Admitting to alcoholism is no cop-out

By Wilkins Micawber, writing under a pseudonym, is a recovering alcoholic (THE GUARDIAN, 28/04/06):

The most irritating thing about Stanton Peele, the American addiction expert interviewed in Society Guardian, is that he is right (Addictive personality, April 12). But he uses his very reasonable analysis of the state of the “treatment” marketplace as a foundation for a curiously determined attempt to debunk the “myth” of Alcoholics Anonymous and other programmes.I am myself an alcoholic; I drank alcoholically for 20 years, went into treatment and remained clean for 10 years, seven of them without AA. I relapsed two years ago, and would not wish on anyone the hell of the month I drank for. I am now approaching two years clean again.

Peele is undoubtedly right that “the list [of addictions] expands constantly, serviced and encouraged by … a growing and hungry treatment and therapy industry”. I quite agree that some things classed as needing interventionist help may in fact be no more than a relatively harmless compulsive behaviour. Where Peele veers on to dangerous ground, though, is in suggesting that acknowledging a lethal addiction to drink or drugs is some kind of cop-out so that “they are not active agents in their addiction but passive victims”.

For some people, myself among them, it goes far beyond that. When drinking, I knew that alcohol would kill me, yet something inside also screamed at me that I would die sooner if I did not drink. This is not passivity, it is irresistible physical compulsion.

Peele seems to base his arguments on some fundamental, and apparently deliberate, misunderstandings of how 12-step programmes used in treatment centres, and AA in particular, operate. His assertions about some of the basic AA concepts of addiction are twisted to suit his case.

It has not been my experience that AA believes fundamentally “that alcoholism is waiting to prey on anyone who has a few drinks too many”; quite the reverse. Nor has anyone told me it is “a disease to which we are all equally susceptible” – that it is no respecter of people, certainly, but that is rather different. AA may indeed loosely be said to be “drawn from American spiritual Protestantism traditions”, but as a non-Christian I have never felt excluded. The word God is simply taken as a convenient shorthand – and I have never been asked to “recognise that you have sinned”.

Peele seems to claim that his own approach “to reconnect addicts to a sense of self-respect, family and society” somehow differs fundamentally from that of the 12-step programmes, but that is precisely what AA and others do. They do it not through some rather sinister cultish mind control, but through the collective individual wills a group of addicts who don’t wish to of their disease.

I do not live my life in a protective bubble, but out in the real world like everyone else – the comfort is in the knowledge that there is always a place go where there are others who will listen and understand, and where there is a constant, undeniable reminder of the consequences of picking up again. I forgot this once, and if it happens once more it will kill me.