End to Abstinence

End to Abstinence.

Here is a link to a great piece that I found on the “Financial Review” website.  http://www.afr.com/p/national/an_end_to_abstinence_V7cmexeD0uehMBEdmijlYO

I am always really pleased when I see pieces such as this in mainstream publications or on websites. Many people have fixed ideas about how recovery should be done, if they have not researched the area. Most people think that the AA/12 step solution is the best, but although this is the most accessible and has by far the most active members, it does not suit a lot of people, and over 90% of people leave within a year, usually because they are unconvinced by the religious parts of the program.


There are many ways to recover and I talk about methods such as “Smart Recovery”or “Hams” on the blog. Many people find abstinence impossible, (I had some false starts!) and a harm reduction method may really help these people. There are also medication based solutions which can help people cut down, which are mentioned here.  I think they would have helped me at a time when I was really having problems stopping, some years ago, if they had been available.

People need to face facts in the recovery industry and notice that not everyone responds well to the 12 step solution. This is covered in the book “The Sober Truth” which is mentioned in the piece.

Here is a section from the piece.

“AA generally frowns on the use of prescription drugs because they “threaten the achievement and maintenance of sobriety”. The program does work for some but, despite its prominent role in culture and its prevalent use in court-mandated rehabilitation, it’s not for everyone. In fact, the vast majority of people who enrol in the AA program fail to stick with it. In 2006, a review of alcohol treatment studies by the Cochrane Library concluded, “No experimental studies unequivocally demonstrated the effectiveness of AA or [12-step facilitation] approaches for reducing alcohol dependence or problems.” In The Sober Truth, a book published in 2014, Dr Lance Dodes and his son Zachary Dodes reviewed the literature and claimed AA’s overall success rate was only 5 to 8 per cent.

Van den Brink strongly believes that reduced drinking is a viable treatment goal for alcohol-use disorders. If addicts who have 100 drinks per week can cut that down to 25, he says, they may regain control of their lives. There’s some precedent: harm-reduction public health policies, which focus on diminishing rather than eliminating the harmful consequences of certain behaviours, have been shown to be effective in treating heroin addicts.

Todd Nease, 38, of Davis, California, says he has been in and out of AA for about 18 years and, at times, left the program drinking more heavily than before he attended meetings. His doctor pushed him to consider total abstinence. Eventually, he found a harm-reduction support group called HAMS and cut back to once a week. “I prefer drinking when I can control it,” he said. “I’m not big on medications, but if it was for temporary use, I don’t see why not.” ”



Commenting area

  1. I agree that AA discourages the use of any drugs, but it’s my experience that when it comes to AA psychiatrists and rehabs, they will throw anti-psychotics and anti-schizophrenic drugs at people who do not like AA. I was hospitalized fofoobsessive thoughts about AA coercion and they tried to medicate it away instead of addressing the coercion issue.

  2. I think that the lack of proper treatment in rehabs is much of the problem. People are simply presented with broad based solutions by a keen AA member rather than getting one on one therapy from a fully trained professional, in what is a money making exercise.
    I used AA as a support group for a while and then had open on one help after a while and this worked for me.

  3. I have recently left AA. I do believe in God, and I do believe God can help me become a better loving, kind compassionate man- if I follow him (I know this sounds like the 3rd step) however, what I really mean is that the spiritual ideals and universal truths of love, honesty compassion, and service DO improve one’s outlook on life, and have helped me tremendously. That being said there is so much about AA I cant swallow. The judgement of people who relapse, I feel as if I am a slave to the program- that I am done for without it. I am using HAMS right now to learn how to drink in moderation and use substances in moderation(certain ones- nothing like heroin or speed etc). I agree- it is about choice, and learning to identify one’s own thought processes that are truly compulsions incognito. I did have a recent binder of 4 days, but before that I had 5 days abstinence- AA would have told me im a failure- I tell myself “Hey you made some poor decisions this isn’t what you wanted, get up and get back to it!” It is a learning process, and I am so glad I found this site and the HAMS website- no longer do I feel deep seeded shame or like a failure because I had a drink or two, or even because I went on a binder. Thank God

    • Thanks for your comment. I really wish I had read the Hams stuff when I was younger as I think it would have really helped. I knew I had a problem, yet even though I was not in AA at this point, I always felt a faliure when I went back to drinking. Things would get out of hand quite fast.
      The new Stanton Peele book is great on the subject https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/recover-stop-thinking-addict-reclaim-life-perfect-program/ and Lance Dodes is also worth reading along with Kenneth Anderson and I have listed his books in the book section.
      I choose to be totally abstinant these days, as I went quite far down the line in addiction and have no wish to return. I find it simpler not to have to worry about the amount I am drinking if I don’t drink anything. Other people can moderate well, after sorting issues out, I think a lot has to do with environment. If you are hanging out with heavy users when you drink, it may well lead to disaster, but if you are with positive people who just have the occasional glass then that is different. If you end up binging it is probably best to aim for a period of abstinance and try and sort out any underlying issues. We are all different – good luck, and if one method is not helping there are plenty of others!

  4. Hi LL52. I love your site. I don’t know if my comments will fly here or not as I’m one of those pro-AAers. I’ve also been a notorious anti/XAer nemesis. I want to bury the hatchet though. I don’t want to fight them anymore nor do they seem to bother with the likes of me anyway. What brought me to your site this morning was ironically my quest to google Orange and see what’s going on over there.

    I am considering quitting/leaving my A.A. home group and this will mean my taking a huge step away from A.A. in general… if I go ahead with this. I’m of the belief that I’m a recovered alcoholic and I think I could walk away from A.A. today and never look back, and live a satisfying, sober, happy life. But I know I would miss some of the good folks I know that go there.

    I have, in my estimation, an awesome and satisfying life outside of A.A. that involves a loving wife and home with a couple of awesome cats and no kids, some family here and there, an awesome job, hobbies, recreation, a healthy diet and eating habits, etc.

    I’ve come to a place where I’ve wanted to wish my anti/XAer counterparts well, despite engaging in warfare with many of them. MA and FTG at Stinkin’ Thinkin’, for instance, were folks who I was able to converse via email and try to speak rationally about things, agreeing about some things and agreeing to disagree about others.

    I love your stance of seeing the good about recovery in general and the bad of just trying to rid the planet of A.A. It is not my experience that A.A. is full of predatory criminal thief rapists. If it was really that bad, I’d have not made it this far myself, imo.

    I also love how you are working to turn the page on AA bashing and move on with the alternative recovery.

    Well anyway, enough of me. Just hope I can check back from time to time and move forward in a life either without A.A. or one with far less time and effort engaged in it.

    I also will have to admit that there are a lot of folks in cyber-recovery who would be less than pleased at my presence here. It’s obviously your choice to let this post. If you want me gone, that’s cool. I’ll not post here. I have a blog that’s been dead for a year or two, so I know that my stock has crashed in both the realm of cyber-recovery and cyber AA/Anti-AA bashing.

    • Thanks for your comment. Strangely I also had a look at orange’s site today after my dead link checker sent me a few emails. It hardly seems to be working as a community over there! I did enjoy stinkin thinkin and though Mark and Ilse were great writers who made some good posts, which attracted a lot of people. It did go off the rails there but I think the anti were as much to blame as the pro AA people but some of that bad feeling was carried to the Orange site and elsewhere and people have deeply entrenched positions. I do not think a lot of what you see in forums reflects the views of people who have moved on from AA or a lot of the people who are actually there and find it useful.

      I’m mainly against the treatment industry and the way it pushes people into the steps when they have had little time to sober up, and are not giving proper treatment. If people want to go to AA and find it helps then I think that is good, but wish there was more acceptance and knowledge of other methods that could help people struggling. Although I’m not a fan of the steps, people did help me in AA and I realised I had common problems with others that I had not really understood was through drinking. I also got some good personal support although I did get bad advice from some of the more culty types, which are common in some areas of London and LA.

      I think there is a role for AA along side other methods, and I certainly found having a place to go after work kept me out of trouble. I do think it needs some modernisation, especially in city areas, where it does have problems that reflect the environment they are in. It is different in quiet areas where everyone knows eachother.

      Good luck with what ever you decide to do. Some time away from AA, may be a good thing to try. I was told that AA will always be there, if I needed it, by a somebody who had left and so I always point that out to people as I found that a comforting thought. Some people are undoubtedly affected in a negative way, by people or the approach of AA , but most people that move on are grateful for the help and support, but simply want a more normal life that is not based around alcoholism any more. That is probably where I am today, but after a couple of years of doing nothing online, I thought I would start this up. It will never be fast moving as it is not that controversial, compared to anti sites, and is not aimed at most people in AA. People find it on a daily basis and read a few things and then move on, and I am happy with that. I have no interest in all the arguing, and find many recovery forums are not at all friendly places and give a poor impression for those looking for help.

  5. Thanks.

    I finally had that talk with the meeting “guru” yesterday. It was rough because he asked me if it was him and if so, what he did wrong and stuff like that. I had to get honest and tell him that I was very upset with him for recent indiscretions of his and long-standing beliefs of his that I cannot continue to be a part of.

    He wanted to give us this illusion that we were free and that we should demand a life of freedom but God forbid we should miss a Monday Night meeting! If we do, then we get asked stuff like, “So we can see where your priorities are.” Yeah, like wife, aging and sick parents, nephews, other family, job, etc. He would then lecture us at length that, if we were spiritually well, we’d make room for all this stuff. I believe there’s some truth to this stuff and I feel like I’ve tapped into it more than he’s demonstrated over his recent discipleship of nearly 36 years.

    I believe that he was passing off control and attempts at power as discipline and duty.

    He made it sort of hard to walk away… saying stuff like his not believing that I was in anyway divisive to the group and that I was a cornerstone to it.

    I’m coming up on 11 years sober too. But one thing I liked about our group is that we don’t pass out hugs or chips or eulogies at birthday meetings. If it’s your birthday, you probably get to chair the meeting. That means you get cake and Happy Birthday sung to you, but you are expected to bring a topic out of the 164, share your recent experience in it, then shut up and let the rest of the group talk.

    He said that if you’re gonna leave, then land somewhere. Don’t just leave and go nowhere. He told me that if I were to find another A.A. group, then to find the very best one or to make it that way.

    I just want to know that I CAN leave if I want to. If not, then we (they) got a problem. I’d like to think that I’ve got more to my sobriety and life than the dependence on this group.

    We shall see. I used to converse with Mark. Last I’d heard from him, he was gonna chill for a bit, maybe even move onto something else. He told me he was considering starting up a political blog of sorts, a left leaning one and would encourage participation from both or all sides, so to speak. I could be describing this wrongly, but I think I got the gist of it. We lost contact.

    I have been a defender of what I think A.A. should and could be. This A.A. that I think exists is honestly hard to find and way more simple than what the watered-down head-knodding-drooler socialized-in A.A. program has actually become.

    I’ll admit that A.A. is a pretty dysfunctional and ineffective place. The reason that it’s gotten this way is because of its very own inhabitants. In too many meetings, you’ve got folks who like to try and hug each other sober, ignore each others’ faults, stay superficial, memorize slogans, and do anything but the spiritual work that’s actually in the book.

    The program of action is very simple to me and what I learned in that group. We did steps once a year, spending just about 2 months or less doing steps 1 through 9 and spending the rest of the year in 10 11 and 12. What’s so wrong with writing down our resentments towards others, identifying how it affects a few of our (God-given) instincts, then trying to find our little part in the exchange and how our actions to protect ourselves have harmed others, then going out and trying to clean off our side of the street?

    Anyway, sorry for the preaching there. I just want to lay down where I’m coming from so some might identify.

    If you’re not on board with the spiritual approach, then I’d agree that you should run from A.A. and the courts have no business mandating this method to those who don’t want to nor feel they cannot succeed in it. A.A. by its very definition cannot be pushed on anybody. Nobody is to be hustled into it. Best reason for this is because it just don’t work.

    When I came to join this group, I had a few requirements that had to be met. I was simple asked, “Do you think you have a problem with booze? Meaning, do I really really think I’ve got a life-long chronic problem with controlling my drinking/sobriety? If so, then onto question #2; Do you want to do something about it? This means, do you really want to quit for good and all? This is/has become a hypocritical question for me because once I got well (spiritually fit), I no longer wanted to drink booze nor did I have to fight it.

    I’m sober today and I don’t want to drink. I’m all about seeking higher states of consciousness and enjoying life. I think I’ve got something to offer somebody and I ain’t selling nothing either, if that makes any sense. In the mean time, life is good and hope y’all are well.

  6. Thanks for your post and I think you have highlighted some of the issues that can cause problems when some old timers become fanatical about AA and their life becomes taken over by it, to the detriment of normal relationships with family. I think it is important to strike a balance with evrything in life and have activities away from the recovery world, to keep things in focus.

    I do have sympathy for some old timers who have been to hell and back and who probably had no support other than AAwhen they were stopping, if they were homeless street drinkers. These people often have such a dramatic shift in character in AA that they can become fanatical and put AA before everything. AA has become their family and they have done well in it. They don’t always understand other people’s lives that are more normal.

    I think that many of the ideas in AA which are broad based which help people identify in the early stages can sometime hinder progress in the later part of recovery. I did go to some meetings which were very culty in my early days but saw through them after a while and found some that suited me more, before I tried other solutions. I traveled a lot in my early days and it was good to know I could meet with people at an AA meeting wherever I was and have some common ground, and possibalkly go for a coffee afterwards. That was really helpful, for me and is something that I could only really have got from AA as other groups do not have as many meetings.

    Mark and Ilse do occaisionally post on Stinkin Thinkin, and you could contact hime there. I also noticed them on the Orange forum last weekend where there is a lot of bad feeling between them and some members of that group. I do sometimes have contact with Ilse from time to time, who wrote an interesting book with Stanton Peele https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/recover-stop-thinking-addict-reclaim-life-perfect-program/

    Running a blog can be exhausting and I think they were shocked about how crazy some people were from the anti side. When all threads are derailed and behaviour becomes childish, then things don’t work out, especially in a recovery community. I had a forum for about three months which also had issues because of poor behaviour that could have resulted in vulnerable people getting bullied ( as well as a complete lack of respect to privacy) and so I pulled the plug on it. I can see why Mark and Ilse stopped Stinkin Thinkin, as they have no wish to have all that, to deal with. It is a shame as it certainly brought people together, and I did learn quite a lot about other recovery methods from it. However it also showed me what an unstable place recovery communities can be. Lunatics are certainly not just in AA! The Anti AA community is very divided and really has no focus that is relavant any more. Stinkin Thinkin did a good job of highlighting some craziness in AA, and people could relate to that. It was not just a bunch of people filling up any thread on recovery related sites with “AA is a cult” etc. Most of the intelligent people from Stinkin Thinkin simply moved away from dicussing recovery, once those who were extreme took over on places such as the orange site, and were simply there to argue and fight. That is a shame, as it makes it hard to establish any form of worthwhile community for those who have been through AA and wish to move on. It does not reflect well on people who have moved on from AA.

  7. This is somehow true because there are treatment programs that are not effective to some people. Abusers have different kinds of addiction. For others joining AA group can be much convenient unlike attending drug addiction rehab Washington . Sometimes it is easy for addicts who join in AA to stop taking drug instantly but this approach is not working for some addicts that’s why they tend to look for another drug addiction rehab that offers treatment programs which are suitable to their needs.

    • I think people need to be advised of alternatives, and helped to make a decision on which approach will help them most. If things do not turn out well it is important to honestly look at the reasons and either modify that approach or try something new. For the vast majority, AA is the first thing people will try do it is not surprising that it has very poor statistics overall. Those that like it and stay probably do well, but others will find a solution elsewhere after looking at alternatives.

      • But who can help them to make a decision on what approach will be effective for them? Yes, there are help treatment rehab center that offers treatment programs which they believe will assists them in their recovery and hoping that they will overcome their addiction through these rehab centers. But sometimes addicts tend to experience relapse because of lack of aftercare treatment and support. Completing a treatment program cannot assure patients to have a successful recovery. It is very crucial to seek assistance even after the treatment in order to maintain sobriety. These might include support groups, daily meetings and counseling. I guess you’re right, medical community should assess programs that are not useful and revise them for better outcomes or eliminate it totally to develop something new.

        • Thanks for commenting!
          I think people can be helped to make a choice about which course of treatment and support will be most effective for them if they are given all the facts, and perhaps introduced to different methods during intitial treatment. This book https://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/handbook-alcoholism-treatment-approaches-miller-hester/ talks about which support groups will suit different people.

          I think too many people are simply sent to AA by people who have blind faith in a program that they feel has worked for them. Fans of AA are often convinced that it is the steps that are the solution, but I think that being part of a recovery group is often more important, and becoming engaged in the recovery process.

          What I object to is when people are sent back to the same type of rehab for the same time of solution (often 12 step), when it is clearly not motivating somebody to stop. These people probably would probably be better trying a different solution, such as the Sinclair Method along side some counselling with properly qualified people (not enthusiastic 12 members with no knowledge of other solutions). Some people will need a lot of support while others can make do with less, there are so many variables and so many reasons why people abuse substances in the first place.

Leave a Reply

You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>