Addiction Treatment Success: What Does It Mean to You?

What do you think of when you think ‘success rate’ for a drug treatment program? Like most people you are probably thinking that success means abstinence; but does that mean abstinence from all substances or abstinence from the user’s substance of choice only? Is an individual considered successful if they completed a drug program for heroin, but now use alcohol? What about those who went to a drug rehab for crack cocaine; are they considered successful if they don’t use crack but occasionally binge drink? What about the person who went through a program for alcohol, but now has a prescription for a Xanax for anxiety, and uses it frequently? And what about the individual who is totally abstinent but emotionally distant, depressed and feels they must attend 2 or more meetings per day to stay sober and drug free; are they successful? The point is when people ask the question of how successful a drug treatment program or drug rehab is many do not even understand the full scope of their question.

If you are seeking a drug treatment program for yourself or your loved one, it is very important to first decide what success will mean for you. Are you seeking complete abstinence or would you like to moderate? Are you willing to struggle with a progressive, incurable disease for a lifetime or would you like to overcome your substance use problems for good? Would you rather accept that you are powerless or instead realize and utilize the immense power you have?  All substance use programs are not created equal, and drug treatment programs measure success on how well you accept that you are forever powerless.

For some the notion that they are powerless and diseased may be comforting. It provides a ready-made excuse for continued substance use problems as well as the many other emotional and behavioral problems that often come with substance use. It also allows the substance user to remain in an immature state abdicating responsibility for their actions. These people typically require others to care for them financially, and believe they are victims of everything. They become invested in their powerless belief system and their mind closes to any possibility for change.

There are those who do not subscribe to the powerless and disease theories and want to try something different. These people are relieved to hear that they do not have a disease that renders them powerless over substances, and embrace the idea that they do have the power to change. Being ready to mature and take control of their lives, they are seeking a program that will help them to do just that. Their idea of success is to harness their internal strength and power, build self-confidence and autonomy and be able to overcome any problem that arises throughout their lifetime.

As you seek a drug or alcohol treatment program, it is important to ask yourself, what am I hoping to achieve, and what kind of life do I want post-program. Your options are no longer limited to disease-based, religious and/or 12-step programs that force you to believe you are powerless and diseased forever. The St. Jude Program is the first and only non-treatment, non-12-step, non-diseased based program to help people to overcome their problems. Offering a multitude of programming options from residential, to at-home, to one-on-one day classes, St. Jude’s has an option to fit every need and all financial situations.

Ultimately you’re the only person who must live with your decision, so when looking for a program take your time and make it count. Drug and alcohol treatment programs and drug rehabs are an enormous investment in time and money; take the time to call each program and let them know what your idea of success is. If they tell you it’s not possible then keep looking.

Remember, people overcome substance use problems everyday; and most accomplish this without treatment, meetings or therapy. They simply readjust their priorities, make a commitment to change and then mature out of the problem. However, there are those people who benefit greatly from a residential program. If you feel that you or your loved one can benefit from attending a residential program, seek a program whose philosophies and ideals for success fit your own.

If you would like more information about a non-treatment option, you can go to or call St. Jude Retreats toll free at 1-888-424-2626.

Addiction: A Disease of Pleasure Seeking?

I can remember the day I turned 21 like it was yesterday. I had drank heavily prior to becoming legal, but there was something special about being able to use my own ID; walking into a bar, plunking down a 5 spot and ordering a drink legally. I don’t remember much of the weekend that followed that birthday, but suffice it to say, it was fun! I know, I know, it’s taboo in the recovery community to talk about how much fun partying could be, but let’s not be afraid of the truth, it can be. If it wasn’t fun no one would ever develop a problem. And there is the crux of the disease theory; it’s the only disease where catching it is a blast!

After that birthday I became the typical weekend warrior. Payday was on Friday and from Friday to Sunday I was the consummate party girl. Alcohol, drugs and all of the other crazy behaviors that go with it were how I rested and relaxed my way to Monday. If there was money left over then partying could stretch into Monday or Tuesday, but usually Wednesday and Thursday were my days off so I could rest up for the weekend once again. I was a working college student, subsisting mostly on student loans and my parents money, so any money I got from my part-time job went for my car, food and partying; and like so many college students, food was not a priority.

My grades were atrocious but I went to class and showed up for work most of the time. While I was considered a problem drinker by all and subsequently diagnosed as an alcoholic and drug addict by a counselor, I could always seem to stop drinking and doing drugs when my money ran out or something else became a bit more important. Sure, like many other “addicts” I would do stuff to get people to buy me drinks or give me drugs, but not always. There were many days during this time when I would walk into a bar, have two drinks and leave; or I would smoke some pot, have one drink and then stop for several hours or even days. There were days I felt completely out of control, but there were also many days that I wasn’t. I continued drinking and using drugs because I saw value in it. It provided me the pleasure and release I was seeking. It wasn’t until I went to my first AA meeting that I learned that I actually hated drinking and drugging but was powerless to stop. I had never believed that prior to attending meetings.

Admittedly, the idea that my substance use was out of my control was comforting at first. I sat in meetings mired in my own self-pity, resentful at the faulty genetics that was responsible for my fate. But at 22 years old, the thought of never being able to enjoy a beer with friends, a glass of wine with dinner or a champagne toast on New Year’s Eve was overwhelming, but AA members told me this was foolish thinking. They convinced me that I had never used alcohol to be social, only to get drunk. They would point to evidence based on stories I had told, and use my own words against me. I began to believe that my drinking and drug using were problematic from my first drink and that I never ever did it to be social, and that I never ever had control. I began to believe that perhaps I did have this genetic disease and I was powerless over alcohol and drugs.

During this same time period I watched my grandmother with whom I was very close, succumb to her cancer. She had fought it bravely for six years. At one point it seemed to be in remission but then a few years later it came back without warning and she was gone in a few short months. Her disease had nothing to do with how much money she had, with any choices she made or didn’t make, with any behaviors she engaged in; it just came. She couldn’t decide she didn’t want it or didn’t like it anymore and make it go away.

People told me my disease of addiction was just like cancer, and that the best I could hope for was a daily reprieve (remission) but that it would always be there lurking, waiting to take me; just like cancer had taken my grandmother. To me this notion seemed absurd and offensive to those suffering from cancer. After all my disease seemed to flare up right around payday, and waned as my money ran out. I derived pleasure and release from the symptoms of my disease, my grandmother did not. I could wake up one day and make the decision to put my disease in remission; no matter what my grandmother did, hers came back anyway. As I watched her die, it occured to me that I couldn’t think of any other disease that was diagnosed solely on behaviors.

It was then that my research began into this enigma; this disease of pleasure seeking. It is now more than 20 years later and I have made helping people overcome substance use problems my career. I know now that the disease theory of addiction, is just that, a theory; and furthermore it has been refuted by all independent research on the subject over the past 50 years. I also know through my research and professional experience that convincing people they are suffering from a disease and are powerless over drugs and alcohol is harmful, and is the primary reason for the failure of treatment and 12 step programs.

The key to helping people to overcome a substance use problem is to tell them the truth: that is that they do have the power to change. Feeling out of control with respect to alcohol and drug use is the result of repetitive thoughts and behaviors that have become habituated. Like all habits, each person has the innate power and ability to change them. At no point in time do people ever lose the power to choose whether or not to stick a needle in their arm, pop pills, smoke a joint or take a drink. These, and other behaviors like them, require a decision (choice) be made and then conscious, thought-driven action. In order for long term change to occur, a similar pattern is followed; first there is a decision made, and that must be followed with conscious, thought-driven action in a different direction.


5 Signs Your Teen May Have Substance Use Problem

The teenage years are a time of intense learning and discovery. It is the transitional time between childhood and adulthood; the stage of development where children go from being completely dependent to becoming independent in nearly every aspect of life.

Adolescence is a time of experimentation with autonomy. Teens begin making adult decisions such as having sex and using alcohol and other drugs, but are ill prepared for the life-changing consequences that these decisions can bring. Many parents become concerned that their teen may be experimenting with alcohol or drugs. While some experimentation is normal, it is important to keep lines of communication open during this transitional time in your child’s life. If you are concerned that your teen may be using drugs or alcohol, there are a few tell-tale signs there may be a problem:

  1. Drastic and/or rapid changes in personality. All teens can be moody from time to time. Their hormones are raging, they are falling in and out of love daily, and they are highly emotional. Each challenge can seem insurmountable to the average 16 year old, so mood swings are common and not a real cause for concern. However, if your teen is normally a solid B student, loves basketball and video games and suddenly starts bringing home failing grades, quits the basketball team and loses interest in gaming this can be a definite cause for concern
  2. Changes in friends and secrecy surrounding new friends. If your son suddenly dumps his best friend(s) from childhood, find out why and ask to meet his new friends. It is important for you to know your kids’ friends and their families. If your child is on Facebook, see who they talk with frequently and what they are saying. You can be nosy without being intrusive; ask about the kids at school with whom they spend their time and encourage them to spend time with their new friends at your house. When teens become secretive with respect to their friends, this is a warning sign.
  3. Dramatic changes in a teen’s relationships; especially with adults in their life. A teen that was normally close to you, their grandparents or an aunt or uncle then suddenly becomes distant, argumentative or difficult can be a sign that something is going on.
  4. Spending an unusual amount of time away from home or alone in their room. Spending the majority of free time alone or away from home is a sign that something may be going on with your teen. Whether they are experimenting with drug use or struggling with emotional problems, finding reasons to spend quality time with your teen is crucial to being able to identify potential problems.
  5. Finding evidence. Many parents are familiar with some drug paraphernalia such as rolling papers, pipes and bongs. Finding these items in or around your home is an obvious sign that someone is using drugs. While marijuana use is more common among teens, opiate use is increasing rapidly and is not as easy to identify. Some obvious signs of opiate (narcotics) use can include glassy eyes, large pupils, excessive sleepiness or nodding out. These medications, such as hydrocodone (Loritab, Vicodin) and oxycodone (Oxycontin, Roxicodone) are now widely prescribed to people of all ages and teens can acquire them in their homes or the homes of their friends. This is why it is important to keep track of all prescription medication and discard any medications no longer in use. To learn how to discard medications safely go to:

If you are concerned that your child may be using alcohol or drugs, don’t panic. If you have not already broached the subject of alcohol or drugs, there is no time like the present to start. Maintaining open lines of productive communication is essential. When broaching the subject, be curious without being accusatory. Ask about their friends, who drinks, what drugs are going around, and who they know that may be using drugs. If your child closes off, becomes combative or defensive or is not forthcoming with information, then there may be cause for concern and your best chance of learning the truth is through drug testing. Reliable drug tests that can detect most recreational drug use can be purchased at your local pharmacy.

Once a teen enters high school many parents mistakenly assume that they (parents) are no longer needed, but the exact opposite is true. The teen years are when hands-on parenting is most important. By taking an interest in your child’s school, sports and other extracurricular activities, as well as developing hobbies you enjoy together or simply having regular sit-down family meals; these activities provide opportunities for open lines of communication and understanding. Encouraging your teen to stay busy whether in sports, music, clubs or volunteer activities is crucial to their building self-confidence and staving off boredom and restlessness that can lead to substance use. Continuously striving to improve your relationship with your teen and staying involved while allowing your teen to exert his/her independence in many areas is essential to their healthy emotional development.

Michelle Dunbar is the Executive Director of the St. Jude Retreats. The St. Jude Retreats offer the first and only non-treatment approach to overcoming substance use problems. If you have a teen who might be struggling with substance use problems, drug treatment will turn what is now a temporary problem rooted in immaturity into a lifelong struggle with an imaginary disease. Teens who are exposed to disease based drug treatment and 12 step programs are taught that they are powerless over substances and suffering from an incurable, progressive disease called addiction. The St. Jude Program provides no such rationale for future failure, and instead empowers individuals to overcome their problems and build the life they want. For more information you can visit or call Ms. Dunbar toll free at 1-888-424-2626.

The Truth About Drug Treatment

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than 1.8 million people were admitted to drug treatment in 2005. That number has steadily increased since 1995. Much of the cost of drug treatment is paid for by taxpayer monies, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars each year. State and federal agencies oversee and license treatment facilities throughout the country giving consumers a sense that facilities are safe, effective and staffed with well trained, caring individuals. Unfortunately the poor outcomes of treatment tell a much different story.

Ask any drug treatment program or facility about their success rates and you will hear a litany of answers. Many treatment providers do not even understand the question. They will begin talking about completion rates and lengths of treatment as indicators of their treatment program’s success. Some drug treatment providers tell the truth, that they don’t keep those kinds of statistics but that they believe it’s approximately 20%.   Then still other treatment providers become defensive. They explain how addiction is a lifelong disease and that relapse is an expected part of recovery. Success, they will tell you, cannot be measured in terms of abstinence or moderation, but instead in terms of lengths of time between drug and alcohol use.

The truth is every drug treatment program in the U.S. teaches people that they are likely to relapse at some point during their perpetual recovery. While much of the independent research has moved in the direction that addiction is a learned behavior, not a disease, and that the most effective approach to helping people is through a brief intervention and education; drug treatment has continued moving in the direction that addiction is an incurable disease like cancer and that the only answer is ongoing medication, support group meetings and lifelong treatment. Furthermore, drug treatment uses their own lack of success to bolster the idea that people need more treatment.

While people enter drug treatment programs in the hopes of overcoming their drug problems, they quickly learn that they can never achieve this end. For many this notion of powerlessness and incurable disease takes away motivation, inspiration and any hope for a successful future. After twenty-eight days of being told everyday how powerless they are and that relapse is inevitable, sadly most people leave treatment and go back to their addiction where they can find at least a moment of pleasure.

 Michelle Dunbar is the Executive Director of St. Jude Retreats offering the first and only non-treatment approach to overcoming substance use problems. People do have the power to overcome their drug and alcohol problems and move on with their lives. St. Jude’s offers a variety of options for those seeking help to overcome their substance use problems. You can get more information at or by calling St. Jude’s toll free at 888-424-2626.

All Things in Moderation

Remember when you were a kid and your mom would say, “All things in moderation”? Depending on your age, maybe your mom didn’t say that but mine did. She was an incredibly disciplined woman and showed us through her own example the benefits of moderation and self discipline. We had a small dish of ice cream, just one or two small scoops, each and every evening before bed. Bedtime was at 8PM on a school night and 9PM on weekends and holidays. We were allowed to watch just an hour of television before bed, and the shows were limited to Mickey Mouse Club, Brady Bunch, Happy Days or as a treat, Laverne and Shirley or Hee Haw. There were only 3 channels on our television so our choices were quite limited. We had one modest bowl of cereal every morning for breakfast with names like Corn Flakes, Rice Crispies and Raisin Bran. (Have you seen the newfangled cereal bowls? You can fit half a box in one of those!) No Cookie Crisp, Cocoa Puffs or Sugar Smacks; but once in a while when she had a coupon we would get Lucky Charms which was quite treat.
Even as she and my father became more financially successfully and stable, our frugal, disciplined lifestyle continued. While other kids had Jordache jeans, Adidas tennis shoes and Atari, we shopped at K-Mart and were taught that generic brands were just as good as their designer counterparts. We ate a lot of pasta and casseroles, and steak and seafood was reserved for special occasions. It was a different time period all together.
As our family and the country progressed through the 1980s and then into the 90s, my family along with millions of other families throughout the U.S. became more affluent and moderation, frugality and self-discipline became passé. Our grandparents’ generation that remembered and lived through the Great Depression were now two generations removed, and the country became the proverbial fat and happy.
Today in 2011, even the poorest in our communities have many of the extras that were once reserved for the very wealthy; computers, IPods, cell phones, video gaming systems, large screen televisions with 200+ channels, closets overstuffed with clothing, and houses and apartments overfilled with toys. True abject poverty that still exists in other countries throughout the world only exists in this country to the extent that people choose it. Everyone has access to clean running water, more than enough food to eat as evidenced by the obesity epidemic (greater amongst the poor), indoor plumbing, electricity, healthcare (yes, everyone has access to healthcare contrary to propaganda), all levels of education, and even to television and the internet.
With this booming affluence has also come the age of excess, and what the addiction treatment community lovingly calls the epidemic of addiction. Self-discipline has been replaced by hedonism, and self-control is seen as overrated. If a little is good, then a lot is awesome. More money means more stuff, more pleasure seeking and apparently less personal responsibility. The word addiction along with the concept of a disease of excess does not exist in other countries, especially those where self discipline is required for survival. Unfortunately legitimate diseases such as cancer, diabetes, HIV and AIDS, all exist throughout the world regardless of socio-economic status. So ask yourself, how can this be? Is hedonism really a disease? Do people really lose the power of choice over their behaviors? Or is the disease of addiction just a convenient excuse to over indulge because we can?