Standing at the lectern at the 2009 Anex Australian Drugs Conference, Dr James Rowe came out to his peers in style. “I’d like to thank the sponsors,” he said, “for keeping me in buprenorphine.”

The premise of this feature for The Saturday Paper came from what started as a casual conversation on the train with one of the interviewees. It went deep and really fascinated me. A respected drug and alcohol researcher, she worried that by not being open about her own lived experience with drugs, she was forsaking some kind of moral obligation. After all, she supports decriminalisation and has a desire to attack the stereotypes and stigma around drug use.

Ultimately she decided not to out herself – yet – but in my article she thrashed out that dilemma, along with two other researchers in the same boat.

Incidentally, I could relate. After considering it long and hard, I decided to end my book, Woman of Substances, with the admission that I have quit alcohol, but not drugs (though it's more accurate that I give myself licence to use drugs than regularly do so). 

I felt this was important, because when I stopped drinking I read as many 'addiction memoirs' as I could get my hands on, and all but one of them wound up with the author in AA or NA. At this point the language would abruptly change and become more ... you know ... rhymey.

Why did I want to highlight an alternative to AA? Not because I believe my way is the right way, but because I want to demonstrate that other ways do exist, and that different people have different needs. We're very lucky in Australia in that most outpatient drug and alcohol services follow a policy of harm-minimisation, with abstinence at one end and a tailor-made harm-reduction plan for the individual at the other. An example? Well, you may want to quit speed but just monitor your pot use.

Only a small percentage of people who use drugs become dependent. And of those who do, that danger of dependence may well be linked to just type of drug. Plenty of people who quit heroin, for example, still enjoy a glass of wine years later.

Shouldn't someone considering the huge step of becoming completely abstinent know these things, too?

Read the Saturday Paper story here.