It’s not uncommon, in the media, to hear certain substances described as “hard drugs”. Some drugs, or so the story goes, are “softer” than others, while “hard” drugs are a guaranteed one-way ticket to addiction and a life of crime. That doesn’t sound exactly right, now, does it? This rhetoric isn’t just applied to drugs, either. Remember Oak’s “a soft drink it ain’t” ad campaign? The implication that some drinks are “soft”, while other, stronger, alcoholic beverages are “hard” creates a false dichotomy: some things will kill you, others are fine.

This, of course, is total and utter falsehood. Any toxicologist will tell you the devil is in the dosage: any substance, from water to raw, unrefined moonshine, can prove toxic in a high enough dosage. The question is not one of what, but how.

Consider for a moment two people: one exclusively drinks vodka, the other beer. Vodka is a “hard” drink, right? With a higher ABV percentage and a stronger taste (depending on the brand, of course), this is an easy assumption to make. However, if the beer drinker regularly engages in violent, antisocial behaviour while under the influence, while the vodka drinker does not, the type of drink has no bearing on the consequences of their actions. Similarly, the advent of “microdosing” – ingesting drugs in small doses for various effects – suggests that the devil is not in fact in the substance. Consider the microdosing of LSD – a Class A prohibited substance used by the CIA in covert psychological warfare during the 20th century – versus the average consumption of beer. LSD, the “hard” drug, is not innately more harmful than beer, the “softer” alternative.

Part of this false delineation between substances is echoed in some addiction recovery programs, which put everyone who drinks in one meeting, everyone who uses narcotics in another, gamblers in yet another. While shared experience builds camaraderie and support – which are both critical to recovery – this approach fails to address the underlying human issues that create addictive behaviour, instead focusing on the substance or the behaviour at hand.

At SMART Recovery Australia meetings, however, we adopt a different approach. No matter what your problematic behaviour is, we see you as an complete, complicated human being, not the drugs you take or the money you spend. By focusing on the causes and situations around addictive behaviour – asking how you feel before you start drinking, or what triggers you might have – and looking forward, past the addictions and the substances and into the future, we can prioritise the most important things in each individual’s life.