Recovery anniversaries unscientific and crazy?

Ban the cake!!!

Robert DuPont has something to say in response to the media blitz for Dodes’ new book attacking AA. He’s more strident than I’d be in defending AA, but he makes some great points.

. . . Dodes criticized AA and Narcotics Anonymous’ (NA) “tally” system, which recognizes incremental periods of continued sobriety by awarding chips. “The dark side is, if you have a beer after six months of sobriety, you’re back to zero in AA,” Dodes said. “That makes no sense. It’s unscientific. It’s simply crazy. If you have only a beer in six months, you’re doing beautifully.”

What’s wrong with Dodes’ thinking on the matter?

The bright line drawn by AA and NA — the sobriety date that marks the last time a recovering addict used alcohol or other drugs — is essential. It differs radically from the academic and professional standard for drug and alcohol addiction , which tolerates slips and relapses. The bright line of the sobriety date is a matter of importance and of huge pride for fellowship members — it is a core marker of identity in the fellowships, and a fundamental defining part of the disease of addiction. One of the true joys of this fellowship is attending a group celebration that commemorates a recovering addict’s “clean time” anniversary.

The all too common academic, professional views on addiction, well represented by Dodes, run counter to the AA and NA goal of sobriety. Many professionals and academics see continued alcohol and drug use as OK but “problem-generating use” as not quite as acceptable. They encourage controlled, responsible alcohol and drug use. They encourage cutting down, but not stopping. They view drug and alcohol use by addicts as a lifestyle alternative that, like sexual orientation, should not be “stigmatized.”

That is a reckless view. An addict who has one beer after six months of sobriety is not doing “beautifully.” Instead, he or she is courting catastrophe, and likely to easily fall back into active addiction. An addict cannot just have one beer, or one cigarette, or one pill. True lifelong recovery does not happen that way, and anyone who believes that it does is heading for a major relapse.

There are endless examples of skeptics like Dodes who seek alternatives to AA, or approaches that attack AA. I suggest to my patients who reject AA that they find one of these alternatives, and see what they think of it. They tell me that such programs are hard to find. I ask them, “Why do you think that is the case? Doesn’t that tell you something?”

7 thoughts on “Recovery anniversaries unscientific and crazy?

  1. Black and white thinking drives this girl nuts! 🙂 I think that alcohol use disorders really need to be considered on the spectrum that they exist, and a LOT of people who have drinking problems don’t necessarily NEED to remain abstinent for life. I mean, this is just fact, this isn’t me bashing AA (I have my chips, I hold onto them with great pride). I think it’s important to note that those who stick it out in the rooms have identified with the idea of not drinking because one drink can light up that pesky craving circuit in *their* minds, leading to disaster once again; while others who are not “so far gone” have left because they don’t need such severity. Thanks for posting, interesting to think about…

    1. I’d go as far as to say that most people with alcohol problems can moderate or quit on their own. (The same way I might quit eating a food that causes an allergic reaction.)

      The DSM-5 has gone with a spectrum approach and I’m squeamish about it. My concern with this is that it suggests that the problem drinker and the alcoholic have the same problem, just to different degrees. I believe that they have two very different problems with very different solutions.

      Thanks for the comment!

      1. Huh…interesting. I have been grappling with that very thing, but mind you, I am NOT a counselor, just have talked with many “addicts”: are they separate problems? I mean, where does problem drinking end and “real” alcoholism begin? Are you a problem drinker if you can moderate 2 out of 5 times you drink? Are you a “real” alcoholic if you can drink 10 drinks to the problem drinker’s 5? These distinctions are false, in my mind, arbitrary depending on physical and environmental factors, a host of which exist for every person who uses…

      2. I think you’re saying that you can’t determine whether someone’s an alcoholic by counting drinks. If so, I agree completely. For example, lots of college students drink very heavily for a few years. If you count drinks, they are going to look like an alcoholic. Of those, something like 60% will not develop any chronic problem with alcohol. They don’t have the brain disease of addiction and they’ll moderate or quit when they have good reason.

        The defining trait of alcoholism is loss of control. When were trying to figure out if someone’s an alcoholic, that’s what we look for. This inability to control how much they drink when they start and an inability to stay away from it despite good reasons and consequences.

  2. I never cared to remember what my EXACT sobriety date was.

    I know it was at the end of April 1991, with only one single relapse, that date however, I do recall, it was on August 23rd, 2011.

    I remember it because it was the fault of some of the people who are around and managing the person who is my BIGGEST influence for my sobriety.

    So, minus that date, at the end of April, I’ll be celebrating my 23rd year of sobriety.

  3. We always forget to mention the families and what they go through with an alcoholic who doesn’t stay sober. It really isn’t all about the addict.

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