My Story

I was raised in a loving, supportive family in the New York City suburbs. My Dad was a college science professor, my Mom a high-school librarian. I was the third of their four boys, beating my twin brother by five minutes.

In 1975, I graduated from Yale with a B.A. in Chinese Studies. In 1980, I got a law degree from the University of San Francisco, which I attended at night. During the day I worked as an Investigator in the San Francisco District Attorney’s White-Collar Crime Unit. On passing the Bar, I became an Assistant D.A., first in the Criminal Division and then back in White-Collar Crime. For the last decade of my career, I prosecuted environmental cases. I left the District Attorney’s office in 1993 (though I returned as a part-time consultant for a while) and opened a private law office. But my heart wasn’t really in it. By then it belonged to alcohol, though I didn’t know it.

I endured, and put my family through, a three-year slide into the abyss of depression and alcoholism until I was forced into rehab by my wife on July 5, 1996. Though I will always be grateful for that, I wasn’t at the time. I swore I’d never go to rehab. Ever.

But immediately before I was carted off to the hospital I had a bottom which forced me to see what I’d become through my toddler son’s eyes. It was such a deep emotional trauma that despite my natural inclination to fight and keep fighting, I surrendered. And so I was taken to rehab, in my mind turning my private bafflement into a public shame.

I was among the most resistant of patients. Despite arriving with a blood-alcohol more than five times the drunk driving standard, I insisted I wasn’t an alcoholic and didn’t need treatment. But 32 days of rehab proved that every pre-conceived notion I had about drug addiction was nearly-dead wrong.

One key to that transformation was hearing others’ stories and identifying with them. This started with my doctor’s matter-of-fact statement that he was an alcoholic the first time I recall talking to him (it was the third time he’d examined me, but I don’t remember the first two times). He described me with uncanny accuracy simply by telling me about himself, introducing me to the 12-Step practice of sharing one’s past to teach others about themselves. Then the other patients and the rest of the staff did the same, leading me to the willingness necessary to accept that I was an alcoholic too.

Like most, I struggled to stay sober and failed. I smoked pot within a month of leaving rehab. I drank about three weeks after that, returning me to the hospital for a five-day tune-up. So I raised my hand as a “newcomer” at AA meetings in July, August, September, October and November 1996, before achieving 30 continuous days of sobriety.

During my second stint in rehab my doctor strongly recommended I take Antabuse, a drug that makes you violently ill — emergency-room ill — if you ingest the slightest amount of alcohol. I stayed sober 22 months but drank two months after I stopped taking it. My timing was impeccably irresponsible: my wife was more than 8 months pregnant.

After a 5-day binge, I came to my senses. I detoxed yet again, and went back on Antabuse for many months before feeling secure enough to stop. My last drink was on August 15, 1998, five days before my 45th birthday, and less than two weeks before the birth of my beloved daughter.

Rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous told me that acceptance of my alcoholism was Step 1 if I wanted to stay alive. I thought I’d accepted it when I was discharged from treatment (both times), but learned that both intellectual acceptance and emotional acceptance were necessary for sobriety, and I had only obtained the first.

Though AA promises emotional acceptance through its spiritual program, ironically, I couldn’t find it until I understood the science of addiction. Grasping that I had a biological brain disease relieved me of the shame and stigma I couldn’t previously shake. But it took time, relapses, and more time to get it. Unexpectedly, the science validated both AA’s analysis of addiction and its spiritual solution.

Looking back, it was caring people that saved my life. I got love, understanding, inspiration and patient instruction from my doctor, the rehab staff, my fellow patients, the rehab’s alumni and my fellow participants in Alcoholics Anonymous. Add the unconditional love of my children, and you have the recipe of my recovery. Thank you all.

Coit Tower Rainbow

Steve Castleman

San Francisco, California








For more, click on: How Becoming A Neuroscience Geek Supported My Long-Term Sobriety and Why I Give Up My Anonymity.


Subscribe to the Addict Science Newsletter


cover of A Whole Lot of Medicine


16 Responses to “ My Story ”

  1. Steve,
    Not sure how I found you. Link-link-link. I love your site, your energy, and especially the convergence of the subjective and objective view on quality lasting sobriety. Please accept a preview copy of my book. “Sober Identity: Tools for Reprogramming the Addictive Mind.” It too brings spirituality and science together. I wish I had found your site earlier in my sobriety. You speak to everything I belief in (okay “everything” might be too strong, but you get it).
    Thanks too for your comment on The Times site. I love philosophical pragmatics.
    my best, Lisa Neumann

  2. Thank you sooo much for putting this
    together!! Your grasp of the science
    underlying addiction is enlightening
    and hopefully will be useful in dispelling a lot of the ignorance and
    myths surrounding addiction and the
    recovery process. Your site will prove
    beneficial to those in recovery, those
    who love people in recovery, and those
    who work with people in recovery! I know I will be referring to it in my
    professional capacity.

    Thank You! A fellow traveller

  3. I have 23 years in Al-Anon and know for sure that addiction and being effective by someone else’s addiction is a three fold illness, physical, mental and spiritual—-all the years sitting in church, for years four times a week, I did not find the God of my understanding that I found in the rooms with others who have suffered. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  4. My last alcoholic drink was on January 15, 1983. Before that, I was the biggest drunk in Hollywood. I have also become a daily pot-smoker. My only complaint is the expense. I strictly never use any recreational drug—only pot. My younger partner is a DARE graduate, and convinced that if he has to quit alcohol, I must quit pot. He loves Science, so if you were to send him an email, I’d appreciate it!

  5. Steve, I am so appreciative of your website. I ,like you, delved into the science of addiction and recovery and continue to do so.
    I’m currently conducting meetings for inmates at the local County Jail and will share what I’m learning from you with the inmates…most of whom have attended AA/NA but couldn’t stay with it. Thank you so very much!

  6. Thank you Steve, for your good work in all this. I find it (the disease concept) to be helpful in my work setting up counseling programs and doing education in Romania. Your web site is clear, and right on the topic.

    My dry date is June 4, 1982.


  7. Thank you for your kind words about the site and congratulations on your impressive long-term sobriety.

  8. My daughter has been sober for the past 9 months. We are very proud of her. She is taking her sobriety very seriously, is there really any other way? Anyway, the disease of addiction was a new world for me so i began quickly reading up when I discovered my daughter was stuck in this world of addiction. Your website is the BEST for us rookies. Thank you so much. I often tell other parents that need info to refer to it also. Thank for putting this together. So happy that you found sobriety.!!!!!

  9. I honestly thought I was the only one who became a neuroscience geek as an unintended consequence of grasping for anything that could help save me. Neuroscience and psychopharmacology. Great hobbies. Some people collect stamps, I guess, but that’s just boring.

    Thank you for this fantastic, well cited, clearly written trove of useful knowledge. I’m certain I’ll be referring, and referring others to it often.


  10. Steve,
    Your story is a powerful one by an obviously intelligent human being. Congrats on your continued sobriety. If I may respectfully suggest, you might consider that addiction could be behavioral in origin. There are a number of evidence based medical authors that espouse this out of the box thinking.
    I come from a neurophysiology background but feel that all change ultimately occurs because of decisions (THINKING) people make for themselves. People change with they are HURT enough and HAVE to, or when the LEARN enough and WANT to.

    People overcome addiction out of purpose-based motivation — they quit when they recognize how their habit violates WHO they were, WHAT they want to be, WHERE they want to go in life.
    A person’s purpose and values are the main navigational tools in recovery from any hurt, habit or hang-up.
    People are not mindless experimental rats lacking free will (disease model).

  11. thank you for your story i am a addict my self.

  12. Thanks for your personal story & desire to educate about the disease of addiction.
    Your website will help me educate my fellow law enforcement officers. We are beginning the process of education around the disease.
    And we are beginning the conversation with administration around creating a policy of self-reporting so we can help our officers keep their lives together.
    Thank you for your dedication.
    My clean date is 3-03.
    My clean date is 2-03

  13. Steve,
    TY for your story and for the web site. I am a recovering physician addict, whose doc was “more”. I have been involved with the NA fellowship since June of 1985.
    I am currently involved with teaching recovering addicts, and physicians about the Medical Aspects of Addiction.
    I find your site to be full of information that we suffer from a brain disease of thinking and feeling. Keep up the good work!

  14. Thanks, Doc.

  15. My daughter is 28 she is drinking every day and during the day too. She lives by her self. This started like 8 years ago. I speak to her to many times about this. She desperately needs help. Please help me help her.

  16. I’m very sorry to hear about your daughter. I know the powerless feeling, the anger, frustration and exasperation of dealing with an active alcoholic who needs help but is in too much denial to recognize it.

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to predict what can break through the denial, except to report that in my experience, rational appeals (“You can’t afford to get arrested again…”) seem not to work as well as emotional ones, provided that the emotion focuses on love (“I’m afraid for you, I love you, I don’t want you to suffer or die…”) rather than anger and recrimination. The professional interventions I’ve been involved in used this technique, and I’ve seen it work. I don’t know if you have the resources for a professional intervention, but if you do, you might consider it.

    The best advice I can probably give you is to go to Al-Anon, for all the reasons I write about in the articles under the “For Loved Ones”
    menu. While you keep working to get your daughter to see she needs help, it’s important you take care of yourself and have a safe place to talk about what you’re going through with people who’ve been there. You’ll can find that at Al-Anon.

    I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if I can be of any further service to you. Good luck, and don’t give up hope.

Leave a Reply