On the insanity of stopping addiction before you treat it Published on February 28, 2012 by Lance Dodes, M.D. in The Heart of Addiction

Not long ago, a woman suffering with alcoholism told me she’d been advised by a self-styled “addiction expert” that she should stop drinking before seeking psychotherapy to work out the problems bothering her. In essence, she was being told, “First get better, then get treatment.” This ridiculous idea is even stranger if you imagine it being said by a therapist: “Go away and stop drinking, then I’ll treat you.” Incredibly enough, there are therapists who say just that.

Since addictive (or compulsive) behavior is a psychological symptom—a disastrous effort to manage feelings of overwhelming helplessness—it makes sense that psychotherapy is an optimal way to understand its causes and precipitants, and ultimately the best way to manage it. Of course, there are some people who are unable to do psychotherapy. They are incapable of being introspective or thoughtful about themselves. For these folks a modified approach is needed that does not call upon them to be self-observing. But people with addictions are like anybody else. Most people with addictive symptoms are quite capable of thinking through their problems with competent help.

Naturally, you might note that besides psychotherapy there are other treatment approaches. The most common and famous of these are 12-step programs. They work great for some. But widely publicized academic studies have repeatedly shown that only 5 to 10 percent of all people who attend AA become sober members. That’s a lot better than zero percent, of course. But that means that advising people with addictions to delay other treatment in favor of going to a 12-step program will be the wrong recommendation at least 90% of the time. This is unfortunate, since AA is free and widely-available, but there is no getting around the facts. That’s not to say AA can’t have a supportive role. Sometimes people do well with both psychotherapy and AA. I wrote a paper about that many years ago. But that’s different from advising folks to go to AA first and therapy later.

Continue reading about the worst addiction advice here:

If you know someone struggling with addiction, we can help. Call 800-910-9299 or contact us here.

Most Recent Blog Posts

5 Ways To Forgive Yourself In Recovery

    Sometimes, in active addiction, we do things we aren’t proud of. We may have hurt the ones we love, do things we are ashamed of, and caused harm to ourselves. We may feel guilty, embarrassed, and angry. Although you may have gotten substance abuse treatment and are...

    Read More

    Recognizing A Problem With Alcohol

      It can be fun and relaxing to go out for drinks with your friends on Friday nights after a long work week or have a cocktail before bed. Many people drink alcohol and do so regularly, but how do you know when your drinking has become a problem? When many of us think...

      Read More

      Which 12-Step Program Is Right For Me?

        12-Step programs are a common part of addiction recovery. Many treatment programs utilize a 12-Step approach, and many of those recovering choose to attend meetings after they complete their treatment. Attending meetings can help individuals maintain their recovery...

        Read More


        21062 Brookhurst St. #201, Huntington Beach, CA 92646

        ©2021 All Rights Reserved. Design & Development by Goldman Marketing Group | Sitemap | Privacy Policy The information available on this web site is provided for informational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace a medical consultation where a physician's judgment may advise you about specific disorders, conditions and or treatment options. We hope the information will be useful for you to become more educated about your health care decisions. If you are vision-impaired or have some other impairment covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act or a similar law, and you wish to discuss potential accommodations related to using this website, please contact us at