7 Tools to Beat Addiction

Chapter 1

Values: Building on Your Values Foundation

Values play a critical role in addiction—and your values are likely to be the key to your escaping addiction. This is a matter of both considering what your values are and sometimes refocusing on dormant values or even developing new ones. When you can truly experience how a habit is damaging what is most important to you, the steps out of your destructive habit often fall readily into place.

While you can utilize any of a wide range of values in your fight against addiction—and to a certain extent you can go with whatever works for you—it is not true that all values are equally useful in this fight. Some values even support continued bad habits and compulsions.

In this chapter we will examine values that are the most antiaddictive and that support your independence, and how you can use your own values as a tool to fight addiction. Exercises geared toward identifying and utilizing your values are provided at the end of the chapter.

What Are Values? Do They Really Matter?

Your values are your beliefs that some things are right and good and others wrong and bad, that some things are more important than others, and that one way of doing things is better than another.Values are usually deeply held—they come from your earliest learning and background. Values reflect what your parents taught you, what you learned in school and religious institutions, and what the social and cultural groups you belong to hold to be true and right.

It is impossible to maintain that values don’t matter in addiction or its cure. The best predictor of whether college students will have an alcohol problem is their attitudes toward drinking—that is, whether it’s okay, even good, to binge.[1] On the other hand, what makes some people join AA and quit drinking? It is because they have decided their drinking is wrong, even beyond its negative health impact for them. For people in the United States who have a drinking problem—or are told by others that they have one—treatment consists mainly of convincing them that their drinking is bad and harmful, and that they should quit.

Values are important to all addictions, and not just addictive drinking and drug taking. If you compulsively gamble, shop, or have affairs, then your values are on display. Many people feel good and get a boost to their self-esteem from shopping. However, most of these people don’t consistently spend beyond their limits. They refrain from overspending because they don’t think it’s right. They recognize that overspending would keep them from upholding other important values, like paying their debts or providing for their children, and so they curtail their expenditures.

The same principle applies to pursuing sexual opportunities to the exclusion of productive activity. Most people enjoy sex, but they avoid compulsive or random sex because they feel it’s wrong. If you engage in indiscriminate sex, then you are signaling either that you see little wrong in it or that the other values in your life are less important than the good feelings you derive from such sex. If you are willing to accept this picture of your values, then so be it. If, on the other hand, you have other values that run against compulsive sexual activity, eating, or shopping, then these values can serve as an important tool with which to root out your addiction.

Many people find that alcohol is tremendously relaxing, sexually exhilarating, or provides some other powerful, welcome feeling—but they do not become alcoholics. They simply refuse to go there. Have you ever heard someone say, “I know that when I have more than one drink, I throw all caution to the wind”? Most people who react so violently to alcohol say, “That’s why I limit myself to a single drink” or “That’s why I don’t drink.” But alcoholics regularly override this realization about their reactions to alcohol and continue to drink.

Some people who are tense by nature find that smoking is one way to relax. Yet many such people still refuse to smoke. Many simply rule it out of their lives for any of a variety of reasons —health, appearance, or their general feeling that it’s bad.

Values do not simply dictate whether you do or don’t try a drink, a cigarette, or a drug. They also influence whether you continue to indulge in an activity or substance and how much you will allow your indulgence to affect your life before you limit or quit your involvement. Finally, at a deeper level, values determine how intensely and how irreversibly you become addicted. They also play a major role in whether or not you choose to quit after you become addicted.

Constructive Involvements

Some values directly contradict addictions. If you have these values, they help you to fight addiction. And if you don’t, developing such values is potentially a critical therapeutic tool. (This occurs through involvement and success in positive activities, which I describe in later chapters.)

Values can be expressed by statements about what you think is right and wrong, or about your preferences, such as “I value our relationship,” “I value my health,” “I believe in hard work,” “Nothing is more important to me than my children,” or “It is embarrassing to be out of control of yourself.” All of these values oppose addiction. Other values, or an absence of values, can reinforce addiction. For example, if you don’t think that it’s wrong to be intoxicated or high, if it’s not important to you to fulfill your obligations to other people, or if you don’t care whether you succeed at work, then you are more likely to sustain an addiction. The exercises at the end of this chapter will give you a chance to explore how your values contribute to or oppose addictive involvements.


ACHIEVEMENT —accomplishing constructive and socially valued goals, such as participating in athletics, running for office, getting an education, succeeding at work, or providing for your family

CONSCIOUSNESS —being alert, awake, and aware of your surroundings; using your mind to make sense out of your life and experience

ACTIVITY —being energetic in daily life and engaged in the world around you

HEALTH —eating well, exercising, getting health care, and choosing an overall healthy lifestyle

RESPONSIBILITY —fulfilling your commitments as well as doing what the law obliges you to do

SELF-RESPECT —caring for and about yourself and, by extension, all people

COMMUNITY —being involved in the communities of which you are part (your town, school, work organization, religious group, neighborhood, political party) and contributing to the welfare of these groups—and the larger world

How Do Values Fight Addiction?

To say that your values influence your desire and ability to fight addiction is to say that you act in line with what you believe in and what you care about. Such values can be remarkably potent. For example, I heard a woman say, “I used to smoke, and sometimes I think of going back to it. However, now that I have small children, I would sooner cut my fingers off with a kitchen knife then start smoking again.” Even if this woman fell to temptation and smoked one cigarette, it is highly unlikely that she would relapse entirely.

In her memoir, Room to Grow, actress Tracey Gold described her life-threatening anorexia. When she appeared on the Today show to discuss the book, host Matt Lauer asked her the standard disease question:Was she over the disease, or was it still with her? “It’s my Achilles’ heel,” she said, “but I have two small children, and I could never fall all the way back.”

Observing this new sense of identity and resolve in new parents should make you think, quite sensibly, “This person couldn’t be an alcoholic or a drug addict; she cares too much about herself and her family.” But in the alcoholism and addiction field, we are told that if we believe these people have really become much more resistant to addiction, we are deluding ourselves. Likewise, when you observe some rock star, actress, or athlete enter a drug or alcohol treatment center, you are discouraged from thinking that you could never let yourself go wrong like that. It is always worth maintaining your empathy and humility. At the same time, it is also valuable to appreciate that you wouldn’t put yourself in a position like that, not when you have kids, satisfying work, and basic self-respect.

As a society, and as individuals, we need to grasp that there is no more important facilitator or antidote to addiction than our values. For example, people who value clear thinking will shy away from regular intoxication. Likewise, a responsible person highly concerned for his family’s well-being would not allow himself to shop or gamble away his family’s money. People who are focused on their health will be reluctant, or refuse, to drink excessively or to take drugs.

A prime example of a person whose values helped him to overcome an addiction is my uncle Ozzie. As you will remember from the introduction, Ozzie quit smoking forever based on what seemed like a chance statement by a coworker that Ozzie was “a sucker for the tobacco companies.”We are now prepared to answer the question of why Uncle Ozzie quit.

Remember that Ozzie was a committed union activist. The most important value governing Ozzie’s life was the desire to maintain his integrity and independence from his employer, who symbolized for Ozzie the entire capitalist system. As a shop steward, he regularly demonstrated the strength of his convictions by pressing worker complaints and defending fellow union members, even though he felt he was punished by being sent out on service calls to the worst neighborhoods.

Intentionally or not, Ozzie’s coworker’s statement that he was a sucker for the tobacco companies hit Ozzie in his value solar plexus. This colleague made Ozzie see a connection between his anticorporate values and his smoking, producing the revelation that smoking ran counter to his overwhelming desire to be free from company control. When Ozzie realized that smoking compromised the most important element in his self-definition . . . well in that moment smoking didn’t stand a chance. After finishing the last pack he purchased, Ozzie never smoked again.

 Where Do Antiaddiction Values Come From?

Children learn values from the people around them. Most importantly, they learn values from their parents or the people who raise them. But people also learn many values from their peers and the groups that they belong to. The process by which people learn values is called “social learning.” And these values sometimes have a remarkable impact on people’s lives—particularly when it comes to alcohol, drugs, and addiction.

Research regularly demonstrates the power of shared values in relation to alcohol. In the 1950s a sociologist noted that he had never seen anyone drunk in New York ’s Chinatown . Intrigued, he undertook a study of this community.[2] The sociologist perused the arrest records in the local precinct between the years 1933 and 1949. He discovered that 15,515 arrests had been recorded in Chinatown , but not one of these arrests included an observation of drunkenness. After further examining drinking styles, attitudes, and social occasions in Chinatown , the sociologist, Milton Barnett, wrote:

The children drank, and they soon learned a set of attitudes that attended the practice. While drinking was socially sanctioned, becoming drunk was not. The individual who lost control of himself under the influence of liquor was ridiculed and, if he persisted in his defection, ostracized. His lack of continued moderation was regarded not only as a personal shortcoming, but as a deficiency of the family as a whole. [3]

Pretty powerful stuff! In this day and age, social shaming might seem outdated, ludicrous, even psychologically damaging. Nonetheless, within Chinese culture—a very large group worldwide—it has been a very effective technique for training children.

Few other communities are as unified in their values as Chinatown was in the 1950s. However, ethnic and religious groups still convey strong values about substance use and abuse.

One group long noted for its distinctive drinking style is the Jews. In 2000 an exhibit entitled “Drink and Be Merry:Wine and Beer in Ancient Times” came to the Jewish Museum of New York . The exhibit pointed out that Jews had, since antiquity, developed a ritualistic, moderate approach to alcohol consumption that contrasted with the periodic, orgiastic use of alcohol by neighboring tribes.

When the claim is made that Jews have historically been moderate drinkers, objections are always raised that this is no longer true. For example, whenever I mention this fact to an AA member in Los Angeles or New York , the person starts listing Jewish alcoholics he or she knows who attend their AA group.

Two upstate New York researchers, Barry Glassner and Bruce Berg, heard the same claims—and believed them. Both reported that they personally knew an alcoholic Jew who hid his drinking. Both had read accounts that traditionally low Jewish alcoholism rates were rising. They consulted with experts, one of whom claimed that the Jewish alcoholism rate was growing alarmingly.

However, after conducting intensive interviews designed to elicit hidden alcohol problems, the researchers failed to uncover a single Jewish alcohol abuser among a random sample of Jewish respondents.[4] Not one respondent they questioned had been intoxicated more than a few times. Only a quarter of the sample had even heard rumors of Jews with drinking problems—generally stories about distant relatives. The accuracy of these self-reports, ironically,was upheld by the very alcoholism expert who had issued an alarm on Jewish alcoholism to the investigators. The so-called expert on Jewish alcoholism reported that in a city of about ten thousand Jews, he knew of five Jewish alcoholics. Even this microscopic number was questioned by the other experts the researchers consulted, who said they knew at most of one or two Jews with a drinking problem.

All in all, the Jews and the Chinese are striking examples of how groups around the world determine behavior toward powerful intoxicants such as alcohol.[5] And although it may be true that these groups do not hold sway over their members as they did in earlier decades in America , they nonetheless demonstrate how powerful, enduring, and decisive socialization by family, religious, and cultural groups can be in insulating people throughout their lives against addiction.

How do these groups teach the value of moderation? Glassner and Berg identified four factors or techniques that enabled Jews to avoid drinking problems (and which in fact closely resemble what we saw of Chinese American techniques):

  1. Learning moderate drinking in childhood. Jews in the study usually had their first drink as children, “in the home as a part of religious ceremonies (Jewish tradition includes wine drinking at weekly Sabbath ceremonies and holidays, notably Passover) . . . only about 5% of the sample recalled their first drinks as (occurring) outside the family and later than childhood.”
  2. Insulation by peers. As adults they associated almost exclusively with moderate drinkers, often other Jews. When they observed others drinking badly, they rejected those people. As one subject in the study said: “This one guy was making a real ass of himself. He’d had too much to drink and it made everyone uncomfortable. I guess our friends just are not heavy drinkers. . . . I think he eventually got the message, because he was one of the first to leave.”
  3. Refusal skills. Jewish interviewees were “generally unafraid to offer an assertive ‘no’ when they are encouraged to drink more than they wish.”A typical respondent declared, “If everybody is drinking and I feel like having a drink I’ll have a drink. If everybody is drinking and I don’t want a drink, I don’t drink.”
  4. Viewing alcoholics as outsiders. Jewish respondents associated heavy drinking and alcoholism with non-Jews.The authors noted that Jews commonly use the Yiddish expression shikker vie a goy (drunk as a Gentile). As one respondent claimed, “It sounds like a stupid generalization, but non-Jewish people drink more heavily than Jewish people. That’s a generalization I’ve been brought up with . . . and I still think it’s true.”[6]

Combining Glassner and Berg’s research with studies of other low-alcoholism cultures, such as Chinese, Greek, Italian, and Spanish, we can extract the following values taught by low-alcoholism cultures and groups:

  1. Drinking is accepted but is socially governed, and people are taught to behave within clear boundaries.
  2. People are taught to identify good and bad styles of drinking, to place a high value on drinking properly, and to disapprove of bad drinking styles.
  3. Alcohol is not seen to remove personal control, and the individual is held responsible for his or her alcohol consumption and behavior while drinking.

Think now about how you were introduced to alcohol and, if your family drank, how alcohol was dealt with at home. Did your parents drink regularly at dinner or at cocktail hour? Did your parents regularly have parties where alcohol was served? Or did they bring out alcohol on special family occasions? In any case, was the drinking a controlled and positive experience? Were you allowed to have small amounts of alcohol as a child on these occasions?

On the other hand, did one or both of your parents consume alcohol alone, even secretly?

Overall, how did you feel about the drinking you observed at home? How has this affected your own drinking experiences?

Finally, how do you treat—or plan to treat—alcohol in the family you now have or envision having? Do you expect to consume alcohol with your children present? On what occasions and in what manner will you drink? Do you plan to offer your children tastes of alcohol?

There are no right answers to these questions. If you come from a family of origin that did not drink or had negative drinking rituals or habits, you might not feel comfortable drinking with your own family. In any case, however, you should think through your approach to this critical question.

 Exceptions and the Rule: At-Risk Children

Generally speaking, being raised in a community that instills values of moderation, health, and responsibility will help a person avoid addiction. People with these values are less likely to become addicted and, if they do become addicted, they will have an easier time fighting the addiction. However, there are exceptions to these rules. If we go to a local park and watch the people who get up at dawn to run, we would expect very few to be drug addicts, alcoholics, or smokers. And we would be right. But, as we know, some professional athletes do become addicts or alcoholics. What are we to make of such glaring exceptions to the idea that people who value their health won’t harm themselves with drugs and booze?

We can provide several explanations for these exceptions. First of all, not all good, or even great, athletes value their bodies and health as much as we might think. (Mickey Mantle was a prime example.) As children, they might have learned to place a strong emphasis on their performance, but not necessarily on taking care of their bodies. Second, when we see that some professional athletes from deprived backgrounds succumb to addictions, we need to think about the many people from similar backgrounds who are not athletes—the prevalence of alcohol and drug problems among young men in these communities is far higher than it is for professional athletes.

Take the example of two children, one of whom has been well cared for, values himself or herself, feels he or she has a great future, and cares very much about his or her health.The other child has not been so well cared for, thinks that no matter what he or she does the future is bleak, has regularly seen people smoke and drink to excess, and cares little about his or her health.

Do you think each of these children is equally likely to become a drug or alcohol addict? Do you think it is important for you to raise your child to be more like the former child? Why?

Although most of us recognize that the former parenting techniques are superior, we are simultaneously given the message (via the disease theory of alcoholism and other addictions) that how you treat your children has no impact on their likelihood of being substance abusers. In fact, we know that these two hypothetical children are not equally likely to become drug addicts, and research on high-risk children, which I review later in the book, proves what you already know to be true.

 Social Class and Addiction

Newspapers and experts love to warn that addiction and alcoholism strike doctors as well as day laborers, professors as well as bus drivers, politicians as well as gardeners, and so on. Data from epidemiologic research about drinking in the United States shows that this is not true. That is, the better educated a person is and the higher the person’s income, the more likely that person is to drink in America , but to drink without problems. Conversely, “the highest rates of abstention, but also of problem drinking and of alcohol disorder, are found in lower social classes.”[7]

The same is true in the case of drugs. Many people experiment with drugs in the United States . In fact, inner-city youths and adults are no more likely to try drugs than those in our prosperous suburbs. This is an important realization, because a disproportionate number of the people in jail for using drugs are from inner cities. This injustice results because drug enforcement is disproportionately imposed on people of color and poor people, whose drug consumption is more public.[8]

Nonetheless, not all those who use drugs are equally likely to become and to stay addicts. For example, in the early 1980s, when cocaine became highly popular in the United States, many people were said to become addicted to it. Public health efforts were launched to alert Americans to the dangers of cocaine. By 1987, the entire profile of cocaine use in the country had changed. Middle-class use dropped drastically, while cocaine use and addiction moved “down the social ladder,” according to David Musto, a Yale psychiatrist.[9]

The migration of cocaine use—and addiction—down the social ladder was not surprising. It was foreshadowed by what had already happened with a legal substance, nicotine. When the serious health risks of smoking were first announced by the surgeon general in 1964, about 35 percent of adult Americans smoked cigarettes. This percentage did not vary according to people’s educational level.Within twenty-five years, significant numbers of Americans had stopped smoking. But this cessation of smoking did not occur evenly across the population. In 1987, about the same 35 percent of those with a high school education or less still smoked. Yet just half that proportion of college grads smoked! [10]

Over time, all people have a chance to catch up, and smoking has declined among all social groups in America (just as crack use has declined in inner cities). Whereas in 1991 37 percent of African American men and 27 percent of white men smoked, by 2001 the figures were 28 and 25 percent, respectively. [11] Nonetheless, large educational and income differences remain in smoking cessation. For example, by 2000 about half of all those who had ever smoked who were above the poverty line had quit, but “barely a third of ever smokers below the poverty line had similar success in quitting.” Meanwhile, three-quarters of those with a graduate degree who had ever smoked had quit. [12]

Why are people in higher social categories superior at resisting and desisting addiction? There was a famous exchange between the great American authors F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. When told that Fitzgerald had said, “The very rich are different from you and me,” Hemingway replied, “Yes, they have more money.”

But there are other differences between the privileged and the underprivileged. Privileged people pay more attention to information about health—that is, they value health more. Their backgrounds and environments give them advantages in understanding and appreciating health information.

Values also explain why more middle-class and uppermiddle-class people drink alcohol. They are more likely to believe that they can keep the practice under control—and they are right! This value is one of self-efficacy, or the view that it is important (and possible) to determine your own destiny.

Notice the difference between this view, or value, and that purveyed by AA. People are taught in AA that it is wrong—arrogant, unhealthy, even sacrilegious—to think you control your own existence. But for many other people, this belief is the basis of their mental health and successful adjustment. No social class is immune from problems or is inherently better at enjoying life. And, of course, poorer people do have real disadvantages to live with, making it harder for them to be self-efficacious. But middle-class values of self-control, achievement, healthfulness, self-efficacy, and responsibility are significant factors in controlling excess and addiction.

Such values are not exclusively middle-class. Some people whom we would expect to have such values on the basis of their backgrounds do not in fact have them. And many people from deprived or traumatic backgrounds do develop addiction-resistant values. Also, people change their values—most adolescents think very differently about themselves and their lives and consider very different things important than do adults. And, as we shall see later in the book, this shift is one of the most important antidotes to addiction in people’s lives.

Finding a Path That Fits Your Values

In Alcoholics Anonymous’ Big Book, Bill Wilson described how he was transformed out of alcoholism by “enter[ing] upon a new relationship with my Creator . . . I must turn in all things to the Father of Light who presides over us all.” Chapter 4 of the Big Book describes how atheists must learn to believe in God and to accept religion:

As soon as we admitted the possible existence of a Creative Intelligence, a Spirit of the Universe underlying the totality of things, we began to be possessed of a new sense of power and direction, provided we took other simple steps.We found that God does not make too hard terms with those who seek Him. . . .

Instead of regarding ourselves as intelligent agents, spearheads of God’s ever advancing creation, we agnostics and atheists chose to believe that our human intelligence was the last word, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end of all. Rather vain of us, wasn’t it? [13]

Religion is less obviously injected into AA today. But some overtly religious values are still communicated by AA and other twelve-step programs. For example, the view that the best way to surmount a problem is by acknowledging one’s powerlessness over it—and “that [only] a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity”—offends some people’s values. These people just don’t choose to view the universe that way; they don’t feel that submission is the answer to their problems. And these people can overcome addictions in their own independent way.

 Self-Efficacy As a Value

Powerlessness may thus be a more controversial aspect of the AA philosophy than its roots in Christianity. Many addicted people already believe they are powerless before ever encountering the twelve steps. In many ways, this is part and parcel of the addiction. For example, believing that alcoholism is a disease, that no one escapes the grip of heroin or cigarettes, that withdrawal from either is too horrible to resist, or that you are born to be addicted plays into the power and irresistibility of the way you experience the substance (or activity) to which you become addicted.

Psychologist William Miller and his colleagues at the University of New Mexico conducted an important study in which they tracked subjects who reported for outpatient treatment for an alcohol problem. [14] The investigators’ purpose was to forecast which subjects were more likely to relapse following treatment. They found two primary factors predicted relapse—“lack of coping skills and belief in the disease model of alcoholism.” [15]

Think of it—treatment in the United States is geared primarily toward teaching people to believe something that makes it more likely that they will relapse! Instead, psychological theory and research indicate that it is more empowering and successful for you to believe in—and to value—your own strength. In this view, the critical element in cure is to develop your sense of self-efficacy. Yet if you express this view, or that you are uncomfortable with the value of powerlessness taught in the twelve-step approach, you will be told that you are in denial and that you cannot succeed at quitting addiction.

We often wonder why so many people decline to enter treatment or to join AA. And AA’s own surveys reveal that only 5 percent of those who enter AA continue to attend for as long as a year. [16] One researcher, Barry Tuchfeld, interviewed people who strove to lick a drinking problem on their own. [17] These individuals rejected the value of AA and treatment in their lives. If you believe the AA model and treatment personnel, these statements represent denial. Contradicting this, the subjects Tuchfeld selected for his study had successfully eliminated their drinking problems for many years.

 Values and Your Recovery

Here are some of the statements made by Tuchfeld’s subjects in which they explain why they wouldn’t enter treatment or join a support group:

“The one thing I could never do is go into formal rehab. For me to have to ask somebody else to help with a self-made problem, I’d rather drink myself to death.”

“Formal treatment seemed to be a sort of a pigeonhole that I didn’t want to be put in.”

“I’d never consider going to a doctor or minister for help. Good Lord, no! That would make me drink twice as much. I’m the kind of person who has to do things on his own.”

“But as far as I . . . was concerned, AA was absolutely of no attraction to me at all, absolutely not. And as far as a doctor is concerned . . . And preachers—boo—I’d rather go out and talk to my donkeys than a preacher.”

“Who wants to get up there and listen to somebody else’s problems when they’re sitting there with so many of the problems on their own shoulders . . . ?” [18]

These voices clearly illustrate that some people are eager for an alternative to AA. And independent recovery is a valid option—especially when we consider that the large majority of addicts do quit on their own. It is entirely possible that the repeated alcoholic or addictive relapses of people such as Joan Kennedy, Robert Downey Jr., Calvin Klein, Kitty Dukakis, and others are due at least in part to their continuing reliance on someone or some group outside of themselves to solve their problems. If they were counseled more about self-reliance, they might be more successful in fighting addiction.

Nonetheless, it is not for this book, or anyone else, to determine the best path for you. Undergoing treatment, attending AA for a brief or extended time, selecting a nontraditional treatment, alternating treatment and going it on your own—these and other paths have succeeded for many and could succeed for you. What is important is to be clear on and to respect your values and preferences.

Regardless of whether you seek treatment or make efforts to change outside of formal treatment, you and others dealing with you must respect your values.True, you may need to learn how to do things in a new way, or to value new ways of looking at the world. However, in order to decide what recovery path to take, you must first understand what is important to you, what you believe, and what you consider to be right. (Exercises at the end of this chapter will help you to identify such values.) Otherwise, your energy will be wasted in an unacknowledged values war between you and your would-be helpers or, worse, in a war with yourself.

Helping Someone Else Find the Right Path for Him or Her

Quite often, when addiction therapists say that they are practicing a scientific approach in addiction treatment and claim they are rejecting a values approach, they are misrepresenting what they are doing, which is actually to impose their values on their patients. They assume that people are unable to harness their own value systems and therefore need a therapist to infuse them with the “right” values and directions.

Think back to the experiences of my uncle Ozzie, whose coworker inadvertently harnessed Ozzie’s own values as leverage in influencing his innermost mind. A helper using this technique generates far more power than can be gained by simply berating people about their failures and the need for them to believe what the therapist tells them. This therapeutic technique is called Motivational Interviewing, and in Chapter 2 I will show specifically how therapists practice this and how you can do it for yourself and others.

The first step in this approach is to remain open to the other person’s own insights. People want to be respected, and if they feel they are not being judged, they will express themselves fully.

Since denial is said frequently to characterize people who are confronted with their problems by a therapist or group, why didn’t Ozzie display this trait at the moment that he changed? Because it was in his own interest to align his behavior and his values. He made all the crucial connections for himself. His “helper” didn’t have to discuss the problems Ozzie had with smoking. Ozzie, more than anyone else, was well aware of these problems. In fact, when Ozzie now describes his former habit, he talks about how his fingers were yellow with nicotine that he could never wash off.

Virtually everybody cares deeply about some value. Everybody has something important to him or her. Just visualize the principle that in trying to force people to recognize their problems, a helper will encounter more and greater resistance. If, instead, the would-be helpers can “go with the flow”—following in the direction of the addict’s own values—they are far more likely to help the addict move forward.

Conducting a “Values Intervention”

In order to help someone figure out which of that person’s own values will help him or her fight addiction, you can conduct a values intervention. Start out by asking what factors in the person’s life are important to him or her. Family? Health? Religious beliefs? Or being a good person? Be as open as possible in conducting such questioning—you are an explorer trying to learn about the map of another person’s mind.

After eliciting an addict’s primary values, you may not have to do much more in order to get that person to see how his or her habit is in conflict with basic values he or she holds. The very process of interviewing that person can serve this purpose. However, sometimes you may need to push a little further, perhaps by gently saying, “I don’t quite see how your behavior fits in with those values.”

The important thing about any such statement that you make is that it be nonconfrontational. You are expressing genuine puzzlement, not a condemnation. You only want to clarify a contradiction in the person’s values that you are confused about. I will examine such motivating techniques more fully in the next chapter.

Teaching Values

In an environment bereft of positive values, people will be more likely to be addicted and find it harder to escape addiction. One group of addicts—criminal addicts—is particularly resistant to intervention. Criminal addicts are rapacious individuals who view life simply as a smorgasbord for them to grab whatever they want. Drugs and alcohol just become one more way to rip off the world. This is very different from hapless individuals arrested for use or possession of drugs or low-level drug trades, whose crimes are defined entirely by their involvement with substances that have been made illegal.

If we can’t teach people, starting in childhood, to have core values of achievement, self-awareness, productivity, healthy habits, responsibility, self-respect, and respect for the greater community, then we will have more addiction no matter how many drug education programs we force on children.

And we can teach children about legal drugs—especially alcohol. By demonstrating moderate drinking ourselves and exposing children to social drinking in positive, multigenerational family settings, by explaining that alcohol is meant to be enjoyed but not abused, and by holding people responsible for how they drink and how they behave when they drink, we re-create the positive drinking cultures established through the generations in many parts of the United States and the world.

When we don’t express such attitudes and values—about addictions and about life—then children learn very different values from advertising, from fraternity parties, or from former alcoholics who lecture in their schools that alcohol is a poisonous, uncontrollable, devouring substance. Values can be a powerful tool for fighting addiction, but it is up to addicts attempting to recover (as well as parents of children who want to prevent them from becoming addicted) to determine which values are most important to them.

So don’t be afraid to express when you think something is wrong in the world, or when people behave in a way of which you disapprove—even if sometimes these are people you and your children know and care about. Don’t shy away from values in your own mind or in your dealings with others, particularly young people. Embrace and relish what you think is important and right—or in cases where you recognize consciously that your values are wrong or harmful, work on changing them. Publicize your values as primary indicators of who you are. And harness and use your values.

Exercise: A Values Mind Experiment

Think of something that you at one time in your life were addicted to, or else that you were (or are) very much tempted by. For example, did you at one time smoke or gamble compulsively?

Did you ever drink excessively? Do you now very much enjoy having several drinks? Do you sometimes really pig out on chocolates or some other sweet?

Now reflect—why did you give up the addiction or not take the excessive habit further? What keeps you from indulging in your current pleasure/vice continuously, or excessively?

These things are core values of yours—values toward yourself (i.e., self-respect), health, appearance, work, family, consciousness, and so on. First, simply appreciate that you hold these values. Second, see if you can utilize them in some other way, to change an area of behavior you have a less firm grip on than the one your values currently curtail.


Exercise: Values Worksheet

To further assist you in identifying your core values, list the three worst losses you could suffer in life, such as:

Your health

Your family or life partner (or their approval)

Your appearance

Your relationship to God

Your intelligence

Your standing in the community

Your self-respect

Your job/profession/work skills

Your friends

Your ethical standards

Something not mentioned above

Make a list of how your worst habit is affecting these three things.

Now describe a way that you can keep focused on each of these values as leverage to change your addiction.


  1. E.M. Dawson, E.M. “Understanding and Predicting College Students' Alcohol Use: Influence of Attitudes and Subjective Norms.” Dissertation Abstracts International 61(3) (2000):1320 B.
  2. M.L. Barnett, “Alcoholism in the Cantonese of New York City: An Anthropological Study,” in O. Diethelm, ed., Etiology of Chronic Alcoholism (Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1955), 179-227.
  3. Ibid., 186-7.
  4. B. Glassner and B. Berg, “How Jews Avoid Alcohol Problems,” American Sociological Review 45 (August 1980): 647-64.
  5. See N.E. Zinberg and W.M. Harding, eds., Control Over Intoxicant Use (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1982).
  6. Glassner and Berg, 653-61.
  7. K.K. Bucholz and L.N. Robins, “Recent Epidemiologic Alcohol Research,” in P.E. Nathan et al., eds., Annual Review of Addiction Research and Treatment (New York: Pergamon, 1991), 7.
  8. L. Saxe, C. Kadushin, A. Beveridge et al., “The Visibility of Illicit Drugs: Implications for Community-Based Drug Control Strategies,” American Journal of Public Health 91 (December 2001): 1987-94. 
  9. Quoted in P. Kerr, “Rich vs. Poor: Drug Patterns Are verging,” New York Times (August 30, 1987)
  10. S. Peele and A. Brodsky, The Truth About Addiction and Recovery (New York: Fireside, 1991), 100.
  11. D. Yee, “Number of Black Men Who Smoke Is Dropping, CDC Says,” Associated Press (October 10, 2003).
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Cigarette Smoking Among Adults — United States, 2000,” MMWR Highlights 51:29 (July 26, 2002).
  13. Alcoholics Anonymous (New York: AA World Services, 1980, originally published 1939), 46, 49.
  14. W.R. Miller, V.S. Westerberg, R.J. Harris et al., “What Predicts Relapse? Prospective Testing of Antecedent Models,” Addiction 91 (Supplement 1996): S155-71.
  15. Ibid, S155.
  16. Alcoholics Anonymous, Comments on A.A’s Triennial Surveys (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, 1990).
  17. B.S. Tuchfeld, “Spontaneous Remission in Alcoholics,” Journal of Studies on Alcohol 42 (July 1981): 626-41.
  18. Ibid., 631.