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Recovery Public Policy Series

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Back Where We Started—Sort of

Deborah Smith Parker

April 2010

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issues of California Together and Arizona Together. Read the original online here.

In the beginning there was no recovery process for addiction except the occasional miracle. It stayed that way for thousands of years until 1935 when. . . well, if youíre reading this publication you know what happened. This new roadmap to recovery wasnít established by anyone in religion, medicine or psychology although God knows they tried. Drunks helping other drunks set up this successful model that up to that point had eluded the most well-intentioned hearts and brightest and most accomplished minds. Over the years a few treatment programs began opening their doors. In 1970 federal funding started, thanks to Sen. Harold Hughes, and treatment options exploded across the country providing public funding for treatment for those who couldnít afford it, followed by insurance coverage for those who could.

But things change. In the late 70ís and early 80ís communities started pushing back at having so many recovery facilities in their neighborhoods and it became harder and harder to site treatment programs. Then managed care spread like a cancer, draining the life out of treatment by reducing insurance coverage or eliminating it altogether, shortening length of stays and forcing people into outpatient. The hospital treatment network was decimated. For the last 10-15 years pretty much the only place you can get long term intensive treatment is in a non-medical residential program. As far as adolescent treatmentówell, forget that! About the only place an adolescent alcoholic or addict can now get treatment is under a primary psychiatric diagnosis.

Now economic problems have caused the life line of public funding for these programs to be drastically cut. Make no mistake. These cuts are having a devastating effect on the availability of treatment, so fewer and fewer people have access to care.

We donít think often about it this way, but from the beginning sober housing was an essential part of recovery. Thatís all there wasóAA and drunks living together, supporting each other. Billís home and many otherís homes served that purpose. After all, itís great to go to a meeting and see all those sober faces reflected back at you, but what happens when that meeting is over? What happens late at night when youíre terrified youíre going to be struck drunk, or that your life will never get better? If you live with others in recovery you can take your shaky hands into the kitchen to steady them with a cup of coffee and honest talk with people who understand what youíre going through and can either tell you or listen to the same truth you are having to face.

Today we still have AA and all the other 12 step programs it has spawned. And we have sober housing which continues to grow. As Ken Schonlau used to say, each night in Southern California over 6,000 people in recovery go to sleep in a clean, sober, and safe setting. AA and sober housing arenít dependent on insurance or public funding or even community donations. They started out self-supporting and continue to be so today and they have not only endured, they have thrived.

Itís tempting to say weíre right back where we started in 1935, except weíre notóbecause today sober people number in the millions, not just the hundreds of 75 years ago.

Deborah Parker is Project Director for the Solutions for Treatment Expansion Project (STEP) for Futures Associates, Inc. She has worked closely with the Sober Living Network and other providers of group homes to help them combat zoning and land use barriers created by their local governments.

The Sober Living Network
P.O. Box 5235
Santa Monica, CA 90409
(310) 396-5270