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Sunday, January 21, 2018

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Addiction and the Perils of Intellectual Thinking
Deni Carise, Ph.D. Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House

June, 2010

Recently, I was moved by Clinton McCracken’s brave essay in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the article, Dr. McCracken, a research scientist who specializes in addiction, reveals the tragic results of his own substance abuse. For three years, he writes that he “intellectualized” his problem, convinced that his intelligence and training would allow him to maintain control over his drug use and prevent negative consequences. Sadly, the illusion was shattered last fall when his fiancée, a fellow scientist, died after injecting opioids that were likely contaminated. After the police found a considerable amount of drugs in the home they shared, he was evicted, charged with a number of felonies, and lost his postdoctoral fellowship. He offers his story as a cautionary tale for anyone who believes they can outsmart addiction.

Dr. McCracken’s courageous piece hit me on a gut level, not only as a fellow researcher in the field of addiction, but also, as a person in long-term recovery who, on a regular basis, reminds herself not to approach her illness intellectually.

I entered treatment in my early twenties for a cocaine problem that prevented me from keeping a relationship, a job, or an apartment. I dropped out of school, moved eleven times in four years, and suffered a small stroke. Needing professional help, I entered an outpatient program and eventually got my life back on track. Over the next nine years, I went from community college to a bachelor’s degree to earning my doctorate.

Although recovery has allowed me to achieve goals I never imagined possible, I nearly gave it all up on three different occasions because, like Dr. McCracken, I fell into the trap of intellectualizing my feelings.

To read the full blog, visit the Huffington Post or check it out on the Phoenix House blog. We invite you to share your thoughts in the comments section of the Phoenix House blog or email them to


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