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From Alcoholic to Successful Moderate Drinker — Opinion

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It took me 15 years of sobriety and attending more than 3,000 12 step AA meetings to realize the meetings were totally useless and unnecessary for my sobriety or my happiness. I’ve since met thousands of people who had similar experiences. Recovery is a trap, and if you become an ardent believer, you can waste a lifetime “recovering” from a habit you let go of years earlier. When I finally let myself grow past the idea that I needed some form of “recovery” from my past drinking and drug habits, my life took off, and I’ve never looked back. Yes, that’s right, I stopped being in recovery and started living. Today I’m a social drinker and have been since I left the world of recovery in 2003, I don’t take other drugs, and I have a wonderful life. I realize that this might seem impossible – to be an alcoholic and then end up a successful social drinker. But it’s not only possible, it’s actually quite common.

More than 90% of heavy habitual drinkers just like me, quit or moderate successfully. Data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) show that approximately 50% of former alcoholics are currently moderate drinkers. While the recovery society hides this fact, it can’t extinguish reality. Simply put, people change their habits, even the tough habits, and you can too.

How I Got Caught in the Recovery Trap

From the age of 14 until I was 30, I was involved in some form of an addiction-help process (some while I was actively indulging in substances and much of it after I stopped). Even before the age of 14, from my earliest memories, I was being indoctrinated in the self-help addiction culture by my AA-steeped family. I knew more about the 12 steps and therapy than anyone I knew. In addition to this bizarre aspect of my early childhood, I started drinking when I was 12 years old, fulfilling the prophecy my family set. They’d repeat, “You ever touch even a drop of alcohol and you’ll never be able to quit Mark!” These warnings just fueled my drive to drink and drug heavily, they didn’t deter me, not even a little bit.

I used substances like mad for the next 6 years. I was 18 years old and a daily heavy drinker (and drug taker) when I quit and made the decision to start going to 12 step meetings. To be honest, sobriety wasn’t difficult for me. Going to AA was merely symbolic, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I “had to go to meetings to stay straight” because that was the narrative I was taught since childhood. Like so many young people who get caught in the 12 step recovery trap, I “kept coming back” to the meetings because I thought that I had to attend them in order to remain abstinent for the long haul. The irony is, when I went to my first meeting I already wasn’t drinking anymore, a fact ignored by the AA community. I had detoxed myself in a college dorm bathroom for three days and had already begun to move on (a potentially life threatening process, for which I do recommend medical help). I was done at that point. But like so many people in the recovery trap, we feel we “need” recovery, when in fact, we already made the decision to remain abstinent on our own.

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A few months after this I was forced into formal treatment for 18 months by the courts (I got a DUI the last night I drank). It was originally a yearlong mandate, but I was not a “compliant” patient; my continuous questioning of their model and methods gained me an extra half year of an intensive outpatient program (IOP). Part of the treatment plan was to attend AA and NA meetings every night after my day treatment. I’d never get my freedom or my driver’s license without my meeting papers signed every night and so I went.

You might ask, after I completed the treatment mandate in 1990, why did I keep attending the meetings? People have asked me that for years; I had my driver’s license back, my freedom back, and got a good job; life was moving forward. So why did I stay in the recovery world for another 14 long years before I decided to reject it once and for all?

In my case the answer isn’t simple. By the time I completed treatment, I was completely disgusted with AA, NA and rehab and all they stood for. While in treatment, my life was put on hold for a year-and-a-half and I wanted nothing more than to move on. On top of just hating the fact that the courts ruled my life, I could not unring the bell of what I saw and experienced in treatment and in the 12 step culture. I’d watched my rights be taken from me, and the tyranny of addiction “experts” make it more difficult for me to move past a habit I’d already solved on my own 18 months prior. In addition, I knew people in AA and NA who needlessly died from overdoses, watched families be torn apart by incompetent therapists and even less competent “lay-therapist” sponsors in AA and NA. I knew something was terribly wrong with the whole recovery model, and I decided to figure out what that was and how to fix it. I could have walked away but I needed to try my hand at becoming a researcher and finding a better way to help people like me.

The Research

The next 14 years were spent placing myself directly in the model I disliked so much so that I could understand it first hand, dismantle it, and replace it with something better. In this respect, youth is a funny thing. With so little real world experience, I didn’t know what I couldn’t do. I just forged ahead and helped people the best I knew how, and I learned. But unlike the vast majority of addiction researchers, I had no formal training in research at the time. And so I found a mentor that would teach me the ropes, and career researcher Mr. Jerry Brown became that person.

The early years were marked with knowing that the treatment I’d received and the message I was getting at the meetings just didn’t add up. For example, just the mere fact that I decided to quit, and did, was a serious contradiction to what I heard in AA every day. “No alcoholic can just stop,” they’d say. But then, they would tell their stories of how they did stop, and then they entered treatment or went to 12 step meetings. For all those years, and all those thousands of meetings, Jerry and I focused on these kinds of contradictions and sought the truth. It was exhausting work because not only were we debunking recovery mythology, we were debunking our own recovery beliefs. Try to remember, both Jerry and I came out of the recovery community prior to starting Baldwin Research and its work.

Unfortunately, a tremendous amount of my own erroneous addiction beliefs plagued me throughout 1990 through 2003. While I was researching the truth of how to move past an addiction, I was also unseating all the recovery nonsense that was a part of my own history and thinking. In essence, the research guided the creation of The Freedom Model but it was also the path I needed to take to be deprogrammed personally at the same time. As we uncovered the truth, the truth set me free just the same. By 2003, I was free from all the recovery myths and the new model, The Freedom Model (in those days it was called the St. Jude Program) was built. We left our last remnants of AA for good that year, then myself and a few others became moderate drinkers. With the recovery nonsense out of the way, I found no fear in having a few drinks now and then. It was a wonderful freedom to know I had the solution – the solution was me all along!

Going Full Circle

Creating The Freedom Model brought me full circle, and by that I mean, we discovered that all people move past their addictions by themselves. Like me, people could go to treatment to satisfy the courts, or their family, or to even save themselves, but when you boil it all down – without wanting to move past an addiction, no one could do it. It’s completely an inside job. There’s quite a bit of research to back this up. Here is an excerpt from the Freedom Model that covers this fact in some detail:

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“Controlled research suggests that people who seem to be successfully treated actually make their choice and change at the time that they enroll in treatment, not after receiving the treatment. That is, some people “want it to work” when they sign up for treatment, and so their change is already done, by them, before they’re treated. For example, the results of a massive study of drinkers enrolling for outpatient addiction counseling treatment showed that they actually reduced their average drinking between week zero (0) when they enrolled and week one (1) when they received their first counseling session (Cutler & Fishbain, 2005). The graph below shows that this pre-treatment reduction in drinking held throughout the following 12 weeks.

The amazing thing here is that the results follow the same trajectory for three different groups:

– (12) Those that went through a full 12 weeks of treatment.
– (1) Those that only attended 1 session of treatment.
– (0) Those that enrolled, but didn’t even show up for 1 counseling session.

The average reduction in drinking happened at the same point in the study across all 3 groups. Drinking was decreased sharply before their first session, and then hovered around that same decreased level throughout the following 12 weeks, regardless of the number of sessions attended. This shows the treatment played no role in their reduction of drinking since the reduction took place before treatment, didn’t decrease with further treatment, and didn’t increase among those who didn’t receive any treatment. “Wanting it to work” is truly everything. Yet treatment gets the credit for their reduction in drinking, when this change is truly the result of people simply changing their minds about drinking when they decide to enroll for treatment.1

A recent study comparing Nalterxone, a drug which is said to reduce substance cravings, with a placebo, resulted in a shockingly similar curve (Oslin et al., 2015). You can see in this graph that the placebo groups; that is, people taking a fake pill that contained no medication, reduced their drinking as much as those taking the medication. What’s more, all groups reduced their average drinking at the beginning of the study, and maintained this same basic average throughout the following 12 weeks of treatment. Again, treatment gets the credit, when in fact people are choosing to reduce their drinking before treatment and carrying this out on their own power of choice. Naltrexone is currently being hailed as a miracle drug for addiction, yet its success is an illusion; a misattribution. The placebo – a fake pill – worked just as well!

1. Note: there are differences in average number of drinks for the 3 groups, but this is probably a reflection of differing levels of commitment to a change. The 12-weekers were probably the most committed to a reduction in drinking and thus stayed most committed to attending treatment as well. Nevertheless, the more important point for this analysis is that the basic curve was identical across groups.

Recovery ideology continues to say you need treatment, and yet they continue to also say “you have to want it to work.” But they fail to understand the full implications of this statement. They don’t realize that what they’re also admitting when they say “you have to want it to work” is that treatment is essentially useless, and can’t make anyone reduce their substance use. There is no external force, treatment included, that is capable of imposing different wants on someone.

Changing your wants and desires is an autonomous activity; meaning it can only be done by you, in the confines of your own mind, by thinking things through and coming to see that you would or could be happier if you used less. Nobody can do this for you, because nobody can do your thinking for you. To change your desire for substance use, you have to weigh out the benefits of heavy use against the benefits of moderate use and/or the benefits of abstinence. Whichever option you come to see as most beneficial or preferable is the option you’ll truly want, become invested in, and carry out.”

This excerpt demonstrates just one small myth we debunked over the course of our years of research. It’s an important one to be sure. But there were dozens more we researched and exposed. With each myth set straight, my own freedom from the shackles of recovery grew stronger.

2003 to the Present

The research didn’t stop in 2003 (we are still learning more as I write this in 2020). That was just the year that we abandoned the 12 step meeting structure as one benefit of seeking the truth. It was a big and important step for us, but there are many more stories of truth and freedom contained in the pages of The Freedom Model for Addictions. If you want to know more about becoming free whether that’s through abstinence or moderate use, you can get your own free copy of The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap at… and use the coupon code FREEDOM108 at checkout.

Or call 888-424-2626

If you would like to get away and learn the Freedom Model with a certified FM Instructor in a residential retreat setting, call the number above, or go to

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Mr. Mark Scheeren is the Co-Founder and Chairman of the St. Jude Retreat, as is co-author of The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap, the original Non-12-Step approach for people who struggle with serious substance use issues. Mr. Scheeren and his staff of Researchers and Instructors have helped many thousands find permanent solutions to their drug and alcohol problems.

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