Wednesday, August 20, 2014

      The Council of Southeast Pennsylvania, Inc.PRO-ACT
          Pennsylvania Recovery Organization --
     Achieving Community Together (PRO-ACT) 
Recovery in Our Communities
August 19, 2014
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Information and Recovery Support Line 24/7: 800-221-6333
When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear, and one third thinking about what I want to say.
Abraham Lincoln
Workshop Helps Parents Communicate Effectively
With Teens About Underage Drinking

The Council sent 4 employees to become certified trainers for MADD's 
Power of Parents program.  Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) developed this program to equip parents and caregivers so they can start a potentially lifesaving conversation with their teens about alcohol.  Workshop highlights include communication strategies and tips; understanding alcohol's effects on a teenager's body and developing brain; and how to handle the tough questions. 

The Power of Parents Workshop also includes a great resource:  a Parent Handbook created by MADD and Dr. Robert Turrisi of Pennsylvania State University.  This comprehensive handbook is an in-depth, evidence-based tool that will greatly assist parents in communicating with their teens about alcohol.    

If you are interested in attending or hosting a Parent Workshop, please contact Diane Catherwood at 215-230-8218 x 3185.  
Important Recovery Management Implications

The Council's approach to recovery management supports "the many pathways to recovery."   It is important for persons in recovery to understand all potential impediments to long term recovery as well as the strategies for overcoming challenges. All persons in recovery should be provided with the best information possible so they can decide for themselves what is best for them.  

An article published in The Addiction Professional contains an interesting study with clear implications for best practices in recovery management.  In this article, Edward J. Cumella, PhD, and Christopher B. Scott, MS, discussed results of their study comparing the "AA habits" of young adults ages 20 to 40 with that of older adults ages 65 and up.  While more research is needed, the study reveals significant differences between these age groups.  The authors found the following differences: 
  • Young adults are more likely to be externally motivated to attend AA due to work or legal problems, whereas older adults are more internally motivated attending due to health issues. 
  • Younger adults have more difficulty integrating and bonding with other AA members, whereas older adults had little or no difficulty finding supportive relationships.
  • Older adults had significant practical obstacles in attending AA meetings including  scheduling and transportation issues.
With respect to recovery management, anticipating challenges and providing the best possible solutions and alternatives is the right approach. 
Some Upcoming Events
September 12, 20147:05 pm. Recovery Night at the Baseball Game,Phillies vs. Marlins, Citizens Bank Park. Click here for tickets.

Sept. 17, 2014: Meet The Council Open House8 - 9 am at 252 West Swamp Road, Bailiwick Office Campus, Unit 12, Doylestown, PA 18901

September 20, 2014PRO-ACT Recovery Walks! 2014, Great Plaza, Penn's Landing, Philadelphia. Click here to register and get more information.
Employment OpportunitiesPlease click here
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DONATEDonations help us to reduce the impact of addiction for more individuals and families. The Council is a 501(c)(3) organization

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


My loved ones and friends stay away , fearing my disease . Even my own family stands at a distance . 

STEP 8 - Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all .

We have become the monster(addiction) under the bed ! Most are afraid of the monster(addiction) under the bed because we cant figure out where it come from , and how do we get rid of it . The monster(addiction) under the bed was me and when I finally revealed my ugly head my family was frightened . For quite some time I managed to only let the monster(addiction) come out when they were not looking but after time feeding the monster(addiction) it got stronger and stronger and I could no longer control it. Once out of my control it spread terror throughout my home ! My monster(addiction) wanted to be fed all the time and it did not matter what it stole or who it hurt .My family were its first victims not only fear was spread but sadness , my monster(addiction) was mean and all it cared about was being fed . My true friends were the next to be chased away by my monster(addiction) .Before long I was alone with my monster(addiction) , I was broken , exhausted and desperate to get away from my monster(addict) . My monster(addiction) now held me close and drug me into the darkness .No matter how hard I tried to get away my monster(addiction) just held tighter. All I could do was cry out in anger at my monster . In that darkness I saw a small ray of light coming under the bed and in the light I saw the shadow of hand reaching out , immediately I grabbed that hand and my monster(addiction) couldn't hold me anymore and I was free . 

Romans 6 : 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?

By Joseph Dickerson

Tune in to hear Lighthouse Network's
Karl Benzio, MD, on the air!

DATE: Tuesday, August 19
TIME: 10:00 a.m. ET
PROGRAM: Chosen Generation with Pastor Greg Young
TOPIC: Robin Williams, Depression and Suicide

Check out other media interviews including TV appearances, radio programs, print features and articles here...

Lighthouse Network is a Christian-based, non-profit organization that offers an addiction and mental health counseling helpline providing treatment options and resources to equip people and organizations with the skills necessary to shine God's glory to the world, stand strong on a solid foundation in the storms of their own lives, and provide guidance and safety to others experiencing stormy times, thus impacting their lives, their families and the world.

Lighthouse Network offers help through two main service choices:
  • Lighthouse Life Change Helpline (1-844-LIFE-CHANGE, 1-844-543-3242), a 24-hour free, national crisis call center, where specialists (Care Guides) help callers understand and access customized treatment options.
  • Life Growth and self-help training resources for daily life, including online and DVD series and training events to help individuals achieve their potential.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014


I am dying from grief ; my years are shortened by sadness .Sin (addiction) has drained my strength ; I am wasting away from within .

STEP 1- We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable.

I will never forget what the Psalm is describing ! Fourteen years ago that was my life ! I sit here praying and scrambling for the words to describe just how sad I was then and I am at a loss. Words are not descriptive enough to describe the sorrows that once controlled me. I was a puppet on strings in the hands of Satan , his purpose was to keep me treading water in the sea of my tears just seeing safety's shore in the distance but every time I got close to rescue he pulled me right back in .Straining in my mind trying to get glimpse and a feeling from the past , brings tears to my eyes. Too think ,addiction the puppet was once me and satan was my puppet master no longer brings saddens or fear .In the midst of my sea of sadness was a set of stairs going straight into the sun , I cried out and the tide changed and I was being drawn to those steps and magnificent light and with all my strength I could muster the strings that once held me snapped .I realize now That God was the light and Jesus was the Tide .

2 Timothy 2:26 And they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.

By Joseph Dickerson

Robin Williams And The Dark Legacy Of An Era Of Brilliant Addicts
Our genius comedian Robin Williams died in an apparent suicide after two decades sober, and in the wake of relapses and treatment over the past eight years. 



Robin Williams came to notice as a brilliantly original performer in the 1970s, a time when alcoholism and drug addiction came to define an era of brilliant comic performers. Like Richard Pryor, George Carlin, and so many other amazing performers of the time, Williams used drugs and alcohol in legendary quantities, calming down that manic stage presence; or, given his enormous use of cocaine, to help him keep up with his own awe-inspiring comedic powers. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Williams was addicted to both cocaine and heroin, with alcohol being a constant companion. 

As a hard-drinking cocaine-addict, Williams used the rush of the stimulant to power the lightning-fast improvisational genius of his comic bits. As he rose to fame as the manic Mork from Ork on the 1970s hit sitcom Mork & Mindy, Williams developed a hard-partying reputation for drug abuse and alcoholism. In the 'live fast, die young' era of the 1970s, developing such a reputation was not easy and with Williams, it was clearly well deserved.

What was he afraid of? "Everything. It's just a general all-round arggghhh. It's fearfulness and anxiety."

Williams continued to battle alcoholism and cocaine abuse in the early 1980s at the height of his first taste with celebrity. A frequent partier alongside John Belushi, Williams had been partying with the legendary Saturday Night Live comedian at L.A.’s Chateau Marmont hotel hours before Belushi overdosed on a lethal combination of heroin and cocaine in 1982. Coinciding with the birth of his son, Belushi’s overdose in 1982 was a strong wake-up call for Williams. He chose to embrace a path of recovery that lasted for over twenty years. When asked if Belushi’s death helped him find that path, Williams explained, "Was it a wake-up call? Oh yeah, on a huge level. The grand jury helped too."

Robin Williams in the press room at the 35th Annual People's Choice Awards.

Soon after, Williams experienced his first stint in rehab and received professional help. Williams said he once thought he could handle his problems with addiction on his own, but soon realized he would only kick his addiction to drugs with professional help. Williams admitted in a later interview: "You can't [deal with it on your own]. That's the bottom line. You really think you can, then you realize, I need help, and that's the word ... It's hard admitting it, then once you've done that, it's real easy."

Comedy is the best medicine, and Williams provided so much more than his own fair share of it. 

In 2006, however, on location in a small town in Alaska, Williams began drinking again. In a 2006 interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Williams came clean about his fall off the sobriety wagon. He explained to ABC’s Diane Sawyer that his stumble back into alcohol abuse was “very gradual,” and that addiction is a multi-leveled mind-body-and-spirit disease that knows no statute of limitations. Williams explained the deadly progression after a relapse when he said, “It waits. It lays in wait for the time when you think, ‘It’s fine now, I’m OK.’ Then, the next thing you know, it’s not OK.”

Robin Williams and his daughter Zelda Williams at the Hollywood Film Festival's 10th Annual Hollywood Awards Gala.

In an interview with The Guardian, Williams went into greater detail about how the progression from the first drink exploded into full-blown alcoholism: "I just thought, hey, maybe drinking will help. Because I felt alone and afraid. It was that thing of working so much, and going 'fuck, maybe that will help.' And it was the worst thing in the world." 

Although friends and talking heads came up with a number of reasons why Robin Williams relapsed after such a long period of sobriety, he denied any of their loving explanations. Theories ranged from the depression brought on by the death of former Julliard roommate Christopher Reeve in 2004, to the problems that led to the break-up of his second marriage in 2008—all of the explanations were off base according to the performer. Williams explained to The Guardian, “It's more selfish than that. It's just literally being afraid. And you think, oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn't." What was he afraid of? "Everything. It's just a general all-round arggghhh. It's fearfulness and anxiety."

Although he avoided falling back into the drugs because his fear that cocaine and heroin would simply kill him, it took only a week of drinking before he knew he was in trouble. Williams explained the harsh moment of clarity: "For that first week you lie to yourself, and tell yourself you can stop, and then your body kicks back and says, no, stop later. And then it took about three years, and finally you do stop." After an intervention by family and friends, Williams ended up back in rehab and back on the path of recovery. 

In 2009, Williams had heart surgery to replace his aortic valve. Although drug and alcohol addiction are known to cause heart problems, Williams had a family history of heart disease. Doctors believe his heart problems most likely were not related to his past substance abuse. Soon after his recovery, Williams announced a 20-date tour for his comedy show Weapons of Self-Destruction, which he saiddrew from “a relapse, three years of heavy drinking, going to rehab in wine country to keep my options open, coming out of that, divorce, and open heart surgery.”

Robin Williams and his former wife Marsha Garces in 2002.

For a while, everything seemed to be back on track with both his career and a happy marriage to his third wife, graphic designer Susan Schneider, in 2011. In early July of 2014, however, Williams reportedly checked back into rehab again. According to People magazine, Williams denied falling off the wagon again and claimed that the treatment was only a precautionary measure. Since this last incident came just two months after CBS cancelled his new sitcom The Crazy Ones after only a single season, some suggest his problems began with the failure of the show. In terms of his downslide into deep clinical depression, the cancellation of the series that also starred Sarah Michelle Gellar could have been a trigger that led to the ringing of the final bell. 

Robin Williams was the brightest bulb of a comedic generation marred by addiction and tragedy. Diagnosed bipolar, with all of the challenges that such a mental disorder brings with it, it is very sad but not completely surprising that Robin Williams was overcome by the darkness of his depression. It is a shock though.

Comedy is the best medicine, and Williams provided so much more than his own fair share of it. Perhaps that is why we are all so rocked by his sudden, tragic death—his lightness, and flash-quick wit, his high-energy hilarity, his pure comic genius was such a balm to so many of us with addictions; you wonder why someone who provided so many of us with relief and distraction and laughter-till-it-hurt, was unable to be as generous with himself as he was with all of us. Rest in peace.

John Lavitt is a regular contributor to The Fix. He last wrote about Lance Dodes.

A VA Clinic Tries a New Course
New England vets will be treated with a process called "ACT." Veterans and others seeking relief from chronic pain could be spared joining the millions unwillingly addicted to narcotic pain pills. So what is "Acceptance Community Therapy?"



Good news for veterans this week came in the form of a $10 billion bill devoted to emergency spending over three years to pay doctors and other health professionals to care for veterans who can't get appointments at VA facilities. The VA has had a tough year. Revelations of the widespread cover up of wait times has led to the firing of employees in Wyoming and Colorado, and the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shineski. 

The bill includes $5 billion for hiring more VA doctors, nurses and other medical staff and $1.3 billion to open 27 new VA clinics across the country. 

One clinic that is to become the flagship for the treatment of chronic pain in the New England region is the ACT for Pain Clinic at Togus in Maine. And having been selected to serve the entire New England region, the Togus facility will almost certainly become the model for many new facilities funded by the new bill.

Dr. Amanda Adcock heads up the ACT for Pain Clinic. She talked exclusively to The Fix about the work they’ve been doing helping vets deal with chronic pain. 

Adcock says when treating chronic pain, medication alone is not the answer. 

“A narcotic pain medication numbs the ability to feel so you're really also numbing certain emotional reactions. That causes some of the social interaction difficulties.”

Adcock believes that dealing with pain must first start with acceptance.

ACT teaches patients to accept their situation in their private lives without trying to better control their thoughts, feelings, memories and other private events as taught in traditional cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). In other words it asks patients to stop avoiding pain and in a sense, embrace it.

Though the concept of ACT has been around for a while, it’s pretty radical stuff for many health care professionals and it hasn’t been easy to get doctors in the VA away from the traditional response to chronic pain: medication. But she says things are changing.

“I think with a lot of the research coming out about accidental OD deaths on prescribed medication over the past several years that it hasn’t been as difficult a conversation. There’s been a huge push for improved opioid safety initiatives…and a huge push to offer alternatives.”

This Maine clinic is one of those alternatives currently being embraced at the VA in New England at Togus—the oldest VA facility in the country. It was the first of the fledgling regional homes for disabled volunteers to open in November 1866.

Vets are introduced to ACT during a five day interdisciplinary, intensive outpatient course. They are shown new ways to think about physical therapy, occupational therapy and complementary alternatives such as yoga to better their health and well-being. 

At the end of the week in a graduation ceremony, they tell their friends, family and support people what they’ve learned, what changes they want to make and how they will make those changes. They get a certificate and are asked to sign themselves back into a ‘full and meaningful life.' In doing so they make a commitment to themselves to do things for themselves.

“We have the vets come up with an action plan in the form of a diagram..We rely on it heavily. Towards on one side, and away on the other.”

‘We know from basic science that when a human being says out loud a commitment to do something, that commitment is 80% more likely to be followed through on.”

Invariably the families and caregivers are happy to see this. Anyone who’s spent time in recovery can describe their process in similar terms and family members with these experiences have the most recognition. 

“I mean its like AA or any other treatment program,” says Adcock. “People who are one step ahead and looking back explaining how to get there to the new guy.”

The eureka moment comes when they realize:

“All along they’ve being doing all these things (avoidance, denial, substance abuse, etc.) in the service of pain instead of the service of well-being or their family and the things they care about.” 

One of the biggest problems PCPs run into when helping a sufferer of chronic pain is when reliance on pain medication becomes an addiction. 

ACT can be useful in treating different substance abuse problems too. It allows for conversations on how different behaviors, including addictive behavior, get in the way of a full life. 

“Addictive behavior is no more stigmatized than any other behaviors. Acceptance of emotional reactions—not just about pain—but also about all sorts of internal reactions: Memory, feelings, emotions, thoughts, anything that would be going on inside the skin. We address it in the same way.”

The key word is "mindfulness":

“To watch these things occur (memory, thoughts etc.) and from that we get to choose – are we going to react to that experience? Or are we going to choose to do a behavior that moves us towards something that we care about?”

This therapy isn’t replacement for medication at all: 

“We have a broad perspective, a common language, to think about how to use any pain treatment for the purposes of getting back into life rather than simply the elimination of pain.” 

This approach allows PCPs to use meds more effectively. 

“Sometimes I have people I work with who use meds constantly and chronically and perhaps have a problem with medication. What we do is help someone to use meds more functionally. [For example,] if I know I react poorly to a medication perhaps I can I adjust when I take my doses, in order to be more able to engage with my family."

Sometimes it does mean getting off of painkillers altogether.

“I’ve worked with several vets who have come completely off narcotic pain meds and are maybe using some other nerve medication and they say things to me like: “Now I know that when I experience the pain, the pain makes me feel alive.”

One of the core goals of the ACT program at Togus is to get patients in touch with some of the things in their life they used to enjoy before the onset of chronic pain, to reintroduce them to things that gave their life meaning and value.

“What are the things in life that maybe you’ve given up because of pain and how are we going to work hand in hand in getting those things back for you?” She asks patients. 

“Specifically getting reengaged with the family, perhaps getting back to work, perhaps just getting engaged with the community. Acceptance of chronic pain as something’s that’s always going to be there. Something that hijacks the brain and takes over but it’s something we can learn to live with.”

Neville Elder is a regular contributor to The Fix. He's also a photographer and writer. Originally from the UK, he's lived in the unfashionable end of Brooklyn for 13 years. He last wrote about the farce of death penalty drugs, rock 'n roll recovery and early morning sober raves.

Hazy Outlook: The Struggle Between Employer Drug Testing and Legalized Marijuana
If you legally use medical marijuana on your own time, should your employer be able to fire you for a failed drug test?



The New York Times found itself in the headlines when the newspaper threw its weight behind the legalization of marijuana. Unfortunately, the decision also cast a cold light on the Times’ internal policies, which require employees to submit to testing for drugs, including marijuana. The resulting uproar, whichincluded a petition asking the publication to repeal its tests that was signed by more than 5,000 individuals, has brought into sharp focus one of the core issues inherent to the movement to legalize marijuana: can companies still enforce anti-drug rules in this increasingly pro-pot environment?

On one level, the answer remains an unquestionable yes. Though 20 states have legalized marijuana for medical use, very few have provided legal protection for patients. If employers have stated in their human resources handbooks that the use of marijuana or other drugs is against their company policy, employees can be dismissed, and prospective candidates will not be hired, if they draw a positive test for said substances. Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 drug on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Controlled Substances Act, which means that even in states like Washington or Colorado, where marijuana has been approved for medical and/or recreational use, it remains an illegal substance under federal law. “Employers hold all the cards,” said David Rheins, CEO of Seattle’s Marijuana Business Association. “If not using marijuana is in the contract, or the terms of the job, you can get fired.”

But attempts to enforce these policies to the letter of the law have nudged the issue into murky legal waters. Case in point: Michael Boyer, whose status as the first resident of Spokane, Washington, tolegally purchase recreational pot was documented on national television. Among those watching Boyer’s moment in the spotlight were his employers at TrueBlue Labor Ready, which immediately required him to submit a drug test. Boyer balked, knowing that his test would come back positive, which resulted in his dismissal. However, the attention generated by his plight spurred TrueBlue to reverse their decision and hire back Boyer on the grounds that they were unaware that he had taken the day off to make his historic purchase, and as such, would not be reporting impaired to that day’s work.

On the same day that Boyer bought weed, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes was photographed making a similar purchase at a local cannabis shop. Though minted as a forward-thinking hero to Washington’s pro-pot movement, Holmes later stated that he was in violation of Seattle’s drug-free workplace policies by bringing the substance to his office, where it remained unopened until he brought it home. Holmes later made a public apology and volunteered to donate $3,000 to the city’s Downtown Emergency Shelter. 

However, it may be the case of Dish Network employee Brandon Coats that eliminates gray areas in national policy. The Colorado resident, who is a quadriplegic due to a spinal injury that requires him to use a wheelchair, used marijuana to calm powerful muscle spasms that made it difficult for him to perform basic functions. Though he had a medical marijuana card issued by the state of Colorado and only used the substance in his own home after work hours, Dish Network fired Coats in 2010 for failing a drug test. Under Amendment 20 of the Colorado Constitution, employers are not required to “accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place,” but the law is not explicit in regard to whether employees can be dismissed for using medical marijuana at home. 

Coats sued the company on the grounds that his marijuana use was for medicinal purposes and legal in Colorado, but lost his cases at both the state and appellate levels, where judges ruled that Dish Network was within its rights to terminate Coats over use of a substance that was illegal under federal law. Coats has since appealed to the Colorado Supreme Court, which will hear arguments this summer before a ruling slated for early fall. If Coats should emerge victorious, the entire issue of drug testing for employees could be upended. “Employers really need to keep an eye on this decision, said Vance Knapp, a labor law attorney for the Denver firm Sherman & Howard. “[A favorable] decision would help other proponents of marijuana use in other states and other jurisdictions to support their argument that employees should have protections for using marijuana.” In short, the same protections afforded to employees who use alcohol and prescription drugs might be extended to marijuana users. As with the efforts of the marijuana legalization movement, both sides are looking at an uphill battle on an ill-defined landscape.

Paul Gaita is a Los Angeles-based writer. He has contributed to The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Amazon and The Los Angeles Beat, among other publications and sites.
Drop the Sin Talk: The Fix Q&A with Drew Brooks
Drew Brooks from Faith Partners discusses how congregations across the country are getting real with substance abuse prevention, intervention and more.

Drew Brooks


Faith Partners was established in 1995 by religious leaders seeking ways to mobilize the resources of the faith community to address alcohol and drug issues. The organization’s mission is to engage and assist people of faith in the development of caring communities that promote prevention of alcohol, tobacco and other drug abuse and to create a place where recovery from addiction is valued and supported.

As a recovering addict and practicing Christian, Drew Brooks, Executive Director of Faith Partners, understands the struggles of addiction. In recovery from alcohol and drug abuse since 1980, Brooks received chemical dependency counselor training at Hazelden in 1983-84. He worked in treatment, prevention and public health for years before finding his place at Faith Partners in 1999. “This job allows me to merge my professional life of working with treatment, prevention and public health with my personal life of faith and recovery,” he says. “Almost 60% of people don’t know where to go in their own congregation for help with addiction. Similarly, a congregational member has about a fifty-fifty chance of knowing where to go in their community for help. Part of our goal is to coordinate team members within congregations who can become educated on resources available to the community.”

Brooks talked with The Fix about the ins and outs of Faith Partners.

What is the program modeled after?

It was modeled after congregational team ministries established by Parkside Lutheran Hospital in the Chicago area in the 1970-80s who provided education on the disease and recovery resources. Our Faith Partners teams started primarily with awareness, education and recovery support. We have made the model more comprehensive and non-profit-based versus treatment center-based. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that roughly 30% of people who are legal drinking age abstain, 30% abuse alcohol or can be diagnosed as being alcoholics, and about 40% use and misuse alcohol providing multiple ministry and service points along this continuum. These numbers are true in most every community, especially in intergenerational communities like the faith community. But sometimes congregations will only get into recovery ministry and it will become kind of the step child of the congregation—something that happens in room 22. People know who goes intothat room, and it doesn’t necessarily get embraced by the whole congregation. However, almost everyone in a congregation has had to make a decision about alcohol or drug use at some point in their own lives or in the lives of their children or other loved ones. Plus, every transition in life is a time of vulnerability—for example, going from middle school to high school, getting married or divorced, having a first child, losing a job, retiring, grieving over loved ones. In fact, the largest growing population of alcoholism is seen in older adults who see more and more people they love die, their bodies and minds start to fail them, [they are] starting to take more medications, and some [are] struggling with purpose in their retirement years. My point is that congregations are a place where all generations intertwine, so providing information about substance abuse in this setting reaches across many generational lines.

How does Faith Partners help congregations?

We have three underlying goals to our training. 1. Creating a safe place. 2. Having the conversation within the congregation. 3. Meeting people where they’re at in their experience and decision-making. 

We hold a leadership one-day training where we involve clergy, staff, and lay leaders, so they can understand what Faith Partners is about. It’s followed up with a team training session to educate the team and congregation about prevention, addiction, and recovery, as well as where we introduce them to prevention resources in their community or to a gatekeeper who can open their world to prevention, intervention, advocacy, and resources. Once members begin to understand the issues, they begin to see where their interests may be. It’s an organic approach, tailored to meet the needs of each congregation. 

Although organic, it becomes concrete when you create that awareness and you understand the readiness and the receptiveness of the congregation and meet them where they’re at in education and recovery support. At one congregation, there were two social workers on the team who wanted to have support groups in the congregation, but a survey of their members showed that the congregation wanted help with prevention. The social workers still wanted to hold the support groups, and of course, nobody attended. Each congregation has to understand what their congregation wants. This involves some assessing, capacity building, planning, implementation, and evaluation.

How are the teams set up?

They are a group of lay people who are interested in becoming educated about addiction and in helping their congregation and community address it. They’re often in recovery themselves or have been touched by addiction, and they see the church as an effective educational platform of support. 

Teams are trained in five areas of service including prevention, early intervention, referral assistance, recovery support, and advocacy. Some teams might address one of these areas and others might address all. Some might take one at a time and move on to others as they get a better understanding of the issue and as more people get involved. The ultimate goal is for them to choose programs to meet the needs of their congregational community.

Are you working with mostly Christian congregations?

We have close to 400 trained teams in 24 states in 20 different faith traditions that are primarily Christian, but we do work with Jewish and Muslim congregations as well. The culture of any congregation is different even if they’re from the same faith tradition, depending on the region of the country they’re in. An Episcopalian from Portland Oregon is much different than an Episcopalian from Massachusetts as is a Baptist in Kentucky to a Methodist in Kentucky to a Lutheran in Minnesota. They all theologically approach this differently. Some see it as a sin, and some understand the disease, and embrace the brain research, while others incorporate both. What we say in our training is that we are not here in one day or two days to change your theology; we would be pretty arrogant to think we can change that. But what we want you to do is to rub up against your own theology and to evaluate if it’s an effective response to those families and individuals experiencing addiction.

We also have experienced that the structure and framework of Muslim congregations isn’t necessarily about programming, but more around meeting in prayer so it’s a little more challenging in these settings. In 2007 and 2008, we were invited to speak at the annual conference of the Islamic Society of North America. One of our past advisory council members is Muslim and he spoke about how substance abuse is never discussed because it’s against the religion to drink, yet abuse happens across all religions. In the Muslim community, it’s creating that safe place, having the conversation, and then organically starting to respond based on the needs and receptiveness of the individuals, congregation, and community.

How do congregations reach their members through advocacy?

One congregation in Minnesota did a quarterly forum during their adult education hour where they had somebody come in and talk about gambling, eating disorders, sexual addiction, alcohol and how these affect families. At first, they had about 10 people and then it grew to 75-100 people. People began to realize that just because they walked in the door to get the information didn’t mean they had one of the issues discussed, but that it was a time to understand and learn how to respond to those who do. Having a regular time to educate the congregation allows individuals and families to step into the ministry and share their stories rather than just having congregation leaders tell them what to do. One of the first steps to advocacy is being comfortable with your own story in your own skin and hopefully being able to share that story of transformation. There was a woman in Wisconsin who was in Al-Anon for 24 years and she came to a leadership training. When asked to share her story, her response was, “Oh. I could never tell my story.” 

Unfortunately, this limited her story to inside the four walls of Al-Anon. Another woman in a congregation had been coming to the congregational team meetings for about six months before she came to me and said, “I finally figured out what I want to do to help in this ministry. My son has been in every system—legal, disciplinary, mental health, and substance abuse, and as a parent I didn’t have a clue how to navigate these systems. I want other parents to know what to do.” So she developed a parent advocacy group.

Do you address behavioral addictions and mental health issues?

We’d like to, but again, it’s meeting a congregation where they’re at. Some might think mental illnesses are an issue that mental health clinics should address, not a church. However, it takes about three to five years for this ministry to become part of a congregation. Since we don’t want to go in there overwhelming people, we start with substance abuse since it’s been talked about for a little longer, and there’s less stigma around it than say sexual addiction. Shortly after the program is set up, leaders will begin to start addressing all addictions. Then eventually after addressing these, they’ll realize that mental health issues should be addressed too as they start to realize that so many mental illnesses coexist with an addiction. It naturally evolves in that direction, but the worlds are a little different. Mental health doesn’t necessarily talk about recovery in the sense that substance abuse does. You don’t usually hear a schizophrenic or a person dealing with depression say they’re in recovery, they’re more likely to say they’re seeing a therapist or taking medication. Part of the issue is that the fields need to educate each other so that for people who are new to them, it’s less confusing and they are able to understand that there are common denominators. For instance, both mental illnesses and addictions are brain diseases – although they often affect different parts of the brain.

What addiction treatment options are encouraged?

We know that there are many pathways to recovery and that we have to present options that fit each individual’s or congregation’s beliefs. For instance, some faith traditions might say using the idea of higher power in 12 step programs is introducing a false God. Other congregations might be open to a spiritual transformation approach, which might include 12 step programs. Others might be open to the idea of people getting into recovery through a religious conversion. Others include Smart recovery, 12 step recovery, Christian counseling, therapy, it’s whatever the congregation and theology and religious tradition will embrace.

Do all treatment options presented to congregations have a spiritual component?

Many times religious leaders will tell addicts that finding a God is all they need for recovery. That is an uninformed stance. However, spirituality as a supplement to recovery can be effective. A person’s family, work life, and every aspect of their life have to be part of recovery. 

Some people will tell me that they have to go to a Christian counselor. While I respect that, I make sure to tell them that it will limit their options, especially if that is not available within a community. Faith Partners embraces faith and science. For the longest time the two have been like two ships passing in the night. There are some faith traditions that are very skeptical of science. We try to introduce the science, whether it be brain research, motivational interviewing, stages of change, or other ideas. There are also practitioners of science that are skeptical about certain theologies. We advocate for each institution informing the other.

What would you say to people who insist that spirituality doesn’t have a place in recovery?

There’s no doubt there are multiple paths to recovery. However, a person in recovery is limited if there isn’t a spiritual component. Spirituality, defined in the research article, “So Help Me God” by Joseph Califano of the Center of Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, is a personal and individualized response to God, a higher power or an animating force in the world. It’s something outside of ourselves that touches something within us. The 12-step program which describes growing along spiritual lines as creating a right relationship with ourselves, others, and God, and without those, we’re more likely going to relapse. I’ve yet to see a growing and long-lasting recovery that has not had a spiritual component.

One of the things that I’d say to people on the outside looking in is that there is a difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is a core set of beliefs that is shared by a community through practices, rituals and forms of governance that determine how these beliefs are expressed. In some cases, if you don’t abide by them, you might be excluded from the religion. Many people are leaving their church because they don’t find that it’s spiritual, and they’re able to develop their own personal response to God without a religion. Although I’m an active Christian, I understand this sentiment. If people witness hypocrisy in organized religion, why would they want to be part of it?

Has your approach helped any clergy along the way?

In the early 2000s, our parent organization Johnson Institute partnered with the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NaCOA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) to develop a list of core competencies for clergy. NaCOA now offers a one-day clergy education training, while Faith Partners have a two-day training session. Each session equips clergy to be able to respond to addiction. Faith Partners also encourages clergy to embrace the congregational team ministry because it can expand their pastoral care so they don’t have to know all the resources in the community or be the expert on 12-step programs since they would have a group of lay people doing that work for them. Clergy used to be one of the healthiest professions in the 50s and 60s, but now it’s one of the unhealthy professions because often clergy are expected to meet the congregation’s needs 24-7. There tends to be a lack of boundaries. Our program shows them how they can reach out to experts in the field and members of their congregation for ministry support to help address substance abuse and addiction.

This may seem commonsensical, but we know that the key for these congregational teams to get going is to have an understanding and supportive clergy. There are times that clergy are suffering with addiction issues and either want to avoid the subject or invite it in so they can come in the backdoor. This also happens with members of the congregation who volunteer to be team members. In both cases, it’s still a good way to bring the ministry to the congregation. On the other hand, we’ve had some clergy sabotage the programs because they have addiction and don’t want to address it or because they don’t believe it’s the congregation’s place. 

Is it a goal of Faith Partners to get people to join a congregation?

It might be for some congregations, but that’s an ill-advised motivation because people will see right through it if it is the primary purpose. Our first motivation is to create a safe place for those who are broken, meeting them in their felt need, and if this leads to embracing the community through this transformational process, that is God’s doing.

How extensive is church acceptance of treatment over jail?

It depends on if the congregation sees addiction as a sin or disease. We suggest that they embrace both. For instance, in the 12-step program, the first step is the only step dealing with the physical disease of powerlessness (physical compulsion and mental obsession) – it is the remaining 11 steps that deal with the wreckage that being active in their addiction has created – for many that can be defined as sin. Our work with clergy and congregations is to see that it can be both, but the timing to introduce alcoholism as a disease and the accompanying sin is critical in meeting people where they are in their experience and their understanding.

Having said that, if the consequences are that the person needs to go to jail, it may be an intervention for them to seek help. However, I would argue that most people in jail for drug and alcohol [related offenses] have committed non-violent crimes, and treatment would be the better answer. There’s drug courts that are moving people toward treatment, such as attending 12-step meetings. There are pros and cons to that. For instance, can this practice create a perception that attending 12-step programs is a punishment? Ultimately, addiction is a disease. Addicts aren’t bad people trying to get good, we’re sick people trying to get well. But addicts do break the law. I broke the law, I just didn’t get caught. Ideally, we’d like to see people get treatment and start moving toward their own wholeness rather than being forced into it through fear, pain and anger.

How is Faith Partners funded?

In the big picture, through private donations, fees for service and federal contracts with organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Individually, it is a network of congregations, a community coalition, an agency, a denomination, or a state that requests our services. For instance, a clergy association may ask us to come into their area and work with their congregations, so we develop a contract with them and they pay for the costs. Other times a prevention center might contribute a grant toward the funding in its area. Another example, in the mid-2000s, we were endorsed by the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church resulting in our working for four years with the United Methodist Church around the country engaging their congregations.

For the past three years, we’ve been involved with the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services on the prevention side. They have 17 regional prevention centers which equip and resource communities. What we have done is give the regional prevention centers the tools they need to be able to give congregations the knowledge they need to start this ministry or service in their congregations. We’ve trained several people so once Faith Partners steps away, they know how to go to the next community interested in this and then as communities develop receptiveness, this state coordinated cadre of trainers will provide the training. It’s pretty exciting for us to reach people in this way by equipping the faith community to help individuals and families get the help that they need.

To learn more about Faith Partners, visit