Stanton’s 50-Year Addiction Report Card

Stanton PeeleStanton began working on Love and Addiction (which was published in 1975) in 1970. In these fifty years he has predicted a remarkable number of addiction trends. By now it is clear that the way in which Stanton has reframed addiction for the past four decades – sometimes facing extreme opposition – has been prescient. Addiction is not a consequence of taking drugs and drinking. Rather, it arises from the way in which these and other compelling activities fit into people’s lives and meanings. We are only now as a society beginning to come to grips with his insights in the following ways:

1. Addiction. Love and Addiction, of course, said addiction is not limited to drugs and alcohol. Stanton’s seminal work previewed, first, the use of addiction for other-than-illegal drugs. At the time, the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report had declared smoking was NOT addictive, which was only reversed in 1988. In 2010, the work group for the new psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM-5) scheduled to appear in 2013 declared gambling may be addictive, forty years after Stanton did so. This will change the official meaning of addiction forever.

2. Genetics. Early on, Stanton pointed out that the idea that genes can explain addiction – as well as other maladies and behavioral traits – was misbegotten. The decade-long $3 billion human genome project has revised our view of the genome – although public opinion has still not caught up with its discoveries. Few genes have been identified with illnesses, none with any mental illnesses or personality traits. After a decade, it is clear the genome is NOT a collection of genes, but rather a string of genetic material, the purpose of the overwhelming majority of which is mysterious, affected by environmental stimuli, often randomly, and serves the function of impacting the development of other DNA and genes rather than creating specific traits. Stanton quickly pointed out that the early claim, in 1990, to have found an alcoholic gene was nonsense.

3. Alcoholism. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism made a starling declaration at its Web site in 2010: “Alcoholism isn’t what it used to be.” The agency based this on the repeated finding – which Stanton has pointed out for decades – that most people overcome alcoholism without treatment and do so without ceasing drinking. For the most part, alcoholism (like drug addiction) is connected with specific periods of people’s lives, and the large majority move beyond this point as they mature and experience other developments in their lives.

4. Treatment. In 2010, the deputy drug tsar for demand reduction, Tom McClellan, declared of addiction treatment: “it is largely, at least today, about lifestyle management, that's what treatment really is. Just like any other business, we've got to come up with an engaging way of selling a new and healthier lifestyle.” McClellan – a University of Pennsylvania psychiatry professor – has been a leading advocate of the idea that addiction is a disease. Stanton has been advocating values-, motivation-, and skills-oriented treatment for decades in books like The Truth About Addiction and Recovery and 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, which he has combined in his Life Process Program.

5. Natural recovery. The NIAAA's announcement that "alcoholism isn't what it used to be" identifies specifically what proportion of recovery occurs without treatment - three quarters - and that perhaps one-half of the quarter of recovered people who are treated entered either 12-step rehab or AA. The realization that most recovery from alcoholism occurs outside treatment - the same is true for smoking, drug addiction, etc. - is still almost impossible for Americans to accept, as the opposite misinformation continues to be marketed by the NIDA and private treatment industry.

6. Alcohol control policy. For some decades, Stanton has debated with leading alcohol policy advocates who have argued that making alcohol harder to purchase would lead to fewer alcohol problems. Instead, Stanton’s view is that a culture’s attitudes towards alcohol are more important in determining drinking outcomes, and that demonizing alcohol has more harmful effects than benefits. In 2010, research made clear that lowering alcohol prices in Scandinavia had NOT created proportionally more problems. Instead, Danes, Swedes, and Finns reported fewer drinking problems since alcohol prices and taxes had been lowered, provoking a crisis in epidemiology and alcohol policy theory.

7. Cultural drinking patterns. Systematic cross-cultural research has now found that Southern European cultures, where alcohol is given to children at home, show decisively fewer alcohol problems among both teens and adults. While popular mythology maintains that adolescents all across Europe now regularly get drunk, in fact fewer Southern than Northern European teens do. This is not a theoretical argument – Italy and other Southern European countries have far lower rates of alcohol-related deaths, since people there are so much less likely to binge drink and suffer fatal accidents. In Addiction-Proof Your Child, Stanton presented the cutting edge in how to introduce children to substances and provided a methodology for resisting addiction in the 21st Century.

8. Beneficial drinking. The United States, and other English-speaking and Scandinavian nations, have a love-hate relationship with alcohol. Most people consume alcohol; many Americans deeply fear and distrust it. As a result, these countries – and the United States in particular – have found it difficult to acknowledge evidence that drinking conveys benefits. As in other areas of addiction, Stanton has been fighting this inbred resistance for decades. He was one of the first to note that moderate drinkers have less heart disease – and thus live longer. In 2010, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines noted for the first time that: "results from large epidemiological studies consistently show that alcohol has a favorable association with total mortality especially among middle age and older men and women." The 2010 Guidelines also begin to build on Stanton's finding a decade earlier that moderate drinkers maintain better cognitive functioning with age, to wit: "Moderate evidence suggests that compared to non-drinkers, individuals who drink moderately have a slower cognitive decline with age."

9. Stanton Peele and Natural Recovery. Stanton has been emphasizing the prevalence of natural recovery from addiction since his 1975 Love and Addiction, and ever since.

In all of these areas, Stanton has honed in on the truths of addiction, drinking and alcoholism, treatment, and policy in ways that have been proven true with time.