A Thomas McLellan – Acclaimed Higher Power of Addiction Science

Every abomination to the Lord, which he hates, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods.  Deuteronomy 12:31

A Thomas McLellan was born in New York in 1949 and grew up in an age of rapid advances in science and technology which revealed profound truths about the world and promised to relieve man of suffering, cure his diseases, and even resolve the intractable ideological and religious differences at the root of wars and strife.  He earned a PhD in psychology in 1976, and took a job at a Pennsylvania VA to study alcoholism.  There he saw first hand the suffering of the alcoholics in his care, but at the same time witnessed the miraculous effects of the 12 Step programs that were at the time the only known effective treatment.  Though an atheist himself, he realized that these men, when each was given the freedom to choose a god of his understanding, would return to sanity and health, and could support each other in a new life of sobriety and spiritual fulfillment.  The program helped the men understand that that although their disease would certainly kill them, it also gave them lifelong tools to manage their affliction, tools which they could pass on to others still suffering.  Though the moralistic aspects of the program troubled him, he could not deny that the men claimed beyond any doubt the fellowship saved them from certain death.  He found that AA attendance was a prominent predictor of self-reported addictivity, a critical discovery that informed his development of the Addiction Severity Index (ASI), now widely used around the world.

Following this success he moved to Penn, and in 1992 he founded the Treatment Research Institute, dedicated to the advancement of scientific treatments for the spectrum of addictive diseases.  However, nothing could prepare him for the reality of the affliction when his elder son, then 16, started experiencing problems and getting into trouble at school.  Up to that point the child exhibited only the normal misbehavior and rebelliousness of youth, and showed no signs of mental illness, which was the only possible cause of deviant behavior for a child raised in a loving, supportive and enlightened environment like the McLellans.  But he soon discovered the culprit: the boy was addicted to cocaine, alcohol, and pot.  This was a “punch in the gut” for the addiction expert.  Because for all his scientific knowledge, he had no practical experience in treating addiction.  He didn’t know what to do.  After extensively researching his options, he sent the boy for intensive rehab.  The treatment worked: despite cycling in and out of rehab his entire life, he is still alive today — a testament to both the efficacy of addiction treatment and a good doctor’s intuition for saving the life of a gravely ill boy.

Following this personal success, Dr McLellan introduced the concept of addiction as a “chronic, relapsing brain disease” in 2000, in one of the most widely cited JAMA articles of all time, which concludes: “Drug dependence should be insured, treated, and evaluated like other chronic illnesses.”  The groundbreaking research revealed for the first time that the behavior some might call ‘bad’ or ‘naughty’ or ‘sociopathic’ is actually a symptom of a brain disease.  In this age of Modern Science we can no longer rely on outdated moralistic religious concepts.  He explains: “Let’s face it: People with addictions do bad things.  They’re bad because the brain structures and functions that are specifically targeted by abuse screw up motivation, reward and learning.”

McLellan had stumbled upon a profound truth that had eluded the greatest philosophers of all time: it resolved the age-old problem of Good and Evil and exonerated his parenting skills, all without impugning his child’s innocence.  Not surprisingly the scientific advancement was met with stiff-necked resistance by neo-religion fascists and right wing bloggers.  But the theory was completely vindicated with the discovery that Hitler’s genocidal rampage was actually caused by an addiction to meth.  In honor of his achievement, McLellan is now an acclaimed “Higher Power” at 12 Step programs around the world.  Still, despite the genius of his discoveries and the success of these fellowships, the Good Doctor could not yet state with certainty which adjunct treatments were most effective.

In May 2008 his elder son was back at the Betty Ford Center to fine-tune his sobriety (from alcohol and coke) when his younger son Bo died unexpectedly of an intentional overdose of alcohol and antianxiety medications on the night of his graduation from college.  Though he hadn’t previously been diagnosed with an addictive disorder, addiction runs through McLellan’s wife’s family.  The ‘family disease’ had struck again – and again it earned its ‘cunning and baffling’ reputation – especially considering that the boy was the son of McLellan’s previous wife.

Dr McLellan suspected that the disease had a contagious component, so he began to investigate possible vectors of infection.  Then suddenly he received a call from the new Vice President Joe Biden, who had recently introduced the “Recognizing Addiction as a Disease Act of 2007” which proposed renaming NIDA the “National Institute on Diseases of Addiction”.  The bill was stymied in the House, and he thought that McLellan was the right man to push it through.

Human Sacrifice

“It seemed like a sign from God,” McLellan remarked, and quickly accepted the job as Deputy Drug Czar.  Although he held the position for only a year, he can take credit for the inclusion of health parity for addictive disorders in the ACA.  Now addiction can be managed as an “incurable chronic disease” like diabetes.  As for Biden, although his bill ultimately failed, his son Hunter’s highly publicized discharge from the military vindicated the disease theory: the compulsion to use is so strong that the addict cannot abstain even for just 2 days a month, and even if the drug use would disgrace his family and scuttle his father’s presidential bid.

Now McLellan is back at TRI and his mission is to promote early intervention for drug and alcohol use so that other families need not experience the devastation of addiction like he did.  He and his professionally accredited colleagues have discovered amazing new medical facts about addiction:

But then something happens in the brains of about 10 percent of those who use — we don’t yet know exactly all that happens in those brains but for sure there is triggering of genetic expression, and likely induction of immunologic reactions. We know that those biological changes have primary effects in the brain especially in the areas responsible for governing judgment, inhibition, motivation and learning. We do not yet know why some drugs produce these effects in some people. But we do know two things for sure. Nobody — nobody — has their first drink in order to become an addict. And we know for sure that the brains of those who become addicted are very different from the brains they started out with.

Their research may vindicate the Big Book’s long-disparaged claim that craving is caused by an allergy, and ultimately even Bill Wilson’s divinely inspired 12 Steps themselves, perhaps the most important ‘message from God’ since the 10 Commandments.  But AA is not religious, McLellan explains: “AA is for anyone who has a substance use problem.  There is no requirement for religious or even spiritual involvement in AA.”

McLellan laments that until now, addiction treatment has been unappreciated and underfunded.  But he gets excited about recent advances in treatment programs for addicted physicians and pilots, which show great promise due in part to heightened oversight by the professional community and required attendance in 12 Step programs for 5 years or more.  He believes that this success can be replicated in public treatment programs such as Phoenix House, a nationwide operator of 12 Step based centers run by his wife, Deni Carise.

Although these advances come too late for his son, he looks forward to the day when parents understand addiction as a chronic, relapsing, progressive brain disease (not simply a lie as cover for mischief), and they need no longer sacrifice their own children to the evil forces of drugs and alcohol.

And God said, “Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.” – Genesis 22:12


9 thoughts on “A Thomas McLellan – Acclaimed Higher Power of Addiction Science”

  1. I was going to alateen and alanon before I was 13 years old due to my Mother’s involvement in AA’s program and fellowship. She started going to AA (after years of self-destructive alcohol and drug abuse related issues). Her father went there after 20 years of heavy drinking and remained sober until his death. He joined AA and none of us ever saw him again! Perhaps my mother joined just to get to see her father? Though, once she had a new belief system and did the “work” she eventually got somewhat ‘well’ (if she was even sick to begin with?) Maybe she got a taste of AA (like I did) at a young age, and due programming and her approval-seeking, (a desire to be closer to her dad?) … She just ‘fell-in’ line … My mother is still sober.
    By the time I was 20 (after 5 years of binge drinking, substance uses, dui’s, jails, promiscuity, nut wards, detoxes, ICU wards – standard insanity) Let’s not forget: In and out of AA (revolving door syndrome) after much failure and being a constant disappointment to myself and other’s (Grandpa and Mom) I, too joined ranks.
    Thirty years later (pychology degreed) as well as having been a granfather’d-in LADC in State of NH for a couple years (seasoned) … I can honestly say: I think it’s all a bunch of bunk! But, from personal experience and being on the front-lines of this “thing” (regular attendance at wakes and funerals for the sick and suffering who are hopefully now at rest – being dead) it certainly is a conundrum. AA’s would say: “Oh, well, you must’ve not really been a real alcoholic then?” When I tell them that I no longer have issues with alcohol or drugs other than watching other people go off the deep end when they’ve been lead to believe that “to drink is to die!”
    Anyone who’s studied anything about psychology (especially those marketers) knows that “repetition works!” If you get people (any people) to BELIEVE something … anything … You could have yourself an army! Yes! There are chemical imbalances, hormonal … vitamin and mineral deficiencies , allergies, serotonin issues … all sorts of science, philosophical and medical theories abound! But that’s all they are … theories.
    What is going on in AA (in most cases) is a place where anybody can go no matter who, what, where and when… if they just don’t drink “one day at a time” and fall-in line like an android/robot/parrot … saying all the same things and at least appearing to ‘do’ all the same things everyone else is doing … and they can instantly become a ‘somebody’ (in their high-minded, who-can-be-the-most-spiritual, altruistic ride-sharing, what step are you on? Did you call your sponsor? Do you have a boyfriend? Gratitude-spouting, ‘trust God’ yammer-on and on … quoting Bill W and his minions 24/7 feeling like king shit on turd hill in cream-‘o-the-cropville! microcosmic 12-step bias church basement worlds) … ad infinitum!
    Here’s my stance. Had I not originally been sitting at a table with other ‘steppers’ at the vulnerable age of 13 (before I even thought of a drink) … had I not been looked at like someone was going to eat me half the time … causing my, not fully-formed brain, as yet, to never really get to have my own identity due to approximately two-hundred other people constantly around me … harrassing me on any given night, being persuaded toward… and imprinted with: “acceptance is the answer to all my problems today” … maybe had I just been left alone without a ‘program’ I might’ve not ‘thought’ I was initially defective … Perhaps, all on my own via my OWN life experiences without indoctrination I may have never thought of ever taking a drink?
    But I did! I did take a drink! Why? Because, I wanted my mother to notice me. The only people she noticed were all those poor alcoholics who needed her help. The only way she was ever going to get better (according to her sponsors) was by ‘helping others’ by … getting OUT of herself! Because, apparently, she was too selfish, self-centered, defiant and childlike! Well, who isn’t between the ages of 12-40? It takes a long time for us in this culture (at least) to really get to know ourselves. It takes our whole lives, actually …
    Existentially …
    Personally, I believe there’s a lot of mischief going on … I started to “get out” little-by-slow … Why are the COURTS involved? Why did a Rockefeller have a luncheon for AA’s back in the 40’s?
    I’m not “outing” the individuals who go to AA and find a better way of life that works for their obvious inability to do so without some form of seeming structure via group-think (herd effect) … truly, more power to them! Whatever works.
    What concerns me as a “Thinking” person is that THIS AA and all it’s knock-off’s are seeming to literally CAUSE the RELAPSING paradigm. Personally, I enjoy ‘group therapy’. I find it eases the burden of one’s stresses when other’s can relate and share their triumphs, etc … We are social beings and desire companionship. It’s perfectly natural. What’s not natural is drinking a case of beer … drinking so much that your liver degenerates, or shooting-up enough drugs until you go into convulsions and/or die! The risks are unbelievable! I was OUT there … I, too suffered miserably! Every time I had a slip (once every 8 or 9 years) … I’d go into hysterics … I’d make it a real “good one” knowing I was inevitably going to end-up back in ‘program’ again … starting ‘all over’ again … “Yup. I’m sick. I’m bad. I’m awful. I must’ve missed a step… only got one dui this time. Someone please tell me what to do? I’m drowing over here.”
    I’ve been there!
    When someone is indoctrinated to believe certain things and then goes against that grain (due to fortunately having a real person in there, somewhere rebelling against all that constantly: ‘kill’em with kindness, attitude’ … ‘turn-it-over’… ‘patience and tolerance’… “So what if he’s married and keeps making passes at you! He’s sober and has a lot of time in!” ‘Let Go and Let God’… seriously?) No wonder people drink!!!
    My heart goes out to that poor little, mixed-up girl I used to be. If anything, I think Television is the culprit. We’re all so overly stimulated. More, more, more!!! (More Programming). Hey, it’s good for the economy.
    I know there were drunks before AA. Just like there will always be poverty. There’s always been crime. Injustice. Do-gooder’s. Thank “the God of your understanding” for them! … No one signed-up for this. You’re either in (life) or, you weren’t born. It’s not AA that’s the problem. It’s people’s inability to think for themselves. It’s just easier to do what other people tell you to do.
    Like, “Oh, I was brought-up Catholic … so, I believe in the Virgin Mary” … Really? Where’d you get your information?
    Anyway, I’m grieved by alcoholism, (which is really just ADDICTION) by another name.
    I was in AA when my X-husband and I got together. I was 20. He was over 30. (They call that 13 Stepping). I’d just gotten released from a nut house. He was 2 years sober. I was young, dumb and full of – you know what… I got pregnant (conveniently). I could be babysat in style. I was sober enough to know the difference between a guy with a job and a guy without one. Lucky me.
    However, I never brought my daughter to AA (too many chester-the-molesters) in my “not-so-humble” opinion.
    The best thing I did for myself was move-on-up out of that original town I was traipsing around in, drunk all the time, and getting a bad reputation (along with a criminal record). Once I got out of my old, stomping-grounds … got married to a half-way decent “programmable” half-wit guy, had a child to raise-up … learned about nutrition via education via coerced structure via being married (and, what I thought that entailed) so, good for me. Until, that got boring …
    See, I was already nuts! My grandfather was a whackjob, my mother followed his footsteps … I followed right along … then, my sister, brother, aunts, uncles … They’re all IN IT! They’re all (not drinking) anymore … Not ALL attend AA, but, most of us started there, initially to dry-out. It was all we knew at the time! Even Bill W (via his spirit-guide) booga, booga!! wrote that: “maybe someday science will catch-up” (something to that effect) …
    Well, guess what? There’s a lot more info out there now than there was back in the 30’s!!!
    My daughter, now in her mid-twenties, drinks only occasionally. I didn’t bring her up force-feeding her any religion, or specific spiritual ideas and especially not AA, though, she heard enough of it around the family … AA people are just as interesting and wonderful as anyone else that’s interesting and wonderful. Unless, they’re not … just like anybody else… when they’re not.
    While I was skipping school and running around with the boys, drinking, smoking the weed, lying, cheating, stealing, running away all the time … getting arrested, etc … I was being force-fed AA propaganda as well as Catholocism. God is a man. He’s in Heaven. Eve at the apple and got everybody in trouble! No wonder I was messed-up as a kid. No supervision. Poverty-stricken. Learning disabled (due to moving every 6 months) due to some whacko 60’s generation proganda … due to project paperclip, no doubt! Thanks! LOVE generation! You and your Yarn!
    I have no point. The point is: “we are not saints!” How very convenient for all of us.
    My daughter was brought up with a few bucks, nice toys … stable environment, etc… she’s all set. Contributes. Has thoughts of her own. Studies what interests her. Works and plays like the rest of us … Eat, drink and be merry! Right?
    I like to go to AA now and again just to get up at the podium and remind the new-comer who thinks they have to be there to have a court slipped signed that the AA program is an ANONYMOUS program! What that means for them is: “Nobody can claim or SAY (or SIGN anything) as to whether you actually attended the meeting or not. You can sign your own court slip! I’m well-ajusted (somewhat) enough to also have a chit-chat with anyone willing to listen to me to tell them about alternative ways and means regarding what might be ailing them. I also like to remind people that just because someone says they’re clean and sober … doesn’t mean that they are. Smarten up. It also doesn’t mean that they don’t cheat on their spouses, taxes, etc … just because they can read and memorize a line or two and seem like nice people… doesn’t mean that they are always on thier best behavior … don’t get in a car with someone you do not know!
    In the meantime, I don’t know how to solve the problems of our society. I just know that I am here. I am still breathing. I am a person amongst other people (seemingly)…
    I don’t drink my brains out or take massive amounts of drugs. I don’t succumb to peer-pressure. I don’t care if the Joneses’ have a new car, phone, flat-screen tv, new baby… uncle on death row… I don’t care.
    What matters most to me… is me! “Know thyself!” “Don’t ye know… ye are Gods?”
    AA’s traditions 10 read: “WE have no opinion on outside issues.”
    I think that’s very convenient for AA. However, I do not believe that rape and murder victims, or victims of slander… scorn, being over-looked, rejected, sexually harrassed, molested, shunned … while inside the ‘halls’ or ‘clubs’ of AA (or, wherever two or more are gathered) … is ever NOT an outside issue! What I’ve noticed, especially with the advent of the internet, is that there is an awful lot of controversy that without the internet would’ve continued to go unnoticed for a long, long time … Just because there’s the constant parroting: “men with the men and women with the women” doesn’t mean that two consenting adults aren’t going to do what people do whether they’re in a bar or at the local AA clubhouse.
    The problem with the whole scene however, is that AA comes-off as a spiritual, pie-in-the-sky promise that now that you are here – in the ‘rooms’ … you’re safe. Everything is going to be okay. We’ve got this. The majority of people that go to AA are coming out of treatment centers that shout and spout AA from the rooftops! I worked in a half-way house. I made my clients go to AA! That was part of my job. Most of the people in those places are being completely brainwashed to believe that AA is the Answer to all their problems. If they just : Read the Big book. Get a sponsor (most treatment centers wont allow your release (if sent by courts) unless you have a sponsor)… Join a group. Get active in that group … do 90 meetings in 90 days. That’s approximately how long it takes to develop a habit. If the courts are going to send people to AA then … the COURTS are going to have to be responsible for what happens to the people when they go to AA… and, AA is going to have to be accountable to itself … but, that’s not: HOW IT WORKS! Rarely have we seen … etc … emotionally incapable … not being honest … grave emotional problems … follow our “simple” program …
    Yes! Simple. A simple program for simpletons! Next time anyone reading this is interested in the actual, real statistics of AA’s success rate? Look it up.
    It’s no better than someone who decides to just stop drinking on their own. And that’s the truth!
    “but, why would you want to?” When, you can have a host of friends? A whole new way of life? Be rocketed into the 4th dimension? Surrender your Will (to what?) Really? That actually gives me goosebumps it’s so scary! My suggestion: Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. If you can relate with the author(s) … You’re probably a narcissistic sociopath. Be careful. If you want to stop drinking and drugging. I do suggest weaning yourself off gradually. Talk to a proffessionally trained nutritionist and homeopath… try some self-love. Talk to a therapist who’s actually trained in Behavior Modification. Find out what’s ailing you… obviously, if you’re abusing anything … it’s going to eventually catch-up to you! That’s just life! No big secret there. I wish you all the best!

  2. Wow, why don’t you two get a room??
    No surprise, you are still a liar and fabricator, and your site is still a joke. Will check back in six months to see if your psych meds have kicked in…

  3. I have heard the “high Hitler” claim before (this was even the title of a “History”/aliens/bigfoot/giants Channel program).

    The thing is, Hitler didn’t start using amphetamines until long after his horrific political ideas and organization were fully in place.

    Also, Allied military personnel were also given amphetamines by the military to keep them alert during missions.

    And even into the “boring” and “conformist” 1950s, amphetamines were available over-the-counter in the U.S.

    1. And most drug addicts have a history of lying and aggressive behavior going back well before their first drink or drug use. So what, they are not really addicts? I don’t get your point. McLellan showed there is some pre-existing difference in the brain of 10% that explains this behavior as a disease and not a moral defect. I hope you are not trying to impugn the credibility of ATM, higher power beloved by millions.

      1. How would anyone get accurate information about dishonesty in the pasts of individuals who have chosen to re-configure their view of their own life & past to conform to the AA/NA-Recovery storyline?

        Even without interactions with other individuals and groups that have an agenda in re-shaping the individual’s life story, people’s memories are not like hitting play and watching a video – it’s more like taking an old cassette tape that has a story on it, then hitting “record” and obliterating the older version of the story with the newer one.

        My experience of people who are habitually dishonest is that they tend to believe that the word “truth” means “anything I can convince someone else to believe”.

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