Dennis Hartlieb

Addiction and Recovery in the Dental World with Dr. Alan Mead

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Have you considered coping mechanisms and how those can profoundly impact us as dentists?

In this intimate conversation, Dr. Alan Mead shares with Dr. Dennis Hartlieb what led him into opiate addiction over twenty years ago, what propelled him into rehab, and what the journey toward recovery and healthy living has been like for him. Listen in to hear Dr. Mead share how he wound up addicted to opiates and how he escaped that downward spiral and went on to have a successful dental and podcast career.

To connect more with Dr. Mead and the dental podcast network he leads, head to

Don't miss this powerful episode about the importance of taking care of ourselves and about why it's critical to get help when we need it. 
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Read the Full Interview Below

The Alan Mead Podcast Network and Dental Podcasting

Dennis 0:03  
Hey, Dental Online Trainers. Dr. Dennis Hartlieb, back here with you again. In our last Sharecast, we got to spend some time with Dr. Alan Mead. We learned a lot about Alan's background. But most interestingly, as we head into part two of our conversation, we learned about the stresses of dental school and the common but unhealthy coping mechanism he sought for dealing with those stresses. Like many, turned to alcohol. But how was it that Alan slid into opiate addiction? Well, listen in to part two of our conversation as Alan discusses the reasons for choosing opioids over alcohol and the intervention to send him on his course through his 20 year recovery. All right, well, kick back, relax and enjoy our conversation with Dr. Alan Mead. 

Hello, Dental Online Trainers. Welcome back to Dental Online Training Sharecast. Dr. Dennis Hartlieb. with you today with Dr. Alan Mead. This is part two of our conversation with Alan about all things in life. Mostly in part one, we talked about dental school experience and growing up in Michigan, and his work with podcasts. And most notably, The Alan Mead Experience and Dental Hacks. And Alan, remind me the most recent...

Alan 1:15  
The Very Dental Podcast! 

Dennis 1:16  
The Very Dental Podcast, which I am a subscriber to and listen to.

Alan 1:18  
It's really funny because we basically took what we did, and I just made it into separate shows like The Roundtable has its own show, we call that Group Function. We have the interviews that are The Very Dental and I do a short, which is just me kind of riffing, which is kind of what I did on The Alan Mead Experience on some level. I would also have guests on The Experience, too, but I call it a network because I want to be able to add programs or ideas as they come to me, you know? So it's a network, on some level. And I just try to put out two or three episodes a week. We have Very Clinical, which is Zach Miners and Kevin Fryer, who do their own show. 

Dennis 1:55  
They do a nice job! 

Alan 1:56  
They're great. They're great. They started out as listeners to The Dental Hacks, and then they kind of.... This community sort of popped up because of the podcasting stuff. And I knew immediately that -- we had them on several times, and I knew immediately they had chemistry -- so it was a matter of... And so that they've been... And last year was the first year that I basically... I don't know. I'm so funny. I buy recording stuff. I can write it off, right? I can write it off as podcast, so I have so much recording gear. Like you might think it's funny until you saw... I literally spent hundreds and hundreds and 1000s of dollars on...

So this year, we had really cool booths! They had their own booth sitting right next to... So The Very Clinical Booth was right next to The Very Dental Booth. We had these, you know, literally four headset recorders on two separate tables, and they literally recorded all the whole meeting. Unbelievably so good! I was in and out because I was helping run the meeting and stuff. But it was great. And honestly, it sounds really good. They have incredible chemistry when they're in person. It's just really good. So yeah, Very Clinical, if you haven't listened... I mean, it's all on the same network, so you're going to catch their shows if you're if you are subscribed to The Very Dental pocket, 

Dennis 3:12  
Very Dental. You know, we're going to talk about scoring with addiction, but that just sort of... You feel very much like that was your score when you started buying this stuff. 

Alan 3:20  
Yeah. Oh, yeah. It's not any different at all. Yeah, it's it's a whole different. Yeah. Now it's bicycles

Dennis 3:25  
Oh, we're going to talk about that, too. One of my favorite topics! Yeah. And I want to read this to you. This is also from The Alan Mead Experience. One of the reviews says, "Love it! Feels like I'm finally listening to a real dentist!" So, there we go.

Alan 3:42  
No, I mean, we have a lot of real dentists on so it's a but but I, I think what it is, is there's a certain I don't claim to have this as... There's a certain authenticity, I guess. Listen to me! Is it authentic to talk about how authentic you are?

Dennis 4:01  
A little disingenuous, but we'll ride it out!

Alan 4:05  
But I think what people like is that we talk about, like stuff, like they actually talk about. The whole concept for all the podcasts was what dentist talked about at lunch, or after a CE event. They'd sit around a table and bitch about dentistry. That's pretty much the concept. And that's sort of how we've... That's kind of what I tend to think of when we do the podcast. 

Dennis 4:22  
Yeah, with the Sharecast, what I've tried to do is help people who may know the voice of Alan Mead from listening to you understand sort of motivations, sort of their experiences. So I think that's really important for both young dentists and for more experienced dentists, like "Hey, they went through the same shit I went through!" It's interesting talking to so many different people, just the various backgrounds, and it's really... For me, it's just... I find it fascinating. You know, I'm an n of one from my experience in dental school and dentistry, and I have colleagues but talking to other people and different experiences. I think people get a lot of value. At least I do! And so, it's a very selfish content...

Alan 5:04  
It is! For me, it always was kind of creating something that I'd want to listen to. So I agree. I tend to think of... I can get the sales pitch anytime I want. I don't need to podcast for that. That's everywhere. So, yeah.

Dennis 5:18  
Yep. And if I want to learn technique, I'll go to a meeting for technique. What I like is: what was the motivation? What were the struggles? And that sort of leads us into what we're going to talk about now; some of the struggles. And that's something I can identify with a bit, but not to the level that that you're going to talk about. You're very open and candid about your experience with addiction. And so, why don't you tell your story? Because I know a bit about it, but I...

Alan 5:47  
So, what's interesting is that a lot of people in the recovery community that I know, have a long history where they were into... They started smoking and drinking when they were in junior high, and they had this long... And, for me, I was the opposite. I was a teetotaler. I was a teetotaller, just about till I turned 21. I can probably count on one or two hands max, the number of times that I drank before I turned 21.

Dennis 6:15  
Did you have an addictive personality, though, in high school and grammar school? Things that like... If you saw something, and you started getting into something, were you 100% in?

Alan 6:25  
My friends, particularly my friends in college, will tell you that I was really into gadgets. I was really into... I always... I would have a thing that I would sort of... This is actually almost an autistic thing, actually. And I have a son who has autism. So it's a little bit... I can sort of see a little little bit of this in me. And I don't downplay the condition of autism, but there is a certain... For me, when I'm fascinated with the thing, I tend to key into that. That's, from what I can tell, that's one of the diagnostic criteria for autism, but I tended to be like that, too. So like if I get something in my brain... I loved gadgets. I loved, I loved, you know... Do you remember when the palm pilot came out? 

Dennis 7:09  
Oh, sure. Sure. Yeah. 

Alan 7:10  
Okay, so I was the only person I knew that had a Palm Pilot because I had to...

Dennis 7:13  
For listeners, for Palm Pilot, you might have to Google it. There'll be a Wikipedia page, I'm sure, on Palm Pilots. They were a handheld computer...

Alan 7:24  
They were personal. I don't remember what...

Dennis 7:27  

Alan 7:27  
Yeah, something. Yeah, exactly. It was basically... And I had one in dental school. I used to... I had I had a Mac laptop. I literally... When I went into dental school, we bought it. Literally, I had to bring a sheet from the bursar of the University of Minnesota to prove that I was a student because the students get the best deals on your on computers. And so I had a I had a PowerBook 160. That was the first real computer that I had. I had that when I was a freshman in dental school. And I used to bring it to class and take notes on it. Now this is... Like now, people who are listening this are like, "Yeah, of course! Everyone brings a laptop to class!"

Back in 1993, they did not! That was... They literally didn't have such a thing. And if you look at a PowerBook 160, it's a brick of a machine. And it was grayscale! It was essentially a black and white laptop. And it had zero... The battery was a joke. So I had to bring a big, big brick to plug it in, but I did. And I actually had multiple PowerBooks over the years. So I was an early adopter of Mac stuff. And what's funny about that... So, I was keyed into that stuff a lot, even in college and before that, so... Did I have an addictive personality? Probably.

And I will say this. I know this about myself, and I'm embarrassed to admit it. I... And I still struggle with this a little bit. I didn't think it was worth doing something unless I could be the very best at it. And not like... Like literally remarkably, the very best at. Like on some level... Seth Godin has a book called The Dip, and he talks about being the best in the world at something, but the thing is you get to define what the world is, which is to say "the best service in a dental office in Saganaw..."

I can be the best in the world at that because that's my world. But for me, I felt like if someone was better than you at it, then it wasn't even worth trying. And I have to say I've passed that on to my youngest son. He's a perfectionist. And the other thing is perfectionism... When you say perfectionism, people think, "Oh, that must just mean you're really good at stuff!" No, no, not at all. That's not what it means at all. And if I can't be awesome at it, I'm either not going to try, or I'm going to really struggle when I'm not great at it, and that was dental school for me. That was dental school for me.

The funny thing is, in college, you didn't have to do that. You didn't have to be like perfection... Because everyone else was kind of doing what you were doing, and it was not that hard to be kind of better than everyone else in college at the stuff, right? I didn't feel like... But at one point, I played the saxophone and I was in the marching band and in the Jazz Ensemble and stuff in college, and I was not good. But I didn't try very hard. The story is like... 

Dennis 7:54  
You didn't care. It was okay!

Alan 9:55  
I would have loved to have been awesome, like naturally excellent at it, but I definitely wasn't willing to put the time in. And the people who are really good, they put the time in is what it comes down to. And that doesn't change with friggin anything, but I was kind of unwilling to hear that. So, on some level, I had a perfectionist streak in me that really I didn't understand, or I didn't suffer from, until I got to dental school. Because dental school...

Not only was perfectionism hard, you also got beat up pretty good. So like, you know, like the very first preparation I ever did on a plastic typodont tooth for a class one amalgam... You did it. And then you let your instructor looked at, and they graded you as harshly on that as they were going to grade you on any practical for... The very first time you touched a burr to a tooh, the expectation was the same. Like they didn't say, "Go try this, and then we'll..." No! It was that they graded you on the same criteria that they were going to grade you on on the practical.

Dennis 11:11  
Worse than that! They're grading you as if they were doing the preparation they've been doing it for 20 years!

Alan 11:15  
Yeah, exactly. That's exactly it. And, because there wasn't actual decay or busted tooth or anything like that, you had to follow the criteria that were set up that were completely artificial criteria, because, you know, your preparation depends on the tooth, but these were plastic teeth that didn't have decay or... They weren't broken. So, you did what you... You did what they told you, so it was like a perfect storm for someone with a perfectionistic streak that wasn't very good with their hands. I mean, it was awful. I did terrible with it.

I did pretty well with with academic classes, but the hands on preclinical stuff was a true nightmare. Second year of dental school was... I mean, I am certain that my classmates were sure that I was the one who was going to go postal. Like I was the one... If something was going to go bad... I think I was scary. I think I was. I think I was scary.

Because how many times would you wax? Get it checked off. You'd invest, get checked off, you'd burn out and you'd cast and miscast. And you had to start the entire process over, from casting your own gold. And the other thing is, is why would anyone be any good at this the first time they ever did it? No one! Why would they? Yet, you you were expected to be! And when you weren't, you were degraded. 

Dennis 11:15  
I didn't realize this at the time; it's only afterwards that I could see why dental school was like this. I didn't come in with any coping mechanisms because I hadn't faced the kind of challenges [I faced in dental school].
Dr. Alan Mead

Drinking as a Coping Mechanism in Dental School

Alan 11:15  
Yeah, shamed. And the other thing is when your other classmates did well with it and you didn't? I remember thinking myself: "one step forward, three steps back!" Always, for everything in dental school. It was just a mess! And it was only... It wasn't the academic stuff. You know, everyone had gotten through that stuff in college. So they had a handle on how to do that.

Dennis 12:53  
See, I was just the opposite. So clinical, I loved the idea of doing that stuff. So I would work my ass off! Just like I said in the first part of our session, was I would just practice! I just kept on -- practice and practice and practice. I loved it. So, it got easier because I just loved it. The academics is where I struggled. And, you know, I went to Michigan undergrad. I did okay, but I worked hard.

And then I got into Michigan Dental School, and these people were just way smarter than I was. It just came easier to them. They could read something, and retain it. And I'm a guy that I've got to read it three or four times, I've got to reread it, I've got to write it down. I've got to look back at it. I'm good at like... I can problem solve, but like strict memorization is really challenging for me.

Alan 13:39  
I'm gifted or cursed with that kind of memory. I know I said it before... I know that that sounds arrogant. I don't even mean it as arrogant because I literally don't know where it comes from. Like I am the guy you want on your trivia team. I'm creepy about that stuff. I really am. And I don't even know where it comes from. So, I have a memory like that. As I get older, I think... I remember stuff from a long time ago really well. I don't necessarily remember what I did earlier today as well. But I mean, like I have... I definitely would... I could go to class...

And the other thing is, as I mentioned, I had a laptop, and I can type like the wind. So, I'd take pretty good notes. But I typically didn't even have to really go over the notes because usually if it went in my brain, usually it was kind of there. And so the academics for me wasn't super... It's not that I didn't study, but you remember second year, when you'd have four tests in a week. You never even had enough time to really study that stuff because you just got crushed by the last one, and the next one is tomorrow, or you have multiple tests in a day.

How much can one study for that stuff? And that's where having a memory like mine really helped because you literally only had so much time to study this stuff, and I... But it was in there. So it's kind of a... I lucked out that way! Honestly, that might have been what carried me because I, you know, clinically, I struggled so hard with the with the hand and eye stuffso bad.

Dennis 14:51  
So I've got a story for you. When I was in dental school... I've told this story before. At Michigan they have this law library which is this very Oxfordian looking library, it's really beautiful. It's like out of Harry Potter. And the study tables, they're not pews, they're study tables. And they are just lined up the length of the library. And I was a Saturday night... I'll never forget this!

It was Saturday night. I was studying gross anatomy, I was charting the veins in the hand. I was seated all the way into the very back of the library, facing the back wall, so I wouldn't be distracted. And at Michigan, on a Saturday night , if it was a football Saturday, libraries would be packed. This is just sort of Michigan was. And so it's midnight, I'm facing the back of the library, and all the sudden I hear people laughing.

And I'm like, "I don't know what this is about, but I think it's about me." Because there's never any laughter in the Michigan library... So I started folding up my books. And for my classmates came in. They had nylons over their face. You couldn't do this today, but this was a long time ago. They had hoodies on. And they literally picked me up out of my chair, grabbed my backpack. I had my shoes off. They grabbed my shoes, they carried me out into the back of a jeep, literally threw me into the back of the jeep, and said, "This is the last time you're studying on a Saturday night for school!" 

Alan 16:03  
Saturday night? Yeah, yeah. 

Dennis 16:05  
And truly, and it wasn't for these... But they were all a lot smarter than me. A lot of them were sort of like you; they had incredible retention with knowledge. But it did save me. And it was quite the experience. So

Alan 16:18  
I had, in college, in undergrad. I had had, in high school... Probably the best teacher I've ever had in my entire life and all of my education was a high school Advanced Biology teacher. And I... Advanced Biology in high school was two hours. He was tough! Mr. Kosky. He was also the track coach, and I ran track. I sucked at track. But Mr. Kosky is literally one of the biggest... He looms large in my life.

And anyhow... With Advanced Biology in high school, there wasn't anything in my Zoology curriculum at Miami that I hadn't seen before. Anything! Unreal, unreal. So I'm like, well, so I kind of came in preloaded with the right stuff for one thing, but then... But the one thing I'll say. In high school, I never took physics in high school. I took geoscience. I took geoscience my 10th grade year, even though everyone else was taking chemistry, because my parents... My sister had had a hard time with chemistry, so my parents made me wait to take chemistry to 11th grade. So I took geoscience, which I love. Geology is great.

But anyhow, so I never got take physics in high school. I took physics in college, and everyone in physics had had physics before but me. And I'd go to the lectures, you know, I was... I didn't skip much of that stuff. But what would happen for the test. Two other guys and I would study for a couple days in advance of the test. We'd go to one of the... I remember this vividly, and they should have murdered me. They would teach me the stuff; they would teach me how to do it. And then I would crush the test. And they would, they may or may not have crushed the test.

But I think I did better than them on the test a lot of times, and they literally like... They spoon fed me. Oh, my gosh. I mean, I understand making it through course because of someone else, because I had never had physics before. And they had had it, and they and they were... So it was, it's funny, and I really value the fact that they were there for me, but I also could see why they wouldn't want to study with me anymore, because I would... I basically would sponge off them that way. But again, I think it's helpful. It has been helpful to have the kind of memory that I have. It's a weird, weird thing.

Dennis 18:21  
So let me ask you, with your struggles with the clinical portion of dental school and stuff? So, what was your coping mechanism? How'd you like how do you deal with the stresses?

Alan 18:32  
So, in college, I turned 21, summer before my senior year. And so I hadn't really drank that much, but I caught up pretty good my senior year. I drank. I was kind of a wild and crazy senior. And senior year in college... I got accepted to Minnesota on Christmas break... Actually, it might have been New Year's Eve on Christmas break when I was a senior, so my second semester senior year, I knew I was in dental school. I had to finish up and had to not fail out or whatever, but the pressure was kind of off, and so I had a pretty wild and crazy second semester my senior year of college but frankly nothing like what a lot of people had the entire time. I wasn't a fraternity guy. I was not...

I was in the marching band. I will say this. Marching band, they drank like fish, too. So I wasn't social with marching. I have regrets about that. Not necessarily because of the alcohol but like I know a lot of these marching band people on Facebook now, and they're great, and I was not sociable with them because I didn't do that kind of stuff. You know? In any case, I kind of started drinking like a college student when I was a senior, so I was kind of behind on that deal. But I got to dental school, moved into the Psi-O house, and literally the day before...

Now they call it a white coat ceremony. They didn't call it that when I was there, but the first day of school, you go in, and you get talked to about how amazing the... Blah, blah, blah. The night before that, a bunch of the Psi-O guys and I went out and got hammered, like really hammered! I showed up, and I'm like, "Oh, so this is how it's going to be!" You know, that's kind of... So I was hung over my very first day of dental school! It sort of set the tone a little bit for me. But I didn't you know...

Even then, I didn't know what I was getting into. But what I realized was that my coping mechanisms... I didn't realize this at the time; it's only afterwards that I could see why dental school was like this. I didn't come in with any coping mechanisms because I hadn't faced the kind of challenges, not only the academic challenges, which, clearly it's more rigorous in college, but like I said, I had some skill set to manage that... But the whole concept of going into something brand new, like the preclinical stuff, and actually having a hand and eye skill, because let's be honest -- dentistry, on some level, is a surgical....

Dennis 20:53  

Alan 20:54  
I mean, a dentist who can diagnose but doesn't do the surgery? You're not a dentist. I mean, it's reality is like, it's great that you know the Krebs cycle, but can you spin handpiece?

Dennis 21:06  
We're micro-surgeons! Yeah.

Alan 21:07  
Exactly! No one even really walks in... It's not like, my dad was a dentist, so I got to practice prepping teeth! I never did that! I wish that I had for crying out loud. I will say I poured some models in my dad's office. That was about it.

Dennis 21:23  
But that's macro. 

Alan 21:25  
It is! In any case, so you see go in there. It's like a whole new skill set. And I wasn't good at it. There are other people around me that were... seemed naturally good at it. I wasn't. So that was a first for me. And I was like, wow, this is like... I'm not such. I'm not such great shakes anymore. You know, like... And that was tough on my ego.

But what I found was that, okay, so at the Psi Omega house, we had a pop machine. It was 50 cents for a can of pop. They had like... a pool table and where we hung all the bikes... it was sort of a living room area. And right next to the pop machine was a kegerator. And the kegerator was free. Yeah. So the story is it was 50 cents for a pop or all the beer you could drink for free! You know, that sort of set the culture. 

Dennis 22:03  

Alan 22:04  
And dentistry is no different now than it was then. I mean, like, which meeting do you want to go to? Do you want to go to the meeting that has a bar where you can buy drinks? Or do you want the open bar? The open bar is for an hour. You know, that's that's how things sort of are. You're sort of like... I mean, that hasn't changed very much, to be perfectly honest. So, I had... My coping mechanism was that I knew I could change these feelings. And I never...

This is in fine focus now, but at the time, I mean, it just made me feel better to know that I could have a few. I wasn't a blackout drunk in dental school. It's not like I drank so much that I, you know, didn't show up for school or whatever. But I drank. I mean, by the time I was a junior, I was the guy who was trying to drag people out to Stub and Herb's on Tuesday, you know? Like, wait a second, it's Tuesday! Okay, I understand Friday, maybe even Thursday afternoon. But Tuesday?

Oh, yeah, you know? And so... And maybe because I didn't struggle so much with the academic stuff, and I was like, just trying to make myself feel better for sucking and everything else. I don't know. But I mean, like, I sort of realized that this could make me feel better. And I remember vividly ninth floor labs, you know... By the time we were in clinic, like, I remember vividly going, "You know, what'd be right good right now is a beer!" A beer would go pretty good right now...

Like the little voice in the back of my head... And that voice kind of never went away after a while. And like, you know, when I'm feeling this way, that voice was there. And so when I had those feelings, it was just I knew that I could change the way I felt. And it's not like the problems went away after I got back from my little trip to being being drunk, you know? But somehow just making myself feel better from it was enough maybe. I don't know. But so, I developed that as a coping skill! Drinking was my coping skill!

Dennis 23:51  
Probably the most common. Maybe marijuana? You know, pot, but certainly one of those has got to be the most common 

Alan 23:58  
Well, partly because it's socially acceptable. I didn't... I don't know how everyone else drank. I can't make that judgment. But I looked like everyone else. I drank like everyone else. It's not like I drank 10 times as much as everyone else and fell on the floor and passed out. So, I didn't... But in retrospect, I drank because I wanted to change the way I felt. It did make me more sociable for sure. It did make me... it made me more funny. It made me more sociable for sure. And I did not probably have a drinking problem in dental school.

But one of the reasons I didn't was because a lot of the... I lived close enough to walk to school. I lived... The entire four years of dental school, I never had to drive anywhere. I didn't have to drive in from home and park to go to school. I either lived at the Psi-O house, which was walking distance, or there was an apartment complex over a horrible convenience store, The Food Basket, which no longer exists. And we called it the Psi Omega Retirement Home. It was all the people who lived in Psi-O for three years.

We all got our own apartment. And we thought it was great. The apartments were not good, but they were they were better than living in a tiny room at the Psi-O house, but the bottom line is I could walk to class. So it's not like I was driving drunk because I didn't have to. It's not like I was... And the other thing is I could stumble home from anywhere, and it was not a big deal, and it was the campus, so it was relatively safe... So, on some level, you don't realize you have a problem until there's consequences of your actions, and I just didn't really have that, you know? I didn't have that.

So, I don't know that I was a problem drinker at that time. But so, when I graduated from dental school, I got home. I got an apartment. I started work with my dad after I got my license, and you realize that, for one thing, you've got to drive everywhere around here. I didn't have a neighborhood that I could just walk. It's also weird to just just drink all the time, like people thought that was kind of weird, you know? And I will say, in retrospect, my wife pointed out the fact that I had a lot of empty bottles around my apartment, so I did still drink, but I probably did it alone in my apartment, which is also pretty weird.

Dennis 25:59  
That's a problem. 

Alcohol as a Coping Mechanism

Write your awesome label here.
In this clip, Dr. Mead talks about how he started drinking late in college and especially in dental school, and he shares how alcohol became a major coping mechanism for him.

The Transition from Alcohol to Opioids as a Young Dentist

Alan 26:00  
So, coincidentally at the time, right in '98... '97 / '98 Nol Pharmaceuticals came out with a dental... a new medication they were marketing heavily to dentistry. It was called Vicoprofen. Vicoprofen is like Vicodin, but it's... instead of the combination with acetaminophen, it's with ibuprofen. I don't even know if they still make it honestly... There's probably a better medication for pain than Vicodin. Like honestly, acetaminophen and dental pain, like you know, it's...

But they marketed it pretty heavily to dentists. I don't know if you remember the... They had a cheetah sitting in in a dental chair. Apparently it was supposed to work fast. I don't know. Cheetahs are fast... I'm guessing that... But literally, I was looking back a couple of weeks ago. I had this clock, a Vicoprofen clock, from one of the drug reps, and it had a cheetah in the background. And apparently, there was a Beanie Baby involved that was a cheetah Beanie Baby, a Vicoprofen cheetah Beanie Baby. Remember Beanie Babies were the thing? I'm sure that's probably worth 1000s of dollars right now if you got the Beanie Baby, but anyhow, they also would give you these postcards that if you filled out, they'd send you a box of like a profund to dispense to your patients for post-operative pain.

And that's how I got started with opiates. I'd love to tell you that I sprained my ankle and needed it. I never did. I wanted to try it because I knew I liked I knew a buzz made me feel better. I was already using that as a coping mechanism. Maybe not consciously, but my dad would, you know... I had availability of Valium, Diazepam for patients. We had nitrous oxide. So I exposed myself to some of that stuff after I started the Vicoprofen. And it didn't take... Literally my entire dental career on some level was was shaped by the fact that I started taking this stuff and realized this is what I need in my life, because I can't just drink all the time! I have to...

So I started with opiates, because it was it was harder to see what you were doing. Like you could do it during the day and no one would know. You didn't smell like alcohol. And it was a different kind of buzz. You weren't you know, sloppy necessarily, or whatever. And like, right now you wonder if people have this because marijuana is kind of everywhere... In Michigan, marijuana is legal as a recreational drug, but you can... If you're smoking it, you can smell it on you! It's hard to... So that's the thing about the opiates, you can't really... There's no outward indication unless you can see their eyes and see the pinpoint pupils. But people weren't really looking for that. So that's how I got started with opioids.

Dennis 28:22  
So what was it about... So dental school, there's all that pressure. Then you're in dentistry. You're practicing with your dad. And what were the pressures as a young dentist in that practice that was sort of... that was continuing this? 

Alan 28:37  
This is a great question. It really... I didn't have any pressure. Dad was kind of a perfect mentor in that way. He loved having me there. And I could have done kind of whatever I wanted to, but as a lot of practices with associates are. it wasn't probably quite busy enough for the both of us. 

Dennis 28:55  
For sure. 

Alan 28:56  
When I got there, I wasn't as busy as maybe I wanted to be. That's what I kind of remember. It's been a long time. But so, but also, I'm not gonna lie to you. Like, I don't know that there was that much pressure sometimes. What is the pressure? The pressure is what's in my head. So maybe I perceived the pressure more than there was. I mean, Dad paid me more than I was worth for sure. And I my patient load wasn't too awful bad. And I mean, I don't know... Looking back, I don't remember it being particular... But yet as a young dentist, I felt pressure. You know, I felt like... And my only coping mechanism... And as it turns out, if you get to that point, you like to be high is what it really comes down to. I mean, I can say that...

Dennis 29:37  
You were addicted to being... 

Alan 29:37  
Yeah, I liked the buzz. You know, I definitely... And dental school definitely taught me to like the buzz, so I definitely liked the buzz. And I didn't have the same social situation where I could, you know, just go to the bar with friends and walk home. I mean, it was clearly not... So I guess maybe I was looking for that. But I think if your mind is used to dealing with stress and everything is a stressful thing, you kind of almost generate your own on some level...

Dennis 29:59
Oh, yeah, you'll find it. If you want stress, it's there. 

Alan 30:01
Yeah, when I look back, I had a pretty cushy situation working for Dad. I don't know why it felt stressed. But in any case, so I must have thought that I didn't have enough work. And I was looking at the practice that I'm in right now, it sort of fell in my lap. The guy who I bought the practice from, had just walked out, he was just done. So the team was still trying to keep his practice afloat. So I walked in as an associate to just try and kind of work on his patients because he had been gone for several weeks.

And everyone's like, well, you know, you can only run an office without a dentist for so long. And so I went in there to help out because I wasn't that busy. It was in Saginaw, and all of a sudden, I realized, it's a lot easier to get dope. Because I started with the Vicoprofen at Dad's office when I was in associate with Dad. It was a lot easier to get dope in the office, when it's just me. I don't have anyone to look over my shoulder and stuff like that.

So that was a motivating factor to go into my own practice, which is like, I'm not particularly proud of that. But it is what it is, you know, on sort of a... And so, I ended up in my own practice. When you're in your own practice, and you don't know anything about running a business or anything like that, there's the stress for you!

Dennis 31:07  
Yeah, that's what I was wondering. I mean, that's stress, right? 

Alan 31:10  
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, totally! 

Dennis 31:12  
Owning a practice and doing all that stuff on your own...

Alan 31:14  
But something that's really interesting, okay, when you own a practice for the first time, and you're the one putting the deposits in the bank, you're like, wow, there's... You get paid pretty good for this, you know? Except for the fact that like, I didn't know what I needed to do for taxes and payroll, and insurance. And, you know, I was in... My suite cost next to nothing. So I literally went into a practice that was low producing, but it also had really low overhead. And so... But I still was not... I was not ready for any of this stuff.

And so, when you start seeing money come in like that, you start feeling like a rich guy until you realize that you actually have to... You can't just spend everything. You kind of have... There's that whole overhead thing. And I mean, they kept me on the straight and narrow on some level. So it was pretty stressful. And the other thing is, you know, when you get a bill that you've forgotten to pay, and all of a sudden someone's calling you on the phone, and so, you know... Because I don't care when... That happens! That happens.

That happens now! I had one... I had my workman's comp insurance, apparently, I don't know if they email it or... No, no, no, it's better. They changed... It's the same company I've used for 1,000 years... They changed my account number. It was a new account number. And so I went on the website and it said I didn't owe anything, but it was just on that account number. I did on the other account number. I didn't get to the point where they were trying to collect or I lost the insurance or whatever.

That stuff happens to business owners all the time, especially if you're running it yourself. And I never have I never got anywhere beyond the fact that I kind of just run it myself. So the dumb mistakes still happen. They're not such a big deal now, but in any case, imagine doing that to a kid who didn't know what he's doing. 

Dennis 32:41
Oh, for sure. 

Alan 32:42
Who's like literally also trying desperately to make sure he keeps enough dope around so he's not going into withdrawal all the time. Because that's what I was doing at that point. You know, it was a shit show. Nothing short of that. But it was the shit show that I had built basically. 

Dennis 32:59  
So, I think if I remember right, it was about four years, right, that you were on opiates? You were married...

Alan 33:05  
1998. I didn't. I got married while I was in trouble. So in 1998, I started, and that's when I met my wife actually. She was... Honestly her... I had worked at a day camp with her older sister, and they were kind of the only social contacts I had back home. And so, I met her, and we started dating in 1998. That's kind of when I started getting into trouble with this stuff. And then it was a four years it ramped up. And honestly, we got married three days before September 11. It was September 8, 2001. I was in the middle of addiction.

Literally, I went into treatment the January after we got married, so it was a it was a mess. She didn't really know what was going on. She was very naive about it.

Dennis 33:48  
Yeah, I bet it is. I mean, if you're not if you're not around it I don't think that most people would be able to recognize it.

Alan 33:53  
Yeah, and what's funny is she didn't... She was naive. I tried to hide it, but I was also... I was a mess. I mean on some level... But she just didn't know what was going on. But a lot of other people did know what was going on, on some level. But I hid it, and I used alone. That was the other thing.

People... it's a very different thing when you're a drug user, and you use alone versus you use... I mean, a lot of people in recovery I know, you know, used to drink together with other people. They would use together. And so the rituals that go with it are a little different when you use alone. That's kind of interesting, And I mean, my whole ritual was was scoring, having enough until I got in withdrawal, and scoring again kind of thing. And I mean, I literally had probably three and a half solid years of the panic of whether or not I was going to have enough stuff so I wasn't going to be messed up in withdrawal. It was a ridiculous cycle. It was a ridiculous cycle!
One of the things about recovery is that everyone qualifies! Don't worry, you qualify. 
Dr. Alan Mead

Addiction as the Center of a World and the Pathway to Recovery

Dennis 34:15
When you're... when this is all happening, is there... And I'm just asking because I don't know. Is there there's somewhat of like an impostor syndrome you're trying to like overcome? Like I'm a dentist... First of all, like, so if you struggle with the clinical aspect, so then it's like, should I even be doing this? Then you've got all the stresses of running the practice, and all the other things that are associated with that, is there some of that that was going on?
Alan 34:34
Yeah! I will say this. First off, when this was all going on, social media didn't exist. I got into Dental Town, literally, like the year I got clean. So I got into Dental Town in 2002. But prior to that, I didn't know what everyone else was doing. Part of the imposter syndrome was knowing what other... You know, comparing yourself to what other people do. I didn't even know! I didn't know, and I certainly wasn't paying attention. That's for sure.

But the imposter syndrome was part of it, I'm sure. And I didn't... It's funny, my dad ran my practice while I was in rehab, and he said he didn't see anything too awful bad with what was going on. So it's one of those things where like, I don't know if I was bad, good or otherwise. But, I mean, I knew I struggled with clinical stuff. But I also, still to this day, I'm not someone who does stuff that I'm not pretty confident about. I'm not the most adventurous dentist. So I guess maybe I had that going for me. I wasn't out there doing stuff that I didn't know what I was doing, for the most part. But I think there was partly some of that.

But I think most of it was, I got started with this stuff because I liked to get high. And then I got so sucked into it that I was sick if I didn't have this stuff. So the stress of owning and running a practice and being a dentist was almost just the sidelight of my addiction. I hate to say it, but I mean... I'd love to say that... Being a dentist is hard enough, but being a dentist while trying to have an active addiction going, and...

Because the other thing is, you know, I spent all kinds of money on stuff that I didn't have. I spent... You don't make great choices when you're in the middle of addiction for a lot of things, so that made it more stressful money was always stress. You know, trying to keep a relationship going while you're... Basically everything in your life is sort of on the back burner compared to your addiction, but you're putting out to the world that you've got it all together. Right? And that gets harder and harder the worse your addiction gets.

Dennis 37:13  
You're 20 years sober now, right?

Alan 37:16  
I am. January 10, 2002 was when I got intervened on and went into treatment. So, yes, it is 20 years this year.

Dennis 37:27  
What was your intervention like? How did that all... How did that all roll in?

Alan 37:29  
So one of my really good friends, he's an oral surgeon, he still is. He's an oral surgeon in town. We actually started in Saganaw the same day. He figured out what was going on. Long story short, I think he figured it out first. Because I had like this... It was either an ingrown hair or something like that. It was a big knot on my neck. And I asked him to take it out. And, of course, I also wanted to be sedated, and I knew he'd write me a prescription. So I was doing all kinds of stuff. If there was a way to score a prescription, I was going to probably do it. So this was in my mind. Little did I know... I mean, this is a cry for help.

When a dude tries to sedate someone who's got a wicked opiate habit with fentanyl, and he said he's ready to drop a bowl of fentanyl on you, and it doesn't do anything, and then the second one, and it doesn't do anything... You're kind of telegraphing what's going on a little bit. So he dug in a little deeper and figured out what's going on. And then he went to my family, and they kind of planned the intervention from there. And he kind of got my team involved. My team knew was going on, but it's tough because... A lot of people say your team should have really... No! I'm writing their paycheck, you know?

I can't expect... you can't expect them to... I've had so many people say oh, the licensed members of your team, they had a... I'm like, that's great. It's great that you understand that if you have a license, you have an obligation. But you know what? Real life is a lot more complicated than that, and punishing them for not turning me in. That's not going to work. That's not going to work anywhere.

Bottom line, they would have loved to help me, but they also knew that like... They kind of... I think they felt like they helped me by messing this... You know, crashing the schedule if I was in a really bad spot or making sure that I was going in the right direction. They sort of like... Just like a spouse with a drinking husband, you know? They kind of make up for... It becomes more of a codependency thing where you're kind of trying to make up for the addiction instead of confront it face on. If it had happened like...

I have two members of my team right now who were there while I was doing it, like they're still with me. So they were they actually went into treatment with me and did that like family day stuff, all this. They've been there. They know it, and they would call me on it now, but they wouldn't... They didn't know that then. Why are they? So on some level it took someone from the outside to realize how messed up it was, to get it... And my parents, I snowed them pretty good too. I mean, in retrospect, they can kind of see some of the stuff, but... So once they figured it out, they all came in on...

Basically they came in on an afternoon and took me away. They took me to a Treatment Center in Grand Rapids, which couple hours from Saginaw, and it was a it was a treatment center that was mostly for healthcare professionals. 

Dennis 40:09  
Oh, interesting. 

Alan 40:10  
The first night, the first several nights, I spent in a detox center. And I saw some real stuff there. I saw some real street addiction there. That was nuts. Man, I was like, in a room with a dude who was like literally dying of cirrhosis of the liver, he was regularly bleeding out because he had drank so much. I saw like actual street addicts from heroin. Here's this guy who came in and the clothes he wore to work, you know, khakis and a nice shirt. That's all the clothes I had, who was addicted to pills, and they're... Part of me felt like I didn't qualify because I was different than them.

And it's one of the reasons... One of the things about recovery is that everyone qualifies! Don't worry, you qualify. But so I mean, it was pretty raw. And then I moved into this... it was an inpatient/ outpatient. So we lived in apartments. And then we did the therapy at the building. And a lot of... I was in with a bunch of nurses and anesthesiologists, physicians, and stuff. A few lawyers, you know... But I was in with a couple of other dentists and stuff like that. So it was a four and a half, almost five month program that I was in. 

Dennis 41:10  

Alan 41:10  
And I was gone from the office then... So my dad kind of ran my office and helped it limp along, you know... 

Dennis 41:16  
And what did they tell your patients where you're were at rehab? 

Alan 41:19  
You know, it's really funny. The guy who was running the committee that I eventually was running, told them, "Tell them there's a back problem." So everyone... They told everyone I had a back problem. While meanwhile, how many years later? 20 some years later, I got hit by a truck and actually broke my back, which is ironic, and I didn't take any opiates! But anyhow, really, that used to frustrate me because you're not supposed to lie on stuff like that. You don't have to tell the world everything, but you're not supposed to lie. So that was always a struggle.

But like people years later, people asked me how my back was doing after that. So they told them that. But, you know, if you're in that situation, understand that no matter how well you know your patients, you don't owe them an explanation. A lot of my patients know that I'm in recovery. I'm pretty public about it. But, you know, I didn't necessarily wave a flag about it when I was... But I will say this. When I got back from from treatment, I was on a contract, a pretty tight contract. The very first time I ever did a random drug screen, the person who came out to administer the drug screen was a patient of mine. 

Dennis 42:20  
Oh, come on. 

Alan 42:21  
No, I'm serious. So that was real, that actually happened. So humility? You get humility, whether you want it or not. sort of happens. 

Dennis 42:30  
Wow. Hmm. 

Alan 42:31  
Yeah. So in any case, yeah. So I was in treatment for four and a half months. And honestly, I've never relapsed. That was an interesting thing. A lot of people. I will say this, that I... Every once in a while I was using, while I was in trouble, you'd be like... Your head would come up above the water. And you're like, "This is crazy. I can't do this! This is insane. I've got to stop!" I can't... So, there were times that I tried to stop. I just was never able to do it on my own. But as soon as I admitted, you know, in a treatment center, I admitted my problem, I was ready to start working. You know, I didn't want to go back. So that was...

So interestingly, I'm an odd duck that way because I was ready to stop. I just didn't... I had never literally... I mean, I probably heard of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous. I never went. I didn't know anything about it. So like, on some level, I just didn't know! I had no idea that there was an option to not do this. I was in... And I had... the brakes had come off. I wasn't even trying to stop anymore. That was when I got intervened.

Dennis 43:29  
When you're in the rehab experience... Because I've never been, and I think probably a lot of the listeners haven't been through that. What's it like?

Alan 43:39  
Well, it's funny because I can say this. First off. This is awful. But true. If you don't want to get better, it doesn't work.

Dennis 43:49  
Sure, like anything! 

Alan 43:50  
In the same way that, you know, if you've got gum disease and you're not willing to work a little harder and do a little better, you're going to probably have gum disease forever. You'll probably lose some teeth, you know. If you don't want to get... you don't want to get better, the more...

Sometimes being around it long enough, you'll decide you want to get better. So, like a treatment center where you're there for a while and you're not going anywhere, some people can... decide they want to get better. And, like, that's why, on some level, having AA meetings or NA meetings or something like that, where you can build a community around people who kind of have what you want, which is to say sobriety, and a little peace of mind... That's hugely powerful.

Basically, treatment was like living around that for four and a half, five months straight. It was it's bordering on cultish, the way that you just changed everything about your life. The problem is that when you're in treatment, you can get to a point where it's very safe; you're around safe people and stuff there. But, so the treatment center I worked with understood that, and they made a big effort to make sure that you had a good start back where you... in your community, to build a safe space around yourself back home rather than... 

Dennis 44:16
That's a big issue. 

Alan 44:17
It is THE issue, actually, honestly. Because anyone can be in a treatment center. And... Well, not anyone. There are people that relapsed in treatment when I was there to be perfectly honest.
Dennis 44:23  
Oh, no kidding. 

Alan 44:38  
Oh, yeah, I had one of my friends who was an anesthesiologist, hung himself in one of the apartments. 

Dennis 44:50
I'm sorry to hear that. 

Alan 44:51
Yeah, it was unbelievable. Like, I saw a lot of stuff and four and a half months. And it was a lot of stuff that I didn't want to... I didn't want any part of that anymore. So it was like, I had a really powerful experience. And it was kind of important to... I think it was the right place, the right time, and the right people for me. But, I mean, I know tons of people that go in, they're dragging their feet, and they don't think they have a problem. That's... Most often, that's what it is. "The problems is you. It's not me." You know, it's one of those things. I was pretty quick to see that I had a problem, but maybe because what I was doing was so crazy. 

Dennis 45:44  
When you had your intervention, and so they're sitting down with you, are you like, "Yeah, let's go. I understand. I've been waiting for that. Thank God you showed up." 

Alan 45:53  
The TV shows where they show the person fighting and yelling and screaming, I would have been horrible TV. I was like "I've tried. I can't do it. Let's go." I didn't fight at all. I just... I was ready to go, which I think is pretty rare. But interestingly, my family... it was my family and Scott, the guy who kind of figured it out. They're the ones who came for me. They didn't have an interventionist or anything like that. And I just went. So, on some level, I mean...

I will say this, my brother in law parked my car in Starsky and Hutch style, so I couldn't leave, you know? It was one of those things, but I was ready to go. They took me to Grand Rapids, right from there. So I started off on the right foot that way. It's crazy to think that that was like 20 years ago was when I was in treatment. I was until May of 2002. So I would have been right in the middle of it right now 20 years ago.

The Benefits of Rehab to Lead to Recovery

Write your awesome label here.
In this candid clip, Dr. Mead shares how he felt about going into rehab in 2002 and how that led him toward recovery.

The Transition to the Dental Office and Developing New Coping Mechanisms

Dennis 46:38  
What was it like when you went back to the dental office for the first time?

Alan 46:41  
Oh, it's great. Well, first off, they did it so that you'd go back while you were in treatment for like a short day... You know, it's not like you go in, and... I don't even know if I... I might have just done exams or something relatively light, because my dad had been working there for a long time. And so they made it... they kind of set the guideposts so you could get back and comfortable. But in the meantime, you know, my team had been coming to Grand Rapids and doing group therapy with me.

Everyone else that was in treatment with me hated my guts. Because I was... At first, I was the only person who would bring their team in. And so everyone else was bugging them to bring their team in. Because it was really important and helpful for everyone.

But I think my team was freaked out, and my dad was freaked out, because they also didn't want you to be... They didn't want you to be thinking about work. They didn't want you to be thinking about the office. And they're like, "You've got to concentrate on you!" And I did. And so the office and my dad working in my office thought that I didn't want to come back. I wouldn't talk about because they didn't think they thought I didn't want anything to do with it!

Dennis 47:43  
You took your advice to heart, and then they were like...

Alan 47:46  
I did! I don't think the people that were at the treatment center, let the people that lived with and worked with know that that was part of the deal. You know? In my mind, I'm like, Yeah, I'll get back there eventually. But then the other thing is a lot of people I was in treatment with, they were making big changes in their life! Like "I'm going to move to Florida. I'm going to move with it." And of course, that's a terrible thing to do when... Don't make big choices when you're in rehab. You're not... You were making... You came in making terrible choices. Guess what, you're still making pretty terrible choices without some help.

So, on some level, having having a comfortable place, you know... So it was wild to come back. I think that... I'm sure it was really uncomfortable, but the bottom line is that I had... I would go back for like a day at a time. And then at one point, they had what's called an extended therapeutic leave, and I was there for a week, you know, and I was going to meetings... So it was, they knew what they were doing with regard to getting you back into it. But I also, I'm not going to lie, I brought everything to the table. And I made...

Like I said, I did therapy with my team. I made sure I knew exactly where I was going for meetings. I made sure there are people checking, and I... There was a ton of accountability built into it. Because I didn't want to fail! I didn't want to... Looking back, I mean I'd love to take all the credit for it, but I was just did what everyone else said. I'm like, "Oh, okay, this is what I have to do!"

You know, I took nitrous out of the office. I didn't have nitrous in the office. I literally... I talked with a guy a year or so after I got out who said nitrous is such an important part of my practice. I can't... He was in treatment. I was like, "You've got to not use nitrous. You can't do it." "Oh, no, I got it. It's too important to my practice." Guess what? He went back and went out, and relapsed on it. I mean, so, like many things, if it's as obvious as that, yeah, it's going to happen that way. So I just took their advice. 

Dennis 49:29  
Did you have kids at that point? Or were you...

Alan 49:32  
I was married but didn't have kids. Didn't have kids until... My first son was born in 2007. So, I had been six years... Well, five years clean sober by then. So they've never seen me while I was using.

Dennis 49:46  
Did the team have a lot of guilt when as you guys were going through therapy?

Alan 49:50  

Dennis 49:51  
They were okay?

Alan 49:52  
The therapy was mostly about them explaining to me the effect that I had had on them.

Dennis 49:57  
What a piece of shit you were? 

Alan 49:59  
Pretty much, yeah. And I mean, like, we can joke about it now. I mean, just imagine working with a team that knew you before this, but also now understanding what you've been through. They know a lot. I mean, there's probably no team that knows more about addiction and stuff than my team, because they've kind of been through all of it. I don't think they felt guilty. They were pulling for me! They wanted me to come back. So that was good! It could have been worse, they could have not wanted me to come back. So it was... I mean, it was it was a good situation that way.

Dennis 50:28  
When you look at it, and I'm sure you've been asked this question a lot... What do you advise to young dentists who maybe might be on the precipice? Or who might just...?

Alan 50:38  
I have to tell you, I've changed how I feel about this, and I have actually become... First off, you know, alcohol and now marijuana are terrible choices that everyone should be allowed to make, I guess. I think alcohol as a whole, just societally? I think it's a negative. I think it's a net negative. I think more people can't handle alcohol than can. And I think we spend a lot of time as a society thinking we can... That the alcohol is more benign than it actually is. I really do. I've come to that. I'm like, I think, on net, if I could do a Thanos snap and make it so alcohol never existed, I would. I would because I think I think it's such a net negative.

So here's my challenge. You shouldn't drink. You shouldn't drink! Because it's too easy to fall into it. I know so many people who've gotten in trouble with it, you know? And, of course, you can't watch the Superbowl. You can't have a meeting with your friends and stuff where alcohol isn't involved. So obviously, it's not very realistic. But the bottom line is, I think it's terrible. I think it's terrible. Which is not... I'm supposed to say, "Well, you just need to make sure you handle it." First off, people don't handle it in general very well. So I think it's a bad thing.

But I also live in the same world that you live live in. So, I mean, I realize that it's a thing. If people understand that if you're asking if you think you drink too much. Normal people don't ask if they drink too much. If you think you drink too much, you probably do. I've advised people this: "Here, go for a month without alcohol, and see how hard it is. Is it hard for you to go for a month without drinking? Because if it is, you need to take a look at that." But I mean, I also tend to think that I was addicted to opiates the same way that cigarette smokers are addicted to cigarettes. 

Dennis 50:39  

Alan 50:42  
I mean, it has that physical... I mean, people can be physically addicted to alcohol. But it's more about... You've got to drink an awful lot before you're having really bad consequences of physical... Nicotine, on the other hand, if you're really addicted to cigarettes, it's very, very uncomfortable. Withdrawal, which is what I had. So on some level, alcohol... It's kind of too bad that alcohol doesn't have that because that's a red flag that you kind of can't live without this. You need to take a look at that.

But again, I've got to say, if you think you have a problem with alcohol, you probably should try 30 days without it and see what it's like. Because it depends on how much of your life it's become a part of. That's how I feel about it. Now, it's funny to think 20 years later, I've become like more, more of a teetotaller than I was when I started, you know. I just think there's a net negative in general in society with alcohol, but so, you need to be careful. And, frankly, if you think that dentistry doesn't have a culture of alcohol and drinking, you're not looking hard. It's there. 

Dennis 53:21  
Go go to a meeting! 

Alan 53:22  
Exactly. Exactly. Absolutely. Yeah.

Dennis 53:26  
I want to finish talking about coping mechanisms. Because I think that obviously is is an issue. So, you're... I know... I mean, I've followed you for long enough. I you have at least one horse. I don't know how many horses you have.

Alan 53:39  
Yeah, well, I don't... Okay, so my wife is the horse person. We feed... we have a boarding farm, so we feed like 12 horses. We have a miniature donkey. We have bunch of goats, chickens, and stuff. My wife is kind of the horse person. I have sort of... I don't mind feeding them, although I have this injury on my foot. I haven't fed for a long time, but I also haven't ridden my damn bike. So, we have horses. We live on a farm, we live out in the country, so we have some cool stuff that way. But if I need to remind myself that I do have a problem with addiction and addictive thinking, I don't have to go very far. The way I...

For a while, it was with the podcast. Before that, it was a baking bread. Like, for a long time I was baking bread. You know, it was a weekend thing, and all of a sudden, I had to do it during the week because I was so obsessed with it. I was like a bread guy. And then I got into the podcast, and like I said, I still, to this day, I buy way more audio equipment than I ever need. It's a... And the other thing is being a dentist and having this podcast allows me to indulge that in a way that is... Other podcasters don't or wouldn't...

So in other words, I can make some pretty dumb choices and the consequences... I'm sort of I'm sort of protected from the consequences because financially investing in that stuff is not such a horrible thing. But but I've really gotten into cycling recently. And I mean, until this wound on my foot came along, I was pretty much riding every day. In even in Michigan in wintertime. I never realized you could ride your bike. 

Dennis 55:19  
As long as you've got the right bike!

Alan 55:20  
I got a fat tire bike with studs on it! I can ride every day; I can ride upside a tree! And I've got trails that are literally just a left turn out of my driveway. So it's like, that's become an obsession. And so, on some level, that's... And actually, even in 2005, I lost a bunch of weight, too. And it was an obsessive thing, too. It's kind of an addictive thing. So clearly I have that gene in me...

Dennis 55:46  
Do you have gloves for your winter bicycling?

Alan 55:48  
Of course I do. But I also have big ass pogies, too. I got the big... I've got both. And I've got... Like I said, I've got two bikes. And I figured, Well, both of them probably need studded tires." And these are things... And the thing is if you don't know anything about cycling in 2022, they're not giving that stuff away! They're not given that stuff away! I mean, like, you can't even get into a decent bike for like less than $4,000 at this point. And they make bikes a lot different than they did 20 years ago. Let's just say your swing. 

Dennis 56:17  
You're not riding your dad's Schwinn. 

Alan 56:18  
Yeah, that's right. Yeah, the mid 80s. Schwinn is not... You might be able to get a bunch of money for that as a collector's item. But the reality is, yeah, you're not... And, of course, the other thing about cyclists and Instagram, and all the social media, and the poison that that stuff is, my entire Instagram feed is full of beautiful teeth and killer bikes. Killer bikes! I mean, and I can't stop... I'm obsessed, you know. The other thing is, I want to... So I've got kind of a gravel bike. It's a cyclocross gravel bike, and then I've got the fat tire bike. I mean, I just bought the gravel bike last August. I bought the fat tire bike, I think in October, or something like that.

I already want a full suspension mountain bike because I'm not a road guy. Not a road guy. Because I got hit by a truck on the road. I don't really need that. I've not seen any pickup trucks on the trail, so I'm kind of that way. But yeah, I mean, I'm obsessed with that. It's probably a better obsession than what I was doing. But I still have to take a look at myself a little bit!

Dennis 57:16  
Well, what I like about cycling is that I have plenty of time to talk to myself. And while the advice is not good, it's free. So I like the free content. I've got plenty of time, so...

Alan 57:25  
Well, it's a good way to be alone, too. I know, There's tons of people that are like, "Oh, yeah, we should go riding." I'm like, "Are you kidding? I ride alone, because I can ride alone!" I can be alone. It's sort of a thing. I like to live in my head.

Dennis 57:37  
That's where I am also. Alan, I can't thank you enough. I think, you know, obviously the issue with addiction in in medicine and dentistry. It's pervasive. I mean, you talked about the anesthesiologist. I did the GPR at Mount Sinai Hospital. I saw it firsthand. I saw people who had access, taking advantage of that access. I've had patients in that realm, and I've known dentists that have had these struggles. And I've borderlined on these struggles for sure.

Alan 58:11  
Sure. What's funny is the access is an interesting thing. Because honestly, I mean, the suggestion... The statistics, depending on where you're looking... Probably 20% of of people are going to have a problem with problem drug and alcohol use in their life. 20% of people. So that's a huge number, except it's not really when you think about it. You're like, Yeah, that's probably about right. But I suspect that in medical fields, particularly dentistry, and other medical fields, that number is probably higher, and mostly in dentistry, particularly, because a lot of us work alone.

So we're isolated from other colleagues, and we have access. I hope that -- I haven't tried, but I hope access is a little harder than it was for me when I was using. I'd just buy it. I'd just go online and buy it, you know, as a matter. But I hope that it's a little bit harder. But also the isolation is, on some level, part of the problem. And yeah, there's a ton of dentists that struggle with this, and a lot of them don't... A lot of them haven't come out of it as nicely as me on some level. A lot of them don't think it's as much of a problem as it probably is.

And I just... For someone who is worried about it... First off, my email is And I I'm always confidential about that stuff if you have any questions, but also there's a lot of resources. Most states have have a confidential part of their State Dental Association that has a committee that can help you with this stuff. And they're the right people to go to because they don't have... They don't discipline; they only are there to help.

In other words, it's better to get in touch with them than to be reported to your board. Although if you get reported to the Board, it's very likely they're going to refer you to them anyhow. No dental board out there wants an addicted dentist to go to prison; they want them to get treatment. That is just... I will say in 2022, that's a good thing. That's what's really happening. But the other thing is is like a willingness to to look at yourself is what it takes on some level. 

Addictive Personalities and Positive Coping Mechanisms

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Watch Dr. Mead share about his more recent obsessions and how they remind him of his addictive personality but are much healthier than drugs or alcohol.
Dennis 1:00:01
Well, thank you. It's really... It's been fascinating. I've listened to you talk about this on other podcasts. And I just had some other questions. And I wanted to... And for those who are out there... Like I said in the beginning, you may not be... It may not be you but it's probably someone you know or someone that you love. And I think that's what's so... I think what's really interesting about your story is how your team gathered around, and you had the support. Because I can't imagine you can do this without that kind of support. 

Alan 1:00:31
Yeah, it takes a lot. 

Dennis 1:00:32  
Right? Every day, right? Every day.

Alan 1:00:35  
And building... not only are they supporting you, but it's at a level of accountability. Like it's not just "rah, rah." It's also, you know, on some level... It's carrot and stick on some level. If you know that, you know... You can't be a dentist and be a drug addict! You're not allowed. You're putting your patients at risk. So you're really not allowed to, and so on some level there is that. I mean, you can be an Instagram influencer and be a crazy alcoholic. Go nuts. I don't recommend it, but you can. But as a dentist, a licensed health professional, you're not allowed to do that. And so on some level, it does require... It requires accountability. I think that's a really important thing.

Dennis 1:01:13  
Thanks so much for sharing. It's really been... I've known you for a long time. And I've wanted to talk about this for a long time. I remember you and I, when we first met, we went to the Bulls game. It was through Cosmedent. 

Alan 1:01:25  
Yeah, it was awesome. 

Dennis 1:01:26  
And I think I had offered to get you a beer. And you said, No, I'm sober. Or I'm recovering, I think is what you said. 

Alan 1:01:34  
I may have. 

Dennis 1:01:35  
And I didn't know how to respond quite honestly. I sort of was like, "Oh, hmm." And I had to sort of think about that. Because like you said, I mean, you know, alcohol consumption is pervasive in our culture. At any dental meeting or wherever you go. So I thought a lot about that. And I've heard you talk about it on other podcasts and stuff...

Alan 1:01:53  
And you know what's funny, that's the conversation that a lot of new, newer people have. The struggle isn't that... The struggle is being honest about it with people in a situation where other people are drinking. That is like very real. It's never really been a problem for me. I can only think of one time in my life where it was anything, and it really wasn't.

But there's a lot of people that don't want to... They feel like they're being everyone else's buzzkill or whatever, you know? They don't want to... They don't want to be the thing that keeps the party from going. And I mean, honestly, my choice is to not hang around the party, on some level, but... But I mean, that's important. It's like there's a lot of peer pressure that goes along with that. And even though we're, you know, developed professionals, we're still human beings that want to be part of the crowd, so it's totally real.

Yeah. And inevitably, in any social... Not any, but you can try and guide your social situations, but there's going to be times when you're going to be in a situation. 
Dennis 1:02:51  
Right. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Well, listen, thanks for being so vulnerable and so open and, you know, honest about your experiences. I don't doubt there's going to be many people that get a lot out of that. So...

Alan 1:03:01  
I hope so. That's cool. 

Dennis 1:03:02  
Thanks so much. All right, well, listen, Dental Online Trainers. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Alan and myself, and I look forward to seeing you at our future Sharecast. And you should check out Alan's projects. I guess I have to ask one question. So Dental Hacks podcast, that's now extinct?

Alan 1:03:21  
Well, it's funny, it's extinct. But it's... At dental, you can get to all the old episodes, so they're all still out there. And actually, you can get to them on the... If you have your phone set up to get The Very Dental Podcast, all the old episodes are still there. You can get to them. Or you can go to The easiest way, of course, if you'd like to, because we're mostly audio... The easiest way is just go on your phone, go to the podcast app, if you're an iPhone person, just search "dental," and we'll come up. You know, it's one of those things.

Dennis 1:03:50  
Well, if you if you'd like podcasts like I do, then check out The Very Dental Podcast and Alan, and look... I think it's... Is it February every year that you guys are doing The Voices of Dentistry?

Alan 1:04:02  
It's January. We've tried to make it... It seems like it's the weekend or two before the Superbowl most years. So that's kind of what we do. I have to tell you, I know... I'll get you the dates. I know them. I just can't remember them offhand. It's already set up for next year. So it's same same time, mid-January.

Dennis 1:04:15  

Alan 1:04:16  
Yep. Yep. 

Dennis 1:04:16  
All right. So go somewhere warm, if you're in the Midwest like us, go somewhere warm for January, which is a blessing. 

Alan 1:04:21  
Yeah, it is. 
But, you know, if you're in that situation, understand that no matter how well you know your patients, you don't owe them an explanation.
Dr. Alan Mead
Dennis 1:04:22  
All right. Well, listen, Dental Online Trainers. Thanks for hanging out, and chatting, or listening to our chit chat with Dr. Alan Mead. I'm Dennis Hartlieb, yours for better dentistry, and yours for better mental health. I think, which is maybe even more important. Well, it's definitely more important. So, until next time, thanks for listening, and we look forward to seeing you at our future podcasts. We'll talk to you next time. Bye. Thank you. 

Dental Online Trainers, many of us, if not most of us, are exposed to friends, family or even co-workers that are struggling with some sort of addiction. Unfortunately, for some, it's just merely a look in the mirror. My guest Alan Mead shares that with some love and compassion, there is a way out and a path of sobriety. There are a number of support agencies that are at our fingertips. Just Google to find an organization near you if you or someone you care about is suffering with addiction.

And listen, if you enjoyed this Sharecast, and if there's someone that you know that might be needing to hear this message, please share it with them. Also, don't forget that DOT has so many other great learning opportunities from our monthly webinars where we engage real time with our viewers as we bring in leaders throughout the dental industry, and our monthly coffee and donut Study Club mentoring sessions. We have our live virtual workshops.

In fact, we have a six two direct resin course coming up in June. And we have our blogs and of course our endless selection of hands on pre-recorded technique courses to improve your dentistry. So check us out at And thanks for joining us. As always, yours for better dentistry. I'm Dr. Dennis Hartlieb.

Dennis Hartlieb, DDS, AAACD

DOT Founder

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