The Medical Model of Addiction

Martin Nicolaus, founding leader of LifeRing, gave a talk in Victoria, Canada, in the fall of 2010. The subject was “A Medical Model of Addiction. It gives an excellent summary of some of the underlying reasons for the way LifeRing approaches recovery.


  1. Rick on February 10, 2013 at 9:11 am

    It works now thanks

    I updated our website in-case you want to look it over.

  2. Rick on February 6, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Why is “THE MEDICAL MODEL OF ADDICTION” video private now?

    • Craig W on February 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm

      Son of a gun, Rick. You’re right! And I have no idea what happened. I think I can get it fixed, but it may take awhile as the “owner” of the video is off on vacation.
      — Craig Whalley for LifeRing

  3. Angela on May 15, 2012 at 6:14 am

    Great talk, Marty. Thanks for all the work you do.

  4. KiKi Swan on May 14, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    OK, OK (as Arnold Spirit says):

    I have just read most of the PDF on LifeRing meetings, and I LOVE THEM!! There is SO MUCH I feel safe with, encouraged by, and KNOW will REALLY HELP ME, personally, to continue my life-development, healing journey as a person with a terribly difficult dual dx—even though I already have very long term sobriety. But hey: as we all well know, this adventure of life is like beautiful, stripe-y High Sierra granite: it is layers upon layers upon layers upon layers of experience and opportunity for more healing, self-empowerment, service and richness of experience.

    As I read along, and especially in the section on meetings in special settings, I felt SO encouraged and excited. I not only AM a person living with this profound challenge, I work with others living with this profound challenge—the most vulnerable people in our shared community. I know from long experience how much this core LifeRing principle of seeing and connecting mutually with, and strengthening the sober part in each of us will HELP, HEAL and EMPOWER me and others like me. It is simply brilliant. So, even though Martin bugged the spank out of me in his talk, I salute this beautiful GIFT he has given to the world. THANK YOU, MARTIN! 🙂

    The ONE thing that made me really sad, and also frustrated, in reading this literature is the DISALLOWING of sharing of anyone’s own spiritual practice. It is a sacred truth that we are ALL having different, unique experiences around along the continuum of the secular to the numinous—and I GET IT that Martin is a drastic atheist offended by all things transcendent. But, you know, that is JUST AS OTHER-CONTROLLING and DOGMATIC as some other person who’s perspective is myopically religious (in ANY flavor). Why should LifeRing members be controlled arbitrarily in THIS way? Any more than we should not be controlled re. religious or spiritual ideas, beliefs and speech?

    I, personally, would actually love to start a LifeRing (or maybe just a LifeRing-LIKE?) meeting with a focus on those living with dual diagnosis…but I am sure not going to tell myself or anybody else that we CANNOT SPEAK OF OUR OWN intimate spirituality or practices. That simply does not feel sound, at the most basic level, to me, any which way but loose. I think that is an error that will iron out of LifeRing over time, and with experience. For so many, many, many of us, our spiritual practices, lovingly developed over long years in the freedom of personal choice, are a part of our THRIVING, healthy, creative, imaginative, beauty-loving, caring, authentic selves. Why should this one element in our Sober Selves be excluded and prohibited from personal sharing due to someone else’s obvious history of discomfort, pain and anger in relation to this topic?

  5. KiKi Swan on May 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    Most of his man’s arguments are Straw Man arguments—that is, invalid “if/then” relationships between elements used to support his position. For example, “IF there is no spiritual element of addiction in rats and mice, THEN there is no spiritual element of addiction in human beings.” Um, rats and mice do not have cerebella.

    His basic premises, as well as the historical arc he outlines for the disease concept, are based in ignorance and misunderstanding. For example, neither AA nor the treatment industry use the term “sinner”; nor is the “legacy definition” (Nicolaus must have coined this phrase) of an alcoholic “a sinner with moral defects causing a disease of alcoholism that is genetically programmed.” On the contrary, AA teaches, almost relentlessly, that “alcoholism is a disease, NOT a moral issue.”

    He also misunderstands, as is common for people who have not experienced this phenomenon themselves, the core concept of powerlessness over the addictive substance as the starting point of all recovery. In fact—and paradoxically, at first blush, it is the recognition of powerlessness over the substance that ACTIVATES one’s eventual power of choice over that substance, along with activating (giving one access to) one’s MANY innate and learned strengths, gifts, courage and the numerous other positive qualities that alcoholics have in abundance, which together with social support allow for sobriety and recovery.

    And there were MANY physicians of impeccable reputation, and decades of frontline experience in the care of suffering alcoholics who were intimately involved in the formation of the disease concept upon which AA was based and then evolved. To the benefit and lasting sobriety of millions and millions of people. One was Dr. William Silkworth; another was Dr. Robert Smith. Nicolaus plucked some very particular feathers from the overall bird of this history: the feathers that support his narrow thesis.

    I also found it interesting that Nicolaus responded with impatience and discourtesy to the woman who challenged his positions at the end of the Q&A…looking at his watch as she spoke, rolling his eyes at one point. This is not a level of personal maturity and professionalism that are attractive to me as a recovering person, and it is very much outside of what AA teaches and supports recovering alcoholics in learning about and developing personal health, integrity and life skills.

    ALL THAT SAID, it is VERY true that AA simply does not work for many, many people, and particularly not very well for the ever-increasing number of dually diagnosed people (that is, those of us living with BOTH the disease of substance abuse AND another psychiatric disability). I live with PTSD and have been clean and sober, very actively in AA for 26 years now….but I am the exception, not the rule.

    SO, my ultimate position is this: I do NOT agree with this guy’s specious arguments, nor does he have what I want as a recovering human being. But if LifeRing saves even ONE LIFE, then it is TOTALLY INVALUABLE and WORTH SUPPORTING. I’m for whatever works for saving the lives and sanity of the suffering alcoholic, which will also have a huge positive impact on every single member of that alcoholic’s life, as well as the community at large.

    Free choice, man: it’s da bomb.

  6. patel vitu on April 26, 2012 at 5:07 am

    please help me

    • Craig W on April 26, 2012 at 1:39 pm

      I’ll be in touch by email, Patel
      — Craig

      • Craig W on April 26, 2012 at 2:12 pm

        I tried to send you an email, but the address I have seems to be bad. Here’s what I wrote:

        I saw your comment on the website and thought I’d write directly. You wrote: “please help me.”

        There’s nothing I’d like to do more than help you, Patel! But unfortunately I can’t reach through cyberspace and touch you. And even if I could, you’d still be the one that has to do the hard work. What I can offer is support from others that have been through what you’re feeling. LifeRing offers several types of online support in addition to its face-to-face meetings (which are not yet widespread). Look over our website, especially this page: and the ones connected to it. Then write back to me and let me know if any of that seems like it might help you.

        Things are not hopeless, Patel — you can overcome this!

        Craig (