The Clubhouse Essays: Book Review "The Truth About Addiction and Recovery"

Book Review

The Truth About Addiction And Recovery

by Dr. Stanton Peele, Ph. D. and Archie Brodsky, with Mary Arnold Published by Simon & Schuster, 420 pages

Reviewed by David Moisan

The Truth about Addiction and Recovery makes a very compelling argument that the "disease theory" of addiction, especially for alcohol and drugs, is completely wrong.

Common wisdom sayss that "Addiction is a disease." Right then, there are problems. People addict themselves to hundreds of things: drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping, TV and more!

Researchers explain addictions are caused by endorphins, chemicals the brain secretes in pleasurable moments. Addicts chase the high from endophins, as the theory goes.

There's just one problem: It's never been provem. The authors cite a study involving runners and the famous "runner's high", that failed to show any conclusive evidence of the "high".

(A personal note: I jogged regularly once, and read many accounts of "runner's high". I never once experienced it. When I read further, the message was "run longer and you'll experience it." It's a self-fulfilling prophecy if I ever heard one!

Surely, the authors point out, every addiction can't be a disease. Imagine the burden people bear when they're told that since their parents are alcoholic, they must be too–regardless of their lifestyle!

"Addicts can't stop themselves." "They'll be addicted for the rest of their lives." "They must never smoke or drink again!" Again, all are myths. Smokers, drinkers and even drug users have stopped on their own, and the authors bring up numerous anecdotes to support this.

I have a story of my own: My late brother-in-law was once a regular drinker and a smoker. He cut down on the former when, as he once told me, he "left all my clothes on the front stairs" one night; he never drank to excess again. He stopped smoking many years later, by the same logic.

In the years that I knew him, I never saw him have more than an occasional beer with friends–this puts the lie to AA's insistence that "once a drunk, always a drunk"–and he was no exceptional person.

As for drug users, the authors cite several studies affirming that people do quit drugs and don't give into temptations to use them; one study followed Vietnam vets: Many used heroin while in combat, but few continued using it after they came home. I can believe this –consider how many people admit to experimenting with drugs during the '60's. Yet, few of them are using drugs as far as we know. (Senator John Kerry was one vet who admitted his marijuana experimentation.)

Addicts are "cured" by treating them in hospital-based programs. Yet, there's no evidence that they don't get people off drugs or alcohol any faster or more effectively. IN fact, they may even hinder recovery.

The typical hospital-treatment program for drug and alcohol addicts imposes these premises on the patient: "You have a disease"; "You are an addict"; "You will be addicted for the rest of your life"; "You are in denial"; "You must turn to other addicts for guidance". Many of these programs impose a coercive environment so that addicts can "come to terms" with their addiction.

Many of these programs are physically abusive, but the worst part of treatment, though, is the way that clients have their identities forced upon them. No longer are they housewives, teachers, executives or writers–they are addicts! Forever. The authors cite the case of Kitty Dukakis, wife of former Massachusetts governor and 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis:

Everyone knows she drank rubbing alcohol one night, and entered treatment the next day. Everyone knows she's admitted to being an addict. But few wonder whether her environment contributed to her problems; she drank right after her husband's defeat in the 1988 presidential election; what's more, she never had the support she needed from her husband.

The authors have a different philosophy, and here's where the connection to the clubhouse comes in. The "Life Process" treatment, instead of treating people like "addicts", helps them identify the circumstances causing them to smoke or drink.

People are treated in the context of their lives, and encouraged to overcome their addictions among family and friends. Well-balanced people, rather than addicts, are their models. Most importantly, people under treatment develop an identity of their own, without coercion.

Without exception, this program is a mirror image of the clubhouse philosophy practiced by Fountain House in NY and Pioneer House here. That's not too surprising, since both programs have evolved as a reaction to disease/illness centered mental-health programs. I strongly recommend this book to everyone involved with the clubhouse philosophy–you will never look at AA and other treatment programs the same way afterwards.

David Moisan, 1990


Dr. Stanton Peele went on to write another book, The Diseasing of America. Unfortunately, he took a good premise much too far, expanding it to include the charge that dyslexia and ADD are overdiagnosed and not really diseases. Unfortunately, neurological disorders don't yield easily to friends and families that tell one to "try harder". I still respect Dr. Peele but believe he badly overreached himself with Diseasing.

A much better book is I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional by Wendy Kaminer. Kaminer is often cited for her exploration of the "victim mentality", but never for the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps and try harder" attitude that she also explorers. It's an even-handed book that's respectful of both "optimists" and "victims" alike.

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Last updated on April 25th, 2003