Are 12-step programs the only way to recover from drugs and alcohol (part 2)

I wanted to start Part 2 with a clarification.  Sometimes, readers assume that I am not a fan of 12-step programs. That is not true, I am actually huge fan of 12-step programs; however, I also believe that if someone is not a fan of 12-step programs or won’t go to them, that there needs to be support options for them too. Refusing 12-step attendance is not necessarily a one-way ticket to death, jail or institutions.

In fact, there is little data about addicts and alcoholics who have recovered by other means. Or about people who attended 12-step programs for a time then stopped but continued to maintain abstinence and a successful life. Certainly treatment centers aren’t going to pay for these kinds of studies. I suspect it would be a challenge to find the subjects to participate. The data available is soft anyhow, as it’s all self-report. They can be tested for actual abstinence via blood, urine, breath and hair, but how to we measure “recovery?”  Is it living a life abstinent from substances? Is the quality of that life and where does the criteria for quality of life come from? [Read more…]

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More thoughts about drug and alcohol interventions

I recently reviewed a book that I highly recommend: “Interventions: Opposing Viewpoints” After thinking about all of the information in that book, did a few searches about interventions and realized how easily one could become overwhelmed with information, not all of it in agreement. On a site call All About Interventions, I found an article called What is an Intervention?  It is a well written article that describes the process that the writer follows when helping a family get a loved one into treatment. There are two points in the article that I would like to comment on.

The first point is “An intervention is merely an invitation to seek additional care. Viewed in this way, it does not become a drama, but rather a reality of everyday practice.”  [Read more…]

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Book Review: Interventions: Opposing Viewpoints edited by Susan Hunnicut


I saw this book on my local library’s new books shelf and am very glad it picked it up. . This is one of the best books I have read on the basics of addition and treatment. Of course, many of the chapters espouse my point of view, and I like them best, but even the viewpoints I disagree with are well-written and referenced.

There are four chapters, with various articles taken from other sources in each chapter that support the theme. The book is easy to read, the language is not highly medical or technical, and at the beginning of each article, there are questions to think about as you read. [Read more…]

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I wish I’d said that about addiction!

I’m reading and reviewing some books that I know will be helpful for my clients and for my potential clients.  These  books answer questions about addiction, alcoholism and recovery.  The propose solutions. Most of all, they offer hope.

Recommended Books is the place to see some of the books I recommend. 

Sometimes, when I read a passage, I think, I know that, I should just tell it. Then I think, why recreate the wheel? What I need to do is reinforce and share the message, and let suffering families know that I am here to help them map out and implement the plan for their particular situation. Information is great, but translating and implementing it, taking the difficult actions is so much easier with support. You, the family and friends, support the addict, who supports YOU????

Today’s recommendations:  No More Letting Go by Debra Jay.  Debra has a warm and conversational way of talking about what happens to families as a result of having an addict or alcoholic in the system. She also clarifies some of the “conventional” wisdom that is often misunderstood to mean “stand by and let the addict hit bottom.  It is ALWAYS a good time to take action to keep addiction from taking down the whole family and giving the addict or alcoholic opportunities to accept help.

Are you ready to get the support you need to take action? Schedule a time to talk with me so that I can help you figure out the first step YOU need to take.

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Remember the siblings of the addict

I got a note today from a client who’s son is unfortunately now on his own journey doing the addiction dance. He’s actually too young to be labeled an addict yet, or right now in his journey in my opinion. However, early intervention is an important step. The family is being referred to a very reputable program; I mean, the son and his parents.

He has 2 siblings, one older and one younger who are not going to be included in the program.  They are all teens in middle and high school, and I think that this is a pretty big flaw in most adolescent treatment programs. Uhmmm,wait, that is a pretty big flaw in most drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Family programs, at least the ones I know about, and I’ve been in the business almost 25 years, focus on education about addiction and continue to put the focus on the addict and how everyone dances around the addict. Oh , they are told to go to Al-Anon or Nar-anon and take care of themselves ,but most families need more than self-help to learn to do this. The resources are limited for the adult members of the family and even sparser for the child members. Good intentions ,but not so great in practice.

Family and friends may not understand exactly what the addict is going through, but they are an integral part of the recovery process. Addicts do need a sober support network, but they also need to be a functioning part of their family, if they still have one. Yes, there are folks to do not have a family, and create a family in self-help and that’s really important.  This message isn’t for them, it’s for the families and friends who are still connected with and addict and want to be supportive and have the person back in their lives and a healthy and functioning way.

I am putting the finishing touches on just such a program.

What would YOU want to see included in a program to help your family, especially the siblings?

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Addiction is like Poison Ivy

You may know that you are allergic to poison ivy, and avoid it. Yet, you still end up with the telltale uncomfortable rash that let’s you know you were not as successfully avoiding it as you thought.

Or you may not know you are sensitive to poison ivy, and suddenly, after a lifetime of recklessly dancing through poison ivy patches that have your friends and family cringing, you end up with a wicked case of itchy, painful poison ivy and didn’t even remember coming in contact with it. (OK, yes, that was me)

Addiction is a lot like that; other people’s addictions: those of your family members, close friends or loved ones. Ouch, ouch, ouch!

The person in your life may have an addiction that is obvious and the toll it takes on everyone around them is obvious. If all of you are lucky, then the addicted person gets treatment and into recovery. They bloom, grow and change.  And if all of you are very lucky, then those affected by the addict bloom and grow and change as well.

If no one educates the family on what to expect, sometimes they get left behind. They remain confused, hurt, angry, stuck. There’s a lot of support out there for addicts who want help; not so much for the family and friends.

Sometimes the family and friends think they have not been affected by the addict’s behaviors. The addiction is not so obvious, or the family and friends have found support groups or therapy. The addict may have found abstinence but not “recovery.”  Or the addict relapses. Or…well, the list goes on.  They notice this little itch, so they scratch it. Then they look, and see that it’s not just an irritation or a bug bite, but a blistered, spreading rash. YIKES! Where the heck did that come from? I didn’t see any poison ivy..I don’t think I did anyhow. What does poison ivy look like again?

The solution is simple, although the process may not be: Family and friends of addicts must learn to take care of themselves FIRST. When they are emotionally and physically healthy, they can learn what to do next to keep their own balance and deal with the addicted person in their lives, whether the person is using or not.

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Like trying to look away from a bad accident…

We just can’t seem to help ourselves. So as I was downloading my Sunday crossword puzzle from the LA Times website, I noticed that Charlie Sheen was on the “In the News” line. I just couldn’t help myself, I had to look. He seems to think he is doing well, I guess, that he has an upcoming roast. Good for him. I’m thinking of his family. I wonder how they feel about it,what are they thinking; are they still hoping he will get help or are they just resigned to watching him continue his downward spiral.

And I wonder who is offering them support? Who is offering them help to process how they are affected by all this, and helping them take care of themselves while continuing to love him but not enable?

When I came back from my reverie, I noticed another sad but happier story, at least for now. Daniel Radcliffe, aka Harry Potter, has admitted he had a serious drinking problem, and has been committed to a sober life. for almost a year. He like it, he feels better about himself. Bravo! As a celebrity and a young person, it’s a huge step to make the commitment  to care about himself enough to get sober.  He managed to keep his drinking a secret, and his sobriety has been a private experience as well.

I hope that his family supported his transition; I hope someone has offered them support also. Even when someone we love takes the important step to get clean and sober, we still need to learn how to adjust to this. Often family members don’t know what to say; what not to say; how to be supportive with enabling or helping by doing what the recovering person should be doing for themselves. They don’t know how to express their relief, or their leftover anger and resentment.

Some treatment centers offer family programs for patients in their programs. Some even offer treatment for families who need to get a family member into treatment.  Al-anon and Nar-anon are good resources also. There are some great books on co-dependency.

When you are ready, find a therapist or a recovery coach who focuses on you, teaching you how to take care of yourself so you know what to do next. Many family members feel like they are surviving or have survived their loved one’s addiction.

You CAN learn to THRIVE not just SURVIVE a loved one’s addiction. Let’s develop your recovery plan.

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Rogue therapist raves again!

That’s it, I will have to change the name of my blog. Or stop listening to the radio and watching TV.

So, in spite of my better judgement, I’m watching the news to get a hint about the upcoming storm of the century.  Not that the weather predictions have been all that accurate, but that’s OK, I’m not much of an alarmist. I live in New Jersey. It gets cold here. It snows here. But I should have turned off the TV after the forecast, before the story about vitamin infused Vodka. Oh for Pete’s sake, who the Hell thought that one up? To reduce hangovers? I’m thinking drinking less is what reduces hangovers. But hey, I’ve only been an addictions counselor for 23 years, and done my own research before that. What would I know?

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Keeping it simple

That is the best way I can think to start blogging. Just setting up a blog is exciting and a little overwhelming!  So many options, so many directions, so many distractions!

So, to keep it simple, I’ll start with some basics about addiction and options and opportunities for moving into recovery.

As far a language and defintions, I will use the word addict to include those addicted to all drugs, including alcohol will strive to speak in gender neutral language.

One definition of addiction is the inabilty to stop using substances in spite of negative consequences. This can apply to self-destructive behaviors, such as gambling and overeating. The negative consequences generally continue to escalate, and the risks of continuing to use increase.

The concept of recovery also has many descriptions and definitions. Probably the simplest expectation is abstinence. A better description of recovery is the journey of getting and remaining abstinent, and is a more active experience. It is a time of enlightenment and joy, of struggle and self-acceptance. And a time when a support network is imperative.

A support network varies from person to person, but includes other sober and recovery people, family and friends. Friends and family often want to help and support, but don’t know how. They have their own recovery process, and need to learn more about addiction and recovery, the addict’s and their own.

Traditional recovery programs are 12-step based, and introduce addicts to 12-step recovery programs, such as AA and NA, to support their ongoing abstinence and recovery efforts. Other programs exist that are not 12-step based, and are often not in insurance networks; some are not in for good reasons, but others could benefit those for whom 12-step is not successful or of interest.

I fear this a somewhat heretical statement for me, as my initial training was in 12-step recovery programs. Over the years, I have seen many clients, in program and in my private practice succeed utilizing 12-step recovery programs. Others have not, for a variety of reasons. In the “old days” , these clients were told they were failures, that even if they were abstinent, they would fail if they did not embrace 12-step programs.; that they were “dry drunks.”Some did fail; other succeeded, and developed a solid pattern of abstinence, and a rewarding, successful life.

So which is the best approach? That varies from individual to individual. In my experience, the one factor that determines whether or not a person succeeds is a desire to do so. That is, that the person wants to recover. Can willpower alone do it? Maybe for some. It is more the concept of willingness, a willingness to do whatever it takes, to get on and stay on the path of recovery.


Suggested Readings:

AA and NA literature

The Tao of Sobriety by David Gregson and Jay S. Efran, PH.D.

Mindful Recovery: A Spiritual Path to Healing from Addictions by Thomas and Beverly Bien

The Thirst for Wholeness: Attachment, Addiction, and the Spiritual Path by Christina Grof

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