Dr. Drew is a modern media success, having built his medical take on the disease theory and his update of the 12-steps into an empire. What does his approach actually stand for in terms of treating addiction, how different is it from what we all know (AA), and how will it help us and alcoholics and addicts?


The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, April 13, 2011. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

The Secret of Dr. Drew's Success

First of all, he's good-looking.

Second, he's articulate.

Third, he's a doctor.

Fourth, he's full of shit.

In this CNN video , running up to the inauguration of his new show on HLN, Dr. Drew presents his trademark -- making vague and meaningless claims about Charlie Sheen's motivation and judgment based on brain processes. If you listen carefully, it's not clear what Dr. Drew says causes these brain-based, residual impairments. Are they actual drug effects? Are they pre-existing in the addict? Are they permanent impairments that outlast intoxication or actual use?

But, most importantly, how does Dr. Drew's treatment address these brain dysfunctions? Does he perform an operation or provide judgment-restoring drugs?

Of course not. There are no such things. The best he can hope to do is to get the person to cease using the offending agents, and settle back into a normal existence.

The way we've been treating addiction since the stone age.

No, Dr. Pinsky's success is not predicated on his brilliant theories of brain function and therapeutics (he has nothing new, or sensible, to say in either area). It's about his ability to update and to modernize Alcoholic Anonymous's 12 steps to give them a modern medical glean.

You see, the two -- brain models and AA -- don't fit well together. Why should they? Developed in 1935 among the ruins of Prohibition -- which was built on the temperance disease notion that drinking was a disease process for everyone -- AA concocted its idea that some people are born with this disease, for which abstinence is the resolution.

But, if you think about it -- if addiction were actually due to brain chemistry, then we could address it directly -- through some medication, for example.

But, then, the alcoholic would be able to be a normal drinker.

AA and its membership would never, ever accept this notion. Never.

Here's  larger problem: if addiction is a medical disease, why are Dr. Drew -- and especially CNN's Laurie Dhue and Jeremy London, an ex-star TV patient Dhue interviews along with Dr. Drew -- so down on Charlie Sheen? People don't get down on cancer victims.

Really, the AA model -- and Drew Pinsky's updated synthesis of medicine and AA -- are actually intensely moralistic and judgmental temperance holdovers. One never sees Dr. Drew speak on television about the need for methadone (or heroin) maintenance, or clean needles, or (heaven forbid) safe injection sites or wet housing for alcoholics -- so-called harm-reduction techniques that could be seen as reasonable derivatives of the idea that addicts and alcoholics suffer from an incurable disease.

No, the answer is to abstain from intoxicating substances, follow the steps. Dr. Drew -- who might be from a Jewish background -- does not actually speak feelingfully about a "higher power," "submission," and ""powerlessness" -- which are not Judaic concepts. But he does like "recovery" and, when it comes to Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, "denial" -- that's when addicts or alcoholics don't get with the invariant 12-step program.

But what if people don't like or respond to the treatment? Is it typical of medicine, or is it religion, to then blame the disease sufferer for his flaws and weaknesses -- or for simply not liking what you're offering? What about selecting a different approach more in keeping with the particular individual's outlook and personality?

Check out London and Dhue to hear fully that kind of imperative moralism and disdain -- for which Dr. Drew is nothing so much as an enabler.