Can we be successful at beating addiction if we don’t abstain altogether? Annie Grace welcomes back her first-ever, second-time guest, Dr. Adi Jaffe in today’s episode to discuss his book, “The Abstinence Myth.” Dr. Jaffe’s unique perspective regarding addiction and abstinence is captivating and refreshing, giving hope where all seems hopeless!

Episode Links:
The Abstinence Myth: A New Approach for Overcoming Addiction Without Shame, Judgment, Or Rules by Dr. Adi Jaffe
The Abstinence Myth Website
IGNTD Podcast

Download EP:111 Transcript

Something Different

I’d been mauling over an idea for a book, but I, honestly, I didn’t want to create another in my field and in kinda the academic world of addiction. There are all these tones, all these 350 page books that explore the meaning of addiction and what it is. And I didn’t really want to do that. I wanted to create something that will be useful for people that they could pick up. This thing is like 120 pages. I had started as 500 pages and thankfully my editor helped me cut it down, but I wanted to create something that was really, really useful for people.

The Abstinence Myth

The thing that I wanted to make clear that people understood right off the bat is just how anti the status quo I am. And so we ended up calling the book The Abstinence Myth. I couldn’t really be much clear about some of the problems that I have with the field in them, but it’s a mix between like the academic view of where addiction has gone out and actionable. Every chapter ends with exercises and there’s a three principle nine step kind of plan for people to follow along if they want to get help with their struggles and whether those struggles are with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, or anything in between. So I’m really excited about it.

Three Myths

There are three different myths that I really talk about in the book. The first one is the myth of abstinence as the starting point for recovery. And I think it’s one of the most unfortunate things and I will scream this from every rooftop that I get and use my use my soapbox to say this as many times as possible because we have grown up to understand that it’s a necessity. That if you’re not willing to commit to abstinence, you’re not ready for recovery. People literally will tell others who want to go to rehab, who want to get help, “Come back when you’re ready to quit.”

It’s Not Working

The problem with that is … And I, didn’t bring charts or anything like that for sharing a screen, but you’ve seen this stuff. A new study just came out. We’re losing more and more people every year. And that trend has been ongoing for decades. And so my point that I make to a lot of people is look, I don’t care what you believe in. The current system isn’t working. Period. If more people are dying from drug addiction every single year we have to change something and we have to stop blaming them. I put placing abstinence as what I call the guard at the gate for recovery as one of the first problems that we need to stop.

Wanting Help

What everybody does is, “Hey, you’re an alcoholic. You have to quit drinking.” That’s what everybody does. It’s not a unique situation for her. It’s the most prevalent thing that ends up happening is, “Oh, you’re an alcoholic. You must quit.” And the point I make is, again, you know about some of my research, but when I was a post doc at UCLA and I did research, more than 50% of my participants said that a very important or important reason why they didn’t enter treatment because they like drinking or using too much to quit. Everybody else said the exact same thing that this woman’s potential sponsors said, which is, “Well, you’re not ready for help.” And people would literally tell me this, “Well those participants are not motivated for help.” And I said, “Why do you say that? The only reason they’re in my study is because they were looking for treatment. That’s how we recruited people.

Changing Treatment

What we are telling them is, “Well, if you don’t want this kind of help, then you’re not really looking for help.” And then we wonder why 90% of people, 90% of people don’t go get treatment. They don’t go get treatment because we are literally telling them, “What you want is not the right thing.” Now, I don’t know about you, but imagine if any other industry worked this way. Imagine if when you went to the movies, they told you what movie you have to watch or imagine if you went to a restaurant and somebody said, “Well, today you are eating this dish.” and you say, “Well I don’t want this dish. I was kinda hoping for this other thing that I’ve had here before.” And they go, “Well, obviously you’re not hungry so don’t, don’t come in.” It’s fricking ridiculous. It’s absurd.

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Dispelling The Abstinence Myth

So the first myth to me is that we have to first commit to abstinence. Abstinence if it’s the right thing for somebody. And I think for a lot of people it is the right thing, by the way. But if it’s the right thing, that should come later. After we gave them help, abstinence should be there. So that’s the first thing. The second piece is that abstinence is how we should measure success. And my point about this, that myth, is how … Like if you walk into an AA meeting or almost anytime, how do you know if somebody is doing well, you ask them, “How long have you been sober?” If they tell you four days they’re at this level of recovery. They tell you 30 days, they’re at this level of recovery. If they tell you 35 years they’re up here. We measure success by abstinence.

Quitting Isn’t Treatment

That’s not what people came into treatment for. People don’t come to treatment to quit. People come to treatment because they have a slew of problems in their life and they’re looking to resolve those. And everybody listening to this right now, and obviously Annie through … I’ve read your book and we’ve talked a lot of times before, you know these things, right? Like they’re waking up really tired and lethargic and with headaches because they drink too much ,or their husband or wife just threatened that they’re going to leave if they keep tweaking this way, or they almost got fired or they did get fired from their job because of their substance use, or they’re using porn. Whatever the thing is that they’re doing, it’s those are the things they’re looking to fix. We just told them that the way to do that is to measure success by whether or not they’ve quit.


My point is it works unfortunately, in two ways that are counterproductive to recovery. The first is there a lot of people with 25, 30 years of recovery and miserable frickin’ lives. I don’t call that successful recovery, right? I’m not saying go back out and drink, but you need to figure out what’s not working in your life if you’re unhappy in your recovery. There are normally a laundry list of things that need to be addressed. And the second piece is on the flip side of that, there are people who are struggling with abstinence, but are actually progressing really, really well in other areas of life. And that is not getting acknowledged at all because we don’t measure success by whether you’re able to hold a job, or whether your relationship with your wife has improved, or whether you’re better able to take care of your kids, or engage in exercise. We don’t measure success by those things. So the second myth is the fact that we should stop measuring success of treatment and recovery by abstinence alone.


We also have the fact that recovery shouldn’t be first. Recovery is not that the only thing that should be measured.

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