Tag Archives: Alcoholics Anonymous

War on Recovery

If the providers treating cancer were offered 26 billion dollars with 55% of the budget going to ineffective treatment methods and policies that perpetuate the illness and the other 45% of the budget will be spent on one treatment outcome and not allowed to focus on any other outcomes, what do you think those providers would do?  Yet, this is the model we use to address the issue of drug prevention and treatment.  What’s worse yet, is addiction/recovery providers fight over this model.  It’s the lesser of two evils.  Get no money or get the money you can.  In the meantime, our prison population housing drug offenders is at an all time high.  Addicts are overdosing at an alarming rate and the people who need the treatment aren’t getting it because the many being referred to treatment by the judicial system do not need treatment. This would be humorous if it wasn’t so tragic.

27 years ago I went into treatment for addiction.  I spent 29 days in a hospital based program.  I lost my health insurance after I left the hospital so I was unable to afford the aftercare that was recommended when I left.  Instead I became immersed in AA meetings and the recovery community.  I was active and involved in many of the extra benefits that come with involvement such as coffee shop meetings, service work, cookouts, and sober parties and dances that I believe are an integral part of recovery.  I also believe this would not work for everyone who needs treatment for addiction.  Recovering people are individuals that have specific needs so one model isn’t sufficient.  I had to abstain from the beginning of my recovery so I fit the model.  Not everyone can begin with abstinence or needs abstinence.  Some need methadone, some need mental health treatment and medication, some need harm reduction.  Not all cancer patients need the same type of treatment why would a recovering individual?

We spend over $100 a day for incarceration of drug offenders.  It would cost us $7.46 a day to provide treatment to that same individual.  Let me state that when I use the term drug it includes alcohol.  Separating alcohol from drugs perpetuates too many myths that follows the criminalizing of addiction/recovery.  The myths are used in our terminology when describing addiction/recovery versus other illnesses.  Take cancer for example cancer, these are the most common words used; Brave, Courageous, Conqueror, Survivor, Victim, Warrior, Patient.  Now consider the terms used to describe the addict/recovering individual; Weak, Junkie, Addict, Liar, Manipulator, Loser, Scumbag.  Makes you want to run right to your local treatment provider!

We have approximately 8 million people who need treatment in the U.S. and about 2 million of them are receiving treatment.  Of those 37% come from the criminal justice system.  This year approximately 1.6 million people will be diagnosed with cancer.  Using the addiction statistics that would mean 400,000 people would receive treatment.  Medical Doctors are the standard for diagnosing cancer. In many areas of the country diagnosing an addict only takes a Bachelor’s degree with one year of addiction employment.  That statement is not meant to be offensive but to illustrate that the U.S. still relies on the criminal justice model instead of a national health model.

As recovering people we have to disengage from the criminal justice model of treatment and recovery and engage in the science of addiction and recovery.  We can’t yell out one side of out mouth that addiction is a disease and out of the other side keep telling people who relapse they aren’t willing.  If we are going to keep eliciting change for recovery we have to remove this idea of addiction being a willful behavior.  Until we do this we aren’t waging a war on drugs, we are waging a war on recovery!

Mike Tozer


Do you know Recovery?

Justice Potter when trying to define obscenity in a case before the Supreme Court said in essence,”I can’t explain or define it but I know it when I see it.”  I’ve often found recovery to be the same way.  The Recovery Research Institute listed definitions of recovery from various experts on addiction and recovery.  Some of these experts described it as a process while others used the words voluntary and sustained.

With the experts not agreeing on one specific definition how does someone understand recovery?  I have heard many recovering people who attend Alcoholics Anonymous say, “Be careful how you act you may be the only Big Book anyone sees.”  The implication in this statement relies on how recovering people behave and how their behavior is perceived by others.  Some of the Recovery Research definitions imply the same thing.  Phrases like, “citizenship” or “productive member of society” are among these definitions.  Again the implication how someone is behaving.

Cambridge Dictionary Online uses synonyms for recovery from illness as recuperate, correct, cure, rehabilitative, and remission.  Even on Dictionary.com it defines recover as, “to get back or regain,” and “to make up for or make good (loss, damage, etc., to oneself). ” “to regain the strength, composure, balance, or the like, of (oneself).”  So my question is why do we try to define recovery by behavior?

First of all, it’s been the standard for the past 80 years.  People in AA started with abstinence as the standard because at the outset the members were mainly chronic alcoholics who would likely die if they didn’t quit altogether.  When treatment centers started to open they used the 12 step model which used abstinence as the measuring stick. For too long relapse has been looked at as failure.  People have immense shame for relapsing and sometimes do not return to recovery due to that shame.  It has only been in the last 20 years has the understanding of addiction’s impact on the brain have we been able to improve treatments for addiction.  

Secondly, many of use still believe addiction is willful.  If anyone questions this statement next time you hear people in recovery say to someone who can’t remain abstinent, “you have to be willing, you have to be honest with yourself,” then tell me even in recovery we don’t hold on to that ideal.  No one would say anything like this to someone with cancer who can’t rid themselves of cancer.  Yet, we hear that constantly today from recovering individuals and even professionals.  Ironically, we have one of the few illnesses where we can change behavior and recovery. That’s not willful, that’s fortunate.

So do I have the definition of recovery.  No.  I am not that bright.  What I believe is that recovery is a self-evident proposition-one that is known to be true by understanding its meaning without proof. In other words I know it when I see it!

Let Rational Heads Prevail

By now many people have heard or read the article, “The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous.”  As a member who has remained sober for over 26 years my first reaction was how dare they trash something I love.  I also need to disclose I am a professional who has almost 30 years of experience working with addiction.  You can say I have mixed feelings when it comes to this article.  Given that, I remembered a quote in the book Alcoholics anonymous Appendix 2, The Spiritual Experience, which says,  “There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.”  So despite my conflict I decided to read the article with an open mind.  After all isn’t that one of the tenets of the 12 step programs?

The article challenges the paradigm of treatment in the United States.  I don’t have any issue with that challenge.  We have acquired a vast amount of knowledge since the first book of alcoholics anonymous was written.  I also believe it is responsible to seek out new methods for the people with addiction who are not responding to the 12 step model.  I have been in too many meetings and after meeting, meeting, where the members question the commitment of others who relapse or continue to relapse. The article states there is a much lower success rate which suggests a higher rate of relapse for people in Alcoholics Anonymous. So , lets compare that with the relapse rate of another chronic illnesses, Type 1-Diabetes. This chronic illness has anywhere from 30-50 percent relapse rate. Even if one follows a strict regimen for treatment one cannot completely control their blood sugar.  Could you imagine someone questioning the willingness of someone who has a relapse in their blood sugar by saying, “well you just have to surrender to your blood sugar before you can get better?” If your doctor said something like that you would find a new doctor. In the 12 step programs we say that all the time.

One of my complaints I have always had with members of the 12 step program is their own lack of understanding of the illness.  In the article when they review the “experts” in the field of addiction and some of them only have a high school diploma. Alcoholics Anonymous says it should remain forever non professional, but treatment centers are not making that claim.  They base their treatment on the 12 step model as the preferred and most effective treatment.  Treatment centers should not be selling the 12 step program because it’s not theirs to sell. I believe one thing needs to be clear for members in Alcoholics Anonymous or any 12 step program: Just because you are an alcoholic and/or drug addict, that does not make you an expert on addiction!   If that hurts your feelings then maybe one of the four inventories it discusses in the 12 steps and 12 traditions is in order.

The reality is Alcoholics Anonymous has not professed itself to be the only answer to alcoholism.  Read some of these following statement from the Fourth edition of Alcoholics Anonymous:

  • “We do not like to profess anyone an alcoholic”
  • “If anyone who is showing inability to control his drinking can do the right- about-face and drink like a gentleman, our hats are off to him. Heaven knows, we have tried hard enough and long enough to drink like other people!”
  • “By no means do we offer it as the last word on this subject, but so far as we are concerned, it has worked with us.”
  • “If you are as seriously alcoholic as we were”
  • “If you wish you can join us”
  • “If he does not want to stop drinking, don’t waste time trying to persuade him”

Hardly a force feeding of the Alcoholics Anonymous program.  As a matter of fact Alcoholics Anonymous, if anything, has been watered down by treatment centers. Commonly used phrases like, “don’t have a relationship for a year” or “fake it til you make it,” are no where to be found in the text of the Alcoholics Anonymous, but are said in meetings every day.  In many places AA meetings resemble group therapy more than they do AA meetings. Alcoholics Anonymous states, “we have no opinions on outside issues,” but it’s members do. Too often Alcoholics Anonymous is judged by the individual members.  They are not representative of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole.  Even the preamble of Alcoholics Anonymous states it is a “fellowship,” not treatment.  It is not Alcoholics Anonymous who is professing it’s success, it’s the members who attribute their success to Alcoholics Anonymous.

One of the complaints the article had was the lack of ability to research Alcoholics Anonymous.  Bill Wilson did not write the text of Alcoholics Anonymous with metrics for research, he wrote it because he wanted to help alcoholics. It was identified that remaining abstinent from alcohol Let’s remember prior to Alcoholics Anonymous there was nothing for alcoholics to sustain recovery from alcoholism.   Alcoholics Anonymous found a way to help many people over the years.  It has helped me remain sober for some 26 years.  Do I believe that we need to continue to find methods to help those who experience addiction-most definitely.  We have only begun to scratch the surface.  I have heard so many times, “the only answer to alcoholism is in the first 164 pages of Alcoholics Anonymous.”  Anyone who makes that statement has not read the first 164 pages.  Bill Wilson never believed that and searched for answers over the years outside of the program he developed.  He never stopped trying to find out how to make recovery better for alcoholics.

Did Alcoholics Anonymous believe they had all the answers?  On page 163 of the text they say, “Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little.”  Alcoholics Anonymous is what it is, a support group for people who want help for their alcoholism.  It is the professionals job to educate court systems, employers and others as to what is available for recovery.  I’m sure “more will be revealed.”