How to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol (2nd edition) Kenneth Anderson
I felt this was an excellent book and one that people who are suffering from alcohol problems, should definitely read. It would also be an eye opener, for many who work in the treatment field, as it discusses alternative techniques for those who are not interested in the “spiritual or religious” 12 step approach. The reality of alcoholism or addiction, is that many people will not achieve total abstinence, and unfortunately lots of those who manage a long period of going alcohol free, can have problems at some point, and so I think it is really important to have a “plan B”. For this reason, I would even recommend this book to people who feel they have a solid recovery using something such as the 12 step solution, as I have seen many struggle at some point in their recovery, and often go on dangerous binges. In fact two of the people who joined AA along with me, have suffered severe physical damage after alcohol related accidents and illness. This book would probably make people think about safety, rather than piling on the guilt, which often drives a binge in the case of the 12 step solution. Other people often hit a low point in their 12 step recovery and want to move on, but are frightened by the idea of leaving AA after hearing many stories, such as “you will die if you stop meetings”. This book provides a solution for them as well. It opens up their mind to alternative paths. I used a combination of methods and changed things, where appropriate in recovery, but many who join AA soon disregard any other method, after accepting the spiritual solution. This often does not equip them to deal with life’s problems in the future.
Harm reduction programs are really useful to people who are in the process of stopping. This book would certainly give people the tools to cut down for a bit, and then decide what to do. It suggests aiming for a period of abstinence, to give the drinker clarity, is a good idea, but also points out that having a few drinks now and then over a period is not a failure in the way, that the 12 step world views it. Most people do not give up straight away even if they aim to do that, but it is important that they are not made to feel that stopping is impossible, when they encounter difficulties. If they believe that it is possible to stop, then they have a higher chance of stopping. Many feel helpless if they have a drink in “recovery” and this is very counterproductive. The book illustrates a practical way at looking at this, and how to avoid accidents.
The book gives readers a lot of tools to change their behaviour over time in a beneficial manner. I wish, I had found this information when I was trying to stop, as I think it would have helped me a lot. I simply stopped on my own a few times, without support and this did not work out in the long run. I needed more information about how to stay stopped, and where to go for help, that would be useful. There is a lot about what alcohol actually does to you, as well as well as evidence about the way that genetics and environment interact for problem drinkers. This is a far more plausible explanation for me, than the disease theory, which is often pushed, that I view as rather ridiculous. I really like solutions that empower people.
The book is by Kenneth Anderson who set up the Hams network http://www.hamsnetwork.org which has chat facilities and online messaging groups, for those that wish to have contact with others using this method of recovery. The Hams method is not judgemental and supports people at various stages. Some people stay and others like to move on and put addiction behind them after a while. This is very different to the 12 step approach which suggests constant adherence to the steps and attendance at meetings. I would think that people who struggle with the 12 step method, may well do better with this approach.
The methods that he talks about can be used by an individual or in part of a group. A lot of the methods are motivational and I think that this is a really good idea. I have used several of the techniques myself such as making a cost analysis, which is a good idea. It also contains many worksheets to help people look at their own problems and find a solution.
Kenneth talks about his own experiences, with AA which were not good. He actually started to drink more after going to meetings, and went down hill (my partner had a similar reaction). This was not the same for me, although I did suffer major depression, which I feel was partly brought on by following the 12 step philosophy, rather than dealing with issues that drove my drinking. It talks about “deprogramming from AA” and dumping those old ideas if you do not find them helpful. I think he does this well, and is respectful to the 12 step world, even though it was not for him. I think some people are just able to walk away from the 12 step world, while others are more deeply affected by it. Others may be successful in AA for quite a long period and then begin to doubt it, or want to leave. This can be really daunting, especially if you have driven the idea of powerlessness deep into your subconscious, and can lead to a feeling of isolation, especially if someone has made a 12 step group the center of their life. I have seen people cease to believe in a “higher power” and feel quite helpless, when they start to question the faith-based solution that they have relied on. These people would be helped by the common sense approach here, and the fact that the book points out errors with some of the old-fashioned ideas about addiction. I am sure this program will continue to evolve and learn from the experiences of those involved with it, unlike the 12 step model which is very out of date and resists any change, similar to a formal religion.
You can either read the book from beginning to end, or dip into sections that you feel will help you. I regret not reading this book earlier on in my recovery and will certainly look at others that deal with addiction in a similar way. I had avoided harm reduction a bit, because I had problems with moderation some years ago, and was more interested in an abstinent solution. I was missing the point, that moderation was probably a much more achievable goal at the start. For example, accepting a few days drinking in the first couple of months, rather than going all out to abstain and then feeling like a failure. The book is not suggesting that complete abstinence is the wrong approach at all, and that everyone should moderate. It is more about not damaging yourself and giving yourself tools to change aspects of your life. Even though I have several years of living alcohol and drug free, I really do think it is important to continue to educate myself on different solutions, as I have seen people have major problems late on in sobriety, and so it is important to be able to make informed decisions at various points in our journey. Some of us drank for many years and have had enough, while others may want to deal with underlying problems and then go back to social drinking after a while. A lot depends on environment, and in the UK, I see a big binge drinking culture compared to the USA and people tend to drink a lot more overall. In the UK, health professionals are realising that the 12 steps are not the answer for everything and methods that are talked about in the book are being adopted, which I think is a practical solution to the problem. Harm reduction is used a lot with drug addiction problems in most countries, but the USA seems to lag behind.
This site is aimed at people who have moved on, or who are moving on from traditional 12 step methods, because they have not found them helpful, or feel they have been harmed by them. There are also a fair number of people, who seem to be new to going alcohol free and who have been put off by the orthodox AA route. There are also quite a few health professionals, judging by the emails I get, and I think all would benefit from reading this book. Many counsellors, (especially in the USA) are 12 step members who are evangelical about that approach, to the detriment of all others. I think they should have a look at the ideas being presented here as they offer a really practical alternative. It may help them reach many, who would otherwise be labeled as “being in denial” by the closed-minded 12 step brigade. These people are often lost to the recovery world after an encounter with the moralising, AA approach.
I think that the HAMS approach would really suit those, who are free thinkers, who do not have any faith in a so-called spiritual solution. The USA has a strong religious base compared to other developed countries, that have a reasonable standard of living and education, so you can see why significant numbers would see the 12 step solution as a sensible idea. However views on religion are changing, and very few take part in other countries and so other alternative solutions to “God and Higher Powers” are badly needed, as well as looking at alternatives to the idea of powerlessness, which can feed a relapse in a dangerous fashion. In many places such as the UK , people are less likely to join a recovery group than in the USA, so having books like this, available to us is really important. What helps some people may harm others, so people need to be able to make appropriate decisions.
There have been many high-profile deaths, of people who have used the 12 step solution and relapsed in recent years. I feel many of them could have been helped if they had looked at the ideas of harm reduction and other more practical methods. Therefore I think it is a good idea to read this book! The idea of “12 steps or die” is false in my opinion and it is time we all move on.
Kenneth also does a blog talk radio show and I have mentioned this in the past http://www.recoveringfromrecovery.com/soberistas-kenneth-anderson-blog-talk-radio/
Here is another link to his main site that contains information about many of the subjects covered in the book.