There is never a shortage of material to use for writing a blog article for the Coleman Institute.

Inspiration swirls around me in the form of patients who are discovering the amazing freedom they have found in recovery, community support around recovery that continues to grow, authors of books and blogs who share their own stories and insights, podcasts, research, my own colleagues, etc.

With that in mind, I decided to set the goal of interviewing at least one person a month who has inspired me during the 11+ years I have worked as a medical professional in the field of addiction. I chose to use a format for the interviews based on the work of Annie Grace from her book The Alcohol Experiment. (Avery; 2018)

Grace synthesized strategies and ideas from some of her favorite gurus to come up with her own formula to assist people interested in changing their relationship to alcohol.

Her trifecta is ACT: Awareness, Clarity and Turnaround, and it has guided thousands of people to question, then change, their drinking habits. My interview questions are based on this format.

My first guest interview is with Dr. Peter Coleman himself.

What were your original conscious beliefs about the drugs and alcohol you were using?

I loved drugs and alcohol from the first time I experienced them. It was so fun and pleasurable using them, that it exceeded any negative risks and harms. I thought then that the purpose of life was to experience the most pleasure humanly possible, and drugs totally fit into this philosophy.

Why did you believe that? Where do you think this belief originated?

In New Zealand where I grew up, drinking was a huge part of being grown up; drinking qualified you as a member of a fun group.

I’m not sure where the hedonic belief about experiencing every possible pleasure came from, except in the west we certainly hold up people who are successful by cultural standards: people with lots of money, power, prestige, and influence.

What were you observing at that time that helped support those beliefs for you?

I loved the feeling I got when I first drank alcohol. The first time I got drunk, I knew I wanted to do it again, even though it came with a nasty hangover. My first high with marijuana took me to this new world that I thought was so magical and exciting. With cocaine’s first high, it was the most pleasurable feeling I thought a human could possibly ever have.

How did the drugs support these beliefs?

The drugs were so instant and reliable. They continued to predictably produce good feelings and good experiences. I felt funnier at parties, and it was easier to talk to people.

How did your environment, culture support these beliefs?

In New Zealand, heavy drinking is a big part of the culture as a country. I surrounded myself with people who liked partying as much as I did—they weren’t just spending their time studying.


At some point, your subconscious brain was able to let go of these beliefs. How were you able to turn these beliefs around and come to a new understanding of what was true for you?

In October of 1984, I had a drug overdose and was taken to the hospital. Because I was a doctor, I was forced to go to a 4-month treatment program. During the treatment, I had to list all the negatives that came with the drug experience. By age 28, I had accumulated a lot of negatives that I’d never seen before. When added up, it was clear that my drug and alcohol use came at a high price. In addition to the overdose that nearly killed me, I’d been arrested 2-3 times, I had had accidents, I had been quite depressed, I had failed a university course, and the drug use was affecting my performance at work, so I had been placed on probation. Around that same time, two of my friends died as a consequence of their alcohol and drug use.

Being confronted with this list was stunning to me. It had never crossed my mind that I was partying so much. I really thought I was in control. Even with an overdose, I thought: that was just bad luck. Ok, so I made one little mistake.

Treatment saved my life.

I started realizing that I’d been chasing the wrong thing. I began to understand that I’d been pursuing pleasures rather than happiness. I came to appreciate that pleasure is a short term, brief, chemical reaction in the brain that always wears off…and what I really wanted was happiness: a long term, deeper feeling. This path was more and more apparent as I spent time with people in long-term recovery.

I remember reading in some book the notion that happiness is a byproduct of living a right life. You can’t get it, it comes to you.

Since that time, I have worked hard and done what I can to orient my life along this path, rather than looking for short-term pleasures/relief.

Dr. Coleman will celebrate 35 years of recovery this year. His experience, insight, and love of working with people suffering with substance use disorders permeate the culture of the Coleman Institute, including all of its affiliate offices.

Please call us to learn more about our outpatient alcohol, benzodiazepine, and opioid detox programs. And, if you have been through our treatment and would like to share your story in an interview, please be in touch!

Joan Shepherd, FNP