Testifying In Court – Why We (Almost) Never Do It

Recently I broke a cardinal rule and agreed to testify on behalf of a client. It was a mistake.


The problems begin with society’s ingrained belief that “AA works – and it’s the only thing that does.” That of course, leads into the cherished myths that “abstinence is the only acceptable or attainable outcome” and that one must have “sponsors” and be “in recovery forever.”

Add in 5 incompetent attorneys (count ‘em folks, 5!) and you can guess where things are headed.

Not that it had to be a disaster. It could have been productive and even educational.


Much of what usually transpires in hearings is a defense of the AA based rehab industry and all of the mythology that supports and justifies it – none of it more damaging to people with alcohol problems than the so-called “disease model.”

This is where the irony comes in. Suppose it were an actual disease. Then you, the patient, would have actual choices. Treatment? Yes or no? What type of treatment? By whom? Where?

You’d usually be encouraged to do whatever research you cared to, seek second or third opinions, and review outcomes based on actual data.

That done, you could make an informed decision and determine what you thought best suited you – and that decision would, usually, be respected.

But with the “disease” of “alcoholism”?

Forget all that.

You will be told that the only acceptable “treatment” is one based on AA and the 12 Steps – a model that hasn’t been up-dated since 1935. An approach with a track record of under 5% “success.”

A model that hasn’t had it effectiveness independently verified ever!

All fueling a rehab industry that is completely unregulated.

The attorneys at this hearing were appalled to hear that we offered research-based treatment based on DSM-5 diagnosis, addressed by an individualized plan that is a mosaic of what the past 35 years of research demonstrate actually works.

To them, we had to do AA, groups, sponsors, punishment, humiliation, and degradation. Because that’s what “everyone knows is the only way”!

Four of the attorneys were women ranging in age from 30-50. I wanted to ask, “Suppose you were diagnosed with breast cancer and told that only the treatments available in 1935 would be permitted in your case?”

Of course, I’d have been ruled out of order and silenced – which is pretty much what happened.

But you can still make a different choice – a 21st Century one that continues to evolve, improve, adapt and adopt. Or you can try 19th-century blood-letting, too. What century do you want to stake your future in?

Beware of Your New and Comfortable Normal

One of the unexpected pitfalls many of us have experienced after giving up alcohol abuse is that we start to forget what motivated us to quit.

We all have a perfectly normal and necessary ability to “forget” unpleasant conditions, experiences, and events that we have lived through. Mostly, these memories fade over time or become less traumatic or we may even begin to reconstruct them entirely.

As a result, as our newly established, post-alcohol dominated, “normal” settles in, we can find ourselves minimizing the negative effects and events associated with drinking and becoming nostalgic for the supposed benefits we got from drinking.

Again, our ability to repress negative experiences is necessary – otherwise, there wouldn’t be any families with more than one child – but in the case of many alcohol related events and conditions it’s dangerous to get complacent about how far you’ve come from those bad old days and mornings.

And of course, we also get bored with the new routines that are no longer “new” and are just, well, routine.

A lot of us who have developed an affinity for alcohol that exceeds the beneficial, also have high risk-taking traits, low thresholds of boredom, and impulsivity. Guess what happens when we quit paying attention?

Combine that with the effects of aging and the need to pay ever greater attention to ourselves and our circumstances – whether medical, financial, legal, professional or otherwise – and we can get a little depressed, bored, careless, and nostalgic for the days when a bottle or two took care of things for a day, week…

Easy to begun unraveling the life we’ve created over the past months or years.

No, it’s not inevitable, nor AA’s slippery slope. It’s just our tendency to regress just a bit too much.

It’s a good time to look around, laugh at yourself, dust off whatever you’ve let slide, pick up a new interest or two, call a friend, take a vacation, dust off a book.

Remember, good will and good humor go a long way – don’t forget to direct them at yourself as well as others.