The world of medical alcohol treatment programs is a puzzling one. If you start asking questions about what the treatments are, how they work, or whether they work at all, you'll soon find that no detailed answers are forthcoming. Indeed, even if you ask someone who's received alcohol treatment you'll see that they don't even know what treatment they received.
I recently posed a question on a recovery message board: can anyone who's received alcohol treatment tell me what procedures or treatment methods they underwent? 30 responses later, I had no real answers. Most of the commenters seemed to believe alcohol treatment was necessary, but none of them could tell me what it involved other than learning the twelve steps.
Contrast this with getting medical treatment for a real disease or medical condition. Some years ago my father had heart problems. I just asked him today if he knew what the doctors did to him, and he fully remembered what they told him. They said that 5 of his arteries were 95% blocked, and to fix this condition they would open up his chest and replace the blocked areas with some veins from his arm. He was given a clear working understanding of what the procedure involved.
There's an important difference here which should not be overlooked. Although it's nice to be informed of what's going on in a heart surgery, you don't necessarily need to know. Your life is fully in the doctor's hands at that point. Either he successfully performs the surgery and your body reacts well to it, or not. There is little to no need for the patient to actually understand the procedure as he has no active role in it. But when we're talking about a behavioral problem such as alcoholism, the "treatment" is almost entirely psychological - that is, success ultimately depends on the patient changing their mind in some way so that they will make different choices about alcohol use. It would make sense then, that of any so-called medical treatment, patients undergoing alcohol treatment should be fully informed of the process since it will involve the use of their own mental resources.
Beside the fact that people who have been in alcohol treatment programs don't even have any understanding of what process was used to treat them, more disturbingly, the professionals who actually provide alcohol treatment can't give you a coherent explanation of the disease of alcoholism, nor can they even explain the mechanics of how their treatments work. There is a simple reason for this, the treatment doesn't work, nor is it really a medical treatment.
The most rigorous epidemiological studies available have shown that there is no statistical benefit to alcohol treatment. That is, of people with alcohol dependence, the percentage who sober up through treatment programs is no higher than the percentage of people who sober up on their own. Moreover, in sheer numbers, far more people end their alcohol dependence on their own, without ever undergoing alcohol treatment or attending a single AA meeting.
What's more, when you ask a treatment provider how their treatment works or what it involves, you'll simply be told that addiction is a brain disease and you can't stop without treatment, then they'll throw out a stock answer such as "we tailor the treatment to each client using a combination of group therapy and individual counseling." What does that mean? If it's a brain disease, then how does group therapy work to solve it? How specifically does the counselor cure the disease? There are no answers, just grim looks, judgmental tones of voice, and various body language cues which all come together to tell you "we have no time for your silly questions - just shut up and get with the program."
Well, I have answers. The group therapy is usually nothing more than an AA meeting which happens to be led by a therapist. The individual counseling consists of teaching you that you have a disease, pressuring you into becoming an AA member, and you get to work on an aftercare plan with your counselor, which means that they give you a list of AA meetings to go to in your home area. That's what the treatment is - it's not treatment at all, it's an education in the twelve steps and a process of applying intense psychological pressure to accept and embrace the twelve steps. There's nothing wrong with education, we actually favor an educational model of helping people with substance use problems at the Freedom Model Retreats, but education is not treatment. Moreover, when the subject of education is the tenets of a quasi-religious faith-healing program such as the twelve steps, it becomes even more specious to portray it as a medical treatment.
If you can really get someone at an alcohol treatment center to give you more detailed answers than the stock one I listed above, they may name some specific methods of substance abuse counseling. Don't be fooled by the jargon - nearly every model of counseling involves twelve step indoctrination. I personally examined 11 methods of substance abuse counseling laid out in a handbook currently published by the NIDA. Of the 11 methods, 9 of them heavily involved teaching and coercing people into twelve step programs. It's also worth noting that one of the 2 non-12-step methods of counseling, Motivational Interviewing, is simply a method of rationally discussing the patient's ideas about and reasons for quitting. The creator of this method, Bill Miller, has said quite emphatically that "you don't need a degree after your name" to do it - meaning that it doesn't take years of medical school or training as a therapist to talk to people in this way. This indicates that essentially, it's not a special trick or medical procedure - it's not treatment. With this in mind, where is the treatment?
When you go looking for alcohol treatment, and you try to be as informed about it as you would want to be about any medical procedure, don't be surprised if you don't get many answers to your questions. There are no answers, because the people performing the treatment don't even know what they're doing. This is evidenced by the fact that alcohol treatment programs don't increase anyone's chances of ending an alcohol use problem. Alcohol treatment is a bait and switch; you're promised treatment, a promise which shifts the burden of change to medical staff, but instead of undergoing some understandable medical procedure which solves the problem, you're indoctrinated with education in a method of faith healing.
The Freedom Model Retreats doesn't offer bogus treatments or education in faith healing disguised as treatment. We offer Cognitive Behavioral Learning. Call us, and unlike our competitors, we'll be happy to tell you how our method works.
 Recovery from DSM-IV alcohol dependence: United States, 2001Ã¢â‚¬"2002 Deborah A. Dawson, Bridget F. Grant, Frederick S. Stinson, Patricia S. Chou, Boji Huang & W. June Ruan Laboratory of Epidemiology and Biometry, Division of Intramural Clinical and Biological Research, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD, USA
By: Steven Slate