From time to time, I like to reflect on the changes I have made to myself that have made my sobriety so much more rewarding. When I was in my addiction, I did not practice honesty or integrity, and I had been unknowingly very close minded.
I thought open mindedness had to do with not being homophobic or racist and accepting climate change and evolution, but there's so much more to it. Every time I shut myself out to an idea that wasn't mine, I was being close minded - my feelings on organized religion are a perfect example. Every time I looked for differences between myself and those around me as an excuse not to accept those people, I was being close minded. I still don't practice organized religion, but I have learned to at least try to keep my mind open. Ideas can change, but yours never will if you refuse to listen to anyone other than yourself.

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By Will Godfrey 11/29/15

Record numbers of reformers gathered in Washington, DC, recently to explore ways to extend their growing influence far beyond drugs.

The Drug Policy Reform Movement Wants to End the War on People
Photo via @CatchFireCX

"I'm Ross Ulbricht's father," said the gray-haired man on the stage. "Ross was arrested two years ago and convicted. He was sentenced to double life in prison a few months back and is now appealing his sentence. I'm here as his advocate."

His story was unusual in that his 31-year-old son, Ross, aka “Dread Pirate Roberts,” founded Silk Road, the pioneering deep-web, drug-dominated marketplace that was shut down by the FBI in October 2013. Devastating prison sentences, on the other hand, have long been normal in the US.

Just this month, Washington, DC, hosted the biggest drug policy reform activists’ conference in history. Over 1,500 delegates from 71 countries packed out dozens of plenaries, panels and town hall meetings over several days, extending their activities to a lobby day on Capitol Hill and a vigil on the National Mall.

The numbers reflect something more significant. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which organizes the biennial Reform conference, described in his opening speech how the movement “increasingly has something most of us are unfamiliar with: That's power.”

Some national politicians participated. A video message from Senator Cory Booker opened the conference, and speakers included Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and Mark Golding, Jamaica’s Minister of Justice.

Yet the movement’s determination to keep its feet on the ground, and its eyes on its reason for existing, was reflected by the presence of many who have been personally victimized by the War on Drugs but are now determined to be agents of change.

They included Jason Hernandez, who in 1998 was sentenced to life without parole for selling crack, aged 21 and the parent of a seven-month-old baby boy. His sentence was eventually commuted by President Obama in 2013. He shared his message for Obama now: “I love you like a father for giving me my life back...but you need to do more. If you don't act, our brothers and sisters doing life without parole for nonviolent drug offenses, they're going to die in there—and their blood will be on your hands.”

They included Edo Nasution. As a drug user in Indonesia in 2007, he was shot in the leg, hung upside-down, tortured and left for dead by police who were trying to obtain information about his suppliers. After that incident, he became an activist: “My outrage and my anger became more powerful than my fear.”

Healing the rift between law enforcement agencies and the populations they’re supposed to serve was another widespread theme.

They included many others who had experienced incarceration or violence—mothers who had lost children to overdoses that might have been prevented by better public health policies, people with serious illnesses, and veterans with PTSD who had been denied legal access to marijuana to alleviate their symptoms.

Their presence, and their determination to prevent others' suffering, was a powerful reminder that the War on Drugs is better understood as a War on People.

Further progress in ending it will require concerted effort. But to most observers, a pronounced shift in public and political mood, and a raft of recent legislative victories—marijuana legalization in four states plus Washington, DC; medical marijuana and harm reduction laws in dozens of states; sentencing reforms at state and federal levels—seem to have created unstoppable momentum in the US and a ripple effect around the world.

And the newfound power Nadelmann mentioned opens up broad possibilities. Yes, this movement wants to legalize marijuana, and either decriminalize or legalize other drugs, and expand access to life-saving harm reduction measures. But the view expressed constantly here was that its ambitions should extend beyond drugs—that changing drug laws should be part of a wider human-rights vision, intersecting with other social justice causes.

One acutely obvious overlap is with the issue of racial inequality. #BlackLivesMatter,which arose in 2013 after Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted, and gathered steam after the events in Ferguson and other police killings, permeated this event. Mass arrests, mass incarceration and police killings inflict grossly disproportionate harms on communities of color—and all are unambiguously related to the enforcement of drug laws.

One evening, hundreds of delegates attended a town hall meeting on this issue. “The reason people are burning shit down in the street is because people are devaluing our lives every day,” said Lumumba Bandele of the NAACP. “Until we see that our flesh, our blood is more valuable than a store, than a car, then we're going to be here.”

“What I find hard to believe is that if we can win the War on Drugs without winning the War on People of Color, we're doing something different,” said Kassandra Frederique, DPA’s New York policy director. “If our drug policy reforms don't include systematic recommendations for how we can help people of color, then we should stop using the talking points!”

Elsewhere, current models of marijuana legalization were fingered as one way in which reforms are not benefiting people of color as they should. In Colorado, for example, overall arrest rates have fallen since legalization, but a dramatic disparity between arrests of black and white people remains.

More subtly, legalization can occur in ways that hurt communities of color economically. “The only benefit the drug war has ever brought has been to give well-paid [black-market] jobs to poor people,” said Ernesto Cortés of the Costa Rican Association for the Study and Intervention in Drugs. Yet rules around the burgeoning legal US marijuana industry—such as bans on people with marijuana convictions getting a license, or large fees—reserve most of the profits for people who don’t live in heavily policed communities and are already wealthy.

The difference between a legislative victory and its effective implementation can also be stark. “There is a sweet faith we have, that if we write law and pass law, that's the way it is,” cautioned Harry Levine, professor of sociology at CUNY and co-director of the Marijuana Arrest Research Project. “In 1977, New York decriminalized marijuana, yet by the late ‘90s we had more arrests than anywhere, nearly 90% people of color. The law is one thing and what happens on the street is another. In fact, when the police do obey the law, it's cause for celebration.”

Healing the rift between law enforcement agencies and the populations they’re supposed to serve was another widespread theme. A program named LEAD (Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion) could be one path to better relations. Pioneered in Seattle, Washington, in 2011, LEAD has since been adopted in New Mexico, and there are plans to roll it out in several more states.

Captain Deanna Nollette of the Seattle Police Department explained that for low-level drug law violations, “If you're arrested in Seattle, and if your criminal history is not disqualifying, you have the option of either being charged or doing a session with a case worker.” The session is used to discuss problems and goals and refer clients to relevant services; abstinence from drugs is not a required goal, and the criminal charge will be held in abeyance.

“Public safety should be our role,” Nollette said. “I’m looking to recruit guardians, not warriors. We're trying to internalize the ideas of harm reduction and procedural justice.”

Washington State has legalized marijuana, of course, and Nollette revealed one of the ways this has affected her force: “We're having to retire our drug sniffer dogs, because you can't un-train dogs who have been trained to detect marijuana, so you can't tell if they're detecting marijuana or other drugs.”

Marijuana legalization remains a primary goal of this movement, and a hugely popular one. So one question on many lips is how far legalization will spread, and how fast.

Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, confirmed that 2016 should be another breakthrough year: “Vermont is most likely to legalize through its legislature in the spring, and Rhode Island also has a good shot at legalizing through its legislature,” he said. “Then there will be ballot initiatives in California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine and Massachusetts, and it could very well be that four or five of those states legalize.”

Many delegates predicted that change will be irresistible at a federal level if California, with its great size and influence, legalizes in November. Kampia speculated that after the next wave of state-level legalizations, Congress “could very well pass a states’ rights bill in 2019.” This would effectively end federal marijuana prohibition, leaving a few holdout states to continue banning marijuana on their own.

But the US is still a very long way from legalizing, say, cocaine. “They don’t grow it here,” said one delegate, “so there’s no money to be made.”

Allen St. Pierre, the longtime leader of NORML, suggested: “The cultural narrative around marijuana has been stupid stoners, cops and robbers—it's funny. But the narrative for ‘hard’ drugs—The Man With the Golden Arm, Trainspotting, Drugstore Cowboy—is not positive and typically ends in death or criminal justice consequences. I'm worried that there isn't a [positive] culture behind heroin, cocaine and meth use, so there isn't going to be this easy transition.”

Photo via @jessicagwyn

The idea of a “positive” culture around heroin is anathema to some, but others point out the double standards at play. Eliot Ross Albers, executive director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs, reminded an audience of “people who use heroin every day, but don’t find it a problem for them.” He complained that “many in the recovery community still assume that we need recovery, that the fact that I prefer to use heroin rather than drinking wine is fundamentally a problem.”

Definitions of recovery and addiction were a battleground at several sessions. Maureen Boyle, chief of NIDA’s science policy branch, had the thankless task of defending her organization’s brain disease model of addiction from concerted criticism. “Addiction impacts a number of brain circuits in a way that impairs people's ability to stop taking drugs,” she said. “[The model] doesn’t say that environmental impacts, social or genetic factors, don’t have an influence—all these things impact those same circuits.”

“What NIDA are doing is placing the brain at the top of the hierarchy; it is a cultural decision to privilege the brain above everything else that makes us human,” respondedPatt Denning of the Center for Harm Reduction Therapy. “This continues the demonization of drugs and undermines our attempts to legalize or decriminalize.” Rebecca Tiger, associate professor of sociology at Middlebury College, VT, rejected “the idea that science can define the line where ‘pathological’ is—that’s a cultural and social judgment.” Like many present, she accused the brain disease model of perpetuating stigma through “addict” and “normal” categorizations.

A panel following a screening of The Business of Recovery, a documentary that attacks the mainstream addiction treatment industry, devolved into yelling between proponents of different responses to addiction. “I think one of the biggest problems in this field is the ‘one-truthers,’” intervened Andrew Tatarsky, founder of the Center for Optimal Living. “Our job is to create a facilitative relationship for people to discover the path that best suits them.”

Panelists discussing young people and drugs reached more of a consensus around “Just say know”—applying not only to accurate information about drugs, but to open, safe-space communication between young people, family members and other responsible adults. Frances Fu of Students for Sensible Drug Policy related how she “came out” to her mother as a teenage cannabis user. Jeff Foote of the Center for Motivation and Change discussed evidence-based strategies that have helped families, such as CRAFTand Motivational Interviewing.

“One interaction I frequently have with people is they talk about drug-testing [their kids],” added addiction theorist and Fix contributor Stanton Peele. “I think: Huh, what do you want to know exactly? Don't you want your child to do their school work, show up on time, and develop as a human being? Aren't those the variables that we care about here?”

The idea that a person’s overall wellbeing matters much more than whether or not they use a particular drug informs work to expand legal access to harm reduction services. But ignorance and prejudice remain; for example, although syringe exchange programs have conclusively proved to reduce the spread of HIV and hepatitis, federal funding for such programs is still banned in the US, while laws and law enforcement hamper syringe access in numerous states.

Meanwhile Insite in Vancouver, a supervised injection facility (SIF) which has been shown by dozens of studies to reduce overdose deaths and other harms to drug users and the wider community, remains, as Liz Evans of Open Society Foundations put it, “the only legally sanctioned demilitarized zone [of the War on Drugs] on this continent.” Campaigns are currently being waged to bring these benefits to US cities like San Francisco and New York. Other harm reduction measures, like heroin-assisted treatment—successful in Europe and Canada—also face major political obstacles in the US.

Photo via @cmoraff

Yet US harm reductionists know that their cause has advanced further than ever, and expect the rapid progress to continue. Several delegates remarked that legal access to naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdose, is such an obvious, visibly good thing—somebody is OD-ing; you administer naloxone; they don’t die—that it opens the doors to other kinds of harm reduction thinking among people who might not otherwise have been receptive.

Forty-four US states have so far passed some kind of naloxone access law, while 32 have passed 911 Good Samaritan laws (11 in 2015 alone), granting limited immunity from prosecution to people who call for help for overdose victims.

This movement will not be short of new challenges, however. Novel psychoactive substances, or “synthetic drugs” (”as opposed to all that all-natural, organic LSD...” observed Mitchell Gomez of DanceSafe) are being developed at a dizzying rate, with new compounds continually produced to circumvent existing laws.

Predictably, scaremongering, misinformation and knee-jerk legislation are among the responses. That said, in yet another harmful side-effect of drug prohibition, many of the new substances are significantly more dangerous than the ones they’re designed to mimic—“K2” and “Spice,” for example, are much riskier than regular old marijuana—so some nuanced messaging is required of drug policy reformers. Yet the practical difficulties of banning these moving targets could also present an opportunity. "These drugs are the new front of the old drug war,” said Stephanie Jones, DPA’s nightlife community engagement manager. “We cannot be caught sleeping on this."

Then there’s the question of how all these drugs will be bought and sold. The closure of Ross Ulbricht’s Silk Road resulted in a profusion of other deep-web marketplaces, leading to law enforcement playing an online game of whack-a-mole—like the one it has already pursued across different countries, and from drug-to-drug. But are Silk Road’s imitators really such a bad thing?

Monica Barratt, a research fellow at the University of New South Wales, Australia, argued that such sites reduce the risk of harm for people who buy illegal and therefore non-quality-controlled drugs. “The rating systems [for online drug vendors] and the repercussions mean that it’s much more likely to be what it says it's going to be.”

James Martin, criminology program coordinator at Macquarie University, Australia, agreed. “There’s no ‘Scarface moment’ because you never physically interact with someone,” he said. “Online drug sales represent the biggest threat to prohibition, because they challenge the idea of inherent violence in the drug market.”

Millions of people around the world continue to be persecuted for nonviolent drug law violations. But at this event, where suited wonks rubbed shoulders with tattooed and dreadlocked activists, where veteran campaigners mingled with bright-eyed students, where the Democrat majority knocked along (mostly) with libertarian Republican allies, it was impossible to escape the optimism born of shared purpose and an unprecedented succession of legislative wins.

Ethan Nadelmann admits to plenty of worries: whether the momentum of this movement can be sustained despite the efforts of the prison-industrial complex to reverse it; whether dedicated marijuana activists will continue to campaign for wider reforms post-marijuana legalization; whether an extraordinary external event might, as 9/11 and the ensuing War on Terror did for a while, derail progress. Yet here, he could not avoid sounding bullish.

“We are not going to stop,” he told the crowd. “We are going to get bigger; we are going to get stronger; we are not going to let our internal conflicts tear us apart, because we have a commitment to freedom and justice.”

“Two years from now [at the 2017 Reform conference in Atlanta], we're going to havedouble the number of victories under our belt!”

Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of The Fix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others.

For original article see: https://www.thefix.com/drug-policy-reform-movement-wants-end-war-people?page=all 


My name is Jessica, and I'm an alcoholic.
I was born on New Year's Eve 1985 in Philadelphia, PA. For all intents and purposes, I grew up as an only child, I have 3 half siblings, one of which I never lived with, and only lived with the others for brief periods. My parents were loving and I was never physically abused, I had everything I could've wanted or needed. My parents did drink more than the average people, and I would consider my father an alcoholic today.
I lived most of my young childhood in Virginia Beach, VA and I moved to the town I now call home, Fredericksburg, when I was 7. I was a pretty normal kid, I did well in school, I played sports, and I had a lot of friends. When I was in about 6th grade, I started to feel uncomfortable. I felt like I could not relate to a lot of my peers, and even back then I was a chameleon with lots of different groups of friends. I decided I preferred the company of the kids that liked to smoke behind the library, and by 10th grade I was a seasoned drinker and drug user.
I started out small, like most people do, smoking pot for the first time in 6th grade and drinking wine coolers in 7th. By 9th grade I was smoking weed daily and drinking a couple times a week. By 10th grade I was dabbling in pain killers and muscle relaxers and I remember one time having to sign my entire paycheck over to a dealer because I was eating X like candy. From age 17 - 20 I mostly drank and smoked and on the weekends ate mushrooms and acid.  I got my first possession charge in September 2004, I was 18.  I loved hallucinogens and swore to myself never to try "hard drugs" like cocaine and heroin.
I tried heroin for the first time in 2006 and tried cocaine at a party in 2007. Comparatively, I was an old maid when I tried the hard stuff, but my addiction took off like a rocket.
I didn't really care for heroin when I first tried it, it made me vomit and black out, but I continued to do it anyway. I decided I preferred Oxy to dope and I had a long love affair with pills. I could take or leave coke, and alcohol was a staple in my life. In 2010 I caught my first felony possession charge, my co-defendant took the wrap, I skated, and the idea that I was untouchable as far as consequences due to my drug use was born.
Around 2011 pills started to become expensive and scarce, so what is an addict to do when their drug of choice becomes unavailable? They switch. Heroin was much, much cheaper, and I had been IVing pills, but the first time I shot heroin, I was in love.
I stumbled through 2011 and 2012, but 2013 was about to be MY year. I was introduced to speed balling and smoking crack, and I decided that speed balling just ruined the rush from both drugs, and I really loved that ole' ringer you got from IVing crack or coke, so that became my drug of choice. I would do just enough heroin to come down and keep me from being sick, and now I had two drugs I was addicted to. I had been obtaining drug money by desperate means for years, payday loans, pawn shops, title loans, my parents' wallets, but I became reckless and I was being investigated for credit card fraud and other things.
In June 2013 I was arrested for possession, and by the end of July I had been arrested on the same charge two more times in two different jurisdictions. I got a few driving on suspended charges and in mid July was picked up for failure to appear in court. I spent a few days in jail, and when I got out I was very, very sick. I begged my parents for money but they wouldn't give it to me and they threw me out, so I called my drug dealer. He paid for me to get a hotel room, but he refused to give me any drugs for free. It just so happened someone that owed me was in a hotel across the street, so I went over there and got 2 points and rushed back over to my hotel. I sat on the toilet, I cooked a shot, and as I was looking at the dark brown liquid I thought to myself "If I do all this it's probably going to kill me." I did it anyway, and within seconds I KNEW I was in trouble. I made it from the toilet to the phone by the bed, I tried to dial 911, but I was fading fast and you had to dial 9 to get out and I couldn't think. I woke up on the floor, the phone beeping from being off the hook, my lip and eye busted from hitting the table. I have no idea how long I was out, but when I came to I had a brief moment of clarity, all I could think about was that if I hadn't woken up, some maid would've found me on the floor at an America's Best Value Inn and my poor parents would've gotten a call to come identify my blue, lifeless body. I knew I needed help, but I didn't know how to ask.
About a week later, I got a call from my dad because I had missed court, again. I was living in a Super 8 Motel with 4 other addicts, I was panhandling to eat a $1 cheeseburger from McDonald's and a couple of 40's of Steel Reserve a day, and I was robbing to support my drug habit. He begged me to let him come get me and to do the right thing to turn myself in. I was miserable, so I surrendered. I was released on bond, and I reached out to my best friend that lived and worked at a treatment center here in California.
Little did I know, she had been in contact with my family and some friends for a couple months, and 2 weeks later I was on a plane to California. I was considered a fugitive in Virginia, my future was uncertain, but I chose the rest of my life over the courts. My first sobriety date was August 19, 2013.
I stayed in California for 9 months, in that time I received 90 days of in-patient treatment, one on one counseling, group therapy, I went to hundreds of 12 step meetings, I got a get well job at a sandwich shop, I got my license back, I started a meaningful relationship with a man that I am still with today, my life went from chaos to serenity in 9 short months.
I left California on April 15, 2014 to go back to Virginia and face the legal music. I turned myself in on my dad's birthday, April 28, 2014, I ended up only having to do 30 days in jail and I was released on probation. I stayed sober 6 more months. By November 2014 I had stopped going to my court ordered 12 step meetings and I was flying under the radar with my probation officer. I decided I could drink normally, and before you knew it I was making excuses to go to Fredericksburg to do drugs and drink behind my boyfriend's back.
September 7, 2015 I was back on a plane to California for treatment. My new sobriety date is September 8, 2015. In 79 short days I have done about 45 days of out patient treatment, gotten a sponsor that has me do a tremendous amount of work, I've done a few couple's counseling sessions, I got a job at A Better Life Recovery, I got my car back, my relationship has open honest communication, I am on medication for depression, I am genuinely happy and comfortable for the first time in a very, long time.
Addiction is hell, and getting sober is painful. I hope by sharing my journey I am able to help others that continue to suffer. If one person decides to reach out for help by reading my story, all the pain will have been worth it.
My name is Jessica, and I am an alcoholic.


Whenever someone with addiction dies, I grieve the lost potential and wonder about the limitations of our ability to address this cunning, baffling and powerful disease.

I am also humbled by my own experience with addiction and recovery, and grateful for the help I received.

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Two NIH institutes — the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) — have joined with HBO to reveal startling new advances in the fight against alcohol and other drug addiction.

The personal and family tragedies related to addiction are heartrending and, quite often, desperate. The struggles to break addiction and restore lives are uniquely challenging. And the scientific breakthroughs now taking place to help understand, prevent, and successfully treat addiction are nothing short of astonishing. Two NIH institutes that are already on the forefront of research into drug and alcohol addiction recently joined with cable TV network HBO to present an unprecedented multi–platform film, TV, and print campaign aimed at helping Americans understand addiction as a chronic but treatable brain disease. The eye-opening documentary, Addiction, first aired on HBO in March and is one part of the campaign. Developed with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Addiction and related video and print materials seek to help Americans understand addiction as a chronic yet treatable brain disease and spotlight promising scientific advancements.

Many Americans today do not yet understand why people become addicted to drugs or how remarkable scientific advances are literally redefining the arena of addiction, notes Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

"Groundbreaking discoveries about the brain have revolutionized our understanding of addiction, enabling us to respond effectively to the problem," she says. "We now know that addiction is a disease that affects both brain and behavior. We have identified many of the biological and environmental factors and are beginning to search for the genetic variations that contribute to the development and progression of the disease."

With nearly one in 10 Americans over the age of 12 classified with substance abuse or dependence, addiction takes an emotional, psychological, and social toll on the country. The economic costs of substance abuse and addiction alone are estimated to exceed a half trillion dollars annually in the United States due to health care expenditures, lost productivity, and crime.

"The National Institutes of Health is proud to be part of this effort to educate Americans about the nature of addiction and its devastating consequences," says NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. "We especially appreciate the opportunity to inform the public about the scientific research that is transforming our understanding and treatment of addictive disorders."

Addiction is now understood to be a brain disease because scientific research has shown that alcohol and other drugs can change brain structure and function. Advances in brain imaging science make it possible to see inside the brain of an addicted person and pinpoint the parts of the brain affected by drugs of abuse — providing knowledge that will enable the development of new approaches to prevention and treatment.

"Addiction is a disease — a treatable disease — and it needs to be understood," says NIDA's Dr. Volkow. "Our goal is for HBO's
Addiction documentary and project to educate the public about this disease and help eliminate the stigma associated with it.""Media depictions of addiction are often very sensationalized," says Mark Willenbring, M.D., Director of the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). "This is an opportunity to support a more accurate depiction of addiction."

Dr. Volkow and Dr. Willenbring were featured in the HBO documentary, as were scientific research results and new understandings developed through the work of their respective institutes.

Currently, addiction affects 23.2 million Americans — of whom only about 10 percent are receiving the treatment they need. "HBO's project offers us the opportunity to directly acquaint viewers with available evidence-based medical and behavioral treatments," says NIAAA Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. "This is especially important for disorders that for many years were treated outside the medical mainstream."

Consisting of nine segments, the film presents an encouraging look at addiction as a treatable brain disease and the major scientific advances that have helped us better understand and treat it. From emergency rooms to living rooms to research laboratories, the documentary follows the trail of an illness that affects one in four families in the United States.

One segment, "The Adolescent Addict," explains that the adolescent brain differs from the adult brain because it is not yet fully developed. According to NIDA's Dr. Volkow, adolescent brains may be more susceptible to drug abuse and addiction than adult brains. However, because it is still developing, the adolescent brain may also offer an opportunity for greater resilience. Although treatment can yield positive results, many families are unwilling to look outside the home for help due to concerns about stigma.

Medications for use in treating alcoholism also are a focus of the program, including a segment on topiramate, under study by NIH-supported researchers at a clinic in Charlottesville, Virginia. At present, there are three FDA-approved medications available to treat alcohol dependence: the older aversive agent disulfiram, and two newer anti-relapse medications. Naltrexone, available by tablet or monthly injections, interferes with drinking reward and reinforcement, and acamprosate works on multiple brain systems to reduce craving, especially in early sobriety. According to NIAAA's Dr. Willenbring, these medications are not addictive and can be helpful adjuncts to treatment.

"There is a lot of exciting new scientific research information and treatments that we need to get out to the public," says Dr. Willenbring. "I think that we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in the treatment of alcohol abuse."

The Addiction project also includes 13 short feature films from different directors on innovative family training and treatment approaches, interviews with leading experts, successful drug court programs that reduce relapses and re-arrests, and dealing with the dynamics of a disease that sometimes requires as much investment from family and community as it does from the individual struggling to recover. A comprehensive four-DVD set of the documentary and the 13 short films is available nationally.

NOTE: Although the dangers of nicotine addiction were not a part of this study, tobacco's impact on the health of Americans will be included in future issues.

For original article see: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/magazine/issues/spring07/articles/spring07pg14-17.html


In this age of hectic instant gratification fueled by digital obsession, it can be very relaxing and healthy to enjoy a good, mind expanding book. Just as physical exercise in recovery helps to restore our bodies to a healthy state, we also need mental exercise to help our brains properly function once again. There is no better exercise for our minds than reading and digesting a worthy book, even if it's just one chapter or even one page at a time.
To this end A Better Life Recovery announces the launch of the "Better Life Recovery Library." Categories include books on Psychology & Philosophy, Prayer & Meditation, Faith & Religion, as well as standard Recovery Literature. We are also building a collection of inspirational fiction and non-fiction titles worthy of being called "great literature" - classic tomes that everyone can benefit from reading whether for pure entertainment, inspiration or education. Lastly our library will include reference materials on a wide variety of basic life skills and related information to assist readers in the practical aspects of recovery.
We welcome appropriate donations of used books, and encourage all our clients, alumni, staff members and friends to drop by and borrow any title that might pique their interest.
At A Better Life Recovery, we believe recovery is the path to a better, richer life, one that includes expansion of our knowledge and understanding through the contribution of great literature.

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While Philip Seymour Hoffman's tragic death is the most recent to make headlines, heroin claimed the lives of many beloved artists, including Cory Monteith, Janis Joplin, River Phoenix and Chris Farley.

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Honest, courageous and insightful aren’t words typically used to describe drug addicts. But if given the chance, many addicts end up developing these qualities and contributing to society in a way they never imagined possible. These successes occur in spite of major obstacles, from the ever-present threat of relapse to the pervasive stereotypesaddicts encounter along the way. Even with three decades of myth-busting research behind us, some of the most damaging beliefs about addiction remain... Read more

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In the program of Alcoholics Anonymous they talk about something called "The Promises".  The Promises are listed on pages 83 and 84 of the Big Book, and I wanted to talk about them because I know that early recovery is painful, and it's hard to fathom a life without drugs and alcohol.
Why get sober?  Why stay sober?  These are questions I know I asked myself frequently.  Getting sober hurts, it's as simple as that.  It doesn't just hurt physically, it hurts emotionally.  It was important for me to keep in mind that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light is The Promises of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The Promises are as follows:
1. If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through.
2.  We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
3. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. 
4. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
5. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
6. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
7. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
8. Self-seeking will slip away.
9. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
10. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
11. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
12.  We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises?  We think not.  They are being fulfilled among us - sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly.  They will always materialize if we work for them.
Now, the first time I heard these promises read aloud in a meeting, I dismissed them, as I dismissed most things I heard in the rooms.  I thought to myself, "There is no way that these things are going to just happen for me".  And that was a true thought, these things don't just happen.  You have to work for them.  
When I first came in, I could not understand the concept of working.  I didn't want to work when I was in school, once I stopped being able to skate through on sheer intellect, I started to fail.  I worked a couple jobs in high school, a fast food restaurant and then a wholesale club, both of which I just quit without notice.  When I was a junior my father gave me a job at a pest control company, and I was able to keep that job for a long time.  I didn't deserve it though, I spent most of my time on Myspace (Myspace was still a thing), or online shopping, or smoking weed in the office after everyone else left.  Somehow, I was promoted and asked to work in a different office, and I was having to do actual work and I had to commute, so I put in my notice and my last day was on my 21st birthday.  I started waiting tables and I got fired from every serving job I had for being strung out.  I moved to a city a couple hours away from my hometown, and within a year I was back home.  My father got me my job back at the pest control company, but my addiction had progressed, and I ended up losing my job for embezzlement.  I was 23 and still years away from getting sober.  I'm not going to go into my entire job history, because there are 4 more terrible years of trying to function as an alcoholic and an addict, I'm just trying to show how screwed up my work ethic was.
When I was about 60 days sober I got a get well job, and my boss and coworkers loved me.  I was there on time and I didn't have a car or a license, so if my rehab couldn't take me to work, I walked.  I worked hard, and when I put in my notice to leave, I was begged to stay.  That is something that had NEVER happened before.  I couldn't see it at the time, but I was growing at a rapid pace.
I am one of those lucky people for which the promises started happening quickly.  When I came in I had no car, no license, no job, no money, I had 3 different pending court cases, I was facing years of prison time in Virginia.  
I was in California living and then working at the recovery center I got sober in for 9 months.  In those 9 months I got my license back, I had a job, I had money, I started a relationship with a supportive man that I am still in today, I gained my life back.  Unfortunately, I took those gifts for granted, and 6 months after I left California I relapsed.  But here I am, sober again, and in such a short time I have been given so many gifts.  I have a car, a great job, a sponsor that has helped me tremendously, a significant other and family that has stood by me even after the hell I put them through, and I have great friends that have helped me, twice, get sober and given me a place to live.  
I have been given another chance to have a normal life, and I have taken that chance and run with it.  I am the happiest and healthiest I have ever been.  That healthy and happy feeling didn't just come, though.  I have worked extremely hard to work an honest program and to get my mental health in order.  I went to an intensive outpatient program for 2 months, I saw a psychiatrist and now take medication for depression I had previously refused to admit I was suffering from, I went to some couples counseling sessions, I have gone to private counseling sessions, I go to meetings, I work with my sponsor, I have done things I just did not do last time I was in recovery.  These promises are real, they will happen for you, and I am telling this portion of my story because I want to help others.  I know how hard I have struggled just to be able to do what "normal" people do naturally.  The work I have put in has been unbelievably rewarding.  I would not trade the hell I went through for anything, because now I have the ability to use that hell to help people that are struggling now.  This program has given me gift after gift, and it can and will do the same for you if you want it to. 


In August 1979, I took my last drink. It was about four o'clock on a Saturday afternoon, the hot sun streaming through the windows of my little carriage house on Dickens. I put a glass of scotch and soda down on the living room table, went to bed, and pulled the blankets over my head. I couldn't take it any more.

On Monday I went to visit wise old Dr. Jakob Schlichter. I had been seeing him for a year, telling him I thought I might be drinking too much. He agreed, and advised me to go to "A.A.A," which is what he called it. Sounded like a place where they taught you to drink and drive. I said I didn't need to go to any meetings. I would stop drinking on my own. He told me to go ahead and try, and check back with him every month.

The problem with using will power, for me, was that it lasted only until my will persuaded me I could take another drink. At about this time I was reading The Art of Eating, by M. F. K. Fisher, who wrote: "One martini is just right. Two martinis are too many. Three martinis are never enough." The problem with making resolutions is that you're sober when you make the first one, have had a drink when you make the second one, and so on. I've also heard, You take the first drink. The second drink takes itself. That was my problem. I found it difficult, once I started, to stop after one or two. If I could, I would continue until I decided I was finished, which was usually some hours later. The next day I paid the price in hangovers.

I've known two heavy drinkers who claimed they never had hangovers. I didn't believe them. Without hangovers, it is possible that I would still be drinking. Unemployed, unmarried, but still drinking--or, more likely, dead. Most alcoholics continue to drink as long as they can. For many, that means death. Unlike drugs in most cases, alcohol allows you to continue your addiction for what's left of your life, barring an accident. The lucky ones find their bottom, and surrender.2_350610.jpg

Bill W., co-founder of A.A.

An A.A. meeting usually begins with a recovering alcoholic telling his "drunkalog," the story of his drinking days and how he eventually hit bottom. This blog entry will not be my drunkalog. What's said in the room, stays in the room. You may be wondering, in fact, why I'm violating the A.A. policy of anonymity and outing myself. A.A. is anonymous not because of shame but because of prudence; people who go public with their newly-found sobriety have an alarming tendency to relapse. Case studies: those pathetic celebrities who check into rehab and hold a press conference.

In my case, I haven't taken a drink for 30 years, and this is God's truth: Since the first A.A. meeting I attended, I have never wanted to. Since surgery in July of 2006 I have literally not been able to drink at all. Unless I go insane and start pouring booze into my g-tube, I believe I'm reasonably safe. So consider this blog entry what A.A. calls a "12th step," which means sharing the program with others. There's a chance somebody will read this and take the steps toward sobriety.

Yes, I believe A.A. works. It is free and everywhere and has no hierarchy, and no one in charge. It consists of the people gathered in that room at that time, many perhaps unknown to one another. The rooms are arranged by volunteers. I have attended meetings in church basements, school rooms, a court room, a hospital, a jail, banks, beaches, living rooms, the back rooms of restaurants, and on board the Queen Elizabeth II. There's usually coffee. Sometimes someone brings cookies. We sit around, we hear the speaker, and then those who want to comment do. Nobody has to speak. Rules are, you don't interrupt anyone, and you don't look for arguments. As we say, "don't take someone else's inventory."

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I know from the comments on an earlier blog that there are some who have problems with Alcoholics Anonymous. They don't like the spiritual side, or they think it's a "cult," or they'll do fine on their own, thank you very much. The last thing I want to do is start an argument about A.A.. Don't go if you don't want to. It's there if you need it. In most cities, there's a meeting starting in an hour fairly close to you. It works for me. That's all I know. I don't want to argue with you about it.

What a good doctor, and a good man, Jakob Schlichter was. He was in one of those classic office buildings in the Loop, filled with dentists and jewelers. He was a gifted general practitioner. An appointment lasted an hour. The first half hour was devoted to conversation. He had a thick Physician's Drug Reference on his desk, and liked to pat it. "There are 12 drugs in there," he said, "that we know work for sure. The best one is aspirin."

One day, after a month of sobriety, I went to see him because I feared I had grown too elated, even giddy, with the realization that I need not drink again. "Maybe I'm manic-depressive," I told him. "Maybe I need lithium."

"Alcohol is a depressant," he told me. "When you hold the balloon under the water and suddenly release it, it is eager to pop up quickly." I nodded. "Yes," I said, "but I'm too excited. I wake up too early. I'm in constant motion. I'd give anything just to feel a little bored."

"Lois, will you be so kind as to come in here?" he called to his wife. She appeared, an elegant Jewish mother. "Lois, I want you to open a little can of grapefruit segments for Roger. I know you have a bowl and a spoon." His wife came back with the grapefruit. I ate the segments. He watched me closely. "You still have your appetite," he said. "When you feel restless, take a good walk in the park. Call me if it doesn't work." It worked. I knew walking was a treatment for depression, but I didn't know it also worked for the ups.

Anyway, after I pulled the covers over my head, I stayed in bed until the next day, for some reason sleeping 13 hours. On the Sunday I poured out the rest of the drink which, when I poured it, I had no idea would be my last. I sat around the house not making any vows to myself but somehow just waiting. On the Monday, I went to see Dr. Schlichter. He nodded as if he had been expecting this, and said "I want you to talk to a man at Grant Hospital. They have an excellent program." He picked up his phone and an hour later I was in the man's office.


He asked me some questions (the usual list), said the important thing was that I thought I had a problem, and asked me if I had packed and was ready to move into their rehab program. "Hold on a second," I said. "I didn't come here to check into anything. I just came to talk to you." He said they were strictly in-patient. "I have a job," I said. "I can't leave it." He doubted that, but asked me to meet with one of their counselors.

This woman, I will call her Susan, had an office on Lincoln Avenue in a medical building across the street from Somebody Else's Troubles, which was well known to me. She said few people stayed sober for long without A.A.. I said the meetings didn't fit with my schedule and I didn't know where any were. She looked in a booklet. "Here's one at 401 N. Wabash," she said. "Do you know where that is?" I confessed it was the Chicago Sun-Times building. "They have a meeting on the fourth floor auditorium," she said. It was ten steps from my desk. "There's one today, starting in an hour. Can you be there?"

She had me. I was very nervous. I stopped in the men's' room across the hall to splash water on my face, and walked in. Maybe thirty people were seated around a table. I knew one of them. We used to drink together. I sat and listened. The guy next to me got applause when he said he'd been sober for a month. Another guy said five years. I believed the guy next to me.

They gave me the same booklet of meetings Susan had consulted. Two day later I flew to Toronto for the film festival. At least here no one knew me. I looked up A.A. in the phone book and they told me there was an A.A. meeting in a church hall across Bloor Street from my hotel. I went to so many Toronto meetings in the next week that when I returned to Chicago, I considered myself a member.


That was the beginning of a thirty years' adventure. I came to love the program and the friends I was making through meetings, some of whom are close friends to this day. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. What I hadn't expected was that A.A. was virtually theater. As we went around the room with our comments, I was able to see into lives I had never glimpsed before. The Mustard Seed, the lower floor of a two-flat near Rush Street, had meetings from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and all-nighters on Christmas and New Years' eves. There I met people from every walk of life, and we all talked easily with one another because we were all there for the same reason, and that cut through the bullshit. One was Humble Howard, who liked to perform a dramatic reading from his driver's license--name, address, age, color of hair and eyes. He explained: "That's because I didn't have an address for five years."

When I mention Humble Howard, you are possibly thinking you wouldn't be caught dead at a meeting where someone read from his driver's license. He had a lot more to say, too, and was as funny as a stand-up comedian. I began to realize that I had tended to avoid some people because of my instant conclusions about who they were and what they would have to say. I discovered that everyone, speaking honestly and openly, had important things to tell me. The program was bottom-line democracy.

Yes, I heard some amazing drunkalogs. A Native American who crawled out from under an abandoned car one morning after years on the street, and without premeditation walked up to a cop and asked where he could find an A.A. meeting. And the cop said, "You see those people going in over there?" A 1960s hippie whose VW van broke down on a remote road in Alaska. She started walking down a frozen river bed, thought she herd bells ringing, and sat down to freeze to death. The bells were on a sleigh. The couple on the sleigh (so help me God, this is what she said) took her home with them, and then to an A.A. meeting. A priest who eavesdropped on his first meeting by hiding in the janitor's closet of his own church hall. Lots of people who had come to A.A. after rehab. Lots who just walked in through the door. No one who had been "sent by the judge," because in Chicago, A.A. didn't play that game. "If you don't want to be here, don't come."


Sometimes funny things happened. In those days I was on a 10 p.m. newscast on one of the local stations. The anchor was an A.A. member. So was one of the reporters. After we got off work, we went to the 11 p.m. meeting at the Mustard Seed. There were maybe a dozen others. The chairperson asked if anyone was attending their first meeting. A guy said, "I am. But I should be in a psych ward. I was just watching the news, and right now I'm hallucinating that three of those people are in this room."

I've been to meetings in Cape Town, Venice, Paris, Cannes, Edinburgh, Honolulu and London, where an Oscar-winning actor told his story. In Ireland, where a woman remembered, "Often came the nights I would measure my length in the road." I heard many, many stories from "functioning alcoholics." I guess I was one myself. I worked every day while I was drinking, and my reviews weren't half bad. I've improved since then.

There are no dues. You throw in a buck or two if you can spare it, to pay for the rent and the coffee. On the wall there may be posters with the famous 12 Steps and the Promises, of which one has a particular ring for me: "In sobriety, we found we know how to instinctively handle situations that used to baffle us." There were mornings when I was baffled by how I was going to get out of bed and face the day.

I find on YouTube that there are many videos attacking A.A. for being a cult, a religion, or a delusion. There are very few videos promoting A.A., although the program has many. many times more members than critics. A.A. has a saying: "We grow through attraction, not promotion." If you want A.A., it is there. That's how I feel. If you have problems with it, don't come. Is it a "religion?" The first three Steps are,

* Step 1 - We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

* Step 2 - Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

* Step 3 - Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.

The God word. The critics never quote the words "as we understood God." Nobody in A.A. cares how you understand him, and would never tell you how you should understand him. I went to a few meetings of "4A" ("Alcoholics and Agnostics in A.A."), but they spent too much time talking about God. The important thing is not how you define a Higher Power. The important thing is that you don't consider yourself to be your own Higher Power, because your own best thinking found your bottom for you. One sweet lady said her higher power was a radiator in the Mustard Seed, "because when I see it, I know I'm sober."

Sober. A.A. believes there is an enormous difference between bring dry and being sober. It is not enough to simply abstain. You need to heal and repair the damage to yourself and others. We talk about "white-knuckle sobriety," which might mean, "I'm sober as long as I hold onto the arms of this chair." People who are dry but not sober are on a "dry drunk."

A "cult?" How can that be, when it's free, nobody profits and nobody is in charge? A.A. is an oral tradition reaching back to that first meeting between Bill W. and Doctor Bob in the lobby of an Akron hotel. They'd tried psychiatry, the church, the Cure. Maybe, they thought, drunks can help each other, and pass it along. A.A. has spread to every continent and into countless languages, and remains essentially invisible. I was dumbfounded to discover there was a meeting all along right down the hall from my desk.

It prides itself on anonymity. There are "open meetings" to which you can bring friends or relatives, but most meetings are closed: "Who you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here." By closed, I mean closed. I told Eppie Lederer, who wrote as Ann Landers, that I was now in the program. She said, "I haven't been to one of those meetings in a long time. I want you to take me to one." Her limousine picked me up at home, and we were driven to the Old Town meeting, a closed meeting. I went in first, to ask permission to bring in Ann Landers. I was voted down. I went back to the limo and broke the news to her. "Well I've heard everything!" Eppie said. "Ann Landers can't get into an A.A. meeting!" I knew about an open meeting on LaSalle Street, and I took her there.

Eppie asked, "What do you think about my columns where I print the 20-part quiz to see if you have a drinking problem?" I said her quiz was excellent. I didn't tell her, but at a meeting I heard a two-parter: If you drink when you didn't intend to, and more than you intended to, you, my friend, have just failed this test.

"Everybody's story is the same," Humble Howard liked to say. "We drank too much, we came here, we stopped, and here we are to tell the tale." Before I went to my first meeting, I imagined the drunks would sit around telling drinking stories. Or perhaps they would all be depressing and solemn and holier-than-thou. I found out you rarely get to be an alcoholic by being depressing and solemn and holier-than-thou. These were the same people I drank with, although now they were making more sense.

 For original article see: http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/my-name-is-roger-and-im-an-alcoholic