What are your thoughts about addicts in AA instead of NA?

There is absolutely no reason why addicts shouldn’t attend AA meetings.  However, AA has traditions that are important to the fellowship and to many of the members.  One of those is that they generally confine their discussions to alcoholism and recovery from alcoholism.

Disregarding the fact that alcoholism is an addiction like any other, and disregarding the “a drug is a drug is a drug” of NA, keeping drugs out of the conversation is the custom at the majority of AA meetings.  Everyone attending — cross-addicted people like me, and people not addicted to alcohol at all — should follow that custom in most cases.  It’s simply good manners.

There are, however, situations where a person is in crisis, and simply needs a meeting of whatever kind.  In that case it is perfectly proper — hell, it’s a life-threatening emergency — to say whatever we need to say in order to get whatever kind of support we need.  What I would do in that situation is simple.  I’d raise my hand and say “I’m not an alcoholic, but I really, really need help because I’m about to use.  Will someone come outside and talk to me about it?”  I would probably be invited to stay and say what I need to say, and if not I’d have a horde of people headed for the door with me.

Really, the substance has nothing to do with it.  What matters are the emotions, the behaviors and the solutions.  Those are the same for all addictions, and anyone should be able to talk about them in any meeting without ever mentioning alcohol or any other drug.

1,000 New Jersey Residents are in Substance Abuse Treatment, Every Day

In New Jersey on any given day, nearly 1,000 people are in a clinic or hospital receiving substance abuse treatment. Most have entered a detox program (Sunrise Detox in Stirling services over 100 individuals every month) for what is typically a week to ten days of medically-supervised treatment. The initial detox is needed to stabilize them medically, so they can prepare for rehab or another treatment plan. The rest are in hospitals, also receiving detox before further treatment.

People are often surprised by the high numbers. Nearly 1,000 moms, dads, workers, professionals… one thousand New Jersey residents every day, getting treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction. Nearly half (42%) are in for heroin and prescription pain killers (heroin is an opiate, and many painkillers are synthetic opiates known as opioids, also highly addicting). Over 30% of the rest are in for alcohol abuse (dependency).

These data are from 2010. The trend lines for both alcohol and opiate abuse have increased dramatically since then, so today's numbers are likely to be even higher.

Need More Proof That “Non-Alcohoic” Beer Is A Bad Idea?

The taste of beer, without any effect from alcohol itself, can trigger dopamine release in the brain, which is associated with drinking and other drugs of abuse, according to Indiana University School of Medicine researchers.

Read more:

A Reader Writes About Her PAWS Experience

I got this letter a few days ago. It so closely parallels the article on the Sunrise Detox blog about sugar addiction, and has such a clear outline of the lady’s experiences in early sobriety, that I thought it would be good to publish it here, along with my response. Perhaps some of you folks will be able to relate. The letter is edited for readability and to preserve anonymity, and is being published with the permission of the writer.

I had absolutely no acute withdrawal symptoms when I stopping drinking. In fact, quitting was so easy I never lasted more than 3 months before. I used to do these “stop drinking” bouts twice a year for the last 5 years to cleanse but admittedly, looking back it was because I had a problem with alcohol. It's been over 100 days now. I quit on January 1st.

I'm 46 and I have been drinking since 17. I was a heavy drinker who was always sensitive to alcohol. I could handle booze until I was 40, when I started drinking a bottle of wine nightly. For me, who was small, that was way too much. No one thought I was having a problem because I was drinking alone, hiding at home.

I had no withdrawal but I seem to now have classic PAWS. [Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome – Ed.] Where I used to have mental acuity and a really fast mind, I'm now super confused and tired. My first month was complete rage. I was so bloody angry, where did it come from? I seemed to be intolerant and have no censure about telling people off. It's almost comical.

In a sense it relieves me, I can finally not be polite. I used to be so polite and sweet and nice but chronically depressed as a drunk. I'm now angry, which in my book is better than depression. (Can you believe it, I was sure booze didn't create depression because when I stopped for a month before, I was not less depressed. But now that I’ve accumulated over 4 months and am no longer depressed, I SEE that it was alcohol. I just so wish I had got that realisation sooner…so many years wasted!)

Thankfully, the rage has subsided. I deal with frequent headaches, but my most annoying PAWS symptom is sugar craving. I was on a NO CARBS diet for 8 weeks and it helped, but it was too austere to be a happy place (I'm all about extremes) so I'm back to a good diet, meditate daily, do yoga, I'm doing wonderfully except for the sugar cravings. When I feel like drinking like mad, I allow myself the sugar rush. I guzzle a spoonful of molasses or maple syrup, and you know what? It helps me greatly. My only question is, will it ever diminish? It's a sugar craving exactly like when I have PMS — the exact same urge to have sugar with immediate brain POW relief. So since I don't abuse sugar at all except a daily dose of dark chocolate (1 square) or a tablespoon of maple syrup, i think it can't harm me that much. Better than alcohol.

I don't mind that PAWS takes time. In a way it makes me grateful, it reminds me that I'm weaned from my poison. I'm just happy it's not 1 year for 1 year of booze because I would be in pain for the next 25 years.

Thank you so much for your kind presence. I find that you are very present to us. In spirit, in listening.


Hi Ruth,

Don't worry about the sugar for now. Next time you go to your doc, request that she order an A1C test to evaluate the way your body is handling glucose. For the time being, stick with the method you've found. You might try smaller amounts of sugar or — perhaps better — some more complex carbs to see how that works. I'm concerned about blood sugar spikes and bottoms, especially in connection with the rage.

Ah, the rage. Hardly surprising that it has surfaced now that the booze is gone. Booze helps us stuff all manner of things, powerful feelings first among them. At some point you'll be ready to take a good look at things in the past that are causing it, perhaps via a 4th and 5th Step, or with a good therapist. For now, don't sweat it, but you will need to explore those issues eventually. (If that caused any kind of reaction besides, “Oh, okay,” it's proof of the premise. Denial ain't just a river in Africa.) If things get too tough, buy an aluminum baseball bat, find some poor undeserving surface, and whale away at it for a bit. Good upper body exercise, too.

How much we drank has less to do with PAWS than how long we drank and how our tolerance for alcohol developed. Along with tolerance came changes in our brain, as our bodies attempted to adapt to the altered levels of neurotransmitters (NT's) caused by the stimulation of the alcohol and/or other drugs. These are permanent changes that involve receptor sites and other minutia. As a small woman, you got the full treatment. Because women produce less of the enzyme that metabolizes alcohol (ethanol dehydrogenase), it stays in your bodies longer, at higher levels than it does in men. Being small merely exaggerated that. More effects for the money is about the only benefit there.

Put simply, PAWS is the symptoms our body experiences during the period when the brain and other bodily systems are returning to an approximation of normal. They include all the things that you mentioned, some others that you didn't, and sometimes depression. Not everyone expresses the same syndrome, but your list fits right in.

PAWS usually lasts for from 8-10 months to two years, depending on a broad range of variables. There is no way to avoid it, but following the suggestions in the article can ameliorate many of the effects, and just knowing that it will gradually get better is a morale booster, too. Expect some swings: good days and worse days, with the good slowly increasing. It's frustrating for us addicts, because we're used to mood changes on demand, but this is better.

Trust me.

Follow the hypoglycemic diet suggested, and stay away from fad and “cleansing” diets. They have no real validity, regardless of how artful the presentation. Remember that those folks are trying to sell things; there's no profit in simple, good nutrition. Recovery is about reality, and there's some for you right there.

Keep on keepin' on!


Keep Celebrity Worship Out of AA (And the other groups)

I have been sighted coming and going from thousands of AA meetings. The difference…is that nobody knows who I am and nobody cares. This has been very much to my advantage.

I”ve written about this before, and will again.  No one is more aware of this problem than people who work in treatment centers — except, of course, for the victims of the publicity themselves.  We see well-known faces come and go quite often. When we see them again, we have to wonder how much of their relapse was due to being hounded by people who can't mind their own business. Personally, I wonder just how much effect the lack of consideration from other recovering people might have. Do we give celebreties the same shot at sobriety in the rooms as we would anyone else, and how do we think we'd feel if the shoe was on the other foot?

A good article that should make us all think.

Read more: Keep Celebrity Worship Out of AA

Sugar Addiction In Recovery

After we get clean and sober, many of us discover that we are still addicted to sugar: in our coffee, in our snacks, in our desserts and elsewhere. Sugar addiction is common, in and out of recovery. Our bodies have a natural attraction to sweet things. We need sugars and other carbohydrates in our diets, and we are pre-programmed to like them because they are good for us (in the right quantities). They are easily burned by the body for energy. In fact, every cell in our bodies are fueled by glucose, a form of sugar.

READ THE LABEL! This one's not bad

This one's not bad

The problem with our modern lifestyle, however, is too much of one good thing and not enough of another. We get far too much of the wrong kind of sugar in our diet, and we don’t exercise enough to burn it up. Our metabolism, however, makes adjustments in order to insure that we have energy when we need it, so unburned sugars are converted to fat, which is sort of our bodies’ gas tank. Our lack of exercise insures that this fuel supply, too, remains mostly untouched, and so we gain weight.

As we put on weight, through too many calories and too little exercise, our bodies fall victim to a variety of health issues connected with excessive weight, including heart and arterial deterioration, pre-diabetes and diabetes, and several other metabolic diseases.

Our taste for sugar and the problems associated with it — along with poor eating habits in general — make maintaining a healthy lifestyle difficult. Food manufacturers and most cooks know that mediocre food can be made more palatable by adding sugars, and they do so in abundance. The great majority of the calories we get from sugars in our diet come from foods that, if questioned, we wouldn’t even identify as sweets! That’s because we become accustomed to sweet flavors, and don’t even notice them unless they are missing. Careful perusal of the labels on packaged foods will amaze!

Those of us addicted to sugar didn’t ask for it, any more than we asked to become addicted to alcoholor other drugs. For many of us, given too many sweets as kids, it became part of our lives when our brains were still developing. So if we have a “problem” with sweets, the first thing is to forgive ourselves and not beat ourselves up. Sugar is highly addictive to some of us, especially recovering alcoholics, and substitute addictions are common. Combined with any previous histories with sweets, it would be fairly amazing if we weren’t having some problems. Remember that you are on your side, you’re not the enemy!

For those with sugar addiction issues, we recommend finding a meeting of Food Addicts Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous. FAA tends to fit best for sugar addicts, as their approach to controlling intake is more specific than that of OA. Overeaters Anonymous is a great program. Don’t get the idea that we’re saying one is better than the other. It’s just that FAA’s focus fits best when we are considering foods as an addiction.

Second, we try immediately to address substituting something else for the sugar when we have cravings for alcohol, other drugs — or sugar. Peanut butter and whole grain crackers are good, as they have protein and fats that help assuage hunger and that will not cause blood sugar swings that affect appetite.

We need to watch how we eat in general, and avoid getting hungry. We eat small, well-balanced meals and between-meal snacks of whole grain breads, proteins, beans, nuts,

Good Sugar!

Good Sugar!

bananas and so forth. If we balance things properly, we can probably get by eating less than we are now, because we’ll avoid getting really famished, which brings on the urge to binge.

We need to avoid white flour whenever possible. There are great similarities between it and sugar as far as the body is concerned, and it will only prolong and increase cravings. We try to stick with fruits and high-protein snacks, and we check ingredients carefully for their sugar content.

It is most important that we see a doctor for a checkup and lab work. There are metabolic issues that can affect cravings for both sugar and alcohol. If there, they need to be addressed.

Baaaaad Sugar! BAD!

Baaaaad Sugar! BAD!

We also avoid dieting — like the plague. Weight control is about developing new eating habits for a lifetime. Diets are reverse binges. They teach us nothing about proper eating, and do nothing to develop the lifetime habits that are necessary if we are to maintain good nutrition and healthy weight. Because they are regimens of deprivation, it is extremely likely (if not inevitable) that we will return to our old eating habits, gain the weight back, and enter a dieting and eating cycle that can only defeat us and cause us to decide that our efforts are useless.

As with any other addiction, we are likely to fall off the wagon and into the sugar bowl occasionally in the beginning. We are going to be learning how to manage our eating in a whole new way. Relapse is a symptom of addiction, and it’s going to happen in this case because it’s impossible to eat perfectly regardless of how hard we try. If we “slip,” we can be thankful that it isn’t as deadly as drinking or drugging would be, and decide that we will do better. We don’t think of ourselves as weak, or strong. It’s about powerlessness. It’s also about reality. We can’t expect to be perfect. If we make mistakes, we immediately return to our program. We can’t abstain from food, so if we slip, we just decide to do better. We try to be good to ourselves.

Buddhists talk about “skillful” and “unskillful” behavior. In recovery, we want to become more skillful in our ways of living. When we’re learning, we’re apt to make occasional mistakes. That’s human, not weakness. Keep moving toward skillful. Forget perfection — that way lies more addiction.

Sobriety Got Me Though One Heck Of A Week

Occasionally in life we have periods that just plain suck. As a sponsor of mine was fond of saying, “When I got sober, life didn’t get better right away, but it got real clear!” The difference is, in sobriety we're able to feel our pain, work our way through it, and come out the other side in a healthy way, instead of stuffing all those feelings and having to deal with them later when they start squishing through the cracks in our mental armor.

One of my oldest friends passed away last Friday. I’ve known Ed since I was about 10 years old. He was one of the first kids I met when I moved to a new town, and his friendship made a huge difference in my adjustment to an environment that I was in no way prepared to deal with. Over the next six or so years we weren’t inseparable, by any means, but most of the time each knew where the other was and pretty much what he was doing.

Ed and I studied, worried about the things teenage boys do, hung out, camped and hunted, and did all the usual high school stuff — most of it together. We even had a singing act that we were known to inflict on folks occasionally. (Neither of us ended up in show biz.) Along with a couple of other guys, we almost literally dragged each other out of the confusion of adolescence into whatever state you’re in when you graduate from high school. My girlfriend and I set him up on a double-date with Judy, the girl he was eventually married to for nearly 50 years. Ed and I were tight.

After high school and college we had only occasional contact for the next thirty years or so. I, of course, became a drunk — some other things, true, but still a drunk and addict. About to get drafted into the Army after college, Ed joined the Air Force instead. In typical all-or-nothing fashion, he went on to become a highly-decorated officer. As head of the White House communications unit, he accompanied Presidents Ford and Carter everywhere they went. As a lieutenant colonel, he headed the communications team that travels with Delta Force. As a full colonel he was boss of an outfit so secret I don’t even know what it was. Then, although he was being groomed for general, he retired. He told me he did so because he decided his family needed some stability after being dragged all over the world. So he put down the sword and took up the plow as a teacher, dean, contributor to the community we grew up in, and as a man of god.

To say that I “miss” Ed would devalue our relationship, which was the kind where you just take up the conversation you didn’t finish the last time you were together — however many years ago that may have been. I didn’t have to be around him during those years. I just knew that he was wherever, and I was wherever, that our friendship stretched between, and I had faith that it might stretch but that it would never break.

If I'd still been drinking and drugging I would have missed the last years of that friendship, of getting to know Ed as “elder statesman.” I would have missed the bittersweet pleasure of meeting his grown kids and grandkids this week. I would have missed the grace and poise of the Colonel’s Lady, putting guests and old friends at ease while her heart was breaking. I would have missed my own grief, and my appreciation for the man Ed was and for what he gave to his country, his god, the thousands of other friends he accumulated over his nearly 69 years — and to me.

Ed’s life reminded me, once again, that it ain’t over until it’s over. If I’d ended mine with booze and drugs all those years ago, there’s so much I would have missed, a lot more than just Ed. I would have accomplished virtually none of the things that I consider important in my own life. I wouldn’t be writing this, and I think the message is pretty important:

Sobriety is worth a little pain now and then.

So are you.