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Book Review:

7 Tools to Beat Addiction

By Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D. (Three Rivers Press)

Reviewed by Chuck Armsbury, Razor Wire Senior Editor

Stanton Peele has been investigating, thinking, and writing about addiction since 1969. His first bombshell book, Love and Addiction, appeared in 1975. Its experiential and environmental approach to addiction revolutionized thinking on the subject by indicating that addiction is not limited to narcotics, or to drugs at all, and that addiction is a pattern of behavior and experience which is best understood by examining an individual's relationship with his/her world.

7 Tools to Beat Addiction presents a refinement of Peele's lengthy and rich experience in professional counseling work. This book takes a distinctly nonmedical approach. It views addiction as a general pattern of behavior that nearly everyone experiences in varying degrees at one time or another.

Viewed in this context, addiction is not unusual, although it can grow to overwhelming and life-defeating dimensions. It is not essentially a medical problem, but a problem of life. It is frequently encountered and very often overcome in people's lives - the failure to overcome addictions is the exception.

"Addiction is a way of coping with life, of artificially attaining feelings and rewards people feel they cannot achieve in any other way. As such, it is no more a treatable medical problem than unemployment, lack of coping-skills, or degraded communities and despairing lives.

The only remedy for addiction is for more people to have the resources, values and environments necessary for living productive lives. More treatment will not win our badly misguided war on drugs. It will only distract our attention from the real issues in addiction."

Peele's approach puts him at odds with the American medical model of alcohol/drug abuse as a disease - one that is gaining acceptance worldwide. Everything about the disease approach - separating people and their substance use from their ongoing lives, not recognizing that addiction fades in and out with life conditions, viewing it as biogenetic in origin -- is wrong, which Stanton strives to show throughout this book and website.

His experiential, environmental approach leads to a range of radical ideas for approaching seemingly insoluble social problems concerning drugs, alcohol, and behavior. For example:

A science of addiction geared towards brain mechanisms, irrespective of life problems and experiences, is barking up the wrong tree and is doomed to fail;

Self-cure is standard and occurs as people come to grips with the problems, people, and patterns in their lives;

As they do so, formerly problem users frequently learn to use the substance moderately, or at least with fewer problems;

Treatment succeeds by helping people navigate their existence rather than by teaching them that they have an inbred, life-long malady;

Most drinking and other substance use are not pathological;

How children learn to view substances largely determines whether they get stuck in drinking/drug use as a life-long destructive habit;

A completely negative educational approach to alcohol, as well as drugs, increases the likelihood children will encounter substance use problems;

The notion that substance use is a disease is simply the wrong way to prevent problems and to treat problems when these appear;

Many activities which are correctly viewed as addictions - like compulsive shopping, gambling, sex - have incorrectly come to be treated as diseases;

One wrongheaded result of the whole disease conception of addiction is that society now often excuses people for criminal behaviors that are labeled as addictions or diseases (e.g., PMS, post-traumatic shock, post-partum depression in addition to alcoholism);

While it is correct instead to firmly punish drug- and alcohol-related misbehavior, the punishment of simple drug use - so-called "zero-tolerance" - is irrational and has been proven to be an expensive failure;

Non-moralistic policies, education, and treatment that recognizes that people may sometimes use drugs or alcohol, but treatment that also engages people in productive activity and assists people to overcome difficulties in their lives, will succeed better - and certainly disrupt society and the lives of users less - than our current policies and treatments.

Source:, selected and edited for emphasis and space here

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