Category Archives: Science

New book hits hard at fundamentals of 12-step based sobriety support

In a book that’s getting plenty of discussion around the Internet, including multiple reviews, “The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry,” is one of the hardest-hitting and most direct critiques yet of the 12-step ideas, structure and model for sobriety support. Per the subtitle, it’s about more than just Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Authors Lance Dodes and Zachary Dodes, the former with  35 years of psychiatric experience, tackle how the 12-step model has become accepted by the rehab industry, and also the courts, including noting, of additional importance to LifeRing, legal rulings that 12-step programs are a religion in terms of First Amendment views. and therefore mandatory  orders to AA or NA meetings are not allowed.

From the review on Amazon:

In The Sober Truth, acclaimed addiction specialist Dr. Lance Dodes exposes the deeply flawed science that the 12-step industry has used to support its programs. Dr. Dodes analyzes dozens of studies to reveal a startling pattern of errors, misjudgments, and biases. He also pores over the research to highlight the best peer-reviewed studies available and discovers that they reach a grim consensus on the program’s overall success.

But The Sober Truth is more than a book about addiction. It is also a book about science and how and why AA and rehab became so popular, despite the discouraging data. Dr. Dodes explores the entire story of AA’s rise, from its origins in early fundamentalist religious and mystical beliefs to its present-day place of privilege in politics and media.

The Sober Truth includes true stories from Dr. Dodes’s thirty-five years of clinical practice, as well as firsthand accounts submitted by addicts through an open invitation on the Psychology Today website. These stories vividly reveal the experience of walking the steps and attending some of the nation’s most famous rehabilitation centers.

The Sober Truth builds a powerful response to the monopoly of the 12-step program and explodes the myth that these programs offer an acceptable or universal solution to the deeply personal problem of addiction. This book offers new and actionable information for addicts, their families, and medical providers, and lays out better ways to understand addiction for those seeking a more effective and compassionate approach to this treatable problem.

To many LifeRingers who came to LifeRing from 12-step programs, these critiques may already be known. But, as Dr. Dodes notes, they’re still not well known in either the court system or his own profession.

Some, based on the first major media review of the book, in Salon, an excerpt from the book by the authors, may fear this book engages in “AA bashing.” However, Dodes does note that the 12-step methodology does work for some people. Rather, to me, the book seems to be what flows from his observations of “medical best practice” based on his 35 years as a psychiatrist.

In one earlier book, per a review on Amazon, he labels as “myth”:

  • Addictions are fundamentally a physical problem.
  • People with addictions are different from other people.
  • You have to hit bottom before you can get well.
  • You are wasting your time if you ask “why” you have an addiction.

In other words, he seems to discuss issues of addiction from a variety of medically and psychologically informed angles. In that book, these issues seem to be related to what he presents in his current book, namely that addiction is a psychological issue as much as anything, and that while addictive substances affect brain chemicals, that’s not the most productive way, or the right level of approach, to address this situation. I do know that neuroscientist Carl Hart, in his new book, “High Price,” is more explicit about ideas about how addiction boils down to dopamine problems are more and more panning out as not true. (I’ll have a review of that book in a couple of days.)

Per the informational angle, this book is gaining “traction” nationally, and aside from any possible concerns about “tone” on Dodes’ discussion of 12-step methodology, raises important issues from a medical stance. Besides Salon, it’s now also been reviewed in The Atlantic and at NPR, as part of an author interview.

There is one thing that is a bit eyebrow-raising, that I noticed most at his NPR interview. He talks about “managing” addiction. I don’t know if “moderation” is under his “management” ideas or not.

You can learn more about Dodes, including a blog he maintains on addiction issues, at his website.

Note: This post h as been lightly edited since its original posting to drop most references to other Liferingers’ opinions and to add a reference to another new book about addiction, that of Hart.

Video: Alcohol and Your Brain

Here’s a seven minute video covering the basics of how alcohol affects the brain. It’s simple and straightforward, making up in clarity what it lacks in detail:

Yet another “false dichotomy” story

Just a couple of weeks after the New York Times, in a column by a person pushing a book, presents a false dichotomy between Alcoholics Anonymous and science-based moderation as the only alternatives on the table, Slate does the same thing. And, it’s story author is a Slate staffer who doesn’t even have the excuse of publishing a book. You can comment on the page or Tweet Brian Palmer here.

The story’s good otherwise; Palmer knows the history of AA’s semi-official opposition to medical assistance for addiction, counseling and more. But, there’s not a single word in there about secular sobriety organizations. Only by people like us contacting people like Palmer to get the full story out there, can we get the full story out there.

And, whether Palmer’s analysis of AA is close to correct or not is not the primary point of this blog post. (That said, I do think he is broadly correct.)

Mental health affects substance abuse

It is probably of little surprise to those who battle depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD or other issues, that substance abuse problems and mental health struggles are connected. The evidence seems clear, anecdotally.

And, it’s more than just anecdotal. The National Institute on Drug Abuse confirms it, with research data. The study doesn’t cover “everyday” depression, but it’s still of value.

In the current study, 9,142 people diagnosed with schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, or bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and 10,195 controls matched to participants according to geographic region, were selected using the Genomic Psychiatry Cohort program. Mental disorder diagnoses were confirmed using the Diagnostic Interview for Psychosis and Affective Disorder (DI-PAD), and controls were screened to verify the absence of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder in themselves or close family members. The DI-PAD was also used for all participants to determine substance use rates.

Compared to controls, people with severe mental illness were about 4 times more likely to be heavy alcohol users (four or more drinks per day); 3.5 times more likely to use marijuana regularly (21 times per year); and 4.6 times more likely to use other drugs at least 10 times in their lives. The greatest increases were seen with tobacco, with patients with severe mental illness 5.1 times more likely to be daily smokers. This is of concern because smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.

One more thing to watch, if you will.

If you are interested in how Lifering may be able to help you in this area, note that we have a “dual diagnosis” email group.

A New Year’s thought – quit now, while you’re younger

If you’re a new visitor to Lifering, and either you or a friend has made a New Year’s resolution to quit drinking, I have one good reason to stand by that resolution.

Likewise, if you or a friend is considering that resolution, but not yet sure about it, I have one good reason to follow through.

It does get worse as you get older.

Scientific evidence is starting to come in that hangovers get worse as people get older.

So, why wait? Save yourself some pain, or encourage a friend to do the same.