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Invasion of the Recovery Body Snatchers, Pods Win

Alcoholic recovery pods have taken over college campuses

Ever see the 1956 Don Siegel cult classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where hero Kevin McCarthy discovers pod people are taking over the identities of everyone in town -- including his girlfriend? (I hate when that happens.) I know this disclosure is obvious: when I saw the movie at age 10, I totally identifed with McCarthy (who died in 2010 at age 96).

The same thing is happening again, only for real, as illustrated on Sunday by NBC's The TODAY show. Today featured a segment on the growing phenomenon of on-campus Recovery Communities, where 18- to 22-year-olds declare themselves alcoholics, turn themselves over to recovery gurus, and vow forevermore to be alcoholic pods. They don't interact with the rest of the drunken student body (I personally didn't get drunk the entire time I was at college -- okay, I smoked a little pot), busy themselves in sober activities, and surround themselves with fellow recovery acolytes.

The amiable Lester Holt and two experts gushed about what a great thing this was -- that people are rushing to get help so young. The show made the point that we are finally coming to grips with youthful drinking by no longer concerning ourselves with how kids learn to drink, but only in making sure they, or a least problem drinkers, never drink at all. Prominently featured on the segment was a shot of AA's The Big Book, the only treatment resource referenced.

Where shall I begin? How about with the recent announcement, based on the most comprehensive alcoholism survey ever conducted, at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's Web site titled: "Alcoholism Isn't What It Used to Be":

The realization dawned gradually as researchers analyzed data from NIAAA’s 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). In most persons affected, alcohol dependence (commonly known as alcoholism) looks less like Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas than it does your party-hardy college roommate or that hard-driving colleague in the next cubicle. [They should have asked me; I knew this all along.]

"We knew . . . that alcohol dependence is most prevalent among younger adults aged 18 to 29. . . . However, it was not until we examined the NESARC data that we pinpointed age 22 as the mean age of alcohol dependence onset [and we learned] that nearly half of people who become alcohol dependent do so by age 21 and two-thirds by age 25.". . .

Here are the outcomes, according to the NIAAA, for these (most often youthful) "alcoholics":

  • About 70 percent of affected persons have a single episode of less than 4 years. The remainder experience an average of five episodes. . . .
  • Twenty years after onset of alcohol dependence, about three-fourths of individuals are in full recovery; more than half of those who have fully recovered drink at low-risk levels without symptoms of alcohol dependence. . . .
  • Only 13 percent of people with alcohol dependence ever receive specialty alcohol treatment.

Here are the data about how Americans who have ever been alcohol dependent drank during the prior year to the survey (remember -- this may be 20 or more years after diagnosis):


Remain alcoholic: 28%

Abstain: 35%

Drink non-alcoholically: 36%


Remain alcoholic: 24%

Abstain: 12%

Drink non-alcoholically: 64%

Let's summarize:

  • A lot of young people develop drinking problems
  • For a large majority, these are limited to their youth
  • They overwhelmingly don't receive alcoholism treatment
  • But they nonetheless outgrow the problem, even though most continue drinking
  • Unless they receive treatment, when they are (a) much more likely to abstain
  • (Although even as many of the treated drink nonalcoholically as abstain)
  • Or else (b) remain alcoholic at slightly higher levels than the untreated

So, let's hear it for NBC and their stupid experts: they present a solution which the government's own alcoholism agency and research data not only say is ineffective, but actually prompts the same all-or-nothing attitude towards alcohol that got the kids in trouble in the first place!

(My colleague Ilse Thompson, proprietress of Stinkin-Thinkin, calls this the creation of replacement alcoholics. You know: The way cigarette companies encourage kids to become smoking addicts to replace the adults who quit.)

Oh, did you see the 1978 remake of Invasion, starring Donald Sutherland?

The pods win.

Stanton Peele has been empowering people around addiction since writing, with Archie Brodsky, Love and Addiction in 1975. He has developed the on-line Life Process Program. His new book (written with Ilse Thompson) is Recover! Stop Thinking Like an Addict with The PERFECT Program. You can follow Stanton on Twitter and Facebook. His website is

Aug. 23. In order to prove my point exactly, this pod wrote in:

Seems to be a lack of understanding here
Submitted by Dorri Olds on August 23, 2011 - 3:17pm.

Alcoholism is a disease. That's why insurance companies pay for treatment. You better believe insurance companies wouldn't pay a dime if it was just some silly coming of age thing. There are so many teenage alcoholics/drug addicts and plenty in their 20s. It is a mental disorder. The way to get help is to admit there is a problem. Why on earth should it bother somebody else why a young person seeks help with drinking. People should be cheering them on, not mocking the help that is available to them.

September 2, 2011: The pluperfect pod response

But this is much better.

Beverly Haut to stanton Sep 1

I just ran across your website, and now I'm sitting here thinking to myself, "Who is this guy?" I've never heard of you, but you're obviously a big muckity-muck in your field, so okay. "Lack of humility" is my first impression.

Note first (in terms of humility) that Ms. Haut decided to crack into my cozy little world by writing to insult me at my personal e-mail address. Why shouldn't she - she's entitled - she's in AA! She starts out with the perfect pod-like posture: "Oh, I know you're supposed to be some big expert -- degrees, research, speeches -- that means s__t to me - I'm a pod!"

But here's the thing: You're wrong. Competely and 100% wrong. At least about Alcoholics Anonymous. I see your words claiming thousands of people who have recovered from addiction without AA, without treatment, but I see no evidence to support your claim.

What National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism research with 43,000 Americans that announces "Alcoholism Isn't What It Used to Be"? I can't be bothered to click into that link - I'm an AA pod! What we say goes - why would I be interested in some massive research project - was the director of it in AA?

Baffled, I am, as I write this with 110 days of sobriety. I *had* nearly 23 years, but went 13 years without a meeting. I'm back, but it was a hard climb, and the path has changed for me.

HUH? She's baffled? The AA pod was in AA for two dozen years, left for a dozen (why was that?) and now counts (at the age 56 if she entered AA at 20) that she has a total of fewer than four months of sobriety? And this compares how with the majority of youthful alcoholics who outgrow alcoholism completely? Why wouldn't they all want to join her pod?

I run across about 1,000 people a month who are sober, living their lives sober, living happily, joyously and, yes, freely, and it's all because of AA and their willingness to work.

A thousand people a month? We're back to that having left AA for a dozen years after two dozen in -- who'd you hang with in that period, Beverly? Did you drink? You mean two dozen years meeting a thousand people a month leading perfectly sober lives didn't persuade you to remain in AA? Let's see -- 12 x 24 x 1000 = more than a quarter million perfectly content recovering alcoholics in AA -- and you were the only rotten apple in the bunch?

What do you have to offer? I'm genuinely curious.

Beverly -- you're genuinely curious? Now are you? The woman who can't read a page at the NIAAA Web site? Here's what I'll do, Beverly -- you're so persuasive -- I'll review all my work -- all my books, and articles and posts just for you! Anything to win your approval. Can I become a pod, like you, then, with 110 days of sobriety at the age of 55+? A fate devoutly to be sought!