June 16, 2017 -Bill White- RECOVERY INVISIBILITY

When one thinks of the invisibility of addiction recovery, one first thinks of the legions of people in local anonymous and alternative recovery fellowships whose stories rarely penetrate public consciousness. But there is actually a larger population of hidden people who have resolved significant AOD problems in their lives without incorporating addiction and recovery into their personal identities.
For many people, the labeled experiences of “addiction” and “recovery” exert a profound influence on personal identity. Their life narratives are clearly cleaved into the categories of before (the addiction story) and after (the recovery story). In face-to-face and online interactions, these individuals fill secular, spiritual, and religious recovery mutual aid societies supporting each other in a life-enduring recovery process. Historically, members of each of these self-contained recovery communities embraced a shared history, iconic leaders, core values and ideas, a distinct language, and distinguishing rituals of mutual identification that buttressed the recovery identity. Participation in professionally-directed addiction treatment has also been a central theme within their collective stories.
What modern epidemiologic studies of AOD problems reveal will be something of a surprise to many people: the majority of people who resolve AOD problems do so without participation in specialized addiction treatment or a recovery support group. Those who have achieved such “natural recovery” often do not self-identify with the addiction or recovery language even when they once met but no longer meet diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder. They are the truly anonymous people in recovery who claim no named recovery club—no shared founders, literature, slogans, symbols, rituals, or regular gatherings, but who have survived addiction to compose reasonably healthy and fulfilling lives. They include people who do not want to live as a category and who do not want to be boxed in by caricatured images of addiction or well-worn pathways of addiction recovery. And they include people who shun labels that bring significant social stigma and discrimination.
Differences between assisted/affiliated and unassisted/unaffiliated patterns of recovery often reflect variations in problem severity, problem complexity, and available recovery capital. It is time we stopped talking about differences in pathways and styles of AOD problem resolution within the lenses of superiority and inferiority and instead celebrated the growing varieties of recovery experience. I have spent much of my life researching the history of recovery mutual aid societies and studying the experiences of individuals and families who embraced addiction recovery as a life-saving catalyst of transformation. It is the sheer magnitude of the varieties of recovery experience that I find most compelling. Today is a shout out to all those who have resolved AOD problems without addiction treatment or mutual aid society affiliation and often without conscious “recovery” identification.
As discussions arise across the country about how best to resolve America’s drug problems, my hope is that we will also hear your voices. As recovery stories become more public, I hope you will add your stories to this oral quilt portraying how such transformations unfold. You can become part of the larger solution without being a self-identified member of a recovery community or claiming recovery as a central theme within your personal identity. There is much America and her addiction professionals, recovery support specialists, and recovery advocates can learn from you, but first we must acknowledge that you exist.
“Recovery by any means necessary under any circumstances” must become our operational motto.

Post Date June 16, 2017 by Bill White

June 9, 2017 -Bill White- THE DRUNKARD’S CLUB

To many people, the history of alcoholic mutual aid societies begins in 1935 with the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.). A.A. history buffs are aware that there was another society, the Washingtonians, that existed almost a century before Bill Wilson and Dr. Robert Smith first met. But few are aware of just how many pre-A.A. alcoholic mutual aid societies existed before 1935. There were early Native American recovery “circles” that date as early as 1750. Numerous recovery-focused fraternal temperance societies, many branches of the ribbon reform clubs, the United Order of Ex-Boozers, and many societies linked to 19th and early 20th century treatment institutions: The Ollapod Club, the Godwin Association, the Dashaways, the Keeley Leagues, and the Jacoby Club, all existed prior to A.A. A.A.’s survival takes on added historical significance in light of the demise of so many of its predecessors.
The fate of one of these pre-A.A. mutual aid societies is detailed in Charles Brace’s 1872 book, The Dangerous Classes of New York. Brace tells the story of Orville “Awful” Gardner, a prize-fighter, known for his drunken binges and his brutality in and outside the ring. (He once bit off a man’s nose.) Gardner experienced a profound religious conversion through which he became sober and experienced a call to help other “hard cases” like himself. Gardner opened a “Coffee and Reading Room” in a ward in New York City notorious for its drunkenness and vice. This small experiment evolved into what became known as “The Drunkard’s Club.” Brace describes:
The rooms are filled with reformed or reforming young men. The great difficulty with a man under vices is to make him believe that change for him is possible. The sight of Gardner always demonstrated this possibility. The place has become a kind of central point for all of those who have become more or less addicted to excessive drinking, and are desirous of escaping from the habit.
According to Brace, more than 700 men were sobered under the influence of the Club. The fate that befell the Drunkard’s Club was not atypical of pre-A.A. mutual aid societies. Gardner’s health began to fail from the “strain of his sins and his reform” and he was forced to retire to a quiet place in the country. Without his leadership, the Drunkard’s Club collapsed.
In an interesting twist of historical continuity, it was this same “Awful” Gardner who inspired the religious conversion of another alcoholic, Jerry McAuley, while both were in Sing Sing Prison. McAuley went on to found the Water Street Mission, the first urban mission that catered its message and services to the late stage alcoholic.
Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes of its own pyre, new addiction recovery mutual aid societies followed the Drunkard’s Club until the first society arrived with the right combination of recovery principles and organizational practices that allowed it to outlive its founding generation.
For more stories from this early history, see the new edition of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America.

Post Date June 9, 2017 by Bill White

June 2, 2017 -Bill White- RECOVERY ADVOCACY IS NOT A RECOVERY PROGRAM

Of all the experiences I have had as a recovery advocate, none have been more heart-rending than receiving news that a person prominently involved in recovery advocacy efforts has died of a drug overdose. It reminds me once again that personal health and recovery are the foundation of all larger efforts to educate, advocate, and counsel within the alcohol and other drug problems arena.
This is not a new lesson. Consider, for example, the following stories. John Gough got sober in the Washingtonian revival of the early 1840s, but relapsed three times in the early period of his long career as America’s most charismatic temperance reformer. The lawyer Edward Uniac always stated that he was more vulnerable to the call of alcohol during extended periods of rest than when he was moving from town to town giving his temperance lectures. But Uniac suffered repeated drinking episodes and died in 1869 of an overdose of whiskey and opium while on a temperance lecture tour in Massachusetts. Luther Benson tried to use his own personal struggles with alcohol in the temperance lectures he gave across the country. His tales of continued binge drinking while on the lecture circuit were penned while he was residing in the Indiana Asylum for the Insane. His 1896 autobiography was entitled, Fifteen Years in Hell. Benson truly believed that throwing himself into temperance work could quell his own appetite for alcohol. In retrospect, he was forced to admit the following:
I learned too late that this was the very worst thing I could have done. I was all the time expending the very strength I so much needed for the restoration of my shattered system.
The stories of Gough, Uniac, and Benson are not unique. Similar tales were told by others who sought to cure themselves on the temperance lecture circuit. However, recovering people did achieve and maintain stable recovery working in the 19th century temperance movement and within treatment institutions of that era. An important lesson emerged out of the 19th century recovery movements: service activity, by itself, does not constitute a solid program for continued sobriety. This lesson was relearned throughout the 20th century, particularly within the modern rise of addiction counseling as a distinct profession.
A New Recovery Advocacy Movement is spreading across America and beyond, leaving in its wake new grassroots recovery advocacy organizations and a fresh generation of recovering people and their families seeking new ways to carry a message of hope to those still suffering. To prepare themselves, this new generation would do well to review the stories of old. The enduring message in all of these stories is clear: Working as an addictions educator, advocate, or counselor does not constitute a program of personal recovery. Those who forget that lesson court injury to themselves and to the very movements to which they claim allegiance. The key to effective recovery advocacy is first and foremost the primacy of personal recovery.

Post Date June 2, 2017 by Bill White

May 26, 2017 -Bill White- LIFE IN RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION IN CANADA

A 2015 review of Life in Recovery surveys in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia highlighted 20 conclusions of these surveys and related epidemiologic studies on remission from substance use disorders. The profiled studies confirm substantial recovery prevalence within the general populations, the diversity of people in recovery, the diversity of pathways of recovery initiation and maintenance, and the substantial improvements in health and quality of life that accrue with time in recovery.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse has just released Life in Recovery from Addiction in Canada, confirming and amplifying many of the findings from the earlier studies. Here are a few highlights from this report.
Self-identified Canadians in Recovery report substantial past problem severity, with more than 70% having experienced each of six major diagnostic criteria for addiction. Most began substance use by their mid-teens and reported onset of addiction between the ages of 15-25. The most frequently reported primary drug choices in order of prevalence were alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, heroin, prescription opioids, and methamphetamine.
Most (52.4%) Canadians in recovery define recovery in terms of abstinence (with a minority of less than 1% reporting controlled use) combined with enhancement of global health and functioning.
Canadians in addiction recovery report substantial gains in health, quality of life, and social functioning.
–70.6% report overall quality of life as excellent, very good, or good.
–80.0% report their physical health as excellent, very good, or good
–In comparing addiction time to recovery time:
* regular exercise increased from 16.5% to 68.7%
* regular medical checkups increased from 33.7% to 82.8%
* healthy eating habits increased from 14.5% to 82.1%
* use of tobacco products decreased from 80.1% to 34.2%
–84.3% report their mental health as excellent, very good, or good.
–78.9% of Canadians in recovery are employed, 11.3% are retired or semi-retired, and 6.5% are students.
–Comparing addiction time to recovery time, reported arrests dropped from 42.3% to 2.3%; jail or prison time dropped from 13.9% to 1.4%; and driving under the influence dropped from 80.2% to 3.5%.
Canadians in recovery report substantial shifts in family and community involvement in comparing time in addiction and time in recovery.
–Participation in family activities increased from 31% to 90.3%
–Rates of reported family violence and lost custody of children all dropped precipitously following recovery initiation,
–Volunteering with a community or civic group increased from 14.4% to 66.8%
–Rates of paying bills, paying current and back taxes, all substantially increased after recovery initiation.
Canadians in recovery report using a wide variety of resources to help initiate and maintain their recovery, including 12-Step mutual support groups, professionally-directed addiction treatment, psychiatric or psychological therapy, recovery housing, non-12 Step mutual support groups, and medication-assisted treatment. More than 50% of respondents also reported using such supports as family and friends, religious or meditative practices, reading recovery literature, pets, exercise, nutrition, recovery websites or social media, and cultural values and traditions.
A significant portion of Canadians in recovery report current use of a prescription drug to treat a co-occurring physical (37.2%) or mental (35.2%) condition, but only 1.8% report current use of a medication for the management of addiction. 20.2% of survey respondents report having used medication-assisted treatment to help initiate their recovery.
More than half (51.2%) of Canadians in recovery report no subsequent experience of relapse following recovery initiation.
More than half (53.4%) of Canadians in recovery report more than five years of time in recovery, with 20.7% reporting more than 20 years in recovery from addiction.
The Life in Recovery from Addiction in Canada report is the latest investigation confirming the possibility of sustained recovery from addiction through a diversity of recovery pathways. It affirms the value of communities creating the physical, psychological, and social space within which personal/family recovery from addictions can flourish. For the full report, click HERE.

Post Date May 26, 2017 by Bill White

BLOG & NEW POSTINGS May 18, 2017 -Bill White- INVITATION TO PARTICIPATE IN A FAMILY LIFE IN RECOVERY SURVEY

Post Date- May 18, 2017 by Bill White
The prevalence, pathways, processes, stages, and styles of long-term addiction recovery for individuals is slowly being revealed through the accumulation of scientific studies, but the parallel processes of family recovery remain in the scientific shadows. An important new study by two UK colleagues seeks to shed light on the recovery experience of addiction-affected families. Below is a brief summary of the study and a link to participate. I encourage my readers to share their lived experience through participation in this important study.
Bill White
Living with Addiction and Recovery
Catrin Andersson and David Best (Helena Kennedy Centre, Department of Law and Criminology, Sheffield Hallam University)
There is now clear and consistent evidence that recovery is a process or a journey that lasts around five years before people can sustain their own recovery without help. There is also a growing body of evidence that recovery is intrinsically social and that key individuals in the person’s life are critical to supporting and encouraging and facilitating change. And we know much of how this happens through a survey of recovery experiences conducted by Faces and Voices of Recovery in 2013 in the US which showed the extent of the recovery journey.
Critical to the recovery process is the family and loved ones- not only may they be witnesses to the descent into substance addiction, they may also bear the brunt of much of the chaos that addiction brings. This may take the form of financial loss, disruption to the family home and the heartache of uncertainty of whether their loved one is safe, in control or even alive. In addition to these various burdens, they will also often experience the exclusion, the stigma, the shame and the isolation that addiction can visit on families.
Yet the family journey has not been well documented in research. Similarly, their experiences have not been served as well by an advocacy movement that has focused primarily (although not exclusively) on the experiences of the person in recovery.
From what we do know, the family also has their own recovery road to travel and this may not match, in chronology or in context, that of the person overcoming their own addiction. This journey may involve a complete reconciliation with the addict in recovery or may necessitate that they move on in their lives independently from the person they love.
But we know very little about this process and there has been a limited opportunity to give a voice to this hidden group. From the perspective of society, families will often bear the costs of addiction and buffer the effects on society by picking up the pieces every time the addict falls over. Yet our research endeavours have not attempted to quantify how this happens and what recovery means for family members.
In the UK, a partnership between the Desistance and Recovery Research Group at Sheffield Hallam University and Adfam, the national UK charity for families of addicts, has been funded by Alcohol Research UK to create an amended version of the Life in Recovery survey that specifically targets the family experience. It has been pilot tested in the UK with a range of family support groups and is now available online until the ends of July at
Families Living with Addiction and Recovery survey
If you want to have your say, and have your story told, and at the same time to contribute to a new body of research on family experiences please complete the survey. This will allow the research team to communicate to families not only that they are not alone on the journey, but also to show that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that there is hope – hope for the addict and hope for the family. While the survey primarily targets the UK, we welcome responses from any country. We will also summarise the findings and let you know what the study finds.
May 18, 2017 by Bill White

BLOG & NEW POSTINGS May 12, 2017 -Bill White- AN INTERVENTION GONE WRONG

Post Date May 12, 2017 by Bill White

The most famous and controversial treatment for addiction in the 19th century was Dr. Leslie Keeley’s Bichloride of Gold Cure. Dr. Keeley franchised his cure procedures through more than 120 Keeley Institutes scattered across North America and Europe. These Institutes became the preferred drying out institutions for the rich and famous in the 1890s. But the problem then (as today) was this: Even where there are financial resources to pay for such treatment, how can the afflicted person be convinced to enter such a treatment institution?
There were four general resolutions of this dilemma: self-motivation resulting from the accumulated pain of addiction, company pressure upon an alcohol/drug-impaired employee, pressure from families, and legal commitment of the inebriate (for as long as four years). Family pressure to enter treatment sometimes involved processes similar to what today would be called “intervention,” but these processes did not always go as planned, as is revealed in the following account from Alfred Calhoun’s 1892 book, Is It a Modern Miracle? A Careful Investigation of the Keeley Gold Cure for Drunkenness and the Opium Habit.
As this story unfolds, a family at its wit’s end responds to the chronic drunkenness of one of its members by hosting a meeting of all concerned. The upshot of this meeting is that the young man in question, who we shall call Robert, was to be sent to the Keeley Institute headquarters in Dwight, Illinois, to undergo the Keeley Cure. Seriously doubting Robert’s ability to make this trip on his own, the family enlisted the aid of his uncle to accompany him during the travel to the Keeley Institute in Dwight, Illinois.
On the following day, Robert and his uncle set off for the long trip to Dwight. Robert pleaded with his uncle to stop periodically for alcoholic refreshment on the grounds that this was the only way to stave off the onset of “DTs.” The uncle agreed to such stops, willing to humor his young nephew in any manner that would keep them moving toward Dwight. But the additional catch was that Robert refused to drink such medicinal libation unless his uncle would join him. Although quite an abstemious person, the uncle agreed to imbibe with his nephew as long as they could keep proceeding to Dwight.
So at each stop, which seemed to increase in frequency as the pair neared Dwight, both Robert and his uncle downed various alcoholic concoctions. By the time the now well-oiled pair reached Dwight, both were in a state of considerable intoxication, although they looked quite different. Robert, whose alcohol tolerance was massive, didn’t look too worse for the wear. His uncle, however, whose alcohol tolerance was virtually non-existent, was nearly unconscious by the time they entered the doors of the Keeley Institute.
Upon their arrival, Robert admitted his uncle to the Keeley Institute and absconded with his uncle’s prized car. It took several days to get the uncle sobered up and the nephew located, returned to Dwight, and admitted to treatment. Getting someone in treatment then, as now, was not always easy. But some of the 19th century treatment centers did find ways to keep people in treatment once they were finally admitted: At admission, they took all of their clothes and all of their money!
*For more on the “Keeley Cure” see, the new edition of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America.

BLOG & NEW POSTINGS May 5, 2017-Bill White- BELIEVE IT OR NOT: STRANGE TALES FROM THE HISTORY OF ADDICTION TREATMENT

May 5, 2017 Bill White
Efforts by professionals to “treat” alcoholism and other addictions have a long and colorful history. Alcoholics have been forced to drink their own urine and forced to drink wine in which an eel had been suffocated. They have been surreptitiously dosed with everything from mole blood to sparrow dung and subjected to the “Swedish treatment” in which everything they consumed and even their clothes and bedding were saturated with whiskey. They have been prescribed dietary treatments that included the apple, salt, grape, banana, onion, and watermelon cures. They have been fed gold, iron, and bark to quell their appetite for alcohol.
Harm done in the name of good is an enduring theme in the history of addiction treatment. Even Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of the American disease concept of alcoholism, treated alcoholics by blistering, bleeding, and unknowingly poisoning them with mercury-laden medicines. In the 19th century, alcoholics and addicts were routinely prescribed alcohol, narcotics, marijuana, sedatives, stimulants, and hallucinogens. Dr. J. B. Bently prescribed cocaine by the pound as a treatment for alcohol and morphine addiction and reported, as a testament to the cocaine’s effectiveness, that his patients were requesting additional quantities of cocaine and that they had completely lost their appetite for alcohol and morphine. “Bromide sleep treatments” for narcotic withdrawal killed 20% of patients undergoing the procedure. A physician, noting that alcohol intake decreased among his patients suffering active stages of gonorrhea, recommended medically infecting alcoholics with gonorrhea as a way to save the expense of sanatorium treatment.
Through the first half of the 20th century, alcoholics and addicts were subjected to legally mandated sterilization on the grounds that it would prevent the birth of future generations of alcoholics and could treat the underlying physical causes of alcoholism. Early 20th century “serum therapies” involved raising blisters on the addict’s skin, withdrawing the serum from the blisters, and then injecting this serum into the addict during withdrawal. There were also withdrawal therapies in the 1930s utilizing substances that could induce psychoses of up to two months’ duration.
Alcoholics and addicts were indiscriminately exposed to whatever was in vogue within the broader arenas of medicine or psychiatry. The 1940s and 1950s witnessed addiction treatments that included electroconvulsive and insulin shock therapies and the use of psychosurgery (the prefrontal lobotomy). At least one alcoholic commended the latter, reporting that, following the surgery, he could get “twice as tight on half the hooch.” The 1950s also witnessed the use of methamphetamine as a medically prescribed substitute for alcohol and heroin—a practice that nurtured the subsequent growth of a methamphetamine injection subculture.
It is easy to look back with condescension at the practice of treating morphine addiction with cocaine or alcoholism with practically every other psychoactive drug. It is easy to look back with outrage at the mandatory sterilization of alcoholics or their being blistered, bled, and subjected to invasive interventions from psychosurgery to shock therapies. The harmfulness of these interventions was not visible in their own times, and their introductions were often framed within the rubric of a scientific breakthrough. It is worth asking the question: What within today’s menu of addiction treatment services will prompt future historians to look back on these practices and reflect, “What the hell were they thinking?”
History demands that those seeking help for alcohol- and other drug-related problems honor the adage, “Let the buyer beware” and demand that treatment providers adhere to the ultimate ethical mandate: “First do no harm!”
For additional information on the early treatment of addiction in the United States, see the new edition of Slaying the Dragon: The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America.

Post Date May 5, 2017 by Bill White