research and Innovation at the Mindfulness Center and an associate professor at the School of Public Health at Brown University. His research focuses on the neural mechanisms of mindfulness and how it can be used to treat addiction and other behavioral disorders. He has published numerous scientific articles, and he is the author of The Craving Mind (Yale University Press, 2017) and the New York Times best-seller, Unwinding Anxiety (Avery/Penguin Random House, 2021). He is also an experienced mindfulness teacher and has trained thousands of people in the art of meditation and mindfulness-based approaches to behavior change.In this episode: - Jud's website- his apps for habit change - Episodes mentioned: Melissa Febos, John Kelly, Elias Dakwar, and Eric Garland - Jud's academic work connecting addiction science to the Buddhist concept of dependent origination: "Craving to quit"- "Meditation experience is associated with differences in default mode network activity and connectivity"Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings. 
62:47 2/17/23
Brain surgery for addiction, and finding your own path in recovery, with Zachary Siegel
Zach Siegel is one of our most respected and prolific journalists on addiction and drug policy. He is also a thoughtful, introspective soul who thinks deeply about his own history of opioid addiction. In his many writings, he has often referenced that personal history, but he's never really had the chance to tell his own addiction story from start to finish. Until now! Listen to this episode of Flourishing After Addiction to hear Zach's origin story, plus a deep dive into his recent cover story in Harper's magazine about surgery for opioid addiction.Zach and I talked about some enlightening moments along his path, including the role of Suboxone in his treatment, anti-medication stigma, as well some big questions about identity: what does it mean to say you're in recovery, and how does Zach make sense of that idea in his own life?We also focus in on his recent, fascinating Harper’s story: a feature about deep brain stimulation surgery for addiction. In the piece, he describes how people with serious, intractable addictions receive this (technically) non-invasive surgery--a kind of neuroscience advance I myself researched as part of a fellowship in medical school. It's a terrific story in its own right, but it also invokes some big themes, such as the purposes of addiction treatment, or how human factors like relationships, care, and hope continue to be relevant even in what seems like the most reductionist biomedical treatment settings.Zachary A. Siegel is a freelance journalist and researcher living in Chicago. His work focuses on public health, mental health, and the criminal-legal system; he also reviews books, movies, and TV shows, on occasion; and he co-writes Substance, a newsletter about drugs and crime, with journalist Tana Ganeva. He’s reported for a variety of news outlets and magazines: Harper’s, New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, and more. He holds a journalism position at The Action Lab of Northeastern University’s Law School, working on projects like Changing The Narrative. He also co-hosts a podcast called Narcotica with his friends and fellow drug journalists Troy Farah and Chris Moraff. Find him on his website and on Twitter.In this episode: -  Substance - his substack newsletter - his podcast Narcotica - Changing the Narrative (project of Health action lab at Northwestern)- Only Lovers Left Alive - A Hole in the HeadSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings. 
91:35 12/15/22
On Psychological Flexibility and Reclaiming a Life Worth Living, with Dr. Steven Hayes
A little over 40 years ago, Dr. Steven Hayes experienced his first panic attack—when he was a young assistant professor in psychology, no less! In the intervening years, and drawing in part on his own recovery from panic disorder, he developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and produced a huge body of work that has revolutionized our understanding of human language and cognition. Today, he is one of the most highly-cited scholars in the world, across all disciplines of study. And, he remains a soulful and wise clinician, who generously shared some of his insights about addiction for this episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast.Steve and I talk about “psychological flexibility:” a revolutionary pivot toward working with our thoughts and feelings, rather than trying to fight or change them. One definition of psychological flexibility is to be open, grounded, and committed to values-based action. We discuss making sense of addiction in his framework, and he speaks out against the biomedicalization and over-categorization of the phenomenon. He talks about the centrality of values and why it’s necessary to find a life worth living as part of recovery. We discuss Steve’s understanding of spirituality and transcending a limited self-concept, and how that fits into his work. And—something I’m so happy Steve prompted me to do—he leads us all through a guided exercise to take perspective and to get a taste of dropping the small self.  I’m really happy that he’s given us this practice experience. Find a quiet place and give it a try (it’s only about 8 minutes or so, toward the end of the interview). Steven C. Hayes is a Nevada Foundation Professor of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 46 books and nearly 650 scientific articles, he is especially known for his work on "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy" or “ACT”, which is one of the most widely used and researched new methods of psychological intervention over the last 20 years. His popular book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life for a time was the best-selling self-help book in the United States, and his more recent book A Liberated Mind was released to wide acclaim. Dr. Hayes has been President of several scientific societies and has received several national awards, such as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies. According to major indices like the Institute for Scientific Information and Google Scholar, he is ranked among the most cited scholars in all areas of study in the world. Read more at his website.In this episode: - His faculty page- the "new paradigm" in mental health treatment we only briefly discussed (good for clinicians to check out!): Learning Process-Based Therapy: A Skills Training Manual for Targeting the Core Processes of Psychological Change in Clinical Practice- His TEDx talk on psychological flexibility: How love turns pain into purpose - His  2nd TEDx talk: Mental Brakes to Avoid Mental BreaksSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
64:53 10/28/22
Heroin-Assisted Treatment, and Making Sense of Addiction, with Prof Sir John Strang
In the weeks prior to this episode, the story broke that the UK’s Middlesbrough clinic, which offered a pioneering Heroin Assisted Treatment (HAT) program, is slated to close because of budget cuts. Patients were allowed to self-administer medical-grade heroin (officially, diamorphine) under medical supervision. One of the key scientific studies that supports this intervention is the RIOTT Trial—“Randomised Injectable Opiate Treatment”—and I got to speak to the principal investigator of that trial, a giant in the field of addiction research, and the first knight to appear on the Flourishing After Addiction podcast: John Strang.Prof Sir Strang is a pioneering addictions researcher and practicing physician who, over the course of his distinguished career, has made major contributions to national and international policy. Of particular interest to those of us who are fascinated with the intellectual and cultural history, he’s had a front-row seat to the scientific and cultural evolution of views on addiction, including studies under his mentor, Griffith Edwards, another major figure in the addictions field who was instrumental in shaping modern medical definitions of substance use problems. We cover a lot of ground in this one, and while we tackle some weighty topics, ranging from fundamental principles in addiction treatment to the very definition of addiction, Prof Sir Strang has a gift for explaining these concepts in clear, articulate terms—a skill no doubt honed by years of interfacing with governments and departments of health. Above all, I think he does a fantastic job of returning to some of the key, pragmatic questions raised by these topics: what does it mean to have an addiction problem, and how do I make sense of my issues? What is the point of medications and other treatments for addiction? What are the core principles in addiction care? And in the end, just what kind of contribution can science make to better public policy and practice? I hope you find this conversation as useful as I did.Professor Sir John Strang is a physician and an academic. He’s the Director of the National Addiction Centre (NAC) and Head of the Addictions Department at King’s College London. He has been an addictions psychiatrist for nearly 40 years, and has led the group at the Maudsley Institute since 1995. He has published more than 500 scientific papers in the addiction field and has contributed to national and international policy, chairing policy committees and expert groups. In 2016, he was awarded a Knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for ‘services to Medicine, Addictions and Public Health’. Read more at his faculty page, and for more about the King's College London addiction center, see this link.In this episode:- the RIOTT trial-Griffith Edwards and some of his writing on the dependence syndrome-Drug Policy and the Public Good-Setting Limits: Gambling, Science and Public Policy- BBC: "Pioneering Middlesbrough heroin addiction clinic to close"- Gerald Klerman: Psychotropic Hedonism vs. Pharmacological CalvinismSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
84:44 10/13/22
Hope, Justice, and the Future of America's Overdose Crisis, with Beth Macy
As I’ve written before, Beth Macy has an extraordinary gift for encapsulating our nation’s greatest challenges in gripping, intimate, and wise stories of everyday American struggles. She is a bestselling author of several books about addiction, inequality, and justice, and it was a great pleasure to talk to her about her latest book, Raising Lazarus, on this latest episode of Flourishing After Addiction. On a personal note, I’ve enjoyed seeing this book take shape behind the scenes, and we get to talk about her writing and research process a bit too—I was lucky to make a connection with her early in the process of releasing my own book, so it was fun to talk about how our work has informed each other and how her thinking has evolved over time.In our conversation, Beth opens up about her personal experiences growing up as a child of alcoholics and what she did to heal—as she notes, something she’s never discussed in prior interviews. Of course, we also talk a fair bit about her book, including how this work is focused on what she sees as the most likely solutions to our current crisis. It’s a big departure for her and a full-throated celebration of harm reduction. We talk about the innovative people she profiles, folks working tirelessly to provide evidence-based care and harm reduction services even in really inhospitable communities and situations. It’s a daunting topic, but Beth has also found a great deal of hope there too.Beth Macy is a Virginia-based journalist with three decades of experience and an award-winning author of three New York Times bestselling books: Factory Man, Truevine, and Dopesick. Her first book, Factory Man, won a J. Anthony Lukas Prize and Dopesick was short-listed for the Carnegie Medal, won the L.A. Times Book Prize for Science and Technology, and was described as a “masterwork of narrative nonfiction” by The New York Times. Dopesick has now been made into a Peabody award-winning and Emmy-winning Hulu series on which she acted as an executive producer and cowriter. Her latest book, Raising Lazarus: Hope, Justice, and the Future of America’s Overdose Crisis, was published on August 16, 2022. You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her personal website. In this episode:- The work of Gail D'Onofrio, MD, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Yale and pioneer in ED-initiated buprenorphine - Estimation of the Time Needed to Deliver the 2020 USPSTF Preventive Care Recommendations in Primary Care- Beth’s personal essay about her childhood on Oprah Daily- “By the book” interview with Beth- Beth’s guest essay in the New York Times: “The Two Simple Edicts of Successful Addiction Treatment”. Those edicts are: (1) “You can get better.” (2) “Don’t disappear.”- Link to all of Beth’s  books: Raising Lazarus, Dopesick, Truevine, and Factory ManSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
54:43 9/22/22
Spirituality and justice in addiction treatment, with Dr. Ayana Jordan
Dr. Ayana Jordan is a renowned expert in addiction and other mental health conditions, newly recruited to NYU to an endowed professorship for her fascinating research. For this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I was excited to talk to her about new frontiers in her research, such as incorporating spirituality and health equity in addiction medicine. What I was not expecting was for her to share so openly and courageously about the way substance use problems have impacted her own family. It was a powerful conversation with a powerful voice in the field. It never fails to astonish me: the scope and reach of addiction into so many people's lives. Reading the stats is one thing, but to experience how it touches so many people, again and again, is truly striking.Ayana talks about her longstanding interest in integrating spirituality in addiction treatment, while simultaneously respecting people’s values and beliefs, and doing so in a responsible and effective way. We discuss her work on harm reduction, racial justice, and health equity. She helps us think through how to work effectively with the social and structural determinants of health. And, we tackle the controversial question: what's the point of spirituality in the medical treatment of addiction in the first place?Ayana Jordan, MD PhD, is a renowned expert in addiction and other mental health conditions in underserved populations. She is the newly appointed Barbara Wilson Endowed Associate Professor of Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at NYU, also with appointments and leadership positions in their department of Population Health, as well as NYU Langone’s Institute for Excellence in Health Equity. The fundamental message of equity and inclusion has informed her research, clinical work, and leadership duties at NYU and beyond. She earned her MD PhD at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and while training in the South Bronx, Dr. Jordan became passionate about serving racial and ethnic minoritized populations. She did her general adult psychiatry residency at Yale University, where she also served as chief resident. She has published dozens of peer-reviewed articles in numerous top-tier medical publications, serves on multiple editorial boards, and she is a thought leader who has given a wide range of keynote presentation both nationally and internationally. You can find her on her faculty page, Twitter, and Instagram.In this episode: - Information on naloxone (Narcan), including naloxone’s availability in all 50 states.- Lancet Psychiatry profile of her- for more on her research, see many more of her publications linked on her NYU pageSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
67:29 9/8/22
From Psychoanalysis to Psychedelics: Therapy for Addiction, with Dr. Jeffrey Guss
Dr. Jeffrey Guss sits at one of the most fascinating and unusual intersections in all of mental health: between psychoanalysis, addiction treatment, and psychedelic psychotherapy. I wanted to have someone on the show to talk more about the “paradigm-shifting” nature of psychedelic psychotherapy: what that means exactly, and at a macro level, how this kind of therapy might provide some perspective on our current paradigms, like other forms of psychotherapy or mutual help groups. I also know Jeff to be an expansive and enthusiastic teacher with great love for these subjects, so it was a delight to reconnect with him on this episode of Flourishing After addiction.Jeff talks about his own experience with psychedelics and what drew him to psychoanalysis and addiction. He gives cautions about people who point to Michael Pollan’s work and say, “I’ll have what he’s having” (a la Harry Met Sally). We also discuss the neuroscience of psychotherapy and the neuroscience of psychedelics, but we also talk about moving past the “chemical imbalance” or “broken brain” formulations of addiction to think more about spiritual and existential dimensions of treatment. And, Jeff gives his practical advice for anyone wondering about whether psychedelic psychotherapy is right for them, for addiction or otherwise--including some really important cautions. Jeffrey Guss, MD, is a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and researcher with specializations in psychoanalytic therapy, addictions and psychedelic therapy. He was Co-Principal Investigator and Director of Psychedelic Therapy Training for the NYU School of Medicine’s study on psilocybin-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of cancer related existential distress, as well as a study therapist on studies of psilocybin-assisted treatment of Major Depressive Disorder and MDMA-assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. Dr. Guss is interested in the integration of psychedelic therapies with contemporary psychoanalytic theory and has published in Studies in Gender and Sexuality and Psychoanalysis, Culture and Society. He maintains a private practice in New York City.In this episode:- NYU Psychoanalytic Center- About sexual abuse in psychedelics: Psymposia ; Power Trip from Vox Media / New York Magazine ; CBC ; Psychedelic therapy has a sexual abuse problem- Albert Hoffman’s 100th birthday conference - Dr. Steve Ross’s  psychedelic research - Natural Mind, by Andrew Weil – (Preface and Chapter 1 free online) - Psilocybin for Alcohol Use Disorder trial at NYU- Fischman article: Seeing Without a Self- FluenceSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
73:42 7/28/22
Crafting a Life in Recovery, with Prof. Melissa Febos
Melissa Febos is one of our most accomplished memoirists and essayists, a passionate and fiercely honest writer who, across several of her works, has often discussed her own path through addiction and into recovery. (Among her many, many accolades, she is the recipient of a 2022 Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship and a National Book Critics Circle Award.) I was thrilled to talk with her on this latest episode of Flourishing After Addiction and learn more about this harrowing and inspiring part of her life.There are so many gems in this episode. We talk about Melissa's experience of addiction and how she works her recovery program today . We discuss how her creative practice is part of that recovery; how evaluation, performance, and internal and external criticism was problematic for her; and how writing helped her in recovery. How her definition of recovery expanded over time. How she had to write to survive, and then to thrive. Whether you're interested in the craft of writing, or just how to craft a life, you shouldn't miss this one.Melissa Febos is the bestselling author of four books, most recently, Girlhood, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative. She is the recipient of awards and fellowships from The Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, LAMBDA Literary, The British Library, and others. Her work has appeared in publications including The Paris Review, Granta, The Believer, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, and many more.She is an associate professor at the University of Iowa. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, her faculty page and her author website. In this episode: - her books:      Whip Smart     Abandon Me     Girlhood     Body Work Some of her recent longform: - "The Kindest Cut" in the New York Times Magazine- “Jeanette Winterson, My Therapist, and Me” in the New York Review of Books-  Girlhood excerpt in the New York Times-  “Do You Want to Be Known For Your Writing, or For Your Swift Email Responses?” in CatapultAlso mentioned:  Resmaa Menakem, author of My Grandmother’s Hands and The Quaking of AmericaSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
66:11 7/14/22
Transforming Addiction and Suffering with Philosophy, with Prof. Peg O'Connor
From quite early in her life, Peg O’Connor felt a “double dose of shame” - from her lesbian identity on one hand, and her struggles with alcohol on the other. Her drinking problems almost got her expelled from high school, but instead she was able to stop. In her view, philosophy helped her immensely to get and stay sober, especially considering how she was not fully on board with traditional religious views or with Alcoholics Anonymous.Peg eventually became a philosophy professor, studying Wittgenstein, ethics, and feminist philosophy, and for decades she remained abstinent from alcohol. But then, 19 years into her recovery, searching for “something more,” she got more curious about 12-step recovery. At the same time, she turned her academic focus to face addiction more directly, and since then she has been writing about some of the most challenging ideas about recovery, such as surrender, powerlessness, spirituality, and “higher powers.”For this episode of Flourishing After Addiction, I was excited to speak with Peg about her most recent book, Higher and Friendly Powers, a compulsively readable, clear, and humane exploration of the notion of “Higher Powers,” using the philosopher and psychologist William James as a guide. It’s great fun. I hope you enjoy.Peg O'Connor is Professor of Philosophy at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Higher and Friendly Powers: Transforming Addiction and Suffering (Wildhouse Publications) and Life on the Rocks: Finding Meaning in Addiction and Recovery (Central Recovery Press, 2016). A recovering alcoholic, she believes philosophy has much to offer people who struggle. You can find her at her faculty page and her author website (
73:03 6/16/22
Many Pathways to Holistic Recovery, with Holly Whitaker
One important vision I have for this podcast is to share diverse experiences of addiction and recovery. How people write about it, yes, but even more importantly, the nitty gritty of how they made sense of their own addiction and found their way to recovery. Today’s guest, Holly Whitaker, is a fierce, passionate, and incisive writer who has charted an adventurous path out of eating disorders and addiction.Holly is perhaps best known for her 2019 book, Quit Like a Woman, and she also got a lot of attention around that time for a controversial New York Times opinion piece called "The Patriarchy of Alcoholics Anonymous." We talk about her own experience of addiction and recovery, how 12-step recovery saved her life at first, but then how she charted a course to a different pathway. We discuss the complicated matter of distinguishing between the program of AA and the institutions around AA—and, what it was like to write openly about all this. Beyond that, it’s a wide-ranging and really energizing talk: anorexia and bulimia and their relationship to addiction in her experience. How striving after money and status, or craving after partnership and connection, can be related to addiction. Her changing perspective on what recovery means to her—from control and just stopping, to something more. The good and the bad of “self-improvement”, and the urgent need for and a vision for holistic recovery. I am grateful for the way she shares her experience so openly, and I hope it is useful to you.Holly Whitaker is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol. Her work has been featured in Vogue, New York Times, Time, The Wall Street Journal, Fortune, and many others. Holly focuses on the intersections of systems, culture, and individual experience and identity through the lens of addiction and recovery. She was also founder and CEO of Tempest (formerly Hip Sobriety), a virtual platform that offered education, community, and support services. She has a newsletter here and a podcast called Quitted. Learn more at her website, and find her on Instagram.In this episode: - Neil Gaiman on writing: “The moment that you feel that just possibly you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself, that’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.”- Two classic pieces came to my mind about the topic of AA vs the institutions around AA: William White and Ernest Kurtz on “The Varieties of AA and Recovery Experience” and Ernest Kurtz on ““Whatever Happened to Twelve Step Programs?”- Allan Carr’s “Easyway” books, e.g., Quit Drinking Without Willpower - Internal Family Systems therapy- press release about TempestSign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
72:42 6/2/22
Healthy relationships in recovery, with Dr. Bevin Campbell
Taking care of our relationships is a crucial way we take care of ourselves and the wider world. Some of the most common questions I get in my clinical practice and from listeners are questions about how to navigate relationships in addiction and recovery: couples, parents and kids, or otherwise. So I wanted to have a clinically focused episode about this important issue, and it was my great pleasure to talk with my good friend and wise colleague, Dr. Bevin Campbell, a psychotherapist who focuses on relationships, addiction, and recovery.Bevin has particular expertise in and passion for working with couples, but as you’ll hear, we cover issues that are important for all human relationships, in families, at work, and beyond. We discuss the tricky distinction between seeing addiction as “caused” by relationship problems versus stepping back and getting perspective on the bigger cycles--i.e., situating the addiction as part of a system. We explore other, everyday addictions and how they affect relationships, such as compulsive internet use, working, gaming, or otherwise. She gives some extremely useful tips about anger and avoidance, grief and trauma, and power and coercion. And we reflect on that vexing question that, for better or for worse, so many people have in these situations: “how do I get my loved one to change?”Bevin Campbell, Psy.D., is a psychologist interested in all things related to love and attachment, from the challenges of staying emotionally connected to a partner to the pain of grief and loss. She sees couples in her Brooklyn-based practice, and is also a consultant to New York City agencies and community based organizations on understanding grief and loss and supporting bereaved community members. In addition to her clinical and consulting work she supervises and teaches psychologists in training. Follow her on Twitter or see her clinical website here.In this episode:- Attachment: An Essential Guide for Science-Based Practice (partially free online)- There is a "sweet spot" for maternal responsiveness, and responding perfectly to our child's needs isn't best for optimal development: “Maternal responsiveness and sensitivity reconsidered: Some is more” - CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Training) therapy, developed by Robert Meyers - ...which draws on the Community Reinforcement Approach- Salvador Mnuchin- Michael Zentman- Beatrice Beebe- Donald Winnicott- A good article in The Atlantic about several of these topics. Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
58:22 5/5/22
Our addiction to the self, with Dr. Mark Epstein
Dr. Mark Epstein is a hero of mine. He is a Buddhist psychiatrist and author who has been a voice of kindness and wisdom in our field for decades, and I’ve long looked to his work for inspiration and guidance. So it was an honor to speak with him for this episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast!Mark does not have a personal history of a “classic” addiction like a substance problem, but as he articulates so nicely in our interview: “from the Buddhist point of view, we’re all addicted.” We talk about addiction to thinking, addiction to the self as the primary addiction, and how Mark worked with his own anxieties and insecurities—a path that led him to psychiatric training at Harvard, almost 50 years of meditation practice, and many influential books at the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy. (There were so many fun surprises in this interview, such as Mark’s training with George Vaillant at Harvard, a giant of psychiatric research and a non-alcoholic member of the board of trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous.) In particular, we focus on his fantastic new book, The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life. It’s a lovely account of meditation practice, therapy, recovery, ease, and working with the self. Mark Epstein, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and the author of a number of books about the interface of Buddhism and psychotherapy, including Advice Not Given, The Trauma of Everyday Life, Thoughts without a Thinker and Going to Pieces without Falling Apart. His newest book, out now, is The Zen of Therapy: Uncovering a Hidden Kindness in Life. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University. For more, check out his website, and you can find him on Instagram and Twitter.In this episode:- Mark's most recent book: The Zen of Therapy (also discussed: Advice Not Given)- George Vaillant (a summary of his book, The Natural History of Alcoholism)- A fun book about Ram Dass and others at Harvard, The Harvard Psychedelic Club ("How Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Huston Smith, and Andrew Weil Killed the Fifties and Ushered in a New Age for America")- Gestalt therapy- More on the Emmanuel Clinic - a repository of several articles on the early 20th century, pre-Freudian psychotherapy in the US that reported great success in working with alcoholism. (I like this article in particular)- Revenge bedtime procrastination Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
57:02 3/17/22
Why history? With Prof. Benjamin Breen
With so much suffering today, and in the midst of a historic overdose crisis, you might wonder: why bother looking to the distant past of addiction? How can the history of addiction actually help us? For me, I found that I needed history to make sense of what happened to me and my family. After studying addiction for a little while, I saw that ideas dating from the origin of the global drug trade, hundreds of years ago, exert a powerful influence on how we understand and treat—or still fail to treat—addiction.  Today, I’m convinced that this history is a crucial route for giving addiction the care, nuance, and attention it deserves. But in the beginning, I needed some help from thoughtful scholars to see those connections.In today’s episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast, I was really happy to talk with my friend and colleague Ben Breen, a noted historian at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies the history of science and drugs. Many years ago, it was Ben’s help, and his living example of wholehearted devotion to the field, that helped me to see the promise of this history for helping us in the present.We talk about how ideas about drugs from the colonial period onward have shaped how we think about good and bad drugs—and so much more. He sketches the deep history of psychedelics, from the Amazon rainforest to the overlooked early history of psychedelic therapy. Drug scares about coffee. Cinnamon, tobacco, and unicorn horns. “Dry goods,” bath salts, and decriminalization. Imperialism, capitalism, and cosmopolitanism. How opium was turned into an exotic substance despite originating from Europe. And generally, how all these ideas come back to the present to affect how people make sense of themselves and their suffering.Benjamin Breen, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where he teaches classes on early modern Europe, the history of science, environmental history, and world history. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University, and a lecturer in Columbia’s history department. He grew up in California and earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Texas at Austin in 2015. He is the author of The Age of Intoxication: Origins of the Global Drug Trade, and he is currently at work on a new history of “psychedelic science” and Cold War drug experimentation. He has contributed to The Paris Review, The Atlantic,  Lapham’s Quarterly, and many more publications. He also created the history blog Res Obscura. For more, check out his website and find him on Twitter.In this episode:- George Psalmanazar, a mysterious Frenchman who posed as a native of Formosa (now Taiwan) and gave birth to a meticulously fabricated culture... and who also provided remarkably detailed descriptions of opioid addiction as early as 1764 - Decriminalization in Santa Cruz.- Mike Jay's new book on Mescaline- Khat and cathinones Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings. 
61:13 2/18/22
Recovery research: Beyond abstinence, with Dr. John Kelly
How do we best tap into the positive side of recovery, beyond abstinence, sobriety, and remission? What does the science actually show about growing and changing in life after addiction?There is perhaps no one better equipped to answer those questions than my guest on today’s episode of the Flourishing After Addiction podcast: Dr. John Kelly, Harvard Medical School’s Elizabeth R. Spallin Professor of Psychiatry in Addiction Medicine, and founder and Director of the Recovery Research Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital. John is a pivotal figure in the world of this research, studying not just what goes wrong and how to stop addictive behavior, but also how people find their pathways and thrive in recovery. In this episode, we talk about the “active ingredients” or “mechanisms” for recovery, what drives people’s trajectories in recovery, what the research shows about how long it takes to make significant change once someone starts making an effort, and what all this research shows about how to best care for people with addiction and what we must improve in our current treatment system. We also talk a bit about his research on Alcoholics Anonymous and what that shows about the active elements of recovery.John Kelly, Ph.D., is the Elizabeth R. Spallin Professor of Psychiatry in Addiction Medicine at Harvard Medical School - the first endowed professor in addiction medicine at Harvard. He is also the Founder and Director of the Recovery Research Institute at the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the Associate Director of the Center for Addiction Medicine (CAM) at MGH, and the Program Director of the Addiction Recovery Management Service (ARMS). Dr. Kelly is a former President of the American Psychological Association's (APA) Society of Addiction Psychology, and is a Fellow of the APA and a Diplomate of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has served as a consultant to U.S. federal agencies and non-federal institutions, as well as foreign governments and the United Nations. Dr. Kelly has published over 200 peer-reviewed articles, reviews, chapters, and books in the field of addiction medicine, and was an author on the U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. His clinical and research work has focused on addiction treatment and the recovery process, mechanisms of behavior change, and reducing stigma and discrimination among individuals suffering from addiction. For more on John and his work, go to this episode: - A nice blog post by John about the many pathways to recovery. - "A biaxial formulation of the recovery construct", with remission/abstinence/sobriety on one axis, and the positive consequences of recovery on the other. - The 2020 Cochrane Review on Alcoholics Anonymous and 12-Step Facilitation Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder. A summary of that work here. - many more briefs of research studies available here.Sign up for my newsletter and immediately receive my own free guide to the many pathways to recovery, as well as regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
63:56 2/1/22
How to Be Loved—Writing about Addiction and Recovery, with Author Eva Hagberg
A lot of us folks in recovery have big collections of self-help and memoir books, and with good reason. Books give us solace, they help us see how other people deal with similar challenges, they are a source of community through contact with other minds, and, as articulated by Eva Hagberg, this week’s guest on the Flourishing After Addiction podcast, books, and particularly memoirs, are a way of trying on different “moral selves.” Eva is an author who has written beautifully about her own addiction and recovery in her  memoir, How to be Loved. It’s an honest and raw account that includes her experiences with chronic medical conditions, grief, loss, romances, and friendship. In this episode, we talk about being seen and wanting to be known, the creative process, what she has learned from memoirs—addiction and otherwise—and her own experience with different varieties of 12-step recovery. And, with my own book coming out soon, she gives me some great advice about focusing on what matters most. Eva Hagberg is an author, cultural and architectural historian, architecture critic, speaker, and more. Her critically-acclaimed memoir, How to Be Loved, is out now from Mariner Books. In a fun twist, we also talk about an unexpected set of connections between recovery and architecture, related to her next project: a biography of Aline Louchheim Saarinen, forthcoming from Princeton University Press.  She teaches at Columbia University in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, and at Bard College in the Language & Thinking Program. She lives in Brooklyn. Find her at her website, or on Twitter.In this episode: - Ira Glass on the “taste gap:” “Nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish somebody had told this to me — is that all of us who do creative work … we get into it because we have good taste. But it’s like there’s a gap, that for the first couple years that you’re making stuff, what you’re making isn’t so good, OK? It’s not that great. It’s really not that great. It’s trying to be good, it has ambition to be good, but it’s not quite that good. But your taste — the thing that got you into the game — your taste is still killer, and your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you”- Melissa Febos, author of Whip Smart, Girlhood, Abandon Me, and Body Work. - A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance, by Jane Juska- Dani Shapiro, author of Slow Motion, Devotion, Inheritance, and other books. - The sociologist Robin Room analyzing codependency and Adult Children of Alcoholics, in the context of other 12-step thinking: Alcoholics Anonymous as a Social Movement - Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life - Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, by Peter CameronSign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
70:00 1/6/22
Buddhist recovery, lovingkindness, and feeling comfortable in your own skin, with Buddhist teacher Gary Sanders
As Ram Dass once said, “If you think you’re enlightened, go spend a week with your family.” I’m thinking about this quote as many of us are grappling with the Omicron variant and trying to make the most of this winter break. This time of year can be hard for everyone, and I’m also thinking about all of us in recovery who have difficult family histories, for whom the holiday season might bring up difficult or outright traumatic memories. During this challenging time, I wanted to have an episode that was hopeful and full of practical teachings about both meditative and recovery practices. So I’m very grateful that I had the chance to sit down with Gary Sanders.Gary is a Buddhist teacher, person in recovery, and a joyful and energizing presence. As we discuss, he has had to practice deeply to get there. After an emotionally and physically abusive childhood, Gary was caught up in addiction, then embarked on a long road of exploring different mutual help approaches to recovery. From AA, to secular groups, to multiple Buddhist mutual help groups, Gary has explored several pathways to recovery. We discuss his path, his meditation practice, psychedelics, and how he needed more than extraordinary states of consciousness as part of his recovery. We also talk at length about metta (lovingkindness), and how lovingkindness practices were a central part of his recovery from addiction and trauma. I found our conversation calming and inspiring, and I hope you do too.Gary Sanders is a teacher at Portland Insight Meditation Community in the lineage of Ruth Denison, in the Burmese lineage of Vipassana Buddhism. For more information, check out the PIMC website and their Facebook page. He can also be found as a regular contributor to The Tattooed Buddha, and Gary's website (though under construction at the moment) has a great repository of some guided meditations and teachings: Boundless Heart Dharma.In this episode: - The Buddhist Recovery Network - 8-step Recovery, an alternative recovery program using Buddhist teachings. - Secular Organizations for Sobriety , "a nonprofit network of autonomous, non-professional local groups, dedicated solely to helping individuals achieve and maintain sobriety/abstinence from alcohol and drug addiction, food addiction and more." - Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the classic book by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi - Spirit Rock Statement on allegations of rape, sexual harassment and other misconduct we discussed. - The Jhanas: “mental or meditative absorption,” “a set of states of deep and subtle concentration focused on a single object.” - Lovingkindness: the classic book by Sharon Salzberg - A Zen translation of the Metta sutra - My interview with Kevin Griffin, episode 3 of this podcast.Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
59:24 12/22/21
Self-control, the science of social psychology, and “The Power of Us,” with Dr. Jay Van Bavel
What happens when we define ourselves in terms of group memberships? How does culture and society affect our capacity for self-control and self-regulation? Why does the toxic binary of “us” versus “them” seem to be so powerful these days? How can we instead use our shared identities to improve our wellbeing and work toward harmony and flourishing?  My guest for this episode of Flourishing After Addiction is Dr. Jay Van Bavel, a social psychology researcher who studies questions like these in his Social Identity and Morality Lab at NYU. “From neurons to social networks,” he investigates how culture and group identities influence our feelings, self-control, and even our sense of morality. We talk about the relevance of his work for addiction and recovery: how to harness his findings to work toward personal change, why to be skeptical of the usual narrative about self-control, and the urgent need to wake up to the “gravitational pull” of social groups.    Jay Van Bavel, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Psychology & Neural Science at New York University, an affiliate at the Stern School of Business in Management and Organizations, and Director of the Social Identity & Morality Lab. He is the co-author of “The Power of Us: Harnessing Our Shared Identities to Improve Performance, Increase Cooperation, and Promote Social Harmony." Find him on Twitter, and see more at his personal page, his lab website, and his book website. In this episode: - See this page on Jay’s lab website for his publications -note in particular Jay’s research on maple syrup, and what that means for the relationship between food and identity - Against Willpower, my article about why we should be skeptical about the usual model of self-control - Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being. George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton - Conspirituality: “a neologism portmanteau describing the overlap of conspiracy theories with spirituality”. - Ward, Charlotte and Voas, David (2011) ‘The Emergence of Conspirituality’, Journal of Contemporary Religion, 26(1): 103-121.  - See also the Conspirituality podcast by Julian Walker, Matthew Remski, and Derek Beres: “A weekly study of converging right-wing conspiracy theories and faux-progressive wellness utopianism.” - Jay on polarization in the Guardian: The big idea: are we really so polarised? - My interview with addiction recovery advocate Ryan Hampton on ideology and recovery Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
47:36 12/7/21
Working with the Shame of Addiction: a Philosopher's Perspective, with Prof. Owen Flanagan Jr.
Owen Flanagan is a philosopher who has long studied topics like consciousness, neuroscience, morality, and responsibility. But early in his career, even while racking up accolades for his pathbreaking work, drinking was already taking hold of his life. Things took a dramatic turn in the 1990s when a brain tumor and a medication reaction sent him over the edge. Today, Owen is a distinguished philosopher at Duke who is also in recovery. For the past decade or so, he’s been writing about his experience with addiction and connecting it to his long-running work on philosophy of mind and ethics. I’m grateful that he agreed to meet with me and share so openly about his personal history of addiction and recovery, including how he had to work with shame in order to overcome his addiction. We also discuss his latest book, in which he argues that shame has a crucial function in moral development, and that there are ways of working with healthy and mature forms of shame to promote positive values and flourishing—an idea with significant relevance to addiction.Owen Flanagan, Ph.D., is James B. Duke University Professor of Philosophy at Duke University, where he also holds appointments in psychology and neurobiology, is a Faculty Fellow in Cognitive Neuroscience, and a steering committee member of the "Philosophy, Arts, and Literature" program. He studies philosophy of mind, cognitive science, contemporary ethical theory, moral psychology, as well as Buddhist and Hindu conceptions of the self. He is author of many articles and books, most recently How to Do Things With Emotions.In this episode: - One of Owen’s key articles about addiction: The Shame of Addiction - For more on Owen’s story, see this great chapter by the writer John Horgan- Books on the history of AA: Not-God, and Writing the Big Book - Some perspectives on addiction we mention: Intertemporal bargaining in addiction, George Ainslie; Gene Heyman: Addiction: A Disorder of Choice; Hanna Pickard's work. - The classic piece What is it like to be a bat, by Thomas NagelSign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
68:17 11/24/21
An insider’s view of the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy case, and how to fight for change without sacrificing personal recovery, with advocate and writer Ryan Hampton
Ryan Hampton, an alumnus of the Clinton White House, had an up-and-coming career in politics until the early 2000s, when he became addicted to OxyContin, then heroin. After he entered recovery in 2015, he became a prominent advocate on addiction issues, from community-based organizing to national activities, such as helping to release the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on addiction.More recently, Ryan came face-to-face again with Purdue Pharma—the infamous manufacturer and marketer of OxyContin, controlled by the billionaire Sackler family. Purdue filed for bankruptcy in 2019 to protect itself from thousands of lawsuits, and Ryan became the co-chair of the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors (U.C.C.), a powerful watchdog group that represented thousands of victims with claims against Purdue during the bankruptcy. Just a couple of months ago, the judge in the bankruptcy case signed off on a controversial settlement, granting the family immunity from future liability in exchange for a $4.5 billion payout. The day before the judge approved the deal, Ryan resigned. I sat down to talk with Ryan Hampton about his experiences in the case, which he describes in his new book: Unsettled: How the Purdue Pharma Bankruptcy Failed the Victims of the American Overdose Crisis. We get personal, and he opened up about the way the case impacted his own recovery, and what he did to cope. We also discuss the insider details of the case, as well as how Ryan’s view of the problem evolved over time—how the case revealed to him that the problem is much bigger than the Sacklers or Purdue, and how it was an education in the deeper roots of the overdose and addiction crises. We talk about the relationship between advocacy and personal recovery, finding meaning and purpose in working for change, and what Ryan sees as the way forward after a dispiriting couple of years. I found it a wonderful lesson in working for change without succumbing to despair, as well as a stimulating discussion about what kind of change we need most today.Find Ryan at his website, Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. His organization is The Recovery Advocacy Project (RAP), a network of people and organizations across the country advocating for addiction recovery policies.In this episode: - How Ryan went from homeless and addicted to a nationally recognized advocate. (See his first book, American Fix) - Burnout, and burnout as more than depleted energy or rest—how facing injustice can be a part of it. (For one piece on burnout and moral injury in physicians, which bears comparison, see this article.) - Rigidity, ideology, and stigma within the recovery community, and how it hampers advocacy - The crucial element of choice in recovery advocacy  - What exactly went on in the Purdue bankruptcy case? (see also this New Yorker article discussing Ryan’s work) - how State governments were not always allies in the Purdue case - A major shift in Ryan's thinking and values: his realization about how much deeper the crisis was than Purdue or the Sacklers. - Ryan’s thoughts about how to work for change today.Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
69:43 11/11/21
Psychedelics for addiction and “the freedom within,” with psychiatric researcher Dr. Elias Dakwar
In mental health treatment today, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy is nothing less than a sensation, and some of the most promising results are in addiction treatment. Droves of people—from researchers and clinicians to underground shamans and private funders—are hailing the re-emergence of psychedelics like psilocybin, MDMA,  ayahuasca, and ketamine as a “renaissance.” But despite the hype and money being funneled in this direction, big questions remain. What do these substances actually do? How should we use them? And from a broader perspective, how are we supposed to integrate them into our existing, troubled systems?   Dr. Elias Dawkar is an addiction psychiatrist and psychiatric researcher at Columbia on the frontlines of investigating these questions. He has combined ketamine infusions with mindfulness-based relapse prevention and other addiction therapies and found some stunning rates of recovery. Despite being an accomplished scientist, though, Elias is no reductionist—a clinician and a committed meditation practitioner himself, he has a refreshingly nuanced and integrative perspective on the use of psychedelics. For him, addiction is just one manifestation of deeper efforts to free oneself from a “primordial suffering,” and he offers psychedelics in that spirit: “an opportunity for having the freedom the freedom they were looking for in the first place. The freedom, within themselves, from suffering.” In fact, he also has serious qualms about some of the ways psychedelics are being fit into medicine and the marketplace. Elias Dakwar, M.D., is an Associate Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, where he is also affiliated with the Columbia Center for Healing of Opioid and Other Substance Use Disorders (CHOSEN). After completing a fellowship in Addiction Psychiatry at Columbia, he began studying the use of ketamine infusions combined with mindfulness training to treat cocaine use disorders. He is now a principal investigator on several large grants evaluating ketamine for the treatment of opioid use disorder, cocaine use disorder, and alcohol use disorder. His work has been published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, Harvard Review of Psychiatry, Biological Psychiatry, and other major scientific journals.  In this episode:  - Elias speaking at the Horizons Conference in New York City. - The connections between psychedelics and other contemplative practices, like vipassana, Vedic mantra-based meditation, and Zen meditation, and how Elias brings mind-body practices into his clinical work. - Elias’s perspective on recovery and addiction, and making sense of addiction as just one manifestation of a process of suffering. - Albert Hoffman’s storied “Bicycle Day”, the first recorded LSD trip. (a cool illustration here) - The Immortality Key, a historical investigation into the role psychedelics have played in the origins of Western civilization- The pitfalls of psychedelics: at the individual level, attachment to experience and reifying the trip itself. At the social level, how overmedicalization can miss out on cultural and community renewal as part of flourishing.  Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
57:55 10/15/21
“Health in All” to prevent and treat addiction, with public health leader Dr. Wilnise Jasmin.
Flourishing after addiction requires flourishing for all. The public health of addiction and recovery has several important lessons, not just how to respond to the overdose crisis, but also, and more concretely, how to think holistically about addiction and all the factors that support someone’s recovery. How to protect the mental health of ourselves, our families, and our broader communities, now and for generations to come.Dr. Wilnise Jasmin is a family medicine doctor and leader in the city of Chicago’s public health system, where in addition to battling COVID-19, she directs the city’s Behavioral Health program. A crucial focus of her work is the opioid overdose epidemic, which disproportionately affects Black residents and is one of the drivers of an 8.8-year life expectancy gap between Black and White Chicagoans. But despite a brutal 2020 and 2021, as overdose rates soared across the country, the Chicago Department of Public Health actually reported a decrease in opioid-related deaths in the first half of 2021. In this episode, we talk more about how they managed this feat, and what those practices and approaches have to teach us about addiction and recovery.Wilnise Jasmin, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., is the Medical Director of Behavioral Health at the Chicago Department of Public Health. She is part of the leadership team responsible for the city’s initiatives in the areas of violence prevention, substance use and prevention, and mental health. She specializes in both Preventive Medicine (Public Health)—which she studied at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—and Family Medicine, having trained at the Cook County-Loyola Family Medicine Residency Program, where she served as a Chief Resident. She is also a fellow in the University of California-Irvine Primary Care in Psychiatry program, and she serves as the Chair for the American College of Preventive Medicine's Annual Conference's Population Health and Health Systems track. You can learn more about how Chicago is fighting opioid overdose deaths at, and connect with Dr. Jasmin on Twitter @wilnisej.In this episode:  - Naloxone (Narcan) in vending machines (and for a brief account and photo of a similar vending machine program in Las Vegas, look here).- How Chicago worked on outreach with community groups to ameliorate a rise in suicides and overdoses--including how to forge authentic connections and dismantle stigma.- Dr. Jasmin’s most important message for addressing stigma: not to say someone is broken or hammer on “disease” language, but to break down false divisions. "Substance use is not a 'them' problem. The face of substance use? You simply have to look in the mirror to see what someone with a substance use issue could look like. It could be anyone." - One important way to prevent addiction: “Health in All” policies, a broader way of looking at all the many factors that influence health beyond traditional healthcare.Sign up for my newsletter for regular updates on new interviews, material, and other writings.
46:31 9/28/21