Exploring Self-responsibility

My subtitle, “75% of all addicts recover without 12-step, and you can too,” may seem controversial to you, if not, you would be in the minority, as surveys consistently show the majority of Americans believe addiction is a disease, addicts are powerless over it, cannot recover without help, and 12-step is the only method that works. One of my purposes in writing this is to conclusively demonstrate to you that these contentions are undeniably false; there is not a shred of evidence supporting them and the contrary evidence is overwhelming. Multitudes of repeatable studies, over several decades, prove beyond any doubt that three-quarters of the people meeting the criteria for substance abuse or dependence recover absolutely on their own, without treatment, 12-step groups, or formal help of any kind, indicating that you already possess all the power you need if you have a genuine desire to effect self-change in any area of your life, including your addiction.

Each of you knows someone who has quit smoking on their own, and you may have done so yourself, without using nicotine-replacement therapy, or any other program. Nicotine is an extremely addictive substance, and is especially hard to quit because it wends its way into every facet of our lives, and yet, in spite of this, millions can and do quit smoking every year, and nearly 90% of them do it completely on their own.

I’m writing primarily for those of you who are currently questioning their own drug or alcohol use, or those who have tried 12-step programs, and not succeeded there. You may have been told you are “powerless” over your addiction, but you are no more powerless over drugs or alcohol than the people who quit without help were powerless over nicotine. I will describe in detail the methodology for self-change that worked for the 75% of addicts who successfully recovered on their own, and show you how to apply these principles in your own recovery program. My aim is to suggest methods that science and actual experience indicate can be successful for the majority of people who choose to employ them.

What makes this book truly unique, is the viewpoint and experience I bring to it as a recovered addict, and that in one place, I have combined a detailed explanation of the bio/psycho/social aspects of addiction, the appropriate research and studies into how most people recover, a broad review of the current recovery methods, and suggestions you can use to take what’s available and construct a recovery program that fits your own needs and life situations. I make some suggestions, based upon the available science, I don’t try to convince you to accept an inflexible system of rigid dogma, and mold yourself to fit into it. There is no one program that will work for everyone, there are only methods and principals that will work for most, and these have been uncovered in scientific surveys and studies, not by some variation of divine revelation.

Some will see this volume as mere “Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) bashing,” and, some of that cannot be avoided, as the whole concept of “powerlessness over alcohol” originated with the fundamentalist Christian sect, the Oxford Group, AA’s parent, who already had a set of steps of their own. The original first step of the Oxford Group read: “I am powerless over sin, I am defeated by it.” Change “sin” to “alcohol,” throw in some unmanageability, and you have AA’s first step.  From there, the principle of “powerlessness” permeated the entire drug and alcohol treatment infrastructure, in spite of the first studies proving it wrong showing up in the 1970’s, and even earlier, there was some evidence that heroin addicts were recovering on their own.

Walk into an AA meeting as a newcomer, as I did, and you will be told you have a terminal, incurable disease called alcoholism. Your only hope of arresting it and having any semblance of a normal life is to admit you are powerless over it, and turn your will and your life over to a power greater than yourself, who is defined for you as “God as you understand him,” your only other “choices” being jails, institutions, or death.

This work grew out of a curiosity that began over twenty years ago, when I was going to meetings, but didn’t buy the “higher power” concept, didn’t believe I was powerless, never worked a step, used a sponsor, prayed, or follow most of the other “suggestions,” except for one: I didn’t drink. Why was I successful when studies indicate that only 5 out of every 100 people stick with AA for a year? I drifted away from AA after a few years, began a Zen mindfulness practice, and started a secular recovery meeting with a few friends.

It wasn’t until one of the founders of SMART Recovery introduced me to their scientifically-based program, about six years ago, that I learned most addicts recover on their own with minimal informal help. We started a SMART meeting as co-facilitators that’s still going strong. As I continued to learn more about how people really recover from addiction, I became more curious about how it works, why addicts behave as they do, why did I continue to drink even when there were very good reasons not to, and the alcohol no longer killed my pain? I did the research necessary to learn the answers to these questions, and many more, making it clear to me that the current conventional recovery establishment is based upon principles that have little or no relevance to how addiction works, or addicts are actually recovering today.

Alcoholics Anonymous,” the famous “Big Book,” was written in 1939, when little, if anything, was known about addiction, or the workings of the human mind itself. They had been active only a very short time, and were experiencing admittedly very low success rates. In spite of that, from then until now, neither a “jot nor tittle” of what Bill Wilson wrote in the first 164 pages has been changed in any way. Not one single word! That’s really an astounding statement, when you consider all that has been learned about addiction in the last seventy years, and also that there is no actual evidence that the12-step method really works. The entire drug and alcohol treatment industry is based upon a program whose effectiveness has never been proven to be any better than chance alone. I will provide a good deal of evidence to support these statements in ensuing chapters.

There is honest debate in the scientific community over whether addiction should be considered a “disease,” but at present, the American Psychiatric Association says no. Instead, they refer to both substance abuse and dependence as “disorders.” Even if that should change someday, it shouldn’t matter, for purposes of recovery, as it’s purely a technical issue. AA, however, has unfortunately coupled the “disease concept” with the principle of “powerlessness” in the mind of the public, and thus created a “disease model” that actually makes recovery more difficult for most, and increases the incidence of relapse. In his book, “7 Tools to Beat Addiction,” the noted addiction researcher, Dr. Stanton Peele pointed out in Chapter one:

“Psychologist William Miller and his colleagues at the University of New Mexico conducted an important study in which they tracked subjects who reported for outpatient treatment for an alcohol problem. [14] The investigators’ purpose was to forecast which subjects were more likely to relapse following treatment. They found two primary factors predicted relapse—“lack of coping skills and belief in the disease model of alcoholism.” [15]

Think of it—treatment in the United States is geared primarily toward teaching people to believe something that makes it more likely that they will relapse! Instead, psychological theory and research indicate that it is more empowering and successful for you to believe in—and to value—your own strength. In this view, the critical element in cure is to develop your sense of self-efficacy. Yet if you express this view, or that you are uncomfortable with the value of powerlessness taught in the twelve-step approach, you will be told that you are in denial and that you cannot succeed at quitting addiction. “

It is impossible to separate the disease concept or the principle of powerlessness from the institution of AA itself, as almost the entire program is built around them, so to argue against the disease model is to argue against the institution. If you wish to construe that as “AA bashing,” so be it, but if I can convince one addict that he or she is indeed not powerless over their addiction, it’s worth doing, because the principle of powerlessness does far more harm than good to most of us.

(Excerpted from Chapter 1 of the forthcoming book: Powerless No Longer: How You Can Join the 75% of Addicts Who Recover Without 12-Step Copyright© 2011, Pete Soderman)

About the Author Pete Soderman

Pete is an author, blogger, and podcaster who makes his home in Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico. His primary interest is in helping others recover from self-defeating behaviors.

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2 comments
Dan says February 2, 2011

Pete, very well written and clearly reasoned. I am going to forward it to several friends of mine in the US. One typo hit me in the eye: “…these have been discovered in scientific surveys and studies, not by some variation of Devine revelation.” Well, that’s just Andy…

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Pete Soderman says February 2, 2011

Fixed, thanks Dan!

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