Recovery Rising Excerpt: Yelling “Stop!”

Recovery Rising Book Cover PaperbackIn January 2000, Dr. Alex DeLuca, then the long-tenured Director of the Smithers Addiction Treatment and Research Center, provided permission for the local Moderation Management (MM) group to hold weekly MM meetings at the Smithers facility. Following the publication of newspaper articles in July that conveyed the impression that the Smithers Center had abandoned its abstinence philosophy, Dr. DeLuca resigned amidst growing public controversy, including a Smithers Foundation advertisement in the Sunday New York Times and New York Post that christened MM “an abomination.” This report stirred broad criticism of Dr. DeLuca from the professional field until two addiction medicine pioneers issued a joint statement confronting the entire field’s response to this incident. The following is an excerpt from the statement issued by Anne Geller, M.D. and LeClair Bissell, M.D.

How many of you were prepared to accept what was said in the Post, a biased report of a brutally edited article, without doing any further research? Is that how you normally get your medical information? This seems to have turned into a religious war without the use of any medical, scientific or even collegial common sense. We are ashamed of all of you who rushed into comment without checking your sources and hope that you will remember this episode when it’s your turn to be the recipients of media distortion….It is enormously depressing to us, both now in retirement to witness the same mindless zealotry that so beset our field 30 years ago again raise its head to make us a laughing stock in the medical scientific community. We have repeatedly stated that we wish to be in the medical mainstream, to have addictions treated as any other medical illness, to base our treatments on the science and to examine the data carefully. In your attacks on DeLuca you did none of this. You behaved like a bunch of religious fanatics with Satan in sight. Shame on you.

On January 20, 2000, Audrey Kishline, the founder of Moderation Management, announced to MM members that she had decided to seek an abstinence goal and would be attending AA, Women for Sobriety, and SMART Recovery meetings to achieve this goal. On March 25, 2000, Kishline was involved in a head-on collision that killed a 38-year-old father and his 12-year-old daughter. At the time, Kishline had a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit.

These events reheated the debate about “controlled drinking”—a debate that quickly reached a level of frenzied acrimony in the popular and professional media. Editorial and Internet posts blamed MM for the deaths resulting from Kishline’s intoxication. Anti-AA forces noted that Kishline had left MM at the time and that responsibility of this incident lay at AA’s doorway, not MM’s. And on and on it went. It was in the middle of all this heat that Ernie Kurtz and I discussed the idea of a joint statement by addiction scholars that could dampen the acrimony and add some objective truth to this growing cultural war. Following invitations for collaboration and many drafts, a statement was released that included the following words:

That Ms. Kishline was intoxicated at the time of the crash has been claimed to indicate the failure of the approach of one or another of the mutual-aid groups Ms. Kishline attended. Such claims are not in accord with everyday experience in the field, in which relapse is common, whichever approach the drinker adopts. Recovery from serious alcohol problems is a difficult goal, and there are different paths to it. We believe that the approach represented by Alcoholics Anonymous and that represented by Moderation Management are both needed.

Thirty-four prominent professionals in the addictions field signed the document. They represented diverse ideological poles and many points in between. I consider that moment a historically important footnote in the American debate about moderation versus abstinence in the resolution of alcohol problems.

Sometimes we contribute by refusing to participate in frenzied debate when everyone is yelling and no one is listening. Sometimes we serve by refusing to participate in inflammatory debates. At other times, we contribute by mustering all the dignity we can to declare, “This must stop!” Sometimes, what we prevent from happening is as important as what we make happen.