Another Red Herring…

We’d no sooner wrapped up last week’s Newsletter with Mary Ellen’s book review of Harvard psychologist Gene Heyman’s new book, Addiction, A Disorder of Choice, than in through the mail slot came the newsletter from a 12-Step residential program we visited last year in British Columbia. We weren’t too surprised that the leading article “The Great Debate,” decried the suggestion that any choice is involved.

Yet on the second page, Executive Director writes “Abuse or Dependence? – The Misunderstanding Persists – Remedy: Careful Initial Assessment and Correct Diagnosis”.

We certainly applaud that idea. Too bad no one is doing that.

We get their newsletter because we attended a conference in BC a little over a year ago. It was easily the only drug and alcohol conference we’ve ever attended that was worth the trip. Presenter after presenter pretty much told the same story – the one that research supports: over 85% of those seeking help with alcohol problems are alcohol abusers, not alcohol dependent or “alcoholics”.

We were, therefore, a bit confused when we toured the sponsoring treatment center and discovered that their actual program was the same old AA/12 Step based non-program that nearly every treatment program in the U.S, and Canada trots out. The Minnesota Model – a business model built on generating revenue, not curing alcohol abuse.

And like every other program the First Step is admitting you are powerless. And an alcoholic. Especially if you’re one of the 85% who aren’t. Then you’re told you’re “in denial”. Try talking your way out of that one.

Yes, you’ll still be labeled, stigmatized, traumatised, demeaned, and exploited. And no, they won’t make the least effort to sort out whether or not you’re abusing or dependent. That wouldn’t fit their business model.

Why bother doing an actual assessment anyway? That takes skill and time and all that could happen is that they’d either have to provide alternatives or refer potential clients elsewhere. Where’s the money in that?

Which leads up to the fact that a “controversy” like this one really is mostly a red herring designed to distract you away from the fact that what 12 Step treatment centers actually do – charge you to attend AA – doesn’t really work very well and if you are one of the 5% it does work for, well, hey, it’s available for free in a church near you.

That’s the marketing genius behind the Minnesota Model – they’ll charge you an arm and a leg for something you can get for free and brainwash you into thinking they did you a favor.

Real assessment? Real help? Real experience? Real training? Real services designed around you and your life? That’s what we have to offer you. At one fifth the price of a residential treatment program.

Confidential. Private. No labels, no groups. Recovered! Not “in recovery”.

Yes, mostly alcohol abuse is a choice, and you can choose something else.

If you want help – who are you going to choose?

Comparison Shopping: Questions to Ask

Whenever you start looking for help with an alcohol problem you’re usually motivated by a crisis of one sort or another. Not the best circumstances for making an informed decision.

But if you’ve roamed the Internet, you have probably found yourself overwhelmed by the supposed choices. Happily you can narrow those down pretty quickly.

98% of the programs out there are AA/12 Step based and you can get an excellent introduction to all of them by attending a few AA meetings. If that appeals to you then it’s merely a matter of what level of amenities you can afford. The programs themselves are all pretty much the same.

When you do start talking to places, you may want to ask about staff qualifications. Keep looking if you hear that the staff is mainly composed of “Certified” counselors. In most states that just means the person has a high school diploma or GED and took a six-month course and then passed a multiple choice test on “The Big Book” of AA.

You might also ask how many staff label themselves as “in recovery”. This is another serious red flag. Let’s be realistic – people who are “in recovery” aren’t in any position to help you recover. Frankly, your wish to recover scares them to death and they will punish you accordingly.

Even if you aren’t looking at AA/12 Step based programs, be wary of programs which still push the “disease” model. Approaching alcohol abuse as a disease, while sometimes appropriate in the case of alcohol dependence, guarantees you’ll be lumped into a single category and, again, fed into another cookie cutter mold.

Finally, ask about how much of your time will be spent in groups and how much will be individual counseling. Most places it’ll come down to 95% group and 5% individual. We think you can figure out just how much attention is going to be paid to you particular situation, needs, and wants.

Choices? Sadly there aren’t many. But if you want to rebuild, or avoid losing, your life, there are a few and we’d be happy to discuss them with you.

Tools From Our Shelf

Click the link for a longer discussion of Comparison Shopping for a treatment program.


I just came back from a trip to the supermarket where I found them putting up Christmas displays!

But that did get me to thinking – it is a good time to think about fixing that alcohol problem before the holidays. Before the drinking turns another November and December into months you’d rather forget than remember.

Yes, we know, the temptation is to say, “Well, after the holidays I’ll do something.”

But that hasn’t worked out in previous years and probably won’t this year either. So why not do something different?