Happy Birthday Bill Wilson!

Bill Wilson's 108th birthday anniversary is this week.  In this article from The Fix, Susan Cheever tells us a bit about the early years of AA's co-founder.

…Bill Wilson was born on Thanksgiving behind a bar. His father’s family owned an inn, the sprawling red-gabled Wilson House on the south side of the village green in East Dorset, Vermont, a small town where quarrying and polishing local marble was the only industry. (His father, Gilly Wilson, was a quarryman.) Raised in these humble circumstances, Bill Wilson grew up to pioneer a movement that has forever enriched our view of addiction.

Read more at The Fix

The Meth Vaccine And Others Will Never Be The Whole Answer To Addiction

Every so often I read about a possible new vaccine for some form of addiction. The latest is a successful trial — in rats — of a meth vaccine. Leaving aside the fact that rats and humans are both millions of generations from our common ancestor of 160 million years ago, and that there is no reason to assume that things that work on them will work on us (only about 1 in 1000 drugs do), I have other reservations.

First of all, let me say that I totally agree that anything that will reduce the craving for drugs or the pursuit of addictive behavior has got to be a plus. My worry is that remedies such as meth vaccine will be touted by some as a cure-all, and I don’t think that will ever be the case. Personally, I know that I wasn’t right for years after I got clean and sober. A variety of changes in my physical and emotional condition were necessary, along with a readjustment to society, before I was back to normal (whatever that is).

It is said that if you sober up a horse thief, you end up with a more efficient horse thief.

True, that.

There is nothing intrinsic in the fact of getting clean and sober that makes us able to again function in our lives, family or society. We first have to unlearn the ways of thinking that developed due to our addiction(s). Additionally, and particularly in the case of those who began using as preteens or teens, there will always be brain development issues to deal with and try to overcome, along with the need to learn to live in a world of sober people with different goals and different ways of approaching them.

That’s why we have programs of recovery.

Even those of us who came to addiction later in life, when we had already developed some life skills, have a lot of catching up to do. My using affected my ways of thinking about the world, the ways I related to other people, and myriad other parts of my life. In many of those, the changes became habits that I needed to set aside in sobriety.

Put simply, if I’d been able to take a pill or a shot and walk away, I’d still be pretty-much the a**hole I was when I was active in my addictions. I needed a program. I still need reality checks from time to time, even after 20-plus years.

This, BTW, is part of my objection to methadone and Suboxone maintenance: no remedial treatment.  On the program side, I have a problem with the recovery snobs who refuse to accept folks on maintenance in the rooms (not, thankfully, all folks in all programs).  How else are they going to learn about alternatives?  But I digress…

I applaud the researchers for their concern, their advances in understanding addiction and how it affects us physically, and their dedication to improving the overall knowledge in the field. But I don’t think there will be an instant cure for addiction until they are able to put us in a tank, hook us up, and totally reprogram our brains and bodies.

And I sincerely hope that time never comes, for a lot of reasons.

Pain In Recovery

This has been an interesting few days.  On Wednesday I felt some pain in the back of my mouth.  I figured it was TMJ joint pain due to tension, since I'd been a bit uptight for a few days while my daughter was in the hospital for a Cesarean delivery.  By Thursday it was clear that it was a tooth, and by that evening, the pain was getting fairly severe.  I began taking prescription strength ibuprofen (Motrin), and called the dentist.  To make a long story short, by the time the penicillin took effect on Saturday morning some time, I'd spent about 24 hours in fairly severe pain, kept partially in check by the pills and swooshing cold water on the tooth.  Missed a night of sleep, but I made up for it later.

I'm okay now, and waiting to make an appointment to see the dentist, who will likely remove the tooth.  Been there before.  No fun, but not a big deal.  I got to thinking, though, about what a dangerous thing it would be to be in a situation like that in early recovery.

I don't know about you, but back when I was active in my addictions I saw every potential malady as a source of drugs or an excuse to hole up and drink.  A cold — no problem!  I knew how to handle that.  Fortunately I never had a problem that required heavy duty painkillers, or I would likely have been able to add that to my list of addictions.  Martial arts bruises, sprains, aches and pains were all chances to get messed up, and excuses to stay that way for a couple of days or more, but nothing ever happened that required opioids, thank goodness!

This toothache episode could have been another example of that trend.  If it had occurred in the first few months of my recovery, I could very well have been off to the races, because back then I really believed that I needed powerful drugs to kill pain.  It had never occurred to me that painkillers, for some kinds of pain, are like hunting rabbits with an elephant gun.  Since dental problems go part and parcel with addiction, it's an issue that all addicts need to consider carefully.

Alcoholics and addicts are, almost by definition, folks who don't know that it's okay to not feel okay.  We start out thinking that every little twinge means terminal pain, and that each needs that elephantine response.  The fact is, most pain can be adequately handled with non-addictive drugs that pose no threat to our sobriety.

We need to find doctors who understand addicts, and what meds are off our list of remedies.  We need to consult with our pharmacists about possible side effects, and  need to research the drugs themselves online and elsewhere.  We need to discuss the matter with our sponsors and significant others.  We need to avoid secrets.  Even if our pain is such that more powerful drugs are necessary — and sometimes they truly are — we need to get others involved who can monitor our use and help us stay on the straight and narrow to the extent possible.  Most importantly, we need to be upfront with all of them about our addiction(s) and our inability to use mood-altering drugs.

There is no reason that anyone who is serious about his or her program of recovery has to relapse because of pain.  We need to be proactive, getting dental and other problems dealt with before they become emergencies.  When emergencies do arise, however, there are tools to handle them without giving up all we've gained.

From A Drunk Who’s Ready To Dump Alcohol

On a different site, I often get comments and letters from folks with questions about alcohol and their recovery.  The one I'm reproducing below, along with my answers, was especially interesting.  Since the writer gave me permission to use it, in the hope that it might help others, I answered with publication here in mind.  As they say around the Interwebs, “I hope it helps!”

Bill: Dear Joy,

Thanks so much for writing, and for your thoughtfulness in specifically making your letter available to others.  It is so long, and so chock-full of commentable (word?) material, that I’m departing from my usual format of simple Q&A and will address each paragraph or so as they come.

Joy: I’m a 38 year old female with a long history of being a drunk. I started drinking in college and it was often binge drinking. After college, I continued to drink, sometimes binging, but usually mostly on weekends. I was in a bad relationship for 2 years and drank more often than that. Then my relationship after that was better, but I still drank. This was still weekend binges and sometimes during the week as well. My next relationship was with a non drinker, so my drinking was cut way down, but that was only for a year. Then for the next 2 years (about age 26-28), I was more of the weekend binge drinker with sometimes some drinking during the week.

Then from 28-38 (now), I’ve basically drank every night. My boyfriend of a decade is also a drinker. The first 5 years it was mostly beer (5-6 a night), with some hard liquor on the weekends. Some weekends I would drink more than 5-6 a night. Then I developed a wheat allergy (so bloated and horrible stomach and digestion problems, as well as infections), and switched to vodka about 5 years ago. I also have a history of bladder and yeast infections. I would have 6 or 7 shots a night, pretty much nightly (often mixed with club soda because it’s without calories). Sometimes I would take 1 or 2 days off and felt even worse, so started drinking again. I continued to have bad digestion and stomach problems, but not as bad and the bloating went away quite a bit. But I continued to have infections, and almost 4 years ago was sick with one for 2 months. They think it was my colon. No antibiotics worked and I got a yeast infection in my mouth. I should also mention I had infections even as a kid (ear and acne) and was frequently on antibiotics. So that history mixed with the booze equals disaster.

Bill: Your progression down the road to alcoholism closely parallels my own, except that it took me about another five years to catch on to the fact that I had a problem. That’s not unusual, BTW. Alcohol damage progresses more rapidly in women, because you don’t produce as much of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol. Your BAC rises faster, and the drug stays in your system longer.

Four things: [Read more…]

What about “non-alcoholic” beer in recovery?

Q. I quit drinking about 6 months ago. Things are most certainly getting better but I was wondering what effects if any have you seen in regards to non-alcoholic beer?

Beverages may be called non-alcoholic if they contain no more than 0.5% alcohol (one-half of one percent). That is roughly one 1/10th the percentage in a can of regular beer. That’s not much, but we don’t know how much it takes to keep the brain from recovering as it should, nor how much having low levels of blood alcohol for hours at a time (assuming that you drink more than one) has an effect. It seems to me that it is a danger that can be avoided, and thus undesirable.

Just as important, however, is the psychology. I’m telling myself that I can’t drink, but that I can keep on pretending that I can. I can hang with my troops and do the stuff we used to do, I’ll just drink O’Doul’s® or whatever. That shows reservations about our disease, regardless of what excuses we adopt, and indicates a definite ambivalence about remaining clean and sober.

I suspect that you may not be attending enough meetings, and that you didn't discuss this issue with your sponsor (if you have one).  If you aren't going to meetings, then I'd start. You can cheat on some things, but cheating on sobriety — whether physically or mentally — eventually lands you off the wagon and back in the muddy rut. It seems to me that knowingly drinking alcohol, even in small quantities, comes extremely close to just plain old drinking.

Some folks might disagree about this, but I know people who relapsed after thinking they could drink the stuff. I can’t say whether or not that was the cause, or just an expression of the “easier, softer way,” but I certainly wouldn’t take the chance myself, even after all this time.

Why Can’t I Drink Or Smoke A Little Weed? I Was A Pill Addict!

Professionals refer to “addiction,” or “addictive disease,” rather than to heroin addiction, cocaine addiction, etc. The fact of the matter, little understood by the world at large, is that we don’t become addicted to drugs, but to the effects that they have on our brains — specifically on the pleasure center. The pleasure center is located in the sub-cortical region of the brain which means, among other things, that we can't control it directly.  (That's why “Just Say No” is a cruel joke.)

US Dept. of Transportation (

Drugs short-circuit the process by either stimulating the production of these neurotransmitters, or by mimicking their actions.  Drugs allow us to control the production of the good feelings. Since we are pre-programmed to seek those feelings, we tend to do it quite a lot. Over time, actual physical changes take place in our brains in order to accommodate the unnatural levels of chemicals.

This occurs in several ways, but we’ll simplify it by saying that our neurons grow additional receptor sites to deal with the surplus. This means, in turn, that we need more of the drug’s effects to reach the levels that give us pleasure. This tolerance is one of the first signs of developing addiction. Eventually we reach a point where we need the stimulation in order to function anything like normally, and we’re hooked for sure.

When we go “cold turkey,” the sudden absence of chemicals causes the syndromes that we call acute withdrawal. The length of the acute phase lasts anywhere from a few days to several weeks, depending on the drug. Simple drugs, like alcohol, have the shortest acute phases, while those that metabolize into other active compounds can take much longer. Methadone is an excellent example.  It has not only a longer but more severe acute withdrawal than other opiates. The symptoms of withdrawal, generally speaking, are the reverse of whatever effects the drugs had. Opioids, for example, calm us and slow the action of our digestive tract, and the withdrawal symptoms are the jitters, nausea, diarrhea and the creepy-crawlies, among others.

Those extra receptor sites slowly become dormant and stop pestering us for stimulation, but the main thing to remember is that while the body and brain recover from the changes, the changes do not necessarily go away, and if they do, it is usually over a period of years.

If we use drugs or alcohol in early recovery, we will interfere with the progression to normalcy. Any extra stimulation, whether by the drug of choice or another, can have this effect; we don’t have to get drunk or high. The neurotransmitters involved are the same combination, and using any mood-altering drug can lead back to an active addiction.  At the very least, it will prolong the recovery process.

Even after our brains are back as close to normal as they're going to get, exposure to drugs can reactivate those dormant receptor sites, and start the cravings all over again.  This is true of marijuana and booze, as well as other drugs, since they all work by stimulating the reward center.  In addition, drugs tend to make us more likely to do stupid things, like use more drugs. 

So we can obviously drink or use cannabis if we wish.  As addicts are so fond of pointing out, “It's my life!”*  However, if we do so even in small amounts, we are likely to end up deep in addiction again.

*How bogus is that?  Like we have no effect on anyone but ourselves.  Addict thinking.