Musings of an old Timer – Changing Attitudes about Addiction Treatment

Group session in a drug and rehab center

Should we Control our behavior or Change who we are?

Past generations attempted to equip clients with motivational tools to help them see the futility in attempting to “control” their addictions. These tools were usually educational- medical with enough spiritual concepts & teaching to enable peoples to properly design & implement a “program”.

12 step program for alcohol and drug addicts in a rehab center
12 step program for alcohol and drug addicts in a rehab center

Originally a “program” was simple. A brief look at the past shows us, usually a brief stay in a ‘detox’ with minimal medicinal assistance followed by intense hands on fellowship and teachings that was likened what we know today as the 12 step programs. This process led to the formation and birth of the original Program, “ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS”. Although the steps were not written until 1939 the simple precepts of Admission- Submission- Restitution-and Maintenance were all formulated long before the first AA meeting ever.

Those Spiritual Concepts were derived from Biblical teachings that led to the present-day teachings of all 12-step approaches to addiction treatments. This Total Abstinence approach in its infancy resulted in its claimed, in most historical remembrance as to, a 50% who came stayed sober and an additional 50% of those who returned after a relapse returned to get sober. There is some evidence that those who initially came to be associated with early AA eventually recovered at the rate of 93%. Bear in mind the entry process in those early days required one to have a pre- interview with a sober member to be sponsored into the program. So, the pre-qualifying probably excluded all but the worst …i.e. the most desperate and least resistant to change. By the way most early AA’s were dual-addicted.

Alcohol drinking problem in US
Alcohol drinking problem in US

So right away we see an approach that attempted to control behavioral drinking and drugging, first by total abstinence, followed by immediate immersion into identifying and practicing biblical teachings of surrender-confessions-discipleship-amends making and helping others.

Over the years we have seen many attempts to recreate these teachings, but many were   soon rejected as ‘Christianized AA”. Alcoholics Victorious, Celebrate Recovery and many others have not been able to successfully rise in popularity with any great deal of success. Society appears to be too willing to outright reject any teachings that have any religious overtones altogether.

With modern day liberal tendencies and the modern ideas in society that we need to be all inclusive of all ideas and opinions, I fear that tried and true teachings and long known successful workings are being discarded in favor of anything goes and every man becomes his own teacher. Traditional 12 steppers have outright dismissed these methodologies in favor of allowing new sick people to do their own thing. Many believe that all, if not some of the old norms should be ignored or thrown out altogether. This is rather unfortunate. We know that, without proper knowledge and guidance, very few stumble into sobriety without assistance of some fashion. The result of everyone having his own “program” is, we are seeing dismal rates of recovery by any standards of measure. Relapse is generally accepted as part of the program. Few today can afford not to be told they don’t EVER have to drink or use again, If they can learn to think and act differently. While old ways are sometimes hard to change, they need not be totally ignored or disregarded as ineffective. Any open-minded clinician should be seeking ways to improve and add to techniques that have been time tested.

In today’s environment I believe we need to be open to all new scientific research data and managed medical approaches to healing the addictive tendencies of our clients.

Modern day regimes of nutrition fitness, amino acid, neuro feedback, MAT and other holistic therapies should all be examined, embraced and implemented as valuable supportive measures for the addict or alcoholic.

But, as previously stated there is much value in recognizing, “How we control our behavior and How we come to believe”, as there is in the process of getting physically well. We can go on teaching clients to change by ‘sucking it up ‘or we can give in to the newer ideas of treatment combining modern methodologies thereby recognizing early relapse symptoms and attempting to lessen the effects of early relapse.

Additionally, we might continue to accept the old acceptable ‘anything goes-light bulb-higher power’ attempts at sobriety that most 12 step programs have embraced that have driven the rate of recovery to a dismal 7-10%. But, we also should consider the truthful, but non-specific acknowledgment of a Creator to bring hope to people seeking relief from their addiction as a separate but co-existing component to a well-rounded program.

The challenge for treatment providers today is exactly how to impart the necessary truth, that the addict is caught in a physical-mental and spiritual malady, that is much more complex than previously acknowledged – without abandoning the wisdom of the ages as it relates to addiction.

So, the initial question, ‘Should we control our behavior or Change who we are?’, is to be answered in the affirmative for both parts. The real question should be ‘How do we control and How do we change’ and ‘What are the tools and techniques that we might employ.’

Group Counseling in a Drug and Rehab Center
Treatment and Counseling session at a drug and rehab center

Somewhere there are answers for those of us that desire to help the suffering. It is my belief that if we, collectively as well as individually’ seek direction and guidance from the Creator that what we need to do our work will be sufficiently supplied. The joy of recovery never comes for many as life becomes so convoluted with arguments over which way is right and which way really works. We are too intricately made to think that there are only answers from within ourselves. Continue to question everything, seek counsel of others, be challenged always to the ideas and teachings of others. Our mission is too important to be bogged down in mindless debates of methods and claims of superior techniques while there are suffering souls to be tended to. The answer to long term sobriety for all those who seek help lies in the simple slogan, ‘Keep it simple’.