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Are we just modern-day snake’s oil salesmen?

October 17, 2012
by Heidi Voet Smith
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In a recent ABC News article, the well-documented discussion of whether addiction is a choice or a disease was once again brought to life. The article leads readers to question the validity of drug and alcohol treatment. It undermines the mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or concerned friend that is desperately trying to save someone’s life. It questions whether treatment is for real, or scam built around preying on the weak and the desperate.

In the article, ABC sequesters several individuals that on the surface appear qualified to shed light on the situation. Stanton Peele, author of The Diseasing of America, tells readers that addiction has become our nation’s symbol and excuse. Peele is outspoken in his belief that alcoholics can choose to drink moderately, or quit all together. Once again, giving hope to a hopeless condition. In the ABC News article, Peele even goes as far as to say that treatment is dangerous.

"We're selling nicotine patches, we're selling the Betty Ford Center. We tell people, 'You can never get over an addiction on your own. You have to come to us and buy something to get over an addiction.' It's not true, and it's dangerous to tell them that," says Peele.

ABC also calls upon James Frey, self-proclaimed former addict and best-selling author. Frey’s first book “A Million Little Pieces” rode a roller-coaster of fame. Becoming an instant classic due to Oprah Winfrey’s endorsement, then quickly earning wrath from angry readers after it was proven Frey lied and twisted several key moments in the book.

Frey admits that his parents did pay for him to go to the expensive Hazelden Treatment Center, but Frey says he didn't buy into the messages the center offered in counseling and therapy.

"I stopped because I have my own 12-step program and the first 11 steps don't mean [expletive] and the 12th is don't do it. And I didn't do it."

Frey and other former addicts say choosing is what it takes, making that decision.

"You can't tell people, 'This is all you're fault and there's nothing you can do about it,' " says Frey. "You have to tell them, 'This is all your fault and you can make it all better if you want to.' "

Frey says he still gets drunk. Now he just does it differently. "I get drunk on walking my dogs, I get drunk on, you know, kissing my wife. I get drunk on a good book. Getting drunk is just doing something that feels good."

As someone that deals with individuals that have shown a propensity to relapse over and over again, I often find myself reciting

Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is bodily and mentally different from his fellows. Therefore, it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death.                               


- Alcoholics Anonymous pg 30



Heidi Voet Smith

Clinical Director Chapter House Counseling Center

Heidi Voet Smith


 Heidi Voet Smith, (LPC-S, MA), is the Clinical Director and Co-Founder at Chapter House Sober...

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