by A. Orange
I have even heard sponsors advising those they sponsor to refrain from using medications that were prescribed by professionals and, presumably, deemed necessary for the treatment of other medical or psychological problems of the individuals. Occasionally, sponsees will admit that they haven't informed their sponsors of medically prescribed drugs they are taking for fear of a critical response.
One [member] mentioned sitting in a club just drinking "another magic cup of that coffee up there." Many others subscribe to the suggestion in the Big Book that sweets curb the compulsion to drink and should be kept on hand for that purpose. Some people suggest that you "eat some ice cream" whenever you feel like you need a drink. Quite a few people at the club appear to have taken the suggestion of eating ice cream and other sweets seriously.
In a cult checklist web page,2 we read:
...an Elder with 35 years told a newcomer, a young man, his sobriety was no good because he was taking medication for high blood pressure. The newcomer, on the advice of the Elder, quit his medication, had a stroke, and is now crippled for life.
Now that's grim. And there are even more grim stories, far too
many stories of people with mental problems being talked into quitting
their medications, and then committing
I recently talked with yet another ex-member old-timer,
who has been in and out of A.A. for 30 years,
who quit in anger, and hates A.A., because other old-timer
sponsors kept telling mental cases to quit taking their medications,
and then those sad cases committed suicide.
His parting words to those A.A. members, after another funeral, were:
But sometimes, the anti-drug fanaticism of the faithful reaches comic proportions.
In the March 23, 1998 issue of New Yorker magazine, David Samuels wrote an article titled, "Saying Yes to Drugs".4 It starts with the hilarious story of the coffee war at Hazelden. Hazelden is the richest, most affluent, and most influential twelve-step-based drug and alcohol treatment facility in the country. It should be rich, just a 28-day stay costs $15,000. [Update: 2010.08.18: Now it's $26,000.] In the spring of 1994, the faithful counselors at Hazelden decided that coffee was a drug, just like any other drug, and that it should be strengsten verboten.
"There was concern that some people could be using coffee as a stimulant, three-bagging it, or four-bagging it," Russell Forrest, one of the leaders of the anti-coffee camp, recalled. "What we were really dealing with, I guess, was a question of philosophy."
A question of philosophy, indeed. The 12-Step religion has become more extreme in their opposition to any kind of mind-altering chemicals than even the Mormons or the Seventh Day Adventists.
Coffee was banned at Hazelden. This will undoubtedly strike some people as both very extreme and very odd, considering that coffee and cigarettes have been considered essential elements of A.A. meetings since the dawn of A.A. time, in Akron, Ohio. The A.A. faithful can still make the pilgrimage to Akron, to see Doctor Bob's famous coffee pot, the one with which he brewed up the coffee for the original group of A.A. members. And Doctor Bob is often quoted as saying, "All we need for another meeting is a resentment and a pot of coffee."
Bill Wilson was certainly not so fundamentally opposed to drugs. He experimented with things like using vitamin B3 megadoses or LSD therapy as a treatment for alcoholism until the General Services Board considered him to be an embarrassment, and asked him to stop using the GSB for his return address. (Kind of funny, isn't it? Bill creates them, and makes them what they are, and then they tell him that he's embarrassing them, so please go away.)
Nevertheless, at Hazelden, coffee had become an illegal drug. But the coffeeholic patients did not go quietly into that night. No, they decided to rage, rage, against the dying of the light. People smuggled in coffee and coffee concentrates. When patients' belongings were searched, very strange contraband started showing up.
"You had people bringing this stuff in from outside," Forrest recalls, "and there was an underground market, which, of course, you would point out to patients, and you'd say, you know, 'Doesn't this sound like chemical use?' People were opening up packages, and I saw what was in there. It was the strongest brew you could buy. Somebody was getting coffee from South America, and it was sticky and black, and I said, 'What is this? This is not Maxwell House from Bogota.'"
Oh, my God, it's Black Tar Columbian! Not heroin, but coffee!
The black market (pun!) grew rapidly, and people were secretly brewing up batches of coffee in their rooms, and then flushing the incriminating evidence, the grounds, down sinks and toilets. Pretty soon, the pipes were stuffed with coffee grounds, and drains were backing up all over Hazelden. The conflict between the fundamentalist approach to the tenets of A.A. and the practical demands of running a treatment center came to a head. As the plumbing at Hazelden became more and more clogged, the maintenance staff rebelled. Finally, the coffee ban was ingloriously rescinded, much to the consternation of some of the staff, and those darned coffee addicts were able to get their fixes again without being criminals.
The author of the New Yorker article, David Samuels, pointed out that the coffee war was happening at about the same time as a much larger drug debate was happening at Hazelden. Foundation President Jerry Spicer had begun to encourage the use of antidepressant drugs, and other therapies that are not part of the traditional twelve-step process. Thus Spicer was a progressive, putting Hazelden at odds with more conservative, fundamentalist, 12-Step facilities like the Betty Ford clinic. And it put Spicer at odds with some of his own staff — half a dozen counselors quit in protest when Spicer approved of the anti-depressants. For them, allowing both coffee and anti-depressants seems to have been just too much of a departure from a purely spiritual treatment program.
President Spicer was actually hoping that there was some progress being made in the area of treating alcoholism. He had some reasons to be optimistic.
Leshner said, "My belief is that today, in 1998, you should be put in jail if you refuse to prescribe S.S.R.I.s for depression. I also believe that five years from now you should be put in jail if you don't give crack addicts medications we're working on now."
Leshner continued, "Look, if swinging a dead cat over your head helps, then I'm all for it. But if someone says never, ever use medications, I can't understand that at all."
There has also been progress in understanding alcoholism. There are an amazing number of people working on different aspects of the problem, and coming up with results. The whole area is very much in flux, and changing by the month. The latest evidence shows that alcoholism may indeed have a "disease" component, just like A.A. has been saying all along. More and more, the scientists are finding anomalies in the brain chemistry of some alcoholics, and anomalies in their genes. Scientists are making discoveries like finding that the A1 allele of the dopamine receptor gene seems to play a large part in susceptibility to alcoholism and drug addiction. And the terms "D2-D4" and "exon 3 of dopamine D4 receptor (DRD4) gene" are popping up more and more often in connection with alcoholism. There is mounting evidence that some alcoholics feel more pain and less pleasure than other people, a condition that they try to fix with alcohol or other drugs.
Alcoholism and some other addictions and compulsions have in common the inability to achieve satisfaction from limited quantities of a pleasure stimulus. This inability, "reward deficiency syndrome," is hard-wired into the brain and appears to be linked to a genetic variation in the D2 receptor of chromosome 11.
Just like the old Rolling Stones rock and roll song says, "I can't get no sat-is-fac-tion, Though I try and I try and I try..."
For a bewildering overload of information, just use an Internet search engine, and search for terms like "alcoholism and allele", or "alcoholism and dopamine", or "alcoholism and gene". The results are so high-tech that a master's degree in biology or biochemistry would help to understand it all, but it is there anyway, and it indicates just how much work is being done on solving the puzzle of alcoholism. This area of investigation is hot, and a lot is happening fast, and new information is being collected rapidly. The recent sequencing of the human genome has added yet one more tool to the investigator's toolbox.
And very recently, there is evidence that "A Functional Neuropeptide Y Leu7Pro Polymorphism [is] Associated With Alcohol Dependence in a Large Population Sample From the United States". They say, "This is only the second specific genetic mechanism ever identified that modulates risk for alcohol dependence."9 They are getting there; they are closing in on the target.
And the evidence also suggests that there may eventually be a cure for some people, or some kinds of "alcoholism", or at least an effective medical treatment. We have reason to be optimistic. But that is a direct violation of a dearly-held A.A. tenet. One of the core components of A.A. dogma is the idea that alcoholism is incurable. Because modern medicine has no cure and the situation is hopeless, the only answer, they say, is to try the supernatural solution: surrender yourself to God, and practice the Twelve Steps and go to meetings forever, and hope that God will keep you sober.
Really, someone in A.A. should have seen this one coming. The A.A. Big
Book has always described alcoholism as a disease,
(The Big Book, 3rd Edition, page 227; 4th edition, page 205.)
Well, we have medical treatments for all of those other actual diseases, even cancer, and none of the treatments for those other diseases involves prayer and confessions, or going to meetings for the rest of your life... With those other "actual" diseases, you don't see articles written by A.A. and N.A. boosters, talking about the necessity of treating the patients' mind, body, and spirit by sending the patients to A.A. and N.A. meetings for the "beneficial effects".6 The New Yorker article said that some people are coming to believe that the Twelve-Step treatment for alcoholism will soon be obsoleted. (No joke, and I'll add that some other people, like the American Medical Association, thought that it was "obsolete" quackery the day that it got started.)
This has happened before. There are numerous psychiatric diseases which are no longer treated with the old "traditional therapy." Patients who used to lie on couches and get Freudian psychoanalysis for $300 per hour now just pop a pill, and that takes care of their problem. For that matter, doctors are becoming increasingly aware of the fact that a large percentage of "alcoholics" have underlying medical or psychiatric problems, problems which the patient was trying to fix by self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, and that the real cure consists of treating the underlying problems, rather than just demanding total abstinence from drugs and alcohol. And often, the real cure is just a bottle of pills — the right pills.
It was only a century or two ago when psychiatric patients were given such "treatments" as the snake pit by the "medical experts." Again, today, we use medications, instead of the snake pit, for those problem mentally-ill patients.
Nevertheless, even today, we still have both TV evangelists and Alcoholics Anonymous elders prescribing faith healing, rather than anything resembling medical treatment, for various conditions, including alcoholism. And they jealously defend their turf, and resist the intrusion of "atheistic professionals."
I am getting feelings of deja vu all over again. Wasn't
this in a movie about a white doctor who went to the Dutch East Indies,
into a battle with the local witch doctor over whose magic
really worked? The witch doctor was losing believers to the
western doctor every time the western guy healed somebody, and
the witch doctor didn't like that at all, so he conspired to kill
the white guys. See The Spiral Road, a novel by Jan
DeHartog, and a movie starring Burl Ives and Rock Hudson.
The high priests of A.A. don't want to discuss any new developments. They don't want you to even hear about any new treatments, never mind a cure. As Gary Persip points out in Recovery From Addiction Without God?:
The very A.A. Traditions that curtail members from presenting information or sharing with one another from a "professional" standpoint during meetings effectively act to keep A.A. groups ignorant of current findings in addiction studies; they are assumed to have no place in the program of recovery. This cry of "professionalism" was originally designed to ensure the equality of all participants in the program of recovery, A.A. traditionally being based upon one drunk sharing his or her experience, strength, and hope with another. The current fellowship of A.A., however, has diverged in so many regards from the original program that any information that sounds as if it were based upon professional opinion comes to be regarded as suspect and is, therefore, discouraged. Anything above the level of a drunkalog is met with a stern admonition to "keep it simple." Neither is any current information on addiction research presented in the Grapevine, the official publication of the organization. Dissident cries from members, when permitted to be published, are mild and fully supportive of maintaining the traditional focus.
And what if there is a cure for alcoholism? Or even just an effective treatment? There will no longer be any need to grovel before an authoritarian God for the rest of your life. Just pop a pill. Why waste your time doing the Twelve Steps, and forever listing and confessing all of your faults and short-comings? Why waste a big chunk of the rest of your life going to an endless series of meetings? Why make yourself into a bombastic bonkers babbling brainless believer in a crazy contentious cult? Indeed, if a simple pill can fix the problem, why would anyone want to pay Hazelden, or any other treatment facility, ten or fifteen thousand dollars for a month of "spiritual" treatment that usually fails to fix the problem?8 The A.A. Twelve-Step treatment program will be relegated to the trash heap of history, along with other old medical treatments like the snake pit, blood-letting, and leeches. The show is over, drop the curtain, and would the last one out of the rooms please turn off the lights?
No wonder the high priests of A.A. and their faithful
followers don't seem to want there to be a cure for alcoholism,
and they don't seem to want to see any new drugs used in the
treatment of alcoholism. They have no desire to see their game
end. They like the game. It has worked for them. They achieved
sobriety in it (in it; not necessarily because of it).
It has made them feel successful and important.
They have a lot of years invested in becoming a big frog in a small pond.
Many of them work the game, and make a living at it,
as "12-Step rehabilitation counselors," and aren't qualified
to work at anything else...
But the chanting may come to an end. I hope the end comes soon.
And if you are looking for cult checklists,
Also see the book on SOS:
After a confused look at the problem of drink- or drug-using parents from the A.A. point of view, including a section on "Responding to the Spiritual Crisis" — not, "Responding to the Emotional Crisis" or "the Psychological Crisis" or "the Mental Crisis", just "the Spiritual Crisis" — the authors conclude that "spiritual practices" like attending A.A. or N.A. meetings will help the patients.
The article features such ridiculously lame pseudo-science as
The cerebrum and cerebral cortex (white matter) make the human brain unique and are the source of our abilities to understand, communicate, and create [Ornstein & Thompson 1984]. The white matter assists in making decisions and explains much of the human behavior patterns.
I guess the authors would be surprised to learn that all great apes' brains have a cerebrum and a cerebral cortex. The only thing we have over the rest of the great apes is larger pre-frontal lobes.
And somehow, I think that the chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas who are fluent in sign language will put up quite an argument about just how unique human brains are, and how only humans have "white matter" and how only humans can understand, communicate, and create. Those great apes do those tasks all of the time. If you really try to convince them that they can't think, one of them will probably just tell you to "stick it in your ear," which is the gorilla equivalent of "up yours."
Available on the Internet through your public library's EBSCO periodicals database.
The truth is, people want what they want, and will find a way to get it. The Hazelden coffee prohibition failed for pretty much the same reasons as the current War on Drugs is failing. Where there is a demand, an unfulfilled desire, there is a market and a profit to be made. Someone will supply the desired item and pick up the money, always. That's just how the world works. It's nothing short of amazing how our stupid politicians have not been able to learn that one simple lesson in the seventy years since they repealed alcohol prohibition (because it had failed, in the same way, for the same reason), and then instituted prohibition of all other intoxicating, euphoric, or exhilarating drugs.
Last updated 2 September 2011.
Copyright © 2013, A. Orange