The Heart of Addiction – Lance Dodes

The Heart of Addiction – Lance Dodes

I became aware of the work of Lance Dodes, after reading the excellent “The Sober Truth” which describes the rise of AA and importantly the way that the treatment industry, has grown out of the ideas presented by the founders of AA, such as Bill Wilson.  Lance Dodes also has his own website here and it was from this, that I heard about this excellent book “The Heart of Addiction” . It is a great shame that I did not find this book, when I was getting serious about stopping drinking several years ago, as I feel it would have given me a really good insight, into the problems I was facing. However, I still found it useful today and would recommend it to the target audience of this site, who are people who have moved on from the 12 step world and are living an independent life in recovery as well as those who are still struggling. It would also be of great help to those in the treatment industry, especially those who have not had much training and who come from a 12 step background.

heart of addiction

Lance describes addiction really well here. He is a clinical Psychiatrist, with over 25 years experience helping people with addictions. He concentrates on the desires and emotions which underly an individuals addiction and not the specific object of addiction such as alcohol itself . He describes the feelings of helplessness or powerlessness that precede addictive behaviours. He shows why people who have one addiction often transfer to another. He talks about a wide range of addictions and gives good examples of stories about what has driven the addiction in various individuals, and how they found a solution after a period of time, through one on one therapy.

He blasts away, at some of the common myths about addiction, which have built up over the years. A lot of misinformation is published in the press about addiction and the popularity of the 12 step solution has led to the acceptance of very broad-based ideas that will not help many, find the root of their problems. He talks about the ways he helps a variety of people with different backgrounds through therapy, which is miles away from the one size fits all, type of solution offered by 12 step therapists who are often very poorly trained. He gives good advice on how to find a suitable type of therapy and therapist, which is really important, if you decide to go for therapy. He explains why discovering the cause of the problem is so important and mentions that good therapists may well recommend seeing another professional  at some point. This was actually what happened to me. I went to AA for a bit, and am grateful for some of the support I got in the group but regarded the 12 steps as unsuitable. After talking to my family Dr, I received help from a non 12 step counsellor, with many years of experience, who after a while made a major breakthrough with me and who then recommended that I see a specific psychiatrist in Harley Street, London. Although this psychiatrist is probably one of the most expensive in London and I am lucky to be able to afford him, the solution was actually very cost-effective, compared to if I had gone to residential rehab a couple of times, for a 12 step indoctrination with some table tennis and snooker! I was able to gain a huge insight to my problems very quickly once I looked at part of my life in a different way and made a lot of progress.  I would not have reached the same conclusion working the old-fashioned AA solution.  This book will hopefully help other people make a more informed view of the type of treatment that could help them. I have come across quite a few people who are pretty angry about the poor quality treatment they have received in 12 step based institutions and I feel that reading this book would have helped them make a better choice, for their own needs.

Towards the end of the book he talks about the good and bad things in the 12 step world and acknowledges that support can be a great help to people in addiction. He talks about the reasons that some people really do benefit, from being a member of this type of AA group, but urges caution as the powerless concept can often cause problems for people late on in recovery. He talks about why some people find it hard to move on from AA, even though they feel it is not appropriate, due to the dynamics of the group. I think there is a lot of truth in this, and again it mirrors my experience in the 12 step world, where I found having somewhere to go away from drinkers was good in the early days, but that overall the steps were not going to lead me to solving the issues that had driven my addiction. I also met a lot of people who have damaged themselves as a result of binges and I feel that some of them might have done better, if they had followed a different recovery approach.

The previous post on my blog was also about Lance Dodes and talks about an interview on the Fix website that is worth a look. I generally do not read too many comments on these type of articles, as they are generally written by the same small bunch of people who have fairly extreme views, who like to argue with each other, and not look for solutions. It is interesting that much of the criticism that Lance gets is probably by people who are closed-minded and who will not read his books. This is probably a result of the dominance of the 12 step methods that is all many people have been exposed to and who treat any criticism in a similar way to an attack on religion.  These people are then attacked by the handful of active anti AA people, using equally broad arguments, and this tends to result in lots of bad feeling, rather than people working together to help each other in recovery. It actually devalues some of the points being made in the article. This book will help people who have used a variety of  methods in their journey, to beat their problems and take a step back, to see the issues that are really driving them. I think it is important to evolve in recovery and change support methods when appropriate, and I felt this book could help many do this.

I have just read to reading his other book Breaking Addiction: A 7-Step Handbook for Ending Any Addiction and you can see me review here . We all have a responsibility to beat our addictions and find a solution that works for us. It is clear that the most widely known “solution”, which is AA, does not suit everyone, and in fact has very few members, that stay long-term.  I am glad when good books become available with more rational approaches, which I feel can reach a lot of people who are in desperate need of finding some help.


Commenting area

  1. I am glad you continue to follow Lance Dodes and his work. I always enjoy reading your insights about what he has to say.

  2. I will have to read that next. I found his book “Sober Truth” beneficial. I was fortunate myself to find a counselor who has benefited me greatly. I went to a counselor who I still like as an individual and still see her sometimes as she is a member of my church. She is a substance abuse counselor and she referred me to a 12-Step rehab. I went in blindly, knowing nothing about the program, which is partly my fault for not finding out more before I agreed to enter. After spending one month in rehab and ten months in meetings I left the program after realizing it was against my Christian beliefs. I realized something was wrong from day one and if I had actually seriously read the Big Book in the first few months I would have left much sooner and saved myself a lot of hurt. I was very depressed from recent losses in my life when I first entered rehab, which is why I had drunk abusively for the past eleven months. While in rehab, any time we got a break, I used it to sleep instead of reading my Big Book. I was both emotionally and physically worn down and desperately needed rest. Once I figured out more about the theology behind AA and began to ask questions, instead of answers I received ridicule and was told I was not working the program. In rehab I received absolutely no help for the underlying causes that led both to my depression and my return to drinking alcohol in an abusive manner after a 30 year break. As a result my depression grew much stronger. I reached out to AA members and my sponsor for help in overcoming my losses in addition to a fear of uncertainty. Instead of advice and support I was questioned in what I consider an abusive and unsympathetic manner, “Are you working the steps, praying, attending enough meetings, did you do a thorough inventory or are you keeping secrets?” When my answer was yes, then they always found something wrong with me for it couldn’t be their dear program. I had to be the failure, not AA. When someone loses as much as I had personally lost in a short period of time before I ever picked up alcohol again, the last thing they need to be viewed as, is a failure. This criticism took me even further into my depression. I then took this to my counselor and when I spoke out against the way I was being treated in the program and how some of what I was hearing in meetings and reading in the Big Book was conflicting with what I was reading in the Bible and her and I were both hearing in church on Sundays, she lost it and went off on me and in the end found me a new Non-12-Step counselor. That was the beginning of my actual healing from my depression. My problems were finally addressed. I could now grieve the loss of my 30 plus year relationship with my husband to divorce, the miles that now separate me from my two adult sons, the loss of my father to cancer, my 27 year old cousin to cancer, my aunt and uncle to natural causes, and not being able to find work and all this within a 9 month period. I could experience my emotions and not be asked ridiculous questions, accused of not working a program, and threatened that if I didn’t change my attitude that it was “Jails, Institutions, and Death” for me. Are you kidding, I had never been in an institution or jail in my entire life. During my 11 months in AA, I was admitted to an institution four times, almost ended up in jail after a relapse of binge drinking in which I tried to take my own life by mixing it with my pain meds from having surgery. A program that tells you to suppress emotions like anger, sorrow, and hurt because if you don’t you are certain to drink again and to drink again can only lead to death is not a program that “Works if you work it!” I recently found out some very disturbing things about Bill Wilson, the men he built his theologies on, and the history of AA in general and I am very hurt and feel very deceived that I was not warned about these things. Today I recognize AA as a cult that should come with a warning label, but I guess that is part of what makes it a cult. Today I thank God for waking me up to the truth and providing me with a Christian Non-12 Step counselor who together have helped restore me to sanity after losing it in the rooms of AA.

  3. Sounds like you have had a really tough time, but I am glad that things are working out now. I really thought that people from a Christian background would be more suited to the AA method but this does not seem to be the case at all. I think it is better to keep religion and recovery separate to be honest as Lance suggests in “The sober Truth” . I will try and look at this a bit more in the future after I have talked to a couple of people I know who are very religious.
    People often have so many problems after losses and it is natural to try to block bad feelings out. It is crazy to try and make someone who has recently suffered a loss the same way as a career criminal for example. People often need some individual help and not a simple one size fits all solution, that makes such broad assumptions.
    I think this book was really good and a real eye opener. I am going to read his other book about breaking addiction as well soon.
    Good luck in the future and thanks for your great post.

  4. I plan to get the book with my next paycheck. Believe it or not there are more people than you might realize that leave AA for the same reason I did. There are a lot of Christians in the program who believe they can take the parts of AA they agree with and discard the rest. I won’t deny that there are a few good qualities to the program, such as the fellowship. However, there are many verses in the Bible that conflict with AA. For example, Amos 3:3-3 “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” Of course the answer is, no. I saw the red flags when I started reading the Big Book. I read many statements that conflicted with Biblical scripture and I was basically told by my sponsor to ignore this because we had chosen God as our higher power, but that isn’t what Amos 3:3 is telling me and that and other verses are what helped lead me out the doors. After I left, I found out my neighbor left for the same reason. My current Non-Step counselor shared her experience in working in a 12 -step rehab with me just this week. She was the only counselor at the rehab that was not recovering from an addiction. She cracked me up because she said the entire time she worked at the facility before leaving to work as a private counselor, the other counselors tried their best to label her with some type of addiction. She didn’t smoke, do drugs, drink coffee, and barely touched alcohol. She wasn’t addicted to food, nor was she co-dependent. They so wanted her labeled something, but she wouldn’t give in. Then they decided to have a mandatory 12-step meeting for the counselors. The first meeting she was asked to read from something Bill Wilson had written. She read the first paragraph and being a strong Christian, she stopped and said no, I can’t be a part of this, it’s against my beliefs. She refused to attend. I guess she was not required to teach the 12-step methods to her clients, because once she found out what it was all about she refused to be a part of it and she was not with the treatment center long. In recent weeks I really looked into the theologies of the men from which Wilson formed his opinions. I’ve read a lot of blogs of Atheist and Agnostics who left the program because it was too Christian centered. I assure you any program that says you can make your higher program a doorknob if you wish is not Christian. The men who Wilson built his theologies on were cultic, precursors to New Age thinking, and mysticism. This is not Christian, according to the Bible, this is evil. Once again AA has deceived many with this one as well, it’s not Christian, but far too many have been convinced otherwise. Thanks for your website. I’m enjoying your articles!

  5. I love the bit about finding an addiction for the counsellor, that is great. There was a book by Stanton Peele, called the diseasing of America that talked about allthe crazy 12 step groups and the disease model.

  6. Janeswim. I too left the 12 step fellowship for the same reason. I am Christian. What you say is true. The 12 step fellowship is new age and not Christian at all. It surpries me that there are so many Christians in these fellowships. I have seen some Christians warn fellow Christians about this in the rooms, but they defend the 12 step fellowship. They have been so brain washed. Some Christians come to Christianity late and do not see the errors of the 12 step literature that they are reading. Christianity completely blows the disease theory out the way! I too started to do research when I thought, surely it is not right for me to be in the fellowship, it’s anti-Christian! I read lots on how it was anti-Christian, but this book nailed it for me. 12 Steps To Destruction, Codependency Recovery Heresies by Martin and Deidre Bobgan.

    • Thanks for the comment and the link. I have had a quick look at the pdf and will read it properly soon. I remember a man that was actually rather helpful to me in my early days of AA, becoming a Christian and leaving the fellowship. He came back to one of the last meetings I went to and spoke at length about how he felt more comfortable with a Christian approach than AA and was met with a lot of resistance. Are far as I know he also did well after leaving.
      AA is clearly based on a form of Christianity but has been modified to try and make it appeal to non believers and also make people attend it rather than formal church services. It is full of contradictions, and so it is not surprising that people are put off by the pseudo religious approach. To be honest I had not thought much about Christians being turned off by the teachings in the Big Book, but now see that this is possible. I really think the fellowship side of AA was the thing that helped me. I was inspired by being with people who I felt were trying live being alcohol free, despite having difficulties. I tended to ignore the religious ideas and was not as affected by them as some people are. I think the way that the 12 step world can make you question your fundamental religious or spiritual beliefs at a time when people are vulnerable is quite dangerous. People do get taken over by it in a very religious way and certainly defend it against any criticism in a similar way that some fundamentalists defend their religion.
      This all seems to suggest that a broad based one size fits all solution will not work for a lot of people.

  7. Lovinglife52, thank you for your response.
    I now have started attending S.M.A.R.T Recovery. I think that it will suit me better. Oh btw, I bought “The heart of addiction” by Lance Dodes M.D. last night on Kindle.(After seeing it on here) Wow! Really enjoying it and makes sense to me. Earlier today I recommended it to someone I know. She opened up to me today about her addiction and told me that she was making plans to enter rehab. The more resources out there, the better. Thanks.

    • Glad to see you find the book helpful already. He has a great blog and also wrote this book which may be helpful for somebody who is still fighting addiction. Smart looks like a good option to really build self esteem and move away from addiction. I am very impressed by their handbook and it is great to see the online meetings really taking off, as that is so much more convenient for many and can help avoid problems for those who wish to stay anonymous, which is pretty hard in many 12 step groups where gossip is the norm.

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