Thursday October 27th 2016

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WASTED: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System (BOOK REVIEW)

This is a true story of an alcoholic therapist who was struggling with his own alcohol problem. In his previous book “The Couch of Willingness”, Michael Pond and wife, Maureen Palmer, shared experiences with coping alcohol issues to which many people can relate and learn from (you can see the review of “The Couch of Willingness” ).

In their new book “Wasted: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System”, Michael and Maureen shed light on their path…one that revealed the underbelly of traditional treatment for addiction. In trying different treatment settings, they reveal what they’ve actually seen as major problems over alcohol addiction rehabilitation.

Here, we present you some of the insights that we felt most compelling.

What’s wrong with addiction treatment today?

1. Punishment is not the solution to overcoming addiction!

Through the personal story of experiencing the system inside-out, this book works on a number of levels to expose what’s wrong with modern addiction treatment. For example, Dr. Keith Humphreys, a former senior alochol and drug policy advisor to the Obama Administration, thinks that we need a national attitude adjustment. From his perspective, alcohol addiction is punishing enough by itself. The logic goes like this: If punishment was effective in dealing with addiction, then nobody would get addicted in the first place!

And Mike advocates through the book that addiction would not be our number one public health problem if making people feel bad would make them quit. The evidence is all around us. Punishment is hurting people’s chances of getting back on track and living a sober life.

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2. Success must be measured beyond one definition!

Through the book, we are exposed to the idea that success for one person could be if s/he or she never uses again. But for another person, success could be learning how to consume in a different way, a less risky fashion.

“If someone’s able to go back to be being a moderate drinker, that’s great. By what standard would I judge and say that’s no good?”

But from the public’s perspective, the notion that any problem drinker could learn to drink in moderation is ludicrous. This book exposes an old idea rooted in the experience of A.A. founders. Says Dr. Humphreys,

“They only saw really severe alcoholics whose lives had been deeply damaged, and they concluded correctly, I think; that this was a group of people who were never going to become moderate drinkers. They really needed to stop. But that was only a slice of the world.
If you look more broadly, when you do surveys of populations, you see for every person like that there are two, three, four, five people who have a drinking problem and they need to do something about it, but they are not [severe] alcoholics and they can become moderate drinkers.”  

Dr. Bill Miller,  perhaps the world’s most highly regarded addiction researcher, believes that the general perception of failure is the result of only seeing and amplifying stories of the fails. He notes that most former treated clients are doing way better in the months and years that follow treatment. His point is that you see what you’re looking for: looking for failure? It’s out there! Looking for improvements? It’s out there, too!

3. There is no one way to recovery!

The authors get that there is a profound gap between the science of addiction and current practice related to prevention and treatment. They see it as a result of decades of marginalizing addiction as a social problem rather than treating it as a medical condition.

Michael wishes every person battling a substance use disorder would find a clinician who uses the approach suggested by Dr. Miller.

“We have a great menu, we’ve got a whole array of good approaches to try. We can tap into people’s own wisdom. We can try something first and if it is not the right approach for you, we’ll try something else. And I’ll stay with you until we find what works for you. That’s so much healthier than, ‘I know the one way and you do it that way or you’re not going to make it.'”

4. The word “relapse” is outdated

The book calls for a ban of the word “relapse” because of all the shame associated with it. “It definitely has a moralistic feel to it. It also implies something that just isn’t true. The idea that if you have one drink then invariably you’re going to drink a huge amount of alcohol is not how treatment outcome data look… what you see over time is longer and longer periods going by in between episodes of drinking. And the episodes of drinking get shorter and less severe over time, and then eventually fade away. In a way, it’s approximation to abstinence that looks more normal.”

What are the take home lessons we’ve gotten from this book?

FIRST, Kicking someone out of treatment precisely when they need it most never made any sense. Worse, it leaves a serious medical disorder untreated and able to spiral out of control.

Instead, people who use drug or drink during rehab need to be re-evaluated. If they relapse, the relapse itself should be re-evaluated. What was missing? What the rehab center was not providing? So then, treatment can be redesigned to address those particular issues.

SECOND, the definition of addiction is less important than its treatment. So, if you know someone who needs help…seek it until you find something that works for you.

Wondering where you can find “WASTED: An Alcoholic Therapist’s Fight for Recovery in a Flawed Treatment System”? To buy, download and read the book, check this link:

Additionally, if you are left with any questions about this book, we ask you to post them in the section below. We also welcome your feedback if you’ve read the book, and would like to comment and share your opinion.

About the Author: Michael Pond has a private therapy practice in Vancouver, where he specializes in addiction treatment. He earned a degree in psychiatric nursing from the University of Victoria and a Masters in Social Work from the University of British Columbia.
Maureen Palmer is a critically acclaimed documentary filmmaker and former radio and television producer at CBC. In 2002, she co-founded Bountiful Films.

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