Category Archives: blog

Just Say No! – Joe Schrank

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Who would dare to complain about D.A.R.E.? It’s an organization whose sole mission is to keep kids off drugs, what could be wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, except that they leave a few things out, minimize the problem, exclude people already impaired, shame children of alcoholics and perhaps worst of all, eclipse and consume potential because after all, we must be addressing the drug issue in schools, we have D.A.R.E.

The program itself is standard “Just say No!” fare. It does little to educate about the complexities of the problem, nor does it present it as a health issue. It presents it as a “choice”, don’t make the wrong choice and do drugs, play sports, dance, support your school!! All great ideas but really are we going to combat a complicated biological disease with dance? C’mon kids, dance those blues away! Dance that depression away! Dance your abusive parents away! Dance! Dance! Dance!! I am too old to be a graduate of the D.A.R.E. program but if it had been around when I was in school, I wonder what it would have done. There were individuals and systems letting me know that drinking was bad but it wasn’t doing anything for my internal world, my isolation and feelings of being disenfranchised but that keg party was working a fucking miracle.

The D.A.R.E. message is clear. Drugs are bad. Dumb people do drugs; lazy people do them as well. In other words “bad” folks get themselves involved with drugs. I am not sure what blameless holy virtuous people do, I assume they dance because the DARE website really promotes dance. Does the DARE program have happy feet? Why all the dancing? The message is shaming and shame never helps with drug issues. Additionally there is no mention made of disease, the AMA, treatment or recovery. Nowhere is the message: “not their fault but their responsibility’ delivered. Just don’t be bad, dance!

The advisory boards with the DARE program include: education (makes sense), Law enforcement (Oh, Jesus, not this again) and scientific. There seems to be something missing here. How about a doctor, people in recovery, social workers, family therapists, the kind of people who are on the front line of the drug culture in America. Shall we hear from them? It makes no sense to me – the greatest success of living drug free has been people in recovery. For some it’s 12 step participation, others find their own road. Somehow I would think that government agencies would want to hear from people who live drug free. Never do I see ‘recovery advisory board” in any of this and DARE is no exception.

The cost of the program is unclear. DARE itself estimates anywhere from 438 million to 604 million. I guess that is the cost of running the program, paying for the officers who facilitate it etc. Also I think they have a dog mascot, maybe it’s a lion, one of those creepy American kabuki things. I’m sure those things don’t come cheap. What is the net result of DARE? I don’t know. I don’t know if it keeps anyone off drugs or not. What I think is it is a gross oversimplification of the problem, and the added value is not much. Additionally, I can’t imagine being a school aged child listening to how bad and dumb alcoholics are when they are holding a family secret. That must be torture. Unless of course they are deeply engaged in expressive dance.  Thank God DARE isn’t into hiking. I can’t tell you how many conferences I go to where people try to treat mental illness with hiking. Frankly, I hate hiking; I’m not crazy about bugs or dirt. I do however like the comfort of knowing I can order Chinese food at any moment which is why I live in New York but OK if DARE knows something I don’t, let them hike, dance, whatever it takes.  In any event, is this the best allocation of funds? Maybe, but it seems lopsided to me. The other thing I wonder about is the kids there will most likely agree with the basic concepts of the program but what about the tortured iconoclasts? Do they agree? Do they challenge the ideas? I don’t think we know because I think those kids are out smoking weed, missing the dance-a-thon.

My biggest issue with DARE is that it has become some kind of sacred cow in American culture. You see their t-shirts, their corporate partnerships, we all know their logo and their bumper sticker, often next to those obnoxious “my kid is a (whatever)’ sticker. DARE has become a fairly powerful lobby, rejecting any idea other than “just say no”, they are the Christian right of all those interested in drug policy. They oppose reform, damn to hell the idea of tax and regulate and shun discourse about the drug issue in America. I was not surprised that all regional directors are white and male with the exception of an Asian female. Lets see some black people on these boards, children who have grown up fatherless as a result of the drug war, overworked grandmas left to care for children of drug war casualties. Where is their voice?  As a side note, DARE was listed by the US surgeon generals office in the category of ‘ineffective programs” furthermore the government accountability office reported in 2003 that there are ‘no significant differences in illicit drug use  (this would exclude alcohol) between students who received DARE and students who did not.

While well meaning, DARE misses the mark, stifles progress, shames us children of alcoholics and the government calls it “ineffective”. Maybe it’s just incomplete. Maybe education needs to expand to families and schools about how to handle a substance misuse issue. Of course we would have to be honest and assume that all schools and communities have some range of substance misuse. I will chair the committee to design the curriculum, make the board of many people from many disciplines. My fee will be HUGE but no matter, we will partner with Perdu Pharma (makers of Oxycontin), I am sure they won’t mind my fee and giving me the keys to the jet, me and my board will be busy and we will need to travel. DARE? You have got to be kidding.

— Joe Schrank

What’s The Death Toll of The Drug War? – By Joe Schrank

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What’s the Death Toll of the Drug War?

Google “Death toll in the drug war”. Not much comes up, mostly the content is about the number of people killed in Mexico. What about here in The US?

It was Nixon who declared war on drugs, which means the war on drugs has been going on for a very long time now. Sure there are statistics or records of some kind kept as to the numbers of people who die in the drug war. What is the body count? Does anyone know, and if not, how come? Why is there no discourse in political arenas about this?  It’s staggering, really. I can’t come up with a good answer. How did the “just say no” culture win over science, logic, personal freedoms?  Have we just accepted this as the way it is? Will we ever have a cultural first step?

An article in Esquire by John H. Richardson tries to come up with some numbers about the death toll in the drug war. The numbers, rough unresearched, and speculative are amazing. With overdoses the estimate is 15,223 dead, annually. The number in Iraq is 4,684 over the last seven years.  The estimate for what the drug war costs is $52 billion, yes, billion. That seems like a lot of money to spend trying to control a personal choice. More offending then the cost of life and financial resources is that the war is completely ineffective. In other words, we pay a huge tab to kill people, shatter families, incarcerate our own people, all because we don’t like that people get high?

I am never quite sure which layer of the drug war bothers me the most. At the moment I think it’s that we just keep accepting this, keep letting government leaders brush it under the rug and not really take on the issue. Will there be a time in history when we look back on the drug war with shame? Will future generations look at it as a form of genocide? They might. ‘There was an era when we used to shoot drug users or try to incarcerate them, we denied them fourth amendment protection because we didn’t like them.”  Email your senator, your congressman, and while you’re at it, shoot an email to Gil Kerlikowske and ask: “What is the death toll of the drug war?” Go on, just ask.

NCAA Drug Policy Needs An Overhaul – By Joe Schrank

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NCAA Drug Policy Needs an Overhaul!

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NCAA drug testing policy

There are few certainties when dealing with chemical misuse but one of them is that treatment works better than punishment. Part of the diagnostic criteria is that the individual is willing to use in spite of negative consequences (like punishment).

In Section 18.4.1.5.1 4 (yes, that’s what it says) the NCAA drug policy states that if a student athlete (a questionable label in and of itself) tests positive for a street drug a second time they will lose all remaining eligibility. So in other words, “we will threaten and punish you” two things that almost never work with chemical abuse. Additionally, what is done with these “bad” kids who would use street drugs? Not much, I surmise. What University can claim a mental health professional as a member of the staff? Not one across campus in an over extended counseling office but one integrated into the daily lives of young people? None that I know.

As an additional weirdness, only the rifle sports ban alcohol. That is good policy: “give a kid a gun; don’t let them get drunk”.  What the NCAA is saying is: go ahead and use the most damaging drug, the one that financially supports us.

I agree that being drug free is a good idea for athletes; I think it’s a good idea for everyone, but why is a very dangerous psycho reactive drug (Etoh, demon alcohol) not banned with the rest of them? Additionally, why is there not a proactive plan to engage athletes before the damage is done? And why, oh why, is there not treatment for the young people who fall into a very easy trap?

The NCAA is a very important system to have sensible, realistic policy. At some point in their lives many young people aspire to be accomplished athletes so a system like the NCAA is an important communicator whether they realize it or not or feel they have a responsibility to the issue is another question.

— Joe Schrank

Co-Dependent Nation!! By Joe Schrank

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Co Dependent Nation!

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“The available evidence indicates that the war on drugs is a failed war”, so says Former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardosa. Latin America has grown weary of a failed drug policy and endless violence.  In reading the perspective of Latin America, it’s remarkable how they play the addict to the co-dependant of the US. Just like a sanctimonious co dependant, the U.S. blames the Columbians and other nations for producing the products. Meanwhile we are the consumers. They have to be selling it to someone!!

The dance of the addict and co dependant is a difficult one to unravel. Co dependants don’t see that they are as sick as the addict, often sicker and so they try to control consumption by controlling availability and blaming. How many of us are guilty of flushing drugs down the toilet or throwing away bottles? This can be done forever and yet the addict will drink and use again. It’s a similar dance with U.S. and Latin America. We say to Columbia “Wouldn’t you rather grow chili peppers or flowers?” but we keep snorting coke and we blame the Columbians? We tell scrub farmers trying to feed their families not to grow the most lucrative product, coca. Coca is deeply ingrained in their culture, contains only trace amounts of cocaine, and is believed to have medicinal purposes. It’s like tea to the English. How far would that go in London?” You have to stop tea production because we don’t like it in America”.  What a mess. What an arrogant, entitled, way to deal with a problem; blaming. with no reflection into our contribution to the problem.  Where is the discourse, the collaboration?

Obama has a unique opportunity to shift this paradigm. He could tariff and regulate products that the American people want and consume. Create a whole new tax base and funding for all kinds of health and human service programs. So what if people want to get high? Who are we to tell them not to? What would be so terrible if you could buy weed at 7-11? What if we did work closely with the Latin American governments and drafted policy that made sense for all Americans, north and south?

A Star is Reborn: Kristen Johnston’s Gutsy Comeback – By Joe Schrank

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A Star is Reborn: Kristen Johnston’s Gutsy Comeback

After nearly dying from a Vicodin addiction, the irrepressible actress is back with a blistering new memoir, a hit new show, and a candid interview with Joe Schrank.

Kristen Johnston in 2006: “I was killing myself.”

By Joe Schrank

 

Kristen Johnston was 28 she was cast as John Lithgow’s co-star in the runaway hit sitcom, 3rd Rock From the Sun.Suddenly famous, the statuesque beauty was unprepared to handle the pressure. After popping an endless array of pain pills, she almost died in a London hospital when an ulcer in her stomach exploded while she was set to star in a new show on London’s West End. Johnston’s new book, Guts: The Endless Follies and Tiny Triumphs of a Giant Disaster, is a profane, outrageous, tragic, hilarious and often disturbing portrait of an addict who nearly succumbed to her disease. We sat down with the actress at her apartment in Manhattan for the interview. As her drooling pit-bull Pink dozed placidly beside her, Johnston described coming clean about her addiction (on David Letterman, no less), her regrets about a youth lost to drinking in Wisconsin, and her work with a new foundation, SLAM (Sober, Learning and Motivation), that’s lobbying New York City to open a sober high school.

 

Joe Schrank: Addiction in the media tends to have a pretty familiar story arc: hero falls from grace, hero learns a lesson, hero never does it again and everybody loves hero.

Kristen Johnston: And then hero writes a book about it! [Laughs}

But you make it clear that you’re very much a work in progress, that you haven’t really solved your addiction.

God knows, I could relapse in a second. And I just might, after this interview. Kidding! No, really, I think one of the biggest things is that most people write the book after they’ve had the arrest, or the DUI, or the public shame, and it’s the mea culpa moment. People would ask me, why are you exposing yourself? No one knows you’re an addict, you don’t have to tell the story. Or at least my mom says that. But I am sick of that cycle. I am sick of the fact that people think it’s just actors or Whitney Houston. It is your neighbor, it’s your postman, it’s your son, it’s your daughter. It’s not just narcissistic actors.

I had the first sane thought that I’d had in like eight years: I was like, there are people outside who are not thinking, “Oh my God, when is my next prescription?”

I get that question a lot—why are so many actors addicts?

Please. When I go into an AA meeting, there’s like one other actor.

I suppose if people followed accountants around with cameras, they’d say, ”Why are there so many accountants addicts?”

I think actors like me are predisposed to addiction. It’s somebody with low self-esteem and yet a desperate need for approval, and now a little disposable income; it’s a tough combination of things. And actors do become a cliché. You know, I just couldn’t believe it the moment I realized I had become one. I was like, I can’t be a pill-popping actress. That’s so embarrassing. But the bottom line is, so are a lot of people. That’s kind of what the first chapter in Guts is about—I’m not trying to take the piss out of anybody, but you know, everybody is an addict in some way.

So you think of addiction as having a range?

Well, I think everybody is addicted to something. People will say to me, “Oh my god, my brother’s in so much trouble, let me tell you what he did yesterday.” I’m like, “I don’t need to hear it: he’s just an addict.” And they’re like “No, but he’s really bad.” No, he’s just an addict. That’s it.

So there’s a story behind why the book is called Guts, and how you got sober. You were taking a lot of Vicodin and other stuff while acting in a play in London, and your stomach basically exploded. If you didn’t have that traumatic experience, would you still be using?

I would be dead.

So that was your turning point?

Well no. It was a confluence of events. First it was stomach-bursting—and the agony, the true agony, of that, and there was the shame and the loneliness. Then something happened while I was in the hospital—my dark night of the soul. It was New Year’s Eve, and there were fireworks all over the city. I had the first sane thought that I’d had in like eight years: I was like, there are people outside of my hospital bed watching these fireworks who are not thinking, “Oh my God, when is my next prescription? Have I called this doctor or that doctor?” You know the fuckin’ terror of being in that prison of addiction. I just thought there are people that don’t have to do any of that—that thought struck me, and it stuck with me. Then about a week later, my very close, long-time friend Laura wrote me an email saying, “Everyone knows you’re a drug addict.”

You write “This is the main event” on your dressing room mirrors. Is that your mantra?

I have to read a little bit about it because otherwise “this is the main event” could sound really dumb. Listen [reads from her book]: “When you’re in a play and all you care about is where you’re getting loaded afterwards, that’s slightly worrisome. But if you can’t fucking wait for the fucking audience to get over it and stop giving you a standing ovation already, because you’re dying to get to the bar? Well, then—that’s just a whole other kettle o’ crazy. But it was all I knew, really. Plays were simply a conduit, an appetizer to the most important event of the entire day: getting hammered. Endless, sometimes heated arguments between the cast over which place had the best martinis would continue right up until entrances. (And sometimes even beyond.) Nowadays when I’m in a play, the very first thing I do when we move into the theater is to grab a dark red lipstick (frosty pink just doesn’t have the same panache), and scrawl in my dressing room mirror my new mantra: This is the main event.”

So it is a mantra. Does it work offstage as well?

Yes. Because it’s my way of saying, this is the moment. I don’t really have that problem as much anymore. I did when I first got sober. It was always like “Ah, yeah, maybe dinner will be better. Eh, maybe if we walk it’ll be better, maybe if I sleep it’ll be better,” you know what I mean?

Learning to be in the world sober is not easy.

I wouldn’t say I’m an in-the-moment person, but I’m not dying for the next moment. I’m okay in the moment right now. Well, this moment kind of sucks, but yeah… [laughs]

In Guts, you describe a state of being that you call “Shultz-ville”. Please explain.

Well, there was this show called Hogan’s Heroes, and one of the characters was a big fat German guard named Shultz whose motto was, “I hear nothing! I see nothing!” So I say, well, the only sane remaining part of myself was Shultz. So I was living in Shultz-ville. It’s funny if you read it…

So it’s denial?

Yes, it’s denial

 

 

You know, I’ve been trying to get a sober high school built in New York City for a long time. I’ve created SLAM [Sobriety Learning And Motivation], and it’s a great organization. But throughout all of our experiences working on this together—I’ve met dozens of people and have gone to City Hall many times—I’ve learned that politicians just couldn’t be less interested. And I started to realize it wasn’t the lack of funding or anything else like that. It was this: if they say yes to a sober high school, it means they’re admitting there’s a problem. It’s like, I know somebody whose children are addicts, but she has never told one of her friends. Never.

Because it’s real if it’s verbalized?

Exactly. As long as it’s a secret, it’s okay. And I’m sick of that attitude. That’s why I wrote the book.

Now my ambition is more about learning and trying to be a better person, and making enough money to have a kid, because I want to buy one.

You’re the daughter of a senator…

A Wisconsin State senator. And here’s the deal: there are over 35 successful sober high schools all throughout the United States of America, and New York City, the greatest, most influential city in the world, has zero. New York teens actually have to go to Boston to have a sober learning experience. The Boston area has over four. It’s really revolting. Here’s the deal: one out of three teens meets the medical criteria for addiction. One out of every 70 teenagers is going to rehab in the United States. And when they get to New York, it is way higher.

NYC is the largest consumer of cocaine in the world.

Yeah, New York! It’s a national health crisis and nobody’s doing anything about it. But there are findings from the National Center of Substance Abuse that say half of all high school students use addictive substances. It starts early and it’s urgent. Anyway, the fact that I’m still fighting to make this fucking school makes me sick.

A lot of people do service as part of staying sober. Is this your service?

It is. But I don’t want to be a public advocate, I just want the school. I don’t even care about those brats. [Laughs]

No me neither. I don’t like them.

I just want to make the school. It’s what’s right. It seems like to me that we are a community and they are our children. Other communities take care of their young people. In five years, that’s who the grownups are going to be. They’re all gonna be messes. They’re all gonna be in jail.

You grew up going to a Catholic school and were the rowdy, loud girl. That was your persona. Do you think that was the impetus of your addiction?

Absolutely. It helped shaped my—I hate to say just addiction—but shaped my fucked-upness. My wrong way of being. My other. I call it “other”.

We know now that kids who start drinking in high school are exponentially more likely to have a lifetime problem than those who delay until 18 or 19. We used to let kids drink in the basement and take their car keys, but the truth is…

Well, again, we’re alcoholics, so for us there is no such thing as a sane glass of wine or a beer at any age. And some kids do just have a beer at a party.

You admitted on the David Letterman show that you took Suboxone to treat your pill addiction. Did you plan that?

Nope. I was nervous and talking for the first time about my addiction. And I was saying that I’m from Wisconsin, so I drank because that’s what you do, and I got a lot of shit for it because I guess it’s offensive to Wisconsin, but it’s the truth. I mean that’s what we do. That’s what we did. That’s all we did. When I came to NYU as a student—you know, in savvy Manhattan—and I got to my dorm on Fifth Avenue, I was like “Let’s party!” It was a school night, and people were like, “ummh…” and I was like, “Come on! Shots!” That’s all I understood. That’s why this is the main event.

So if you had grown up in a less permissive place…

…I’d still be a fucking mess, believe me. But that’s what made me great. My addiction is what has shaped me. I think my addiction has formed all of the things about me that I like. My sense of humor and my joy and my love of people and all of that is kind of intertwined, and so in the last five years of trying to live a sane sober lifestyle I have to kind of weed out the little things that aren’t healthy. I’m still learning, like, the dumbest lessons. For instance, toxic friends. Boundaries. I’m totally still learning that. When you’re newly sober you’re a toddler who has no idea how awful life usually is. Just kidding! Sort of.

Have you regained your burning need to succeed?

Ambition is one of life’s greatest painkillers, because when you are ambitious you are driven. I wasn’t ambitious like, “I want to kill!” I didn’t even want to get famous. I wanted to be an actress and I wanted the lights, and I wanted people to applaud. I wanted it. There was no moment of sitting and thinking and asking myself simple things such as what do I like and who am I? So when 3rd Rock From the Sunhappened overnight at age 27, my ambition was ripped away from me. Of course, combined with overnight fame, I felt like I was locked in a dark closet with only myself for years. I had really bad depression. I love 3rd Rock, but it was the around that I couldn’t navigate. I didn’t have that ambition anymore. Now I have a different kind of ambition. It’s more about learning and trying to be a better person, and making enough money to have a kid, because I want to buy one you know. I’d make a great mother. I really would.

You want a baby?

Absolutely. I already went through the adoption procedure seven years ago, right up until the home visit. I got really far into it. When I was hiding all the booze, I was like, I can’t do it until I’m sober. I cancelled the appointment. When I got to rehab I said I’d adopt after a year sober. But at that point I was broke. But I’m there now. It’s the right time. That’s my ambition. I’ve always imagined, since I was really young, having an adopted kid. But there was never a husband or anything. We would learn together. And then I’d start drinking when they were 12. [Laughs]

You have a new show that’s a hit on TV Land called The Exes.

So cool. It’s great. I love making funny. It’s an old-school sitcom, which is cool because it’s sort of a dying art-form. When it’s done bad it’s the worst, but when they’re done good it’s the best 22 minutes out there. A good sitcom is true art. And it suits me. And I love the cast.

Do you worry about dealing with fame now that you’re sober? Before, it helped fuel your addiction. Has that changed at all?

I’m happy to say it’s not a problem for me now. When I was in my 20s, a big part of the problem was when people would recognize or stare at me on the street, I would interpret it as them saying, “What a freak! Look at you, freak!” And that was because I played an alien. So I looked at it as malevolence. It never seemed nice or joyful to me. And now it only seems sweet and kind and sometimes a little loud, but I love it! I don’t get off on it, which would be gross, but it’s part of my life. It’s fine.

Click here to buy a copy of Guts. You can also visit gutsthebook.com to ask Kristen questions and join the conversation.

Greg Giraldo’s Last Laugh – By Joe Schrank

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Fans of the cultish 44-year-old comic were stunned when he overdosed in a Jersey motel room a year ago today. But his close friends saw it coming. Comedians from Andy Dick to Colin Quinn remember the man behind the mask.

Comedian Greg Giraldo overdosed at 44, leaving behind a wife and two kids.

It’s been said that the fundamental problem with alcoholics is our inability to form a true partnership with another human being. Feelings of isolation, disenfranchisement, and alienation are common among us. Rarely, if ever, do we truly tether ourselves to one another, perhaps because we’re too selfish, arrogant or fearful. For some alcoholics a true friendship—as opposed to a passing chapter—is as rare as a truly great fighter or a perfectly elegant fastball.

Greg Giraldo and I met through a mutual friend in 2004 and became instantly connected. He’d long been considered the comic’s comic—a favorite among peers who were far more famous and commanded much bigger audiences; he had amassed a dedicated cult following through his celebrity roasts on Comedy Central. We shared common experiences: blue-collar upbringings, Catholic school, similar tastes in music, and political beliefs that could be simultaneously described as reactionary and bleeding-heart liberal. We were both uncomfortable in the kind of Manhattan circles filled with smug strivers who felt entitled to city parking spaces that cost the same as a suburban mortgages. We preferred walk-ups, slices of pizza, disposable T-shirts and other pieces of working class bravado. More important than all this was the connection we felt through our alcoholism and mutual self-loathing.

There were twists in his brilliant mind that were not reachable. He wore his life like uncomfortably, like an itchy wool sweater.

Greg—a Harvard-educated son of immigrants and a stand-up comic who achieved international fame—believed to his last day that he was incapable and unworthy of any sort of achievement. We both felt overwhelmed and insecure in our roles as providers and fathers. While we going through simultaneous divorces, the two of us became roommates and were consumed by the fear that we’d end up living in my tiny West Village apartment forever. It became like a bizarre bipolar, alcoholic, version of The Odd Couple. We spent hours laughing, ranting about lawyers, refining his act and sharing our irritation over Oprah’s lack of personal insight into her food addiction while she demeaned other addicts. This was when I witnessed Greg’s genius, through his comedy and his cultural observations.

 

There were days when Greg lost his ability to stay related to what was happening around him, as he played fake folk mass religious songs on his guitar in my living room. Back then, before my business took off, I had more flexibility and a distance from my alcoholism that Greg couldn’t seem to achieve, no matter how hard he tried. I was his traveling companion in modest motels in mid-sized Midwestern towns, where he performed in grimy clubs that were far beneath his potential. One of the saddest aspects of his demise was that he would let me do what he couldn’t: after his performances I would decline the drugs, hookers, and party invitations that were sent his way so that we could go back to the hotel to watch marathons of Flip that House. Hardly sex, drugs and rock and roll, but there was safety in the mundane boredom. Greg would always autograph the bible in his hotels with a simple message: “Best wishes, God.”

There were twists in his brilliant mind that were not reachable or understandable, least of all by him. He wore his life like an itchy wool sweater and never seemed like he was truly at ease. Between all the drinking and drugs, the sporadic periods of remission, clarity, and hope started to become less frequent and I would confront him, telling him he was getting weirder and that I was going to stop trying to rescue him (I never did). In the last six months of his life, whenever I saw his manager’s name flash on my phone, I’d think, “Today is the day; Greg is dead.” I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that the day I feared eventually arrived. When it happened, after an overdose on prescription pills, it was like losing a friend to a terminal cancer—jarring and shocking, but not surprising.

I don’t have any stern warning parables about loss of genius and unrealized potential. I don’t know what it was that tortured my friend. I don’t know why I am intoxicant-free and Greg is dead. I just know I miss him—the non-judgmental empathy, the jokes, the impromptu folk mass performances.

The week of he died, he was supposed to introduce the singer Courtney Love to thousands of fans at the New York City Recovery Rally in New York’s Randall’s Island. Once again he complained that he was “no example” for a recovering crowd—a familiar retort. I responded with my usual lecture: “You’re not the only one who struggles with this disease. Advocacy doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. You don’t have to wear a bra to sell one.” His final text to me, a few hours before he dropped into a coma was, “I can’t do it, I’m sorry.” How true that was. Later that evening I received the dreaded call I’d anticipated for so long.

“Is he dead?” I asked his manager. “No, not yet,” was the terse reply.

After a ambulance rusheed him away from his New Jersey motel, Greg spent three days in a coma at a local New Jersey hospital. He died there, at the age of 44. I guess in a way, he got what he wanted. He always aspired to be a modern version of Lenny Bruce, and his early demise helped make him a comedy legend. Last February, stars such as Jerry Seinfeld and Colin Quinn performed before thousands of Greg’s fans at a comedy performance to celebrate his life, and to take care of his wife and three kids. Sales of his CDs have exploded. Death made Giraldo a very famous man. But the saddest part is that although he always was an incredible talent—profane, profound and powerfully funny—he never really thought so himself.

 

We asked some of Greg Giraldo’s fellow comics and others who knew him for their thoughts, memories and tributes:

Colin Quinn

“Greg brought a refreshing intelligence to the comedy scene. You could tell he really thought through what he was joking about and gave the audience a fully-realized bit, because he’d been turning it over and over in his mind.”

 

Jim Gaffigan

“I was asked by Entertainment Weekly last year to write a tribute to Greg. Here is what I submitted:

Greg Giraldo was the sanest person I encountered when I started stand up comedy. When I first met Greg he was a Harvard Law graduate working in a high-powered NYC law firm with the same crazy dream I had.  We immediately became good friends. Greg was so funny but his warmth, intelligence and likability made me immediately know he would master the art form. It’s ironic that many only knew him as a judge on Last Comic Standing or from Comedy Central’s Roasts. The real Greg was the opposite of judgmental. I knew him only as inclusive, humble and warm. Watching Greg do stand up I marveled at the marriage of true intellect and childlike playfulness from the soul of an accessible philosopher. I loved Greg. He was the last person on earth I thought would fall victim to addiction. Greg was so passionate about comedy and his boys. I can only imagine his anger at himself for leaving his wife and 3 children so abruptly.

Now, over a year later, I still feel amazingly strange when I realize that Greg is really gone. I sometimes thoughtlessly expect to run into him at a club or get a text from him saying, “What up Gurl?” This recent stretch of frosty  weather  in New York reminds me of Greg’s funeral and the bleak emptiness I felt the day he finally died. Greg did many things, and he did them well. He was a great friend, a dedicated father and a first-rate comedian. But in the end, he was yet another a  reminder that even the world’s brightest, warmest and funniest people are not immune to to addiction and its ultimate price.

 

Jesse Joyce

“I still think about him at least once a day. What I miss most is not having an older brother. That’s what our relationship was. He was a guy who had already made all the mistakes in life, love and comedy that I was about to… I can’t even count the number of times this past year that I have had the knee-jerk reaction to ‘run it by Greg’—to pick through his wisdom on the pitfalls of my new marriage, the confusion of negotiating a show idea, the decoding of LA meetings with network showbusiness types, or sharing in the pride of a mean-spirited roast joke.

I’ve had to confront things in my early thirties with the attitude, ‘What Would Greg Do?’ and quite a lot of the time I do the opposite. But by watching what he did better than anyone, AND by watching what he fucked up, I have learned how to be a more honest comedian, a pretty competent roaster, a genuine guy to younger comics, a better husband, and eternally grateful for my sobriety.

As a fan, what I share with the rest of the world is missing all the comedy gold in the past year. I know I’m not alone in wishing I could have heard his take on the killing of Bin Laden, the Chilean miners, the BP oil spill, Schwarzenegger’s illegitimate child with that house keeper who looks like a Guatemalan Mickey Rourke, and the roasting of Donald Trump and Charlie Sheen. But what I’ll always be grateful for is that for about 6 years I had the best older brother anyone could have.”

 

Laurie Dhue

“It is hard to believe that we lost our friend one year ago. I can still so easily picture his face and hear his laugh; sometimes it feels surreal to think that he’s really gone, that he will not come walking in the door showing off his new tattoo or leap onto the stage to perform. One of my favorite memories is accompanying Greg and Joe on Greg’s comedy tour in the Phoenix area in ’08. I have never laughed so hard or had so much fun. His ‘If you see something, say something’ bit is one of the all-time greats. Greg was a generous, brilliant, tortured soul. He could make you laugh out loud by simply looking at you or make you tear up by listening to his ongoing struggle with this cunning, baffling, powerful and PATIENT disease. I wish he’d been constitutionally capable of staying clean, but he simply couldn’t do it. My heart is full of love for him…and for Mary Ann and those three beautiful boys.”

 

Ted Alexandro

“It’s funny how often Greg pops into my mind. His spirit and vitality still linger in all of the clubs and on all of the stages he performed. I learned so much from Greg that I’m sure it finds its way into my own expression from time to time—at least I hope it does. Greg, thank you for being my friend and such a good example in so very many ways. My love, respect and gratitude to you always, friend.”

 

Kristen Johnston

“The Greg I knew was incredibly sweet and respectful. And troubled. After I met him, I saw a comedy tape of his and just couldn’t believe how brilliantly sharp and clever he was. I hate this disease for killing him.”

 

Andy Dick

“It was just a complete tragedy, it just sucks. People don’t have to die. I didn’t know him very well, but we did one show. It was with Shannon Elizabeth, called Live Nude Girls or Live Nude Comedy or something like that, it was at a casino. He was a super nice guy, really extremely nice, one of the nicest people—and one of the funniest. I definitely think he was underrated. In the world of comedy, he was known as being one of the funniest guys out there, and he’s definitely known as being the funniest guy on the roast every time—and that’s hard to do, you’re up there with the best of the best, and he was the best of the best. Everybody knew that. Right before he died, he just got a pilot—he was really about to burst, in a good way.”

 

Tom Shillue:

“Greg was very easy to be around, very easy and enjoyable to spend time with. It was mostly brief meetings, as it is with comedians, before and after shows. He may be have been running in to do a spot and running out again after, but the time spent with him was always genuine and unhurried. And he asked questions. He was a family man and asked about my wife. We talked about anything but comedy.”

 

Tom Papa:

“Greg was a strong, good force. Funny, smart, compassionate, brave. He filled everyone around him with his energy. And that energy will never fully burn out.”

— Joe Schrank

Jamie Moyer’s Crusade – By Joe Schrank

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The Future Hall of Fame pitcher isn’t just the oldest player to toss a win, he’s also the most active crusader against addiction in the game—both in and out of the locker room.

When future Hall of Fame pitcher Jamie Moyer pitched his first big league baseball game, Ronald Reagan was president, cell phones were the size of TVs and Johnny Carson was hosting The Tonight Show. He was starting for the Chicago Cubs in June, and won a pitcher’s duel against aging Phillies ace Steve Carlton, who at 42 was considered one of baseball’s eminence gris. This April 17, the 49-year-old Moyer notched a victory for the Colorado Rockies, breaking the record as the oldest starting pitcher to win a major league game.

Moyer has been on the diamond long enough to see an entire generation of pros struggle with addiction in the locker room. His rookie year, the New York Mets won the World Series with a roster that would come to look like a rogue’s gallery of substance abuse: Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Lenny Dykstra have all battled demons. Moyer witnessed first-hand the rise and fall of the Steroid Era, an epidemic of amphetamine abuse, the advent of Human Growth Hormones, and enough booze to rain out a stadium.

But longevity isn’t the only thing that makes Moyer stand out. He and his wife, Karen, started The Moyer Foundation, which helps kids who are battling addiction or who come from troubled homes. Knowing that 95% of adult addicts start to use drugs before the age of 20, the Moyers have decided to intervene before that happens, and launched a treatment franchise called Camp Mariposa as a refuge for kids who come from addicted homes, or who are starting to land in trouble. Moyer opens up about how he going into the treatment world, how he managed to stay in the game so long, and what baseball can do to help players who are struggling with their own demons.

Joe Schrank: First of all, congratulations on being the oldest major league pitcher to win a game. I’m 43 years old and I can barely make it up the subway stairs anymore. Your victory at 49 is an inspiration to a generation of middle-aged fat guys.

Jamie Moyer: You’re too kind.

You and your wife, Karen, have taken real strides in addressing a serious problem in the US: that children are a forgotten casualty of alcoholism.

Absolutely. That’s what the Moyer Foundation grew out of. The whole point of Camp Mariposa is to reach out to kids between nine and twelve years old, because there’s nothing out there for them. And unfortunately, there’s 8.3 million kids in this country living under the roof of a parent in need of treatment for alcohol or drug abuse. That’s a large number, and growing up in this environment means they’re three times more likely to be abused and four times more likely to become an addict. Here’s the shocker: 95% of adult addicts started to use drugs before the age of twenty. So we’re trying to stop that cycle early on. What we do at the Camps is reduce the feelings of isolation, fear, guilt, loneliness. Addiction is not their fault. We need them to recognize that and help them make the right choices from the get-go.

How many Camps are there?

Five so far—in Washington State, South Bend, Bradenton, Florida, and in Philadelphia, not far from where I grew up.

The Betty Ford Clinic and the Caron Foundation have children’s programs, but beyond that, and the Camps, we’re a culture that really doesn’t address this subtext.

Life is all about making choices, right? But for a kid 10 year old kid in an alcoholic household, where they see some of the bad choices being made by adults, it’s hard to pin it on the kid. So if you put them in an environment with other children, and they realize they’re not alone in dealing with this, they can learn from each others’ experiences. That’s how you address it.

We say that all the time in rehab that when a patient goes home, they set new boundaries. If that means you have to move out, then you move out. Well, when you’re nine that’s not an option.  

At that age, it would be tough to make that decision when you’re that young.

One of the things that we’ve we’ve written about in The Fix is The Dry Tailgate Party, which you host at Notre Dame. How did that become an event?

When you have big sports events and you serve alcohol, you’re also condoning the abuse of alcohol. We thought a great way to get a message across is to have a dry tailgate. When you think about a tailgate, people are having a good time, they’re having food, and maybe they’re drinking, and hopefully, if they’re drinking, they’re drinking responsibly. But that’s not always the case. At a dry tailgate, there’s food and people are having a good time—but there’s no alcohol. And we’re trying to create an awareness of Camp Mariposa and the positive effects that we can have on a community.

Is it going to continue and be an annual thing?

As of now, yes. I mean we’ve done it in South Bend at Notre Dame, and I think we’re going to continue that, and as model grows we’ll expand. That’s the plan..

Well, I’m going to be there this year. I promised your wife, and I have a feeling people don’t say no to your wife.

I know that people have found it hard to say no to her.

Baseball’s had trouble dealing with drugs and alcohol. But there are exceptions. The Texas Rangers have been really supportive of Josh Hamilton and Ron Washington as they struggle with addiction. They seem to handle it better than any other franchise. Why do you think more people aren’t taking that leap?

That is a great question. This case is two people—Ron and Josh—who have been adult enough or man enough to stand up and say, “Look, I have a problem.” And I think the organization is lucky that it’s run by Nolan Ryan, who was an teammate of mine. I know him as a person, and I know that if he sees a problem, he’s going to address it and set a positive example. That’s exactly what’s happening. In Josh Hamilton’s case, I think at some point he realized his life was going down the drain. So he had two choices: either continue the spiral and lose his family, his career, and everything else, or be a man and step forward and take care of his issues. And I think it started when he was in Cincinnati. They had somebody who traveled with him and helped him out. Obviously, he’s chosen to take the high road. I thought was really cool when the Rangers won in the playoffs the first time, their teammates were celebrating with beer, but when he entered the room, they celebrated with soda and ginger ale. I thought, “Wow, what a great message.”

But that didn’t just happen. Somebody had to say, Look, let’s be supportive of him and spray ginger ale on each other instead of champagne. Even with Ron Washington testing positive for cocaine, the Rangers said, We’ll roll with this. People are not disposable just because they have a problem. 

I get it. It’s a great example, and kudos to the Texas Rangers for not turning their backs on them, and for taking a negative and turning it into a positive.

Yeah, and even when Josh tripped up the Rangers supported him. He has done exactly the right thing. He’s owned it. He’s not blamed anybody.

Exactly. I think it’s important to realize that the Texas Rangers have taken this issue and done something with it. Why aren’t other clubs doing it? I don’t know. When you have a problem like this and you do either publicly come up front and talk about it, or you have the problem and you’re afraid to address it,  an individual needs to know there’s support out there. And that’s what we’re trying to create with our foundation. But we need financial help and we need to educate people. Hence the dry tailgate.

Right.

There’s going to be plenty of people that stick their noses up to it. But when they’re in need, they’re going to say, oh my gosh, there is an organization out there or there’s many organizations out there that I could go to for help. And that’s what we’re trying to create with these kids and with Camp Mariposa that, you know, let’s help these kids who probably right now at the ages of nine to twelve don’t know where to go for help.

No, they don’t and there’s limited resources that they get.

You’re exactly right. So being able to partner with the Penn Foundation is a huge privilege. It’s going to take time and finances, but over time we can make a difference in children’s lives.

And the community. I always thought, well, if I just don’t drink I’m helping the world because I’m not clogging up the judicial system. I’m not going to get stitches and take up space at the ER.

I think the way our society deals with alcohol is why some of these kids drinking. Take a beer commercial on TV: it talks about drinking responsibly, which is great. They’re doing their due diligence with that. But think about it: What’s the first thing you think about when you go to college? You party.

It’s always been that way.

Even though high school kids are underage, they’re still finding alcohol, they’re still finding drugs. Asking them to drink responsibly is asking a lot. Potentially, the solution starts in our government. I know our government has been working hard at the problem for years—I watch the TV shows of Feds catching people at the border transporting bales of marijuana and bricks of cocaine and all that kind of stuff. They’re very interesting and intriguing shows to watch, but the drug trade is a huge, huge business. People have figured out ways to make money off of it, and that’s what it’s all about.

A Black Hawk helicopter is $20 million and they’re used to defoliate coca fields in Colombia. And nobody stays sober because of that. And what could you do for kids with $20 million?

Exactly. You could actually set up programs in schools, in preschool, in high school, and meet in the middle and re-educate people, show the problems, and teach people how to make better choices. Also, give people better alternatives to drugs and alcohol. People use those things to forget their problems. And when they eventually sober up they realize their problems have not gone away.

Or, they’ve been exacerbated by the drinking. I always say, well look, if you drink, then you’re going to have two problems. You know you’re going to have the drinking problem.

Exactly.

The San Francisco Giants will be hosting Recovery Night at AT&T Park this year. Do you think that other teams will take that lead or take interest?

Well, I’m sure organizations will be watching how that goes. The community of San Francisco has a lot of street people, a lot of drugs—there’s drugs everywhere unfortunately—but the Giants are taking the initiative, and I think that’s awesome. I think there will be some organizations that follow their lead.

Baseball is really intertwined with beer. You must know, since you pitch for the Rockies, who play at Coors Field.

True.

So let me ask you, should Coors be giving the Moyer Foundation $1 million to help these kids?

I like how you think.

There are lots of people who are not impaired by using that product. But a byproduct of their profit could very well be an abusive father parked on the couch drinking Coors. Tobacco companies contribute to cancer research; shouldn’t alcohol companies help with this?

That makes total sense.

There have been a lot of drug-related fatalities in sports lately, especially with avoidable tragedies like the new York Rangers’ Derek Boogaard. What should be changed?

Well, I’m going to answer that, but I’m going to veer off a little bit and get back to it.

Sure.

A lot of Major League teams have taken alcohol out of the clubhouse. So organizations are noticing that there are problems—whether it’s a responsibility issue or a liability issue or what. At the Rockies, we have no alcohol in our clubhouse. And the name on our sign is Coors Field! So our club has taken that initiative. I think the Cardinals, who are owned by Anheuser-Busch, don’t have beer in their clubhouse anymore. Don’t hold me to that. But there are clubs that allow it—they believe it takes the pressure off, after a game, to have a drink. I don’t know if there is a definite answer out there.

The Medical Subspecialty of Addiction Medicine – Scott Bienenfeld, M.D.

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I could not have been more excited to read the article “Rethinking Addictions Roots, And Its Treatment “, that was published in The New York Times  on July 10, 2011.  The article highlights the fact that The American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM) has implemented 10 medical residency programs in the field of Addiction Medicine at major national medical centers throughout the country, including one that is here in New York City at St. Like’s Roosevelt Hospital.  This move represents a significant push by the medical field to provide extensive residency-type training in Addiction Medicine to doctors in a variety of specialties – something that has not been seen before. [i] It is also an acknowledgement that not only is Addiction Medicine an important medical specialty worthy of advanced study by doctors in a variety of fields, but also that the disease model of addiction is one that the medical field takes seriously, and understands as a major public health problem.

As I have pointed out in earlier posts, advancements in neuro-imaging technology have clearly identified addiction as a medical illness that results in measurable brain changes, both as a result of the illness and also in response to effective treatments.  That, combined with the introduction of new medications that are being used in the fight against addiction, have placed Addiction Medicine on the same level as other medical subspecialties, and as such, it requires subspecialty training.

Currently, the ten Addiction Medicine “residency” programs are more like fellowships, in that the doctors who are enrolled must have first completed a primary residency in another specialty.   However, the article points out that the ultimate goal of all of this is to one day have Addiction Medicine residencies qualify as primary medical residencies, open to anyone who has graduated from medical school.  Once that happens, I believe there will be a fundamental shift in the way medical students are taught about addiction, and that could lead to significant change down the road.  As it stands now, most medical students receive little or no formal training in addiction medicine, and most graduate medical school with the idea that those who suffer from addiction are either “bad people” or have brought their problems on themselves because of “immoral thinking” or “character defects”.  Only a minority of medical school graduates on to become educated about the chronic disease model of addiction and the array of treatment options available.

My hope is that as the field of Addiction Medicine becomes more formalized, and residency training becomes more extensive, clinicians-in-training receive a well-rounded experience and develop an extensive knowledge base which, in addition to the medical model, incorporates other effective modalities such as involvement with Twelve-Step Programs (AA, NA, GA, Al-Anon, etc…), motivational interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy and relapse prevention therapy.

— Scott Bienenfeld, M.D.


[i] The American Society of Addiction Medicine – ASAM – has existed for years, and provides certifications for doctors in all fields who practice Addiction Medicine, but they do not have formal residency training programs.

The American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry – AAAP – offers fellowship training and board certification only to doctors who have successfully completed a residency in General Psychiatry.

Joe Schrank’s Interview With Tom Horvath

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To some, it might come as a surprise that Bill Wilson’s innovation, the 12 Steps, aren’t the only organized path to recovery. In fact, there are a handful of alternatives, some of which require abstinence from drugs and alcohol, and others that preach a more moderate approach, often referred by the umbrella term of “harm reduction.” There is LifeRing, Moderation Management and Rational Recovery. To many members of the “Anonymous” groups—that’s AA and NA, et al—these alternative programs are inferior products, ineffective and saddled by controversy. Moderation Management, for instance, has been criticized because, among other things, its founder, Audrey Kishline, renounced the program publicly in 2000 and relapsed, killing two people in a drunk driving accident. Bill Clegg, the memoirist who wrote Portrait of the Addict as a Young Man and 90 Days, said in an April interview with The Fix that harm reduction is “the first stop for people on the way down.” When it fails, he says, “you are driven into a more serious program and probably just keep on going down the stairs until you get to the basement with the rest of us.”

Maybe so, although psychologist Tom Horvath, the owner and operator of Practical Recovery, in San Diego, has a very different view. The two Practical Recovery rehabs he runs instead espouse something called Smart Recovery, an organization he calls “the leading non-12-Step, self-empowering support group,” with around 700 meetings worldwide. Smart Recovery doesn’t require abstaining from chemicals, nor does it embrace the concept of powerlessness central to working the 12 Steps. So what does he believe? It all starts with taking your will and your life back.

What is the main difference between most rehabs, which generally use the 12 Steps, and Practical Recovery?

The fundamental split is between self-empowerment and the powerlessness approach—from a technical perspective these both hinge on the psychological variable called “locus of control.” Think about your expectations of the future. If you have an internal locus of control, you expect that the future is going to be what you make it. If you have an external locus of control, you expect the future is about what happens to you.

Okay.

In reality, life is both of these things. The serenity prayer actually captures it very well. AA is a serenity, powerlessness and acceptance kind of program. The self-empowering approaches are based on courage, activity and empowerment. These mean that if you have cravings, rather than going to meetings I am going to learn how to deal with cravings. If I have problems, I am actually going to solve them and do the best I can with them. In a Practical Recovery facility, we work on identifying the problems people have, which always include craving and always include motivation; then, whatever their personal problems are, changing their situations, improving their relationships and achieving lifestyle balance.

We also work on identifying a deeper sense of purpose and meaning, and getting on with life. Sometimes it does not happen very quickly. I am not claiming that we are better than anybody else in terms of ultimate outcomes. Maybe we are and maybe we are not. I have no data to claim that we are better. I do think we are better for some people, in that they can work with this approach better than they can work with the powerlessness approach.

In New York City and Los Angeles you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting an AA meeting. Why aren’t there more Smart Recovery meetings?

Maybe we just haven’t been around long enough. I think that if people had an equal opportunity to choose between a 12-step meeting or Smart Recovery—just based on a couple of situations I’m aware of—I think they would split around 50/50. If we had more groups—let’s say when we have more groups—then we will be a very important option for half the population that will go to a support group. Of course, many people will not go to a support group.

To say to somebody, “AA is the only thing that works,” is the height of unethical behavior in our field. It is unethical because it is not factual. There are many roads to recovery. Most people who recover do not get any kind of services. They do not go to support groups or any kind of treatment. They do it via that mysterious process we call “natural recovery.”
Is addiction a disease?

That is one of the big questions, isn’t it? Practical Recovery has recently taken the same position on this that Smart Recovery takes, which is that we will work with you regardless of what you think. The answer doesn’t really matter to us.

Right. It really doesn’t matter what we call it.

Our treatment plan is not going to change either way. If it is a disease, how do people actually recover? It includes things like exercise, lifestyle balance, healthy eating, getting proper sleep, and identifying and resolving your underlying problems. Getting social support and improving your relationships. There is a lot in recovery that is pretty consistent for people who are successful.

That sounds a lot like the 12-Step process.

That certainly could be a 12-Step process. The crucial difference is that powerlessness aspect. If people call me and they have never been to a 12-Step group, I tell them they should go. If you can work with that approach, it is easily available. There is a lot of support for doing it. However, there are a lot of people who just will not do it. They just will not go to AA. Rather than telling them that they have to, we are presenting an alternative. There are about ten rehabs around the country now that do Practical Recovery. Plus there are these five alternative support groups, Smart Recovery being the most prominent. I believe that over time, it may take two or three decades, the self-empowerment approach will become about 50% of the marketplace, which is roughly what it is in the rest of the world. The United States is anomalous in terms of the dominance of AA.

So, can alcoholics learn to moderate their drinking?

Absolutely. Some of them. The Federal Government data is very clear on this. If you Google the phrase “Alcoholism is not what it used to be,” you will come up with a summary of the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol Related Conditions (NESARC). It finds that around half of the people who have had a diagnosis of alcohol dependence end up moderating successfully. That is a pretty high number.

Is that one of the goals of Practical Recovery, to teach moderation?

No. Our goal is to help people make sensible decisions and act on them effectively. We take no position on moderation or abstinence, regardless of the seriousness of your problems. We help you make a decision and implement it. We are not an advocate of either one.

What about other substances? Can crack smokers moderate crack smoking?

That is an interesting question. Probably some of them can. They have not come much to the attention of scientists. We know, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention knows, that some heavy smokers are able to moderate their smoking. When I read that years ago, I realized that, at least in theory, this was possible for anybody. The crucial distinction is that most of the people who get the treatment are already at the pretty severe end of the spectrum. As a default position for other substances, my default position is abstinence. What other people choose to do after treatment is up to them.

Twenty million Americans are diagnosable with some range of chemical dependency. What is it about the addiction treatment field that we are missing?

Well, the treatment system is not attractive enough for most of those folks. A system that is more harm-reduction oriented, which is what you have in most countries, would pull more people in and hopefully help them make resolution faster. The other piece is that recovery is not ultimately about treatment. It is about something much bigger than treatment. It is about society. The American society is one that breeds addiction rather well. Until some of those changes occur, and keep in mind that I am not expecting that, we’ll always have substantial addiction problems.

In Practical Recovery or Smart Recovery, how is success defined?

We let people define that for themselves, generally speaking.

So relapse is not viewed as failure?

Absolutely not. In fact, that is one the biggest benefits of a Smart Recovery meeting. If we are talking about Smart now, people come back and they talk about their slips and their relapses. Those are some of the most powerful meetings. We do not honor sober time the same way that 12-step groups do with tokens and chips and so forth. Everybody is sad that you just had three months and you relapsed, but let’s hear about what happened so that we can all learn from it.

I’ve always thought the way we diagnose addictive behavior isn’t diversified enough. A heroin addict and a wine-sipping housewife are put in the same form of treatment.

The treatment should be very different.

What do you say to the AA evangelicals who say that there is no other solution?

That is just ridiculous. There is so much scientific evidence that shows there is a wide range of solutions. AA is associated with recovery, but no one has ever demonstrated a cause-and-effect relationship. That often gets left out of the discussion. I am willing to believe that with the proper studies done, we would find that AA causes recovery for some people. I just assume that.

Does AA work?

We really don’t know. I am willing to believe it works. The point is there are half a dozen other things that are rather different than AA, that also work probably about as well. To say to somebody, “AA is the only thing that works,” is the height of unethical behavior in our field. Unfortunately, it is common. It is unethical because it is not factual. There are many roads to recovery. Most people who recover do not get any kind of services. They do not go to support groups or any kind of treatment. They somehow do it via that mysterious process we call “natural recovery.”

That is probably true.

It is absolutely true. There is data, very solid data, that supports it. How many people quit cigarettes by going to rehab? Not many. Most people quit drinking on their own. Most people quit heroin on their own. Treatment is a small part of what actually happens.

Is it dangerous to tell people that they can quit on their own? Isn’t that emphasis on self-reliance—”Oh, this time I really mean it”—one of the things that gets people further into their addiction?

We should be telling people that the fundamental element in change is the decision to change, and that decision, when backed up by sensible action, is what creates recovery. Sensible action may include getting treatment. In many cases it does not. That is the foundation of recovery, not going off to rehab. Rehab has its place—I own and operate two of them, and I’m very proud of them—but I have never told anyone they had to come to our rehab, or any rehab, or they were not going to make it. The facts do not fit that.

Right. So the whole culture of AA, is it the Tea Party of recovery? They are opposed to science. They do not like medication. They are rooted in something that nobody really knows if it works or does not work.

Well, AA is a big organization. It has a lot of different kinds of people in it. My only request is that when people show up at an AA meeting, that they get told this is one way to recover. We sure hope it works for you. You are welcomed back. We have got a lot to offer you. If you do not think this is right place for you, let me tell you about some others. Here is a list of other things you can do.

That is never going to happen.

Not any time soon.

We hear a lot about the idea of moderating drinking and Moderation Management with Smart Recovery. MM started with Audrey Kishline in 1994. She claimed she could moderate her drinking with therapy and other things, and ended up in 2000 killing two people in a drunk driving accident.

Let’s talk about Audrey Kishline. Do you know the group she was a member of when that happened?

Moderation Management.

Absolutely not.

She was in AA?

She was an AA member for the previous two months. This is easily documented. I have been in the field for 27 years and there is a group of us around the country that stay in close connection. I knew Audrey. She posted a whole bunch of places on the Internet in January of that year. The crash was March. She said, “I have decided that moderation is not the best approach for me. It is not working currently. I am joining AA. I wish MM the best. I will no longer be affiliated with it.” Two months later is the collision. That is not AA’s fault. It is sure as hell not MM’s fault.

Right. The popular thing is like when you say to people, and I am curious to know how you would respond, when you say to people “Oh, well maybe Moderation Management.” No, that woman killed a family. That is sort of the response that people give. I think that is the messaging.

I am doing everything I can to change that. A blood-alcohol content of 0.27 or 0.23, whatever she had, is nobody’s definition of moderation.

No. Clearly not. And obviously we have no idea who many members of AA have killed anyone in drunk driving accidents.

Quite a few, I am sure. It is a wide reaching organization.

Do you think that the anonymity is something that can be used to shield against accountability?

For sure. Of course, I am not proposing that people start mentioning their last names at AA meetings. One of the problems, I think, is that because no one speaks for AA, the irony is that then everybody speaks for AA. There is nobody to contradict them. If somebody could stand up in a meeting and say “You know, AA’s policy is that we support other options in recovery and you need to sit down and shut up. You are saying something different and that is not AA policy.” That would go a long way toward changing the field.

I agree. Addictive illness is something that impacts every single American. I do not disagree with anything you are saying. I do not disagree with any approach. I do not think there is any right or wrong way to be sober or get sober.

I have drafted up a mission, purpose, vision and values statement for an organization that I am tentatively calling the Association for Addiction and Recovery. I can see it as this umbrella organization like the American Heart Association or something. It is kind a non-denominational place where everybody could come together and support common sense improvements. The field is pretty divided, though. I do not know if it would work. Right now, I see more fighting that unification. I think the The Fix is part of the solution. I am very impressed with what you guys are doing.

Thank you. And thanks for talking with us today.

Recovery Ride Spin Class 4-1-13

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Laredo –  Band of Horses                                              

Dashboard –  Modest Mouse                                     

Paralyzed –  Bob Mould

Snow (Hey Oh) –  Red Hot Chili Peppers                                                                

(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais –  The Clash                                                              

Keep It Close To Me  –  Superdrag                                                                            

How Beautiful You Are  –   The Cure        

Bigmouth Strikes Again –   The Smiths    

If I Ever Feel Better –   Phoenix                  

Ever Fallen In Love –  Buzzcocks                                                

Lucky Man –  The Verve                

Non Photo-Blue  – Pinback                                                            

Teenage Kick – The Undertones                                                                               

Barely Legal – The Strokes