Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

AA, NA, Waiting for Godot, and The Iceman Cometh

AA, NA, and the chronic brain disease model would have addicts sitting around waiting for the other shoe to fall—only an instant separating them from life and death. This is unhelpful, untrue to the data on recovery, and the basis for the deaths of so many. I take the opposite view and approach in my book with Ilse Thompson, "Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict." Read More

Mr. Peele, I really

Mr. Peele,

I really appreciate your efforts to bringing to light another form of recovery. I am 2 years sober, and I went to a rehab that taught specifically the brain disease model. I sit around scared the other shoe will drop. One thing I never find is some who recovered without the 12 step model. Probably because they are out living their lives not worrying about it. Can you provide instances or examples?

How about me?

15 years here. Yes, I got started in 12 step (it was impossible NOT to in 1998) but eventually rejected the ideology which I found both illogical and limiting. When I left the program I was told I would surely relapse and die ("signing my own death warrant", as it says in the 12&12), but it has been years now and I'm still doing great. In fact, I'm not only doing great, but better than I was in 12 step programs because I no longer have that feeling that the other shoe is going to drop, or that my decision to abstain is fragile and can be lost in a nanosecond if I am not "spiritually fit" (whatever the hell THAT means). So don't worry: you don't need to buy their dogma and their lies. Leave. You'll be fine.

That is great. Congrats on

That is great. Congrats on your commitment and strength. I think you and Mr. Peele misunderstood me though. I went to 12 steps but never liked it so I have not been going. I never practiced their ways. I still have their thoughts in my head though and it scares me. Did you still get cravings or a nagging voice to tell you to use? I get that sometimes and I hate it. How did you improve your life?

How about

How about Bode Miller and Drew Barrymore -- untreated recovering addicts and alcoholics actually outnumber treated by 7:1. And, of course, read and discuss my book at your AA meetings!

(I put links up in the post itself, where I included your comment.)

re,AA, NA, Waiting for Godot, and The Iceman Cometh

I think this is a really accurate description of what happens to many who follow the 12 step path. I have read your book and think your method of recovery would help many. I have used many of the techniques myself, including mindfulness for some time, and they have really helped me move forward. I spent some time at the start of my recovery in AA and it was not a positive experience for me. I feel the steps can be quite dangerous to many who relapse, especially step 4, and the powerless concept is probably only useful at the very start of recovery, but long term causes a very negative self image. AA can provide some fellowship and encouragement and I feel this is probably what helps people if anything. I preferred to move on and make new friends away from it all. I hope the new book gets a lot of attention, because many people are realising the 12 step method and the disease theory are not much help, and they would be helped by your book.

I had an alcohol problem

and while working as a newspaper reporter I went to some AA meetings to write about the problems of addicts. After interviewing a bunch of people at meetings I concluded that I must not be an addict because i wasn't like them. So I just started drinking more moderately and after a few years I was fine. I have only been drunk once or twice in the past 20 years and that has been on a new year's eve. Your argument makes a lot of sense to me.

Heroin addict

My son was a heroin addict living on the street in his car. He went to expensive detox and rehab with assisted living, the works. He never finished the AA/NA dogma promoted by all the rehab facilities. He dropped out of those meetings because, he did not like the disparaging philosophy. He matured out of his addiction and he matured out of AA dogma. He CHOSE to stop and found new reasons to enjoy life. He refused to think and act like an addict. People change with they hurt enough and have to and or when they learn enough and want to. Thinking like an addict enables you to be an addict forever. All change ultimately occurs because of decisions (THINKING) people make for themselves. You simply never learn to think for yourself with AA/NA- end of subject. AA and NA are good band aide programs but they are mired in 1930 dogma and not evidence based medicine of 2014.

Well put

Somehow, voices like yours get more than cancelled out by the AA claque - but thank you for speaking up, and continue to voice your point of view.

Leaving AA

I was a member of AA until very recently, was there for a few years.

Left for alot of reasons. It was just difficult to take alot of those people seriously when so many of them had such troubled personal lives after 5, 10, even 20 plus years of "recovery." Sure, everyone has problems, but alot of them just seemed like big drama queens. Some of them almost seemed to be trying to live up to some image of a flaky recovering alcoholic.

And I just couldn't shake the notion that the 4th, 5th, and 9th steps were quite overrated. I had already told a shrink my secrets, but according to my sponsor, that wasn't good enough because it wasn't in the prescribed AA format. So I did the 4th & 5th Steps to see what the big deal was, and it wasn't a big deal, as I had already essentially done it.

As for the 9th Step, I had already made amends to my wife, will make amends with my kids when they're old enough to understand but beyond that...I have no idea who I could make amends to without digging up bones for no good reason or just seeming like a dork. I mostly drank alone in the few years prior to AA, I didn't owe anyone money, and I didn't have much of an effect on anyone outside my immediate family. But to hear some of these guys tell it, you pretty much gotta track down someone you cussed out 30 years ago and make amends - otherwise, it's jails, institutions, or death for ya buddy!! Whatever...

Leaving AA

From my experience with AA meetings there seems to be an, "Unspoken Token," for being the most, "Messed-up," person in the group. I guess that is how one might feel important when you are constantly being told you are a powerless victim of an incurable disease.

Life in the rooms

I attended a 12-step program for several years. There were things that were helpful, but I got to a point where my recovery process needed to go beyond what 12 steps had to offer. I found that the majority of the folks in the rooms just didn't go beyond a certain point by stepping out to try new behaviors. Many people acted like victims who couldn't change. Interestingly, several years after I left the group, one of the group members committed suicide. I went to a meeting to show support, and the same people were there talking about the same exact things. Philip Seymour Hoffman needed a lot more than AA/NA. He needed intensive psychotherapy to source his emotional issues, perhaps family of origin issues. When he started using again, that 10-day stay in a facility was just detox, not real rehabilitation. If Mr. Hoffman really wanted to recover, he should have stopped working to enter a program like yours Dr. Steele. Make no mistake: Philip Seymour Hoffman's death was suicide. He didn't fight for his life.

Drug substitution

Buprenorphine was found in Mr. Hoffman's apartment. More evidence that "harm reduction" schemes championed by Stanton Peele are ineffective. Members of NA who continue to take the Steps do quite well. Discontinuing the Steps, even after a long period of abstinence, is perilous for drug addicts.

Not on harm reduction

PSH was on other things as well, lots of them legal drugs.

PSH was obviously depressed and troubled. Combine Opiates, Benzodiazepines and booze, and you are pretty much “three sheets to the wind” with an illusion of invincibility.
You build up tolerance, then good luck keeping track of what you are taking, or anticipating the dangerous interactions of various drugs on your system.
More people OD on legal drugs than illegals.

You can’t go cold turkey on these suckers, give yourself over to the Lord and pray the addition away.

Maybe some people do well under a system that tell them what to do, safe in the knowledge that they don’t need to wake up or face up any of the Four Noble Truths just to replace one addiction ( take your pick) with another - AA or NA , and getting a new identity - Addict.

One could argue that the

One could argue that the presence of Buprenorphine showed that he was NOT practicing Harm Reduction. The Bup would have neutralized the H.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

I am an active member of NA, and came to the fellowship through some outpatient counseling sessions that encouraged the usefulness of NA/AA. When dealing with severe drug addiction, of course there are going to be many sad stories of relapse. There will be sad stories of failure no matter what method or philosophy of treatment is preferred. It's drug addiction and there is no miracle cure. Peoples' personal problems and backgrounds are very deep and complex. As a person who relapsed back into full-on addiction after 10 years of sobriety and after a religious conversion that gave me a new way of life, I now realize that relapse is always a possibility and that one does need to be careful in realizing dangerous signs. NA is not perfect, but it sure is a great start for many addicts on want to be on the road to recovery. NA is not concerned to reinforce addictive mindsets and behaviors. Rather, NA is concerned to encourage a new way of life through the 12 steps. As the principles are worked out and implemented, a new way of life begins to emerge. Lastly, I am a Christian. But I'm also an addict. My identity as an addict is very real. But I do have an identity that is more ultimate and prevailing, and I recognize that. I think it's very sobering to be able to realize our human frailties, weaknesses, and the desires that can undo us. Solutions aren't discovered until there is an accurate diagnosis of the problem. NA doesn't tell me everything, but it does get me to look at myself, diagnose what is wrong with me, and deal with life on life's own terms. Every method of treatment is limited and no perspective seems to cover all the bases. Some NA groups are better than others. But I'm thankkful to have my local fellowships and have been more helped than harmed by them.


Thank you , Stanton, for continuing to challenge the norms around recovery. Let's hope that the discussion continues & minds are opened. I lost a sister to an accidental drug overdose & another sister spent time prostituting on the streets of Vegas & using whatever substances she could. I did my own "time" in AA. None of us could handle the rigidity of AA (we came from an authoritarian, religious household). I can't help but wonder if my dear sister might be with us if she'd had a viable alternative to 12-step "recovery". Keep up the good work, no matter the criticism. The tide is slowly turning & lives will be saved.

I wrote the comment quoted by Dr. Peele

Sadly, I can identify the AA members who responded by the loaded language used in the responses. I read in their comments what I heard in meetings when someone died "Some are sicker than others." OR "He would have never gotten high again had he been 'working the program.'"

One of my AA contemporaries became a circuit speaker and practitioner of "The Big Book Experience." She was, as they say in AA, in the "center of the herd." She also had assignations with men she met on Craig's List and constantly went from rich to poor. She was constantly cheerful and a bundle of energy, when she wasn't crying along at her house. Her mother, who had certainly known her longer than her sponsors and sponsees, suggested medication. She didn't like the idea, because it didn't fit her idea of "sober from the neck up."

And, so, after 26 years, she drank. And she drank, And she drank, She drank herself into rehab, and rehab sent her back to AA. She lasted two weeks before buying a gun and blowing her brains out.

Guess what? She had a spiritual experience and she was a Christian. She was also bipolar and needed medication, which she was persuaded not to take by her AA sponsor.

Who knows whether Mr. Hoffman had a mental illness, as my friend did? What I know is that the results were the same. They both went to AA and were sober for a long period of time, and neither of them is alive.

The problem is, that for all of the AA apologists, crazy, dysfunction and mental illness are daily facts of life in AA. What Dr. Peele suggests is that, for some people, "AA Normal" is a death sentence.

Comments on "AA, NA, Waiting for Godot, and The Iceman Cometh" | Psychology Today

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Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.


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