Bad Company

Not long ago, one of America’s cable news networks aired an interview with two members of the family that produced President John F. Kennedy, and Senators Robert and Ted Kennedy. If you follow the news you have probably heard that substance abuse problems have plagued several members of this family. These two gentlemen, both appearing to be in their forties, well groomed, educated and articulate, came bravely forward to tell the story of their recovery. Toward the end of the interview they stated emphatically that, after many attempts to get sober, their recovery was only complete, with optimal relapse prevention, when they had cut all ties to addicts and abusers.

Now, think about this. They’d been using for decades. They knew lots of people in that world, and they may have formed close relationships and emotional bonds with some of those folks. They may have even developed a sense of duty or obligation to some of them for one reason or another. They may have felt powerful feelings of compassion and even pity for the ones who hadn’t recovered. But when all was said and done, despite the attachment they felt toward those people, they realized that their own survival was on the line. And in order for them to survive, they had no choice but to leave them all – yes, all of the people they’d ever gotten high or drunk with. And a gut-wrenching decision it must have been.

This story should be a lesson for all of us, even if we have no drug or alcohol issues. Now, many of us are good at learning life lessons through hearing stories. But if you prefer a more scientific approach, you need to know about The National Institutes of Health.

The National Institutes of Health is one of our most precious resources. They do great work providing information about many areas of concern, including mental health and addictions. Since addiction is one of America’s most devastating health issues, they’re committed to reducing the addiction problem in the U.S. In pursuing effective solutions, they are involved in various kinds of studies – experiments, surveys and so on – to determine the optimal approaches to treating addiction. One way they report their findings is through In February of 2012 they issued a report on the effectiveness of Alcoholics Anonymous. The aim was to determine whether it’s effective; and if so, what specifically it is about AA that works and what doesn’t work. Here’s what they came up with:

“CONCLUSION: While Alcoholics Anonymous facilitates recovery by mobilizing several processes simultaneously, it is changes in social factors which appear to be of primary importance.”
The short abstract is available at:

To compare the above information with information from another organization, check this out. The Institute for Research, Training and Education in Addictions offers compelling evidence that addiction is not just a physical or biological matter. In other words, it’s not just a disease. It appears that the recovery for chemical dependency or addiction is strongly influenced by the company kept by the addict. In a recent article that site said the following:
“Health is social. Substance use is part of overall health. Even among substance users who meet the criteria for dependence, amounts and patterns of use are influenced by social environment.”

You can read the whole article at:

While I do not specialize in addictions treatment, I’ve succeeded in treating clients with addictions, especially when the clients were powerfully motivated to resolve the social aspects of the problem, as well as its psychological aspects. As I’ve implied earlier, it takes immense courage to say goodbye to the people you’ve been hanging out with for so long; people with whom you’ve shared a lot of pain. One thing to remember: if they love you … if they care about you, they’ll understand. They’ll know you need to let them go.

Now there’s another thing to consider: the spiritual piece of the problem. It seems unwise to leave that piece out, since the role of faith in the recovery process is well documented. Just wanted to make that point, and in the interest of brevity, leave it for a separate article. But for the time being, check out the following article provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Addiction is a highly complex problem; this is not intended to simplify it. If the emphasis on the social aspect of addiction speaks to you, maybe it’s been worthwhile. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might benefit.