Book Review (or Announcement): Narcotics Anonymous

Title: Narcotics Anonymous

Author: Narcotics Anonymous members

Date: 2008 (6th edition)

Publisher: Narcotics Anonymous

ISBN: 9781557767349

Length: 396 pages plus 29-page index

Quote: “As our members stay clean ten, twenty, thirty years and more, our fellowship has more and more experience dealing with challenges beyond ‘not picking up the first drug.'”

Fair disclosure: I’m not the ideal person to review this book. I don’t even know any NA members well. I know some people for whom Alcoholics Anonymous has worked miracles, and a few for whom local AA groups have come to seem like abusive cults, so I’m guessing that Narcotics Anonymous can work either way too. I myself chose abstinence at an early age, and have always been glad I did.

For those for whom it’s too late to choose abstinence…well, this is a book full of short, rather bland because anonymous, testimonies from people for whom the NA way works. There are a lot of them. There have been five previous editions of this book, and each edition has been thicker than the one before as more recovering addicts have supplied stories of how their program has kept them clean through different life passages and challenges. So there’s a good chance that NA could help anybody out there who is ready to recover from all use of drugs.

Even antibiotics, some might ask? Maybe not antibiotics, but definitely all “mind-altering, mood-changing chemicals.” The NA way is for people who are ready to live without legal “substitute drugs” like Antabuse or psychopharmaceuticals like Prozac, too. “All of us, from the junkie snatching purses to the sweet little old lady hitting two or three doctors for legal prescriptions, have one thing in common: we seek our destruction a bag at a time…until we die…In this program, the first thing we do is stop using drugs.”

Lack of emotional support from loved ones is not a valid reason to use drugs, but when twelve-step programs work, emotional support from the group is what gets people through what may be a long withdrawal/recovery period (depending on how much damage they’ve done to themselves). When it works, recovering addicts transfer their emotional addiction to the group and form lifelong bonds with their friends in the group. When it works, they avoid the financial and social costs of dependency on legal drugs, and are often able to go back to work and lead normal healthy drug-free lives.

If you are, or know, an addict who would like to have a relatively high “bottom” and get into recovery while still able to hold a job, this book is for you. It’s our Sunday book because many twelve-step programs are sponsored by churches–although NA has no specific religious affiliation and welcomes non-Christians who want to work this program, too.

Since this book has no individual author, it’s not a Fair Trade Book, and the price to buy it here ($5 per copy + $5 per package) actually seems pretty competitive according to Amazon. (The copy I physically own, which is locally available for a much lower cost, was heavily used by at least two addicts before it reached me, and contains many handwritten marginal notes. People who go to NA meetings are likely to acquire copies of this book in similar condition, free of charge.) Two copies could be shipped in one package for a total cost of $15.

Book review cat:

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Top Ten Reasons to Stay Sober on a Date

How can this article be made family-friendly? If you want to share pleasure, the same general principles apply to sex that apply to pleasures in which even younger people rejoice. So, young adults are hereby invited to read whatever they like into this brief consideration of a trip to an amusement park.

  1. You want to be fully alert and attentive to the other person’s reactions. You don’t want your body’s urgent messages (“get rid of some of this horrible alcohol”) to keep you from noticing whether your friend just said “I like carousels” or “I don’t like carousels.”
  1. You want your responses to be efficient, though under control. Is your friend screaming with laughter, or with pain?
  1. You want to be able to help the other person in case something happens to him/her.
  1. You want your stomach not to be too full to enjoy a sudden jolt on the Ferris Wheel or drop on the roller coaster track.
  1. You want to be clean. You want to be able to cling, cuddle, or even hide your face against the other person, without fear that the sight or smell of you will disgust her/him.
  1. You want to be fit to drive home.
  1. You want to wake up the next morning thinking “What fun that was!” rather than “I can’t believe I did that, wasted all that money I couldn’t afford, didn’t get to do half the things I wanted to do, can’t remember which things I did, and now I need to go to the bathroom but I feel too sick to stand up.”
  1. You want to know that you didn’t specifically cause yourself to acquire any horrible diseases. You never know who may breathe on you but at least you can be sure you didn’t collapse headfirst into a toilet bowl.
  1. You want the other person to greet you with “That was fun! Thanks!” rather than “You were disgusting and, by the way, you did $5000 worth of damage.”
  1. If you brought home any little teddybears or similar souvenirs, you want to remember when and why you got them; you want the sight of them to remind you of fun and friendship during the years to come.



(This visual reminder to stand up for our principles and not be chicken was brought to us by Morguefile.)



Book Review: Codependent No More

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Codependent No More


Author: Melody Beattie

Author’s web site:


Date: 1987


Publisher: Hazelden Foundation


ISBN: 0-89486-402-5


Length: 231 pages


Quote: “As an alcoholic and addict, I stormed through life, helping create other codependents.”


Melody Beattie entered the drug rehabilitation field as a peer counselor, and her book also reached success by what might have been considered the back door; it’s one of a very small number of privately published books that’s become a slow steady bestseller, even adding words and phrases to our language.


More than twenty years after the fact, we can see both good and bad results. On the good side, Codependent No More is a very realistic, down’n’dirty book written in street language. Addicts and alcoholics could understand this book; they could relate to it. The ones seriously interested in recovery could even use it. The family lives of addicts usually are messed up, often could benefit from this book, and often did.


On the bad side, as Beattie admits on page 29, “some therapists have proclaimed: ‘Codependency is anything, and everyone is codependent.’” People who wanted to sweep all the unpleasant feelings under the rug, rather than recognizing that unpleasant feelings are nature’s way of telling most of us we need to make changes, rushed to identify all unpleasantness as a form of codependency.


“You don’t need to persuade your neighbor to stop throwing his trash in your back yard! What you need is to stop feeling so ‘codependent’ about your neighbor’s choices! Either persuade yourself to enjoy having your neighbors’ trash in your back yard, or move!” was probably actually uttered by some therapist somewhere. Furniture movers, not to mention divorce lawyers, boarding schools for problem children, and all kinds of groups aimed at “helping” the newly homeless, made mucho dinero from the ever-expanding definition of codependency.


Beattie did not intend for her book to be used as an excuse for breaking commitments and ending relationships. Street language presupposes that listeners have a certain amount of “street sense,” which people who really wanted a counselling relationship to last for years did not necessarily have. From time to time Beattie reminds readers: “By ‘attachment,’ I don’t mean normal feelings of liking people, being concerned about problems, or feeling connected to the world” (page 52), “Detachment is not…shirking of our true responsibilities…severing of our relationships” (page 55); “Detaching…means we learn to love, care, and be involved without going crazy” (page 57), and so on throughout the book.


However, the genuinely codependent personality tends to seek out ways to identify with others, often by projecting its own struggles onto others. Many of us first heard of Codependent No More, and its special vocabulary, through acquaintances whose therapy and recovery processes were obviously incomplete. One example of a person who was harmed by misusing the ideas in this book happens to be the last person who asked me for financial help (which I’m not able to give) before I wrote the first draft of this article, and since her situation annoys me I will tell her story anonymously here.


This was the church lady, age 61 at the beginning of this story, whose 63-year-old husband developed a slowly disabling disease. During the years when he was adjusting to life without certain physical abilities, he didn’t want to attend church or to be left alone at home while his wife went to church. Pastors and religious teachers I respect (e.g. Charles Swindoll) would have told this lady to spend as much time as possible at home with her husband, get other relatives whom he trusted to stay with him when she needed a break, and possibly retrain others in the “church family” so that the disabled gentleman would not feel too uncomfortable to attend an occasional service too.


This church, however, prided itself on keeping in touch with the latest medical and psychological news. I don’t know how many of the other church ladies were in fact codependent, and how many had just read Codependent No More as a nonfiction bestseller…anyway, they told our friend, “He’s ‘dependent’ on you, and you don’t want to be ‘codependent’! Isn’t it time you thought about yourself after all these years? He needs to be alone! You still look and feel so much younger than he is, you really seem to belong to a different generation! Come to church three times a week, be in every social group in town, and you really ought to get a job and not depend on his pension! If he keeps making you feel guilty about leaving him alone at home, divorce him!”


Well, she was youthful and energetic for age 61. She got a job. And a divorce. And lots of attention from other men, some only in their forties. But she didn’t find another man she wanted to live with. She renounced all claim on her husband’s pension, feeling that she could make more money on her own as a private nurse. She didn’t seem to imagine that (a) geriatric nursing jobs are by nature temporary, and (b) a 60-year-old who looks 40 can still become an 80-year-old who looks 75. Age crept up on her, and she found herself unemployed before she’d paid enough into Social Security even to meet her mortgage payments—never mind food, utilities, or transportation. She has had to seek handouts from churches, social groups, friends, neighbors, family, and Social Services to survive. She still expresses love for her late ex-husband, too…her own plight became dire just a few years after he died.


Why does this situation annoy me? Because I see an unhelpful trend of people being urged to feel an excessive degree of pseudo-independence from their families by way of a genuine, harmful dependence on an overburdened Welfare State. Emotional detachment from someone’s disease process must never be confused with destroying the family relationships on which people need to rely. It is unlikely that one person in a thousand will be able to retire “independently,” even via Social Security, after working only ten years. The false counsellors who encouraged this woman to give up a pension for which she would have been qualified, on which she could have lived well, in order to achieve “independent” destitution fifteen years later, deserve to be held responsible for her current financial need.


Many of us could tell other stories about how much harm the inappropriate use of quotations from Codependent No More have done; I could tell others besides this one. So it’s almost surprising to refer back to the original book and remember that, when used as Beattie intended—to help people catch their emotional breath while encouraging friends, relatives, or spouses to stay in the painful recovery process—it was helpful. Perhaps it should have been packaged with stronger warnings, such as “If the other person’s behavior that is upsetting you has been addressed in a court of law, you may have a mood disorder and/or a codependent personality, but codependency is not the primary problem in your relationship.”


Nevertheless, Codependent No More is warmly recommended to anyone who is still beating self over the head with thoughts like “If I’d been a better friend (or family member), s/he wouldn’t have felt so bad and gone back to the drug.” (If it were written today, the book could cite documentation of how withdrawal from certain drugs can be a long slow process in which, after six weeks or six months of sobriety, the addict feels unbearable pain and depression, which can cause backsliding no matter how supportive other people are.) Used carefully, as the author intended, it can help you continue to be a good, faithful friend, family member, or recovery buddy to this person.

This book has been so successful, and Beattie is so famous, that she’s had to post anti-codependent-type messages on her web page. “Use the forums” indeed–I doubt very much that a question about “Would the author like to comment on this review?” has been addressed in the forums. But she’s as busy as she wants to be. I’m glad for her. Anyway, Codependent No More is a Fair Trade Book: $5 per copy + $5 per package, of which Beattie or a charity of her choice will receive $1; if you want four copies, you send $25 to the address in the lower left-hand corner of the screen, and Beattie or her charity will get $4.

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