In the late 1990s, well after the deaths of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill W. and cofounder Dr. Bob, medical scientists were excited about a new classification of drugs, SSRIs. These mental health drugs could soothe or alleviate many of the symptoms that drive some to drink in the first place. For some alcoholics, they might present a functional cure, without the Twelve Steps and their God.
At the same time, the largest and most profitable twelve steps based inpatient addiction recovery center in the
United States world, Hazelden, was taking things to extremes. Coffee and cigarettes were favored vices in AA. At the Stepping Stones museum of Bill’s old house you can go see the original sacred coffee pot he used to brew coffee for (Oxford Group) meetings, as well as the spook room where he held séances. Dr. Bob once said all that was needed for a meeting was “a resentment and a pot of coffee.”
But Hazelden hardliners insisted that those too were addictive vices and that addicts who took solace in them were just “substituting one drug for another”. They banned both from the 28 day inpatient center. This prohibition led to an immediate bootleg coffee black market. Patients brewed in their private rooms and flushed the evidence. Coffee grounds clogged the plumbing all over the facility. The coffee drinkers won and it came off the banned substance list.
While this petty caffeine war raged on, a much larger battle was happening over SSRIs. Hazelden Foundation President Jerry Spicer wanted to approve the use of antidepressant medications and to even prescribe them to patients. Several AA faithful counselors (whose qualifications consisted of a history of addiction and cult membership) threatened to quit. Spicer okayed antidepressants, and they left.
Rational logic did not decide that taking antidepressants to address the root pain substance abuse was trying to numb is “relapse”. Cult logic did. Reasonable thinking did not conclude cigarettes and coffee are “commodities ” but aspirin is “slipping”. Cult thinking did. Healthy curiosity did not set the tradition that even discussing therapy is verboten. Cultic fear of competition did. Because AA is a cult.