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Remembering the People Who Shapped Addiction Treatment

Liz Barnes, Special to the Citizen

Lots of people contributed to finding ways to make treatment for addictions work. It started with treatment for alcohol use long ago and has moved into drugs and behaviors like gambling. Here are a few:

Alcoholics Anonymous
began in 1935 with a single meeting, blind faith, hope and dedication. Today, there are about 114,000 meetings worldwide with more than 2 million members.

Alcoholics Anonymous' Big Book, published in 1939, has sold more than 22 million copies. Today, it’s available online.

Caron and Hazelden: the beginning of treatment centers as we know them today. A lot has changed, most notably the insurance companies, muscles bulging, standing guard at the end of every facility driveway. In 1959, Dick and Catherine Caron opened Chit Chat Farms in an old hotel in the countryside of beautiful Wernersville, Pa. They drove around the streets of New York City finding homeless men and women in trouble with alcohol and took them back to their farm to help them. They were on the phone daily to Charles and Hazel Thompson Power at the Hazelden facility, built in an old farmhouse in 1949 in Center City, Minn. The owners discussed what was working and what wasn’t. According to stories told to me, there was no serious competition. Everyone just wanted those with alcoholism to find recovery.

Magnus Huss, a Swedish physician, coined the term "alcoholism" in 1849. It wouldn’t be until 1956, more than 100 years later, that the AMA declared alcoholism to be a disease.

Vernon Johnson established the idea of family treatment and intervention. In 1973 he wrote “I’ll Quit Tomorrow," a classic for both alcoholics and their families.

Malcom X, 1925–1965, was admired by many Americans when he transformed himself from a serious user of drugs to a strong community leader through the Nation of Islam. He helped black men and women accept alcoholism and addiction as a disease.

Marty Mann, 1905–1980, was born before women had the right to vote. She was one of the first female AA members overcoming both male members' hostility (many thought this was a man’s organization) and the stigma against women with the disease. She founded The National Council on Alcoholism.

Father Joseph Martin, 1924-2009, is the beloved educator/lecturer of "Chalk Talk" films, which are used by just about every treatment facility for decades to explain in warm and humorous terms the disease of alcoholism.

Narcotics Anonymous began between 1944 and 1953. Several groups started during this time. Houston S. initiated a group in 1944 that called itself Addicts Anonymous in the Federal Narcotics Hospital in Lexington. Danny C., a NARCO member, began a group called Narcotics Anonymous in New York City in 1949. Out on the West Coast, Jimmy K. in 1953 began what was to become, in 20 years, Narcotics Anonymous. Today, they are a respected and stable means of achieving ongoing sobriety. The Basic Text was published 1983 when there were 3,000 meetings weekly. Today, there are about 50,000.

The Oxford Group was the forerunner of AA, but not directed at alcoholics. It was started by Frank Buchman, a Lutheran minister, in the 1900s. It was a spiritual program aimed at curing the problems of the world. Many alcoholics were drawn to this group and found sobriety through its spiritual teachings. Bill Wilson was quoted as saying he didn’t fully accept the Oxford Group because it wanted to save the world. “I just want to save drunks,” he said.

Dr. Robert H. Smith, “Dr. Bob,” 1879–1965, and Bill Wilson, 1895-1971, are the co-founders of AA. They listened to the (divine?) inspiration given to them and acted on it. AA has been called by some the single greatest American achievement ever, due to the lives and families it has saved.

Lois Wilson, Bill’s wife, with Annie B. co-founded the Al-Anon Family Groups in 1951.

And, finally, to those we knew who died from their active addiction. You live on in our hearts reminding us of how lethal addiction can be, and keeping many of us sober a day at a time. We will never forget.

And to the counselors and others who work at a profession that has the best personal payback and gifts anyone could ask for of any job, and the worst possible pay and benefits in return: Thank you.











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