How I Caught Alcoholism

It takes a lot for some people to realize that addiction and alcoholism are the same thing: A sleazy date finally taught me what even a wise counselor could not.

When I got to rehab in the spring of 2000, I was sure of exactly two things: that my life needed to change, and that I was in no way an alcoholic so I didn’t need to quit drinking.

Mental IllnessBut I knew how crafty and manipulative those rehab and AA types were. I knew that they were out to convince me that I was an alcoholic even though, at that point, I didn’t even like drinking.

A sober friend had taken me to a few AA meetings a year or so earlier, where her friend calmly explained that my distinction—that I was an addict and not an alcoholic—made not one bit of difference to her.

“They’re the same,” the girl said, while sighing in what I perceived to be a sanctimonious way. And boy did I argue her down—trotting out every example, defense point and anecdote I could. With more notice, I’d probably have prepared flow charts.

I was fairly certain I’d won that argument, too. I got the official word on that a few days later: The friend who’d been taking me to meetings stalled when I asked if I could go with her again—explaining that I made this girl uncomfortable. “She said you remind her too much of what she was like when she was still ‘in her disease,’” she explained. “You can’t come to meetings with us anymore.” Shortly thereafter, that friend drifted away from me.

You’d better believe that I used this as ammunition against AA and meetings and sobriety for a good while.

When things got undeniably worse, I made a deal with myself: I’d go to rehab, but wouldn’t subject myself to any of that AA stuff. AA was where they told perfectly nice drug addicts that they were also alcoholic. AA was where my incredibly logical arguments—how I didn’t drink that much and about how drinking didn’t ever motivate me to do drugs—were ignored.

I immediately recognized the enthusiasm of a sleazy guy who’s just received information that leads him to believe he will be getting laid that evening.

So when my counselor at rehab asked me if I was an alcoholic, I was prepared: “Nope. I’m a straight-up drug addict. Cocaine. And pills, too—but those aren’t for fun, they’re just to sleep or calm down or whatever.” I uncrossed my arms, sure that he would be swayed by my honesty.

“Uh huh,” he said, nodding. Now, I really liked this man. This was a man who, though I was as terrified and overwrought as ever, made me feel safe and comfortable. He was so kind and gentle, and he was the first person I’d ever heard talking about recovery in a way that didn’t make it sound awful. So when he posed his next question, I was only willing to take it into consideration because I liked him so much: “Given that you’re not an alcoholic, why don’t you take some time off of drinking?”

“Sure,” I replied. I didn’t tell him that I’d quit drinking once before and had made it 10 days—10 stressful, horrific days where I’d talked incessantly to anyone who would listen and many who wouldn’t about how I was “x” number of days off drinking. Ten days during which I’d taken plenty of painkillers and hypnotics. But things were different now. I was in rehab. I could make it longer than 10 days—and without the pills.

“Great,” he said. “How about you take off…I don’t know—a year?”

I looked at him evenly, trying to figure out if he was kidding. Who in God’s name took a year off of drinking? This thought, if I’d had the ability to absorb one, might have given me a clue about my situation. But I said nothing.

Then he asked: “Are you willing to believe that addiction and alcoholism might be the same thing?”

I thought about that. And because I liked him so much—just for him—I nodded, slowly: “I’m willing to believe that they might be the same thing.”

So the next six months progressed, with me fully admitting that I’d been a drug addict who took so much Ambien at night that I sometimes found myself driving around the next day not knowing where I was going or really who I was. An addict who stayed up for days at a time doing fat lines of cocaine by myself. I shared these stories with the people I met in rehab and then, when the rehab started taking us to AA meetings, with the people there.

I never went to NA or CA for the simple reason that I was so out of it and confused that I just went where I was taken—and the rehab took us to an AA meeting, where I met people who told me to go to another. About half the stories I heard in AA were about drinking and the other half about drugs; nobody seemed too concerned when people like me identified as addicts, not alcoholics, or talked about drugs, not alcohol. I was fine with this mash-up of addicts and alcoholics as well, since the whole time I was telling myself that I was willing to believe that addiction and alcoholism might be the same thing. In many ways, I thought I’d even convinced myself.

Then a friend from rehab relapsed, on cocaine. I grilled him for the details: Had he had a horrible time? Was it true that a head full of recovery and a body full of drugs was a terrible combination? Did he hate himself and want to die?

Nope, he told me with a smile. The night had been amazing.

Soon after that, I ran into a guy I’d dated years earlier, a guy who’d been sober for a long time. I told him I was now sober, too. He shrugged and said he wasn’t anymore: “That whole thing was bullshit.”

Somehow, these two conversations fused in my mind, and the thought occurred to me a day or two later that alcoholism and addiction were very much not the same thing—that even though I was going to AA meetings, and liking and relating to what I heard, all those people must be crazy. Because how could addiction and alcoholism be the same thing when they were two entirely different words?

I chose not to call my sponsor with this thought. I instead chose to call the guy I had a date with that night. When I got to his house, where we were planning to have a drink before going to dinner, I introduced the topic: “Remember how I told you I don’t drink because I have a drinking problem? Turns out I don’t have a problem, so I actually do drink now. Do you have any wine?”

This guy nodded like he couldn’t believe his luck, and I immediately recognized the enthusiasm of a sleazy guy who’s just received information that leads him to believe he will be getting laid that evening. But what did I care? He was just going to be my evening’s drinking buddy and he could think whatever he felt like.

He poured me a glass of wine and I took first a sip—and then a gulp. I remember feeling mystified that this innocent little beverage, this thing that tasted and felt so benign, had caused such endless discussion. My partner in crime seemed to feel similarly. “I can’t believe you thought you had a drinking problem,” he said. “You’re not drinking alcoholically at all.” We did a “Cheers” to that happy thought.

One glass led to us finishing a bottle, so he opened another, and at some point, like in some Fitzgerald novel, the dinner plans were forgotten and I was lying down, a little woozy, and he was sitting next to me, saying that he didn’t feel bad about giving me alcohol but he did feel bad about the drugs.

“The drugs?” I asked, popping up. He held out a handful of ecstasy pills. “I can’t do that—drugs were my problem” was a sentence I attempted to get out of my mouth. But I think I only said “I can’t” before popping the first pill in my mouth. Once I’d done it, it seemed silly to not go all out, so I took another. And when I couldn’t even feel that one, he suggested a third. By the end of the evening, I’d had two bottles of wine and four-and-a-half hits of X, and it turned out that being high and drunk and aware of a different way to live felt awful—like the volume on a horror movie turned up. Perhaps that’s what made it easier for me to escape the sleazy guy without giving him so much as a kiss.

Horrified and chagrined, I went back to a meeting the next day, where I explained what had happened and declared myself a newcomer. I announced that I finally understood what everyone had been saying about how alcohol was a clear gateway to drugs, which I’d never known before because I’d always done drugs all the time, without needing alcohol to ease the transition or give me the idea.

It was a good year or so later before I saw the situation a little more clearly—when I saw, specifically, that I’d always drunk alcoholically. From my very first drink, I’d been doing things I didn’t intend to do and drinking to get drunk. I’d just been surrounded by so many people who were doing the same, and my vision of my life had been so small, that it hadn’t registered. This became even more obvious when I started going to parties again, and discovered that not everyone who arrived ran straight up to the bar to start doing shots before looking around for the best bathroom to do coke. That was just what people like me had done.

A year or so after that, I saw what a good thing it had been that my experiment in alcoholism versus addiction had only lasted one night. I’m even more grateful for that today. I still know both the guy from my rehab who relapsed and the guy I’d dated who had been sober but decided that the “whole thing” was “bullshit”: They both still go to meetings where, for the past 15 years or so, one or the other is always a newcomer again.

I’m not any different to them, really. We’re all three addicts—or, if you will, alcoholics. The main difference, as I see it, is that the night I decided to experiment, I happened to have access to enough supplies to overdo it in a massive way—and I happened to do it with such a sleazy guy that I simply couldn’t avoid admitting that there was a serious problem with my behavior.

If only sleazy guys could always be put to such good use.

Does Drug or Alcohol Rehab Work?

There are plenty of successful recovery stories that testify that drug and centers can work well for many addicts. However, this success really hinges on matching the right kind of treatment with the specifics of the addiction and the addict’s personality. Not every treatment for addiction is the same, just as not every addict is the same. In fact, there’s no official way to measure the success of a rehab program. It all depends on how the addict defines success. If the goal is just to reduce consumption, then this might be easier to achieve than addressing some of the underlying issues that might prevent someone from entering recovery completely.

Some people who abuse drugs or alcohol do manage to quit on their own. However, one might argue that if an addict can decide on his or her own to change their behavior, then maybe their dependence wasn’t to the level of addiction. This is where rehabilitation centers come in. Some addicts have such bad withdrawal symptoms vomiting, physical shakes that resemble seizures—that they need around-the clock medical care. This type of care is known as in-patient or residential care, depending on how long the addict stays in the facility. In-patient services are usually shorter, about a month, while residential programs tend to be longer. An alternative treatment plan would be an outpatient program that relies on counseling and mentoring.

Rehab Programs

RehabMany in-patient and residential programs are very costly. However, this might make an addict take them more seriously. If you know that you are committing a large sum of money to your health, you tend to value the process more. Also, you can weigh the cost of rehabilitation against the cost of fines and lawyer fees resulting from addictive behaviours. You might get into jail when caught in the possession of illegal narcotics.

And then, of course, there’s the old adage “you get what you pay for.” Rehab programs are often staffed by knowledgeable medical staff with graduate degrees in their fields. The national boards often evaluated the centers. However, a treatment plan is only as good as the commitment a patient makes to it. If an addict does not truly want to recover, then it won’t happen. Mere completion of program doesn’t indicate success, as patients can revert back to their old habits after finishing the treatment. So much of recovery from addiction has to happen through changes in the outlook of the person suffering from addiction.

Bear in mind that a relapse isn’t an indication that treatment hasn’t been successful. Neither is it a judgment about the personal failing of the addict. In fact, it’s merely just a pretty normal step in the process of recovery. Addicts often relapse few times before they realize the severity of addiction and the need to avoid from mood-altering substances. In many ways, the most important “work” rehabs  accomplish is to introduce addicts to the basic tenets of 12-step programs, healthy routines and habits, and what it takes to achieve long-term sobriety.


3 Questions for People in Rehab to Ask Themselves (AKA Hard-Learned Lessons from my Relapses)

Twelve days after getting out of my second stint in a 30-day inpatient rehab facility, I woke up on the concrete floor in a jail cell.  With echoes of screams and cries from the back seat of the car still ringing in my ears, I sat there trying to piece together that DUI debacle—how I picked my daughter up from preschool in a blackout, how I pulled the car over to “rest” a minute, how I tried desperately to come out of that alcoholic fog and make everything go back to being okay. But mainly I just couldn’t understand why in the hell I decided to drink again. Jesus, I had just crawled my way out of that nightmare and now there I was again…only worse.

I’m certainly not the smartest person in the room, but I know a thing or two about rehabs. In the course of my sobriety journey, I’ve been to seven of them, ranging from the fancy to the basic, from one side of the country to the other. And now, with a couple years of good quality recovery under my belt, I’m putting the pieces together.

The first time I got sober in 2002, I just walked into a meeting and that was it. I was done. But addiction is progressive and chronic, and soon I slipped into a space filled with 24-hour drinking that was jeopardizing the safety of my children. And I was incapable of figuring out how to stay away from alcohol long enough to even collect a decent number of days. Believe me, I tried every time. The damage I was causing to my family and to myself had grown so out of control that even my recovery community had lost hope in me. I had to get out in order to see what I was even doing.

What have I learned from my experience? Enough to compile these questions for anyone currently in a 12-step-based rehab to ask themselves:

What’s Your Expectation?

I walked into the doors of rehab the first couple times thinking I was going to “find myself” in there. Ha! On my best days, I found the guts to look at what a mess I was and had the courage to be honest about it—to cry about it or get pissed off about it. I had a thousand pounds of bricks built up around me to keep everyone from looking at myself. Hell, we all did. Most of the things we found out about ourselves and each other were the exact same things that sent us running for a drink or a drug.

But rehabs don’t offer cures. Ever. It’s best for everyone involved to keep expectations realistic and that includes the family at home. If you think you’ll walk out with answers to all your problems, trust rebuilt in relationships and a guarantee you’ll never drink or drug again, good luck with that.

What’s Your Goal?

Rehabs are not a quick fix, and good gracious, they are full of distractions. It’s easy to get sucked into the gossip circle-jerk out at the smoking hut or hunt down the most eligible hottie of the opposite sex if you’re desperate enough. It happens everywhere. And even if you’re not participating, you have to sit and listen to the dramatic bullshit that unfolds in the aftermath. Here’s the deal: you are likely not going to meet your lifelong friend circle in rehab, so my recommendation is not to going into it trying to win popularity. At one of my stays, a counselor said to the entire group of us, “Look at the person on your left and introduce yourself. Now do the same to the one on the right. Then say you are sorry. Because only one of you will stay sober.”

Of course, none of us thought it would be us.

So make a goal to set a foundation. Do what you can to remember why you are there. Strange as it sounds, it’s easy to forget some days. Time will drag by slowly but before long, if you’re doing it right, your time will be up. Supposedly, you are ready to go back to the scene of the crime, to walk right back to where you came from…except this time you’re choosing to do it clean and sober. Make sure that rehab has done everything in its power to help you in that transition.

Are You Ready for Anything?

Any good quality rehab is going to tell you that you need more help—that 30 days just isn’t going to cut it. And at that point you will have some choices to make. By the time I got to my seventh rehab, I knew this would be coming, but I still stood out in the parking lot defiantly smoking one last cigarette before half-assing an agreement with my husband that I was willing to do whatever was suggested. I was ready, but I didn’t like it.

I’ve tried different plans upon leaving—I’ve gone home after 30 days with a plan. I’ve stayed at a facility for extended treatment for an extra six weeks, and I’ve gone afterwards to a more intensive treatment across the country for an extra 10 weeks. Every choice was a gut-wrenching, learning experience.

So I say don’t be afraid to make a commitment, but for God’s sake, stick it out. You will probably get incredibly uncomfortable. Any time I saw someone throwing an all-out blood curdling meltdown, I got really excited because I knew they were onto something. It was the bottled-up people-pleasers that scared me—probably because I saw too much of myself.

I used to have a sticker on my mirror that said, “You’re looking at the problem” but my kids didn’t get it so I took it down. Obviously, the ultimate answer here is that I am responsible for my sobriety. No one was pouring the drinks down my throat. But good God, can treatment centers learn anything from people like me? I promise you, I am not the only one who’s had to go back or who’s relapsed after treatment.

Being a mother of four kids put me in a minority at rehabs. I had a breast pump at one of them, so an aftercare program filled with messages of sober living homes was out of the question. I always understood the importance of a 12-step program, but rarely felt anyone was listening when I spoke about the reality of the newborn, the toddler, the preschooler, the daughter in elementary school, and the overworked and exhausted husband all waiting for me to get home. My treatment teams continued to preach nightly AA meetings, counseling sessions, an intensive outpatient program during the weekdays. Oh, and self-care. Meanwhile my poor kids just wanted their mom back and my heartstrings always broke at the sight of them.

Treatment centers can only do so much. They are limited by insurance demands, faculty qualifications, industry standards and patient participation. But if your aftercare advisor is searching Google for a therapist recommendation for you, there’s a problem. If your meds are way out of whack and you can’t see a doctor for a week, there is a problem. And if your small group looks and sounds like an out-of-control dysfunctional family reunion, your counselor sucks.

Not every issue is going to get addressed, but you still have the right to be your own advocate. Make an appointment to talk to the top dog if necessary. I did. But don’t forget that you don’t make the rules (I hated that part).

What a collection of knowledge I got from all that failure. Out of all of it, the one thing I’d pass on above everything else, the best gem I ever got, was from my very last rehab. It was this: No matter what else you do on your first day out, if it’s a 12-step based rehab and they recommend 12-step meetings, just go to a meeting. No exception. Leave your rehab and go straight there. I finally did that, this last time. And I certainly haven’t regretted it.

Scott Steindorff: Life Recovery Project

Producer Scott Steindorff’s filmography reads like its own compelling mystery: a wildly eclectic series of clues left for some seasoned detective to puzzle back together. Steindorff has produced Westerns (Jane Got a Gun), comedies (Chef), dramas (The Lincoln Lawyer), and epic romances (Love in the Time of Cholera). There’s even a successful TV show in the mix, too (Las Vegas). But no matter how varied his projects are, Steindorff clearly remains as dedicated to telling good stories as he is dedicated to making a difference. Case in point: his newest passion project isn’t even rooted in entertainment—it’s an initiative geared toward addicts struggling to find sobriety.

Life RecoverySteindorff is spearheading Life Recovery, an enormously ambitious project in the world of addiction recovery—one that covers more media channels than his IMDb page spans genres. It’s a dynamic, multi-faceted approach that wisely recognizes addiction knows no boundaries. Life Recovery involves a structured program, a book, a Netflix docuseries, discussion groups, and nearly everything in between. In fact, when Steindorff describes the motivation behind the project, it almost sounds as beautifully layered as the plots of the novels he’s optioned. Life Recovery is nothing short of a complete reinvention of what recovery is and what we’re capable of as human beings. And because Life Recovery doesn’t promise addicts a hollow Hollywood happy ending, it suggests that Scott Steindorff might be exactly the creative visionary that the future of addiction recovery needs.

When did you first get the idea for Life Recovery?
It started about a year and a half ago. I was tired of hearing the same stuff in the rooms. I started doing some research about recovery—mainly because I felt there were so many young people coming in and out. I’ve seen it get progressively worse in the past few of the years with people in their late teens and early twenties. Mostly opioids. A lot of them had OD’d and were having very difficult times staying sober and having an equally difficult time understanding the program. They weren’t relating to the religion, for one thing. There was just something “off” about it, so I did a lot of research so I could work with my guys. I reached out to about 30 or 40 of the top addiction researchers in the world.

And this just all happened in the last year and a half?
Yeah! One day, I just woke up and thought: “How can we do better?” Rehab statistically has about a 90% failure rate; AA recovery groups are probably at a 95% failure rate. Why can’t we update, modernize, get together, and create something that will solve these problems? That’s when I started getting really excited. And let me be clear: what I’m doing now wasn’t exactly on my goal sheet. It was not on my Top 100 things to do in the remainder of my life. (Laughs)

You’re open about struggling with cocaine 34 years ago. How different was the recovery scene back then?
Well, when I got sober, I went to a treatment center and they didn’t know how to treat cocaine [addiction]. They actually told me that. And then I went to AA and they said, “We don’t know anything about cocaine.” It was just a bunch of old guys in Scottsdale, Arizona. But they loved me and they cared about me, and it got me sober. But I realize I didn’t have a spiritual experience in rehab—I had a consciousness shift. There were aspects of myself that I actually liked. I thought, “I can get through this. I can take on the world.” And I did. But I wanted to teach that to others. Unless a kid has meaning and purpose in their life, unless you can change the inner belief system of some 18-year-old kid in Ohio, nothing’s going to change. It’s so simple. Have you ever been to an AA meeting where they talk about that?

No. Never.
When I got sober at 24, there weren’t many people my age. Today, you have kids who are OD’ing on opioids by then. Opioids change the brain. They’re so potent. This crisis is bigger than the HIV crisis.

Well, with Life Recovery, you’re covering virtually every media channel imaginable. Is that strategy central to your mission?
Yes. It’s not just alcohol and drugs. It’s food, too. And it all comes down to one word: feelings. I want to change how I feel, so I’m going to eat my way, I’m going to fuck my way, I’m going to drink my way, I’m going to shoot my way to [accomplish that]. You can’t just tell me to quit eating or taking drugs or drinking. We have to change how you feel about yourself. That’s what Life Recovery is all about. I’m going to give you an example. In Oxnard, California, an 11-year-old girl committed suicide. Over 100 kids under the age of 10 have committed suicide in this last year.

Yeah. It’s never been that way. So all of these kids at school were upset and the schools brought in a psychologist. Every kid showed up. And they showed up the next day. Instead of doing it once a week, they did it three times a week. Kids started talking about “Mom and Dad are getting divorced,” “I don’t know what to do,” and all of their feelings. What I realized is that if there was one thing you and I are going to do that’s constant is that we’re going to have feelings. But what’s the one thing you and don’t know much about? Feelings. So, I said let’s create a prevention program. Let’s teach kids about emotions and feelings. All the events that happened to me between the ages of 5 and 13 probably had a big contribution to me having a substance problem. I mean, what are the magic words you heard as a kid? “Shut up.” “Don’t get mad.” “Don’t feel that way.” “Don’t feel.” That’s what I learned about feelings: not to feel. I want to teach kids what they’re going to experience in life and how to appropriately express feelings.

Why do you think other treatment programs fail?
We’re just not treating [addiction] the right way. You can’t take emotional issues and solve them with a spiritual program. Now, let me be clear: I’m not knocking AA. That’s not my mission here. The Big Book was written in 1939 for what was happening in 1939. The language is dated, the meaning is dated, the core of it is based on Christianity, and it’s not going to change the consciousness of a young person today. I have three grown children and I’ve come to the conclusion that if one of them had a problem, I don’t know where to send them. There’s not one facility that I feel is really doing the job today.

That’s a pretty bold statement.
Well, what do I do? Where do I really turn? What I’ve discovered is that 85% of people who have problems with substance abuse had environmental issues happen to them. Nobody who comes into rehab says, “You know what? I’ve had a fucking amazing life and everything is going well and I just decided to start shooting heroin.” It doesn’t happen. Most of us walk around not knowing how we feel or what we feel. But if we don’t love ourselves, we’re not going to take care of ourselves and we’re sure as hell not going to help others. And if you’re in a program that’s about helping others, you can’t help others if you don’t understand or love yourself.

What’s the most fulfilling thing for you about working with young people in recovery?
Seeing them change. Seeing them have that “A-ha” moment that they’re okay and that they’re a good person. When they have that moment, there’s nothing better in the whole world, is there?

What’s your greatest hope for Life Recovery?
That we can have an 80% success rate instead of an 80% failure rate in recovery. I just want people to have happy, meaningful lives.

How I Kicked the Smokes Out of My Sobriety

Nine months into recovery, I ditched my two packs a day via a dinner intervention, Nicotine Anonymous and a short-lived crush. The revelations that followed were every bit as blinding as when I got sober.

AddictIn early recovery, cigarettes felt as essential to me as breathing. They gave me something to do on my way to meetings, something to do on my way home from meetings and something to do during the smoke breaks during meetings. They gave me a way to bond with all the new people I encountered who scared me in ways I didn’t know how to talk about. They gave me something to do with my hands and mouth. They gave me a way to feel like I still had an edge. It’s no stretch to say that many addicts smoke.

Studies about this topic sometimes report rates as high as 90%. Less known, it seems, are the studies that show that addicts who quit smoking when they first clean up have better chances of staying sober. I’ve only come upon these recently. If someone had mentioned them to me when I was a newcomer, I would have recoiled in horror.

In retrospect, it’s clear why cigarettes seemed the ideal early sobriety tool for me: They made me feel like I was doing something that was bringing me closer to people—while actually bringing me further away, because we were only bonding over a shared desire to take ourselves out of the moment. Because I didn’t know who I was yet, having 20 little buddies in my Camel Lights pack made me feel less alone.

“My cravings were so bad that I took to shoving every bit of sugar I could find in my mouth and chewing on pencils and sucking on hard candies and anything else I could think of.”

Then, when I was nine months sober, I met an older woman who’d been sober, it seemed, forever. She and I were at dinner with a few other sober friends after a meeting. As was routine for me, I went outside several times during the meal to smoke. And one of the times I returned, this woman started—in the most direct and yet gentle way imaginable—to confront me about it.

People had of course raised the topic with me before, but there was something different about her approach. She said things that made a lot of sense—that every time I inhaled on a cigarette, I was telling myself that I hated myself, and that getting sober but still smoking was like switching seats on the Titanic.

“Honey,” she told me, leaning forward on the table, “You’re putting a smoke screen between you and your Higher Power.” It was just the kind of sentiment I would have mocked pre-sobriety, but which made a lot of sense to the person I was becoming. At the end of dinner, she offered to meet me at a Nicotine Anonymous meeting the following evening. “Maybe,” I said, surprising myself.

She added that a sober guy I’d told her I had a crush on would probably be there.

“Okay,” I heard myself respond. “I’ll go.”

I really didn’t intend to quit. I smoked on the way home from dinner, and the next morning and the next day at work. But sometime around 3 pm that day, it occurred to me that it was possible I could really do this—quit. I decided to try not to smoke before the meeting and I made it those few hours.

I don’t remember much about that first Nicotine Anonymous meeting, aside from learning the word “smober”—something that people who don’t want to get mocked should probably never utter. (As a friend of mine says, “I already know I’m not cool; I don’t have to start saying the word smober to prove it.”)

The most significant aspect of that meeting for me—because I still didn’t really believe I was going to quit—was that my crush was there. He and I went for coffee afterwards, where he told me that he’d had sex with his cousin. I got sort of instantly over my crush.

But I didn’t smoke that night. And once I’d made it through, I felt like I could try to make it through the next day and the day after. Amazingly, I haven’t smoked since. That was on July 19, 2000.

This isn’t to say that it was easy. Quitting cigarettes was, for the first month, arguably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. My cravings were so bad that I took to shoving every bit of sugar I could find in my mouth and chewing on pencils and sucking on hard candies and anything else I could think of until it had passed. I would clutch the sides of chairs and tables and think about the things I heard in Nicotine Anonymous meetings—like that the craving would pass in five minutes, whether I smoked or not. I have no idea if that was true but it certainly helped at the time.

My withdrawal was debilitating. I remember walking into a Coffee Bean one of those mornings, attempting to buy a breakfast item of some sort and coming out clutching an egg salad sandwich, feeling like I’d lost control of my mind, my desires and my ability to form words.

I remember not getting picked to share during a Nicotine Anonymous meeting and feeling quite justified in going up to the speaker who hadn’t called on me afterwards and telling her how angry I was about this. The progress I’d made in the nine months since getting sober came to an abrupt halt; I acted out far more and paused far less.

But after a few more months, I realized something shocking: It just wasn’t that bad. I felt so much better being able to breath, my clothes didn’t stink and life just got easier. And there was something incredibly liberating about stepping into reality.

For me to know what cigarettes could do to me and still continue to smoke meant believing, on a certain level, that the rules didn’t apply to me—a delusion I’d operated under much of my life. Stripping that layer of denial away—admitting that smokes would kill me just as they would kill others—gave me a new taste of humility. I rediscovered—even more than I had when getting sober—that I wasn’t special, that I was just like everyone else.

By the time I’d reached the six-month mark, instead of craving cigarettes, I actually felt repulsed by smoking and amazed that I’d done it for as long as I had—13 years in all. My desire to do this thing that I’d needed to do constantly—up to two packs a day at times—was gone. I wasn’t resisting the temptation anymore; there was no temptation to resist.

Most of the sober people I know have eventually come to feel similarly. My friend Damien, who has over a decade of sobriety and quit smoking at eight-and-a-half years, even enjoyed the withdrawal. “It was like getting high,” he says. “The furious rush of my body screaming for nicotine was great. And it made me feel invincible—like, ‘Fuck. If I can do this, I can do anything.’ It just made everything rawer—anger, lust, sugar cravings, the smell of food and my clothing, hugging people. Also I had epic Technicolor dreams.”

While I don’t remember having any brightly colored dreams, I did get similar feelings of invincibility when I quit. But my most important realization probably came when I was sharing in a meeting about how I didn’t think I’d be able to do certain things that scared me—such as driving to interview someone who intimidated me, or talking to certain family members on the phone—without smoking. It was only after I shared that I realized that I was the one who’d decided that these things were so terrifying, and that if I’d been the one to give them the power to scare me, I could also take it away. Sucking down a cigarette didn’t prevent fear; I’d just been pretending that it did.

Still, in early sobriety, when I could barely do my laundry, let alone talk to near-strangers for hours without having something to medicate my extreme lack of self and inability to be in the moment, I don’t think I could have handled that. My friend Danny, who got sober in New York four years ago, feels similarly. Though he says he was never really addicted to cigarettes, he nevertheless smoked “a lot” during his first 90 days. “I think it actually helped me get sober,” he admits. “I made some close friends outside meetings that way.”

Other people I know are still, in long-term sobriety—and living in LA, where these days smokers are regarded with the sort of skepticism normally reserved for serial killers—fighting the nicotine battle. As my friend Mark says, “I’m truly powerless over nicotine. I’m a slave. And I’d rather kick dope 10 times over than cold turkey nicotine once.”

But peer pressure can work when it comes to positive as well as negative life choices: I’ve seen one person in a certain sober clique get sober, then watched the rest of the group follow, one by one. Sooner or later it seems, whether it’s in their first or 14th year, nearly all the sober people I’ve known seem to quit. It seems that once people get real-life supportive buddies, they have much less need of the 20 that come in a pack.

What are the Side Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal?

The Side Effects When You Stop Drinking

Alcohol withdrawal is, at best, uncomfortable and, at worst, life-threatening. While symptoms vary from person to person, it really depends on a number of factors, including how much you’ve been drinking and for how long you’ve been drinking that amount of alcohol. Withdrawal symptoms typically begin a couple of worse after your last drink and can persist up to a couple of weeks, depending on the severity of the drinking problem.

Man suffering from sick stomach and vomitingSymptoms run the gamut from mild anxiety and general shakiness to a horrifying condition called delirium tremens (also known as “the DTs”). DTs, which cause everything from confusion to hallucinations, actually kill 1-5% of the alcoholics who suffer through them. And while the DTs clearly don’t affect everyone, it’s important to understand that alcohol withdrawal symptoms oftentimes get worse before they get better. Things can seem stable and then, out of the blue, they suddenly take a turn for the worse. For that reason, many experts suggest getting immediate medical attention, even if the symptoms are fairly mild at the outset. What starts off as mild anxiety might rapidly degenerate into convulsions. If you’ve experienced alcohol withdrawal before, it’s doubly important to seek medical attention. Other complications can occur if you have a history of heart disease, lung disease or seizures, too.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Most minor alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur within 12 hours after you stop drinking when blood alcohol level starts to decrease. During this time, expect to experience shaky hands, mild anxiety, a racing heartbeat, vomiting, a persistent headache, and insomnia. Between 12-24 hours after the last drink, some people experience visual/auditory hallucinations, though they typically end within 48-hour period. Despite how unnerving alcoholic hallucinosis can be, it’s fairly common—especially for people who have drank persistently for long periods of time. Unlike the DTs, people with alcoholic hallucinosis are conscious of the fact that the hallucinations aren’t real.

DTs, on the other hand, begin 48 – 72 hours after the last drink and involve serious life-threatening side effects imaginable. Withdrawal seizures are primary risk in DTs and patients who’ve gone through detox in the past are especially susceptible to. Other DT risk factors include acute illness, abnormal liver function, and older age. What’s worse is that DTs take their time, with symptoms peaking over the course of five days. During this time, DT sufferers will experience severe anxiety, confusion, sweating, high blood pressure, visual hallucinations, fevers, and uncontrollable shaking. The one way to survive DTs is the constant medical supervision, with professionals can guide you safely to long-term sobriety.


After nearly two decades of drinking and destroying just about every relationship in my life, I decided to get help. I didn’t know what to expect (and in some ways, I still don’t), but getting sober has been the most rewarding, fulfilling decision I’ve ever made. In the years since I entered treatment, secured an AA sponsor, and forged friendships in sobriety that rival all the others in my life, I feel like a completely different person. It’s as if I woke up in another person’s life. I’m a married father of three young children who lives in Columbus, Ohio, along with a bossy cat named Dr. No.

Most of my recovery has been spent writing about my experiences, and I’ve been fortunate to have my work picked up by The Fix, AfterParty Magazine, The Literary Review, and The Live Oak Review, among others. I want to help others find meaningful, lasting sobriety in any way that I can, which is part of the reason I’m so committed to Genius Recovery. More than that, though, I sincerely believe in the vision, aims and purpose of Genius Recovery. I’m as passionate about recovery as I am about discovering levels to my life that I didn’t know existed. After all, addiction recovery is about hope as much as it is about possibility. Through my writing, I hope to guide others to discover what’s possible for them, too.

– Paul

How to Stop Drinking Alcohol with Home Remedies

Home Remedies for Alcohol Withdrawal

Most addiction experts, researchers and medical professionals contend that the safest way to stop drinking alcohol is to seek medical attention. In fact, depending on the severity of one’s drinking problem, medical assistance might be the only way to avoid a wide range of debilitating, if not deadly side effects. Still, some people might remain uncertain or fearful about getting outside medical help. Sometimes, finding a rehab or detox center simply isn’t in the cards for them. Although detoxing at home is risky, it’s certainly not impossible. Research shows that most alcoholics try home remedies several times in their drinking careers, though they’re rarely ever successful. It’s important to know that detoxing at home means you’re away from professionals. They may not be able to provide the immediate attention you need or adjust your medication right away.

It’s important to know that detoxing at home means you’re away from professionals. They may not be able to provide the immediate attention you need or adjust your medication right away. It’s important to know that detoxing at home means you’re away from professionals. They may not be able to provide the immediate attention you need or adjust your medication right away.

3 Things To Do Before Beginning the Self-detox at Home

First, you will need to get rid of alcohol from your home. Be sure to look everywhere, too. Alcoholics will sometimes hide bottles and forget that they did, which causes unfortunate surprises down the road. Remove every last bottle in your house before starting to self detox with home remedies. Your home needs to be a safe, secure environment, completely free of temptation when your cravings kick in.

Next, you’ll need to clear your schedule for a specific period of time. If you want to successfully detox, take extended time off from work and responsibilities to focus on your upcoming recovery. Determine the period of time you will need—generally related to the severity of your drinking problem.

Finally, be sure you’re not detoxing at home alone. You should enlist a friend or family member to be there with you, in order to keep you safe and secure through the process. If your withdrawal symptoms get too severe or out of control, they can take you to get medical attention.

Natural Home Remedies

There are also a wide variety of natural home remedies to help accelerate the process of getting sober at home. One of the most effective remedies for getting one’s alcohol addiction under control are grapes. Whenever the urge strikes, drink a glass of grape juice or pop a few grapes in your mouth. They’re rich in potassium and actively work to stimulate the kidneys, not to mention work to clean your liver free from toxins. Physical exercise is also key in breaking the cycle of addiction and alcoholism. Many studies reveal that physical exercise actually serves an even greater purpose for heavy drinkers: it helps prevent brain damage and a loss of cognitive function, according to a 2013 study published in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.

Everything from stress, mood, depression, cravings and sleep are regulated by physical exercise, which is why getting outside for a brisk walk, bike ride, or a swim is crucial to your recovery. Also, many people swear by other home remedies to stop drinking alcohol. It includes laxative herbs, which help detoxify the body which also offsets cravings for sugar and alcohol. Cayenne regulates your appetite, balances out your digestion and smoothens anxiety. Cayenne provides an added “kick” to relieve the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Consumed raw, celery has a sobering effect and ends alcohol and sugar cravings on its own. Finally, Vitamin B is widely regarded as a substitute for alcohol, as it does everything from improve the quality of sleep to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

Is Alcoholism Genetic or Hereditary?

Is Alcoholism Genetic?

Many signs point to “yes,” but most scientists agree there isn’t a definitive answer when it comes to the connection between alcoholism and genetics. In fact, there is no one single gene that is directly responsible for alcoholism. The medical term for alcoholism is “Alcohol use disorder” (AUD). DNA determines everything from our hair color to our personality traits. It is important to understand, however, that there is a big difference between genetic diseases and hereditary diseases. Changes in genes (mutations, for example) cause medical problems while some medical problems are hereditary, which means they’re caused by problems with genes and passed on from parents.

Common Factors that Cause Alcoholism

Alcoholism GeneticGenetics are only half of the underlying reasons for alcohol use disorder. Environment accounts for the other half: social situations, peer pressure, and relationships all play significant factors in alcoholism. Still, there’s no denying that genetics play a chief role in it all. There are countless genes in a person’s DNA that might increase the risk for developing an AUD. But it’s not as simple as finding a gene that “flips” alcohol on like a light switch. Identifying these genes is like looking for a needle in a stack of needles. Each is responsible in its own small way for playing a larger role. And studies confirm this, showing that certain combinations of genes can result in alcoholism.

Ways to Avoid Alcoholism

No matter which way you look at the role genetics play in alcoholism, the children of alcoholics face an uphill battle. Research studies show that these children have 50% chance of suffering from alcoholism than kids who don’t have alcoholic parents. Which says less about alcoholism, per se, as it does the insidious biology behind addiction. Genetics don’t reveal who will and who won’t be alcoholics and addicts. Instead, we need to look at genetics as a roadmap of risks. Meaning, it’s about likelihoods and tendencies more than definites and absolutes. Genetics give us a window into what lies ahead when it comes to alcoholism and addiction, but it doesn’t condemn anyone to addiction in all the same ways it doesn’t promise salvation.

By understanding the underlying elements and factors of your genetic makeup, you can better navigate your own personal minefield and make smarter, more proactive decisions with that information. In order to avoid alcoholism, you can enjoy healthier friendships, build stronger family bonds, get relationship counseling, self-regulate your stress, and better understand all the symptoms of addiction before they begin.

How to Stop Drinking Alcohol Successfully

How to Stop Drinking Alcohol?

There are many ways to stop drinking alcohol, but the only successful way is to understand why you need to stop drinking alcohol in the first place. You can be mentally/physically dependent upon alcohol (or both), which can cause problems in every area of your life. Health, relationships, family, marriage, work and school are just a few of the areas that alcohol can wreak havoc on. Identifying the places where alcohol has caused damage in your life is the key to giving up the bottle for good. This isn’t always easy, though. Very often, the problems aren’t as clear as having a serious, clear legal consequence (a DUI, for example). Alcohol, in fact, can be causing other people in your life to suffer more than you.

Once you’ve identified the reason (or reasons) why you want to stop drinking alcohol, a great first step is to visit your primary care physician or medical professional. It is incredibly important to be honest about how much you’ve been drinking alcohol. Don’t worry about what they will think or say about you. First and foremost, the doctor’s job is to help you. If you don’t accurately describe how much you’ve been drinking alcohol, they won’t be able to correctly treat you or customize a plan for you to succeed. By lying, you’ll only be deceiving yourself. Depending on the amount of alcohol that you’ve been consuming daily, withdrawal symptoms can range from unpleasant to downright deadly. That’s why meeting with a doctor is the best way to determine not only the severity of your addiction, but to receive practical advice for how you can stop drinking.

The Common Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

Stop Drinking AlcoholDoctors might suggest next steps that involve tapering down over time or stopping immediately. In some cases, physicians can prescribe medicine to make your alcohol withdrawal comfortable and safe. Even in the mildest cases, alcohol withdrawal is never pleasant. Common symptoms include nausea, anxiety, sweating, vomiting, a lack of appetite, and insomnia, while less common side effects include confusion, fever and (even worse) hallucinations and convulsions. Talking to family members and friends about wanting to stop drinking alcohol is another good approach to ending your battle with the bottle. By honestly explaining why and how alcohol caused problems in your life, you may discover their willingness to help you. By sharing your desire to stop drinking, you’re also sharing your desire to make a positive change in everyone’s life—not just yours. It’s also a highly effective way of staying accountable on your journey to sobriety.

Friends and family can oftentimes be the best support structure imaginable to help build confidence, provide encouragement, and keep that person on track—mainly because they know you and what you’re capable of.

Very early on, it’s easy to fall back in old habits and routines with alcohol. Believe that you can overcome on the setbacks and struggles. Early sobriety is all about finding out what works best for you. After all, what works for one person in recovery might not work at all for you. Alcoholics should always be mindful about not engaging in all the same behaviors they did while they were drinking. If you used to join co-workers for after-work happy hours, that’s really not an option anymore. Start replacing alcohol-centric events/occasions with healthier ones, be it an afternoon walk, shopping, or even going to the movies.

Self Discipline is Your Key to Sobriety

The first few weeks/months of sobriety are critical. You should spent thinking of new and healthier things to do, rather than mourning the loss of alcohol. Think on the negative consequences of alcohol, and it will make you more dedicated to long-term sobriety. What are your triggers? What are the places and people and things you need to avoid? Look for support groups that are convenient for you and your schedule. Don’t judge a fellowship by just one meeting, either. Chances are, there are dozens of meetings in any given week near your house. Get out there and meet people who understand exactly what it’s like to go through what you’re going through.

Once you get a few weeks or months of sober time under your belt, be sure to make note of it. Celebrate them, if you can. These are important milestones. The longer you’re away from the bottle, the more time you’re investing in becoming the best possible version of yourself. This is an incredible amount change in your life—and something won’t happen overnight. Recovery is an ever-changing, never-ending process—and it’s one that doesn’t need to be stringent or strictly defined. It’s your recovery and it’s bound to be as unique and dynamic as you.