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1879. Dr. Leslie Keeley, who had studied alcoholic soldiers while serving as a Union Army surgeon, founded the Keeley Institute in a small wood frame building in Dwight, Illinois. He claimed his new discovery, Double Chloride of Gold Remedies, to be administered by four daily injections, would cure “inebriety, tobaccoism and neurasthenia.”
Many cures were promoted toward the end of the 19th century as the country moved toward prohibition. None was as famous – or controversial – as Dr. Keeley’s “gold remedy.” It is believed that more than half a million alcoholics and addicts took the Keeley Cure between 1880 and 1920 at hundreds of licensed treatment franchises across the country. Eventually, the formula came under scrutiny of the Food and Drug administration after skeptics claimed it contained morphine, cocaine, alcohol and cannabis. Public support declined and the Institute finally closed in 1965.
1935. Bill W., a New York stockbroker, in Akron, Ohio, on a business trip, had been sober for five months. His business meetings had not gone well and he wanted a drink. Deciding that the only way to stay sober was to “find another alcoholic,” he met Dr. Bob S., an Akron surgeon. Both men were familiar with the Oxford Group, a New York fellowship advancing spiritual values, honest self-appraisal, making amends for wrong-doitation. Bill had also learned a few things about sobriety during hospital stays for his alcoholism. So he talked and stayed sober. Dr. Bob listened and decided to get sober. A bond was formed and the two men went on to establish Alcoholics Anonymous with its guiding principles of The Twelve Steps. It was beautiful in its simple yet effective design: alcoholics would share fellowship and support through a network of non-professional groups meeting in public buildings such as a church, school, hospital or community center. No lectures, no pressure and no frills – just a few rows of chairs and plenty of coffee. Though many proponents suggest the 12-step program has been appropriated and misused by the larger recovery community, AA groups continue to flourish to this day all over the world.
1998. Music legend Eric Clapton’s vision for a high-quality treatment center in a “safe, spiritual and serene environment” becomes reality. As a recovering addict and alcoholic himself, he had often visited Antigua Island in the Caribbean and saw it as a “special refuge – a safe place…where one can begin the process of healing from even the most devastating events and life situations.” Crossroads Antigua International Centre for Healing helps individuals and families deal with addiction through residential 4 and 6 week programs “away from the confusion and distractions of living with addiction.” As a nonprofit they are committed to being affordable and accessible, even providing scholarships for people of the Caribbean and around the world.
Clearly, treatment programs have evolved since the Keeley Institute. Research, public awareness, acceptability and competition have spurred an exponential increase in treatment options; medical, scientific and governmental oversight help ensure transparency. The internet enables us to find treatment centers anywhere on the planet: local or remote; urban or rural; basic or exotic; outpatient or residential; publicly funded or privately owned. It is possible to review rating systems, histories and mission statements to “get a feel” for a facility’s personality.
While millions of people credit Alcoholics Anonymous and its 12 steps with helping turn their lives around, the “anonymous” nature precludes verifiable outcomes though some studies have shown that people involved in AA-type support groups are more likely to maintain sobriety than those trying to go it alone. That said, the Twelve Steps have recently come under attack as being outdated and sexist. In the 21st century, critics say, emphasis on submitting our wills and lives to a male authoritarian God can keep people from returning to AA meetings.
While some treatment centers proclaim to be an alternative to the 12-step program, most still offer it as one component of a broader array of therapies, though some question whether the original intent of the 12 steps is being followed. A major shift in the past 20 years is treating co-occurring disorders. Research shows that mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder or anxiety often co-exist with the addiction and that recovery is more successful when both components are treated concurrently. Most treatment programs take a holistic approach and the recovery lexicon now includes such offerings as nutritional counseling, recreational therapy, yoga, acupuncture, massage, meditation and spiritual integration.
Unfortunately, access to professional treatment is less available to minority populations who are disproportionately affected by addiction in the first place due to unstable housing, high unemployment, poverty and geographic location. Research by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that “Patients living in poverty may be more likely to receive treatment in an environment with high social distress, weak social support, or few economic opportunities.” As a result, less than 50 percent of all black and Hispanic patients who enter publicly funded alcohol treatment programs see it through to recovery versus 62 percent of white patients. A 2003 study by the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment concluded that the GLBT population has a higher rate of alcohol use and abuse than the general population. Native Americans have been dealing with alcoholism for decades but now face daunting challenges with rising methamphetamine use on reservations.
2015. More treatment centers are needed that will take an interest in addressing the specific challenges of culture, religion, race and gender. Some are already leading the way with considerable success and will, it is hoped, be viewed as models for serving all communities in need of recovery assistance. For example:
Beit T’Shuvah in West Los Angeles, modeled on the “spiritual principles of Judaism, authenticity, and transparency”, is where “wrestling souls can recover from addiction and learn how to properly heal.” They offer traditional and nontraditional approaches and now include organic gardening: “The entire growth process illustrates the power of creation and teaches residents how to tend to something from conception, execution, to finished product.”
Whiteside Manor Residential Treatment Facility in Riverside, California, treats Native American men and women for alcohol and drug dependency. The staff participates in cultural diversity training provided by the local Native American Recovery Community. “Accessibility to pow wows, sweat lodges, and other traditional spiritual gatherings are made available on an individual basis. Native community Elders are also available for any Spiritual needs that may be requested.”
PRIDE Institute in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, founded in 1986, provides residential and outpatient treatment programs for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “When you are recovering from addiction or mental health issues, you already have enough to deal with; your sexuality shouldn’t be viewed as another one of your problems.”
Arrowhead Lodge near Prescott, Arizona, is a “Safe Place for a Man to Fall Apart”. The program is designed specifically “for men and addresses all aspects of a man’s life.” The secluded mountain lodge provides an atmosphere to work through issues that hinder recovery. “Stay as long as you need to and allow yourself time to fall apart and get put back together.”
Treatment centers have trained professionals who can help navigate the uncharted waters of addiction recovery; they have the map and the compass. Think of it this way: “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.” (Lao Tzu)