Addiction Reporting at The Atlantic Magazine

In 2014,  Atlantic Magazine reporter Jake Flanagin wrote The Surprising Failures of 12 Steps. This article highlights how traditional 12 step programs have failed their members, but it also discusses why people still are drawn to these groups.  Flanigan mentions that 12 step programs have low success rates because members often relapse and leave the program. He also explains how the prevalence of religion in the 12 step programs can be problematic for atheists or members of other religions. In addition to this, the article refers to Dr. Lance Dodes’ book The Sober Truth, which says that no scientific study has been able to prove or disprove the 12 step program’s efficiency.  Despite these issues, 12 step programs are still very popular because they provide a sense of community for their members.  Flanigan says “pills, therapy, data and evidence aren’t necessarily enough” to treat addiction, because the disorder is so strongly linked to self-worth and emotional instability.  He goes on to say that until mainstream society stops shaming substance use disorders, individuals seeking recovery will continue to go to 12 step programs to satisfy their need for community. He does not discuss alternatives to 12 step programs, such as smart recovery or medicated-assisted recovery.  Flanigan does not discuss a potential solution for these issues because his piece follows the protocol for traditional journalism. Therefore, he only included the “who, what, why, when, where and how,” in his article.

A year later, reporter Gabrielle Glaser wrote a long form solutions piece for The Atlantic titled The Irrationality of Alcoholics Anonymous. Glaser outlines the failures of traditional 12 step programs by including stories from individuals who dropped out of AA, and by providing data and statistics to back up her claims. She then discusses alternative addiction recovery programs, like a treatment model in Finland that had a 75 percent success rate in reducing alcohol consumption. The program’s success is a result of prescribing naltrexone to patients. This drug can save users from overdosing, and when taken regularly, it can decreases one’s desire to take opiates or drink alcohol. Glaser also discusses the failures of this solution. Many people in long term recovery need to be motivated to keep taking naltrexone for various reasons. For example, people in long term recovery may want to stop taking naltrexone so they can experience the desirable effects of alcohol or opiates again. Naltrexone is also not suitable for everyone and may have undesirable effects or interactions with other medications. While there are alternatives to naltrexone, some patients may be unable to find a similar medication that works for them. Glaser backs up her claims with research and expert opinions. By highlighting the failures of this solution, Glaser shows that this alternative treatment program can be effective for some, but it is not a “silver bullet” solution for all people in long term addiction recovery.

About the author

Meghan Costa

Meghan Costa studies journalism and psychology at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She writes for the schools newspaper, The Temple News and works as an editorial intern at the office of the senior vice provost of strategic communications. After graduation, Meghan hopes to stay in Philadelphia and write for a magazine or newspaper. She would like to specialize in mental health reporting, but she is open to any and all opportunities that come her way. Meghan also has a strong passion for creative writing, and is always looking to collaborate with other creatives on projects of any kind. Some of her favorite writers include e.e Cummings, T.S. Elliot, and Kurt Vonnegut. Meghan is originally from West Chester, which is a suburb of the Philadelphia area. Contact Meghan at tuf87094@temple.edu.

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By Meghan Costa