How To Develop A Relapse Prevention Plan

December 30, 2013

RP_CENAPSBy Terence T. Gorski
September 25, 1989, Original Publication  

Introduction, December 31, 2013: People who relapse aren’t suddenly taken drunk.  Most experience progressive warning signs that reactivate denial and cause so much pain that self-medication with alcohol or drugs seems like a good idea.  This is not a conscious process.  These warning signs develop automatically and unconsciously.  Since most recovering people have never been taught how to identify and manage relapse warning signs, they don’t notice them until the pain becomes too severe to ignore.

Relapse prevention therapy (RPT) was originally developed for use with chemically dependent people. Over the past decades it has been used extensively with other self-defeating repetitive behaviors and behavioral addictions. Dr. Alan Marlatt developed a cognitive-behavioral model of relapse prevention. At the same time Terence T. Gorski developed a nine-step relapse prevention model that closely paralleled Marlatt’s work. It was different in that it focused more heavily upon early warning sign of relapse, a more user-friendly cognitive restructuring model for relapse warning signs and high risk situations. The relapse prevention workbooks were widely used because they were effective in counseling settings. They were developed and revised with the extensive feedback from addiction professionals and recovering people. The characteristics of an effective treatment manual are described in Treatment Manuals That Work. The Relapse Prevention Workbooks were also popular because they were part of a series of workbooks that shared the same no-nonsense language and the same core cognitive restructuring process. Gorski’s model was chosen by SAMHSA as the basis of Tap 19: Relapse Prevention with Chemically Dependent Criminal Offenders, Counselor’s Manual and the basic manual has been translated in over seven languages.

There are nine steps in learning to recognize and stop the early warning signs of relapse.

Step 1:  Stabilization
Step 2:  Assessment
Step 3:  Relapse Education
Step 4:  Warning Sign Identification
Step 5:  Warning Sign Management & Coping Strategies
Step 6:  Recovery Planning
Step 7:  Inventory Training
Step 8:  Family Involvement

Step 9:  Follow-UP

The application of some of these steps can be illustrated by reading the story of Jake, a 23 year-old chronic relapser on the following pages.

Step 1:  Stabilization

Relapse prevention planning probably won’t work unless the relapser is sober and in control of themselves.  Detoxification and a few good days of sobriety are needed in order to make relapse prevention planning work.  Remember that many patients who relapse are toxic.  Even though sober they have difficulty thinking clearly, remembering things and managing their feelings and emotions.  These symptoms get worse when the person is under high stress or is isolated from people to talk to about the problems of staying sober.  To surface intense therapy issues with someone who has a toxic brain can increase rather than decrease the risk of relapse.  In early abstinence go slow and focus on basics.  The key question is “What do you need to do to not drink today?”

Step 2:  Assessment

The assessment process is designed to identify the recurrent pattern of problems that caused past relapses and resolve the pain associated with those problems. This is accomplished by reconstructing the presenting problems, the life history, the alcohol and drug use history and the recovery relapse history.

By reconstructing the presenting problems the here and now issues that pose an immediate threat to sobriety can be identified and crisis plans developed to resolve those issues.

The life history explores each developmental life period including childhood, grammar school, high school, college, military, adult work history, adult friendship history, and adult intimate relationship history.  Reviewing the life history can surface painful unresolved memories.  It’s important to go slow and talk about the feelings that accompany these memories.

Once the life history is reviewed, a detailed alcohol and drug use history is reconstructed.  This is be done by reviewing each life period and asking four questions: (1) How much alcohol or drugs did you use?  (2) How often did you use it?  (3) What did you want alcohol and drug use to accomplish? and  (4) What were the real consequences, positive and negative, of your use? In other words, did the booze and drugs do for you what you wanted it to do during each period of your life?

Finally, the recovery and relapse history is reconstructed. Starting with the first serious attempt at sobriety each period of abstinence and chemical use is carefully explored.  The major goal is to find out what happened during each period of abstinence that set the stage for relapse.  This is often difficult because most relapsers are preoccupied with their drinking and drugging and resist thinking or talking about what happened during periods of abstinence.

Comprehensive assessments have shown that most relapsers get sober, encounter the same recurring pattern of problems, and use those problems to justify the next relapse.  As one person put it “It is not one thing after the other, it is the same thing over and over again!”

A 23 year old relapser named Jake reported drinking about a six-pack of beer every Friday and Saturday night during high school.  He did it in order to feel like he was part of the group, relax and have fun.  at that stage in his addiction the beer did exactly what he wanted it to do.

That all changed when Jake left school and went to work as a salesman.  He had to perform in a high-pressure environment and felt stressed.  The other salesmen were competitive and no matter what he did they wouldn’t let him belong.  He began drinking bourbon every night to deal with the stress.  He wanted to feel relaxed so he could cope better at work.  He consistently drank too much and woke up with terrible hangovers that caused new problems with his job.

Every time Jake would attempt to stop drinking he would feel isolated and alone and become overwhelmed by the stress of his job.  Even when with others at Twelve Step Meetings he felt like he didn’t belong and couldn’t fit in.  As the stress grew he began to think “If this is sobriety who needs it?”  Each relapse was related with his inability to deal with job related pressures.

By comparing the life history, the alcohol and drug use history, and the recovery relapse history Jake could see in a dramatic way the recurrent problems that caused him to relapse. The two major issues were (1) the need to drink in order to feel like he belonged and (2) the need to drink in order to cope with stress.

It wasn’t surprising that Jake discovered that during every past period of abstinence he became isolated, lonely and depressed.  The longer he stayed sober the worse it got.  The stress built up until he felt that if he didn’t take a drink to relax he would go crazy or collapse.

Step 3:  Relapse Education

Relapsers need to learn about the relapse process and how to manage it.  It’s not a bad idea to get their family and Twelve Step Sponsors involved.  The education needs to reinforce four major messages:  First, relapse is a normal and natural part of recovery from chemical dependence.  There is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about.  Second, people are not suddenly taken drunk.  There a progressive patterns of warning signs that set them up to use again.  These warning signs can be identified and recognized while sober.  Third, once identified recovering people can learn to manage the relapse warning signs while sober. And Fourth, there is hope.  A new counseling procedure called relapse prevention therapy can teach recovering people how to recognize and manage warning signs so a return to chemical use becomes unnecessary.

When Jake entered relapse prevention therapy he felt demoralized and hopeless.  That began to change when he heard his first lecture that described the typical warning signs that precede relapse to chemical use.  He felt like someone had read his mail.  “Since someone understand what causes me to get drunk,” he thought, “perhaps they know what to do in order to stay sober.

Step 4:  Warning Sign Identification

Relapsers need to identify the problems that caused relapse.  The goal is to write a list of personal warning signs that lead them from stable recovery back to chemical use.

There is seldom just one warning sign.  Usually a series of warning signs build one on the other to create relapse.  It’s the cumulative affect that wears them down. The final warning sign is simply the straw that breaks the camel’s back.  Unfortunately many of relapsers think it’s the last warning sign that did it. As a result they don’t look for the earlier and more subtle warning signs that set the stage for the final disaster.

When Jake first came into relapse prevention therapy he thought that he was crazy.  “I can’t understand it,” he told his counselor, “Everything was going fine and suddenly, for no reason at all I started to overreact to things.  I’d get confused, make stupid mistakes and then not know what to do to fix it.  I got so stressed out that I got drunk over it.”

Jake, like most relapsers, didn’t know what his early relapse warning signs were and as a result didn’t recognize the problems until it was too late.  A number of procedures are used to help recovering people identify the early warning signs relapse.

Searching for your own warning signs

Most people start by reviewing and discussing The Phases And Warning Signs Of Relapse (available from Independence Press, PO Box HE, Independence MO 64055, 1-800-767-8181).  This warning sign list describes the typical sequence of problems that lead from stable recovery to alcohol and drug use.  By reading and discussing these warning signs relapsers develop a new way of thinking about the things that happened during past periods of abstinence that set them up to use.  They learn new words with which to describe their past experiences.

After reading the warning signs they develop an initial warning sign list by selecting five of the warning signs that they can identify with.  These warning signs become a starting point for warning sign analysis.  Since most relapsers don’t know what their warning signs are they need to be guided through a process that will uncover them.  The relapser is asked to take each of the five warning signs and tell a story about a time when they experienced that warning sign in the past while sober.  They tell these stories both to their therapist and to their therapy group.  The goal is to look for hidden warning signs that are reflected in the story.

Jake’s Relapse Warning Signs

Jake, for example, identified with the warning sign “Tendency toward loneliness.”  He told a story about a time when he was sober and all alone in the house because his wife had left with the children.  “I felt so lonely and abandoned, he said.  I couldn’t understand why she would walk out just because we had a fight.  She should be able to handle it better than she does.”

The group began asking questions and it turned out that Jake had frequent arguments with his wife that were caused by his grouchiness because of problems on the job.  It turned out that these family arguments were a critical warning sign that occurred before most relapses.  Jake had never considered his marriage to be a problem, and as a result never thought of getting marriage counseling.

Jake had now identified three warning signs:  (1) the need to drink in order to feel like he belonged, (2) the need to drink in order to cope with stress, and (3) the need to drink in order to cope with marital problems.  In order to be effectively managed each of these warning would need to be further clarified.

I then had Jake to write these three warning signs using a standard format and identify the irrational thoughts, unmanageable feelings and self-defeating behavior that accompanied each.  He wrote:

(1) I know I am in trouble with my recovery when I start feeling lonely and unable to fit in with other people;

When this happens I tend to think that I am no good and nobody could ever care about me.
When this happens I tend to feel lonely, angry and afraid.
When this happens I have an urge to hide myself away so I don’t have to talk with anyone.

(2) I know I am in trouble with my recovery when I feel unable to cope with high levels of job-related stress;

When this happens I tend to think that I need to try harder in order to get things under control or else I will be a failure.
When this happens I tend to feel humiliated and embarrassed.
When this happens I have an urge to  drive myself to keep working even thought I know I need to rest.

(3) I know I am in trouble with my recovery when I irrationally angry at my wife.

When this happens I tend to think that I’m a terrible person for treating her that way, but a part of me believes she deserves it.
When this I happens I tend to feel angry and ashamed.
When this happens I have un urge to forget that the incident ever happened, put it behind us and get on with our marriage.

Step 5:  Warning Sign Management & Coping Strategies

With this detailed description of the relapse warning signs Jake was ready to move on to the fifth step of relapse prevention planning, warning sign management.  Understanding the warning signs is not enough.  We need to learn how to manage them without resorting to alcohol or drug use.  This means learning nonchemical problem solving strategies that help us to identify high-risk situations and develop coping strategies.  In this way relapsers can diffuse irrational thinking, manage painful feelings, and stop the self-defeating behaviors before they lead to alcohol or drug use.

This is done by taking each relapse warning sign and developing a general coping strategy.  Jake, for example developed the following management strategy for dealing with his job related stress.

Jake’s Warning Sign
I know I am in trouble with my recovery when I feel unable to cope with high levels of job-related stress.

General Coping Strategy
I will learn how to say no to taking on extra projects, limit my work to 45 hours per week, and learn how to use relaxation exercises and meditation to unwind.

Matching Coping Strategies to Warning Signs

The next step is to identify ways to cope with the irrational thoughts, unmanageable feelings, and self-defeating behaviors that accompany each warning sign.  Jake developed the following coping strategies:

Irrational Thought:  I need to try harder in order to get things under control or else I will be a failure.
Rational Thought:  I am burned out because I am trying too hard.  I need to time to rest or I will start making more mistakes.

Unmanageable Feelings:  Humiliation and embarrassment.
Feeling Management Strategy:  Talk about my feelings with others.  Remind myself that there is no reason to embarrassed.  I am a fallible human being and all people get tired.

Self-defeating Behavior: Driving myself to keep working even thought I know I need to rest.
Constructive Behavior:  Take a break and relax.  Ask someone to review the project and see if they can help me to solve the problem.

Step 6:  Recovery Planning

Now Jake is ready to move unto the sixth step of recovery planning.  A recovery plan is a schedule of activities that puts relapsers into regular contact with people who will help them to avoid alcohol and drug use.  They must stay sober by working the twelve step program and attending relapse prevention support groups that teach them to recognize and manage relapse warning signs.  This is why I call relapse prevention planning a “Twelve Step Plus” approach to recovery.

Jake needed to build something into his recovery program to help him deal with job related stress.  He decided to enter into counseling with a counselor who specialized in stress management, understood chemical dependency and had a background as an employee assistance counselor.  By doing this Jake was forced to regular discuss his problems at work and review how he was coping with them.  By identifying job related problems early, he could prevent getting overwhelmed by small problems that became overwhelming.

Step 7:  Inventory Training

The seventh step is inventory training.  Most relapsers find it helpful to get in the habit of doing a morning and evening inventory.  The goal of the morning inventory is to prepare to recognize and manage warning signs.  The goal of the evening inventory is to review progress and problems.  This allows relapsers to stay anticipate high risk situations and monitor for relapse warning signs.  Relapsers need to take inventory work seriously because most warning signs are deeply entrenched habits that are hard to change and tend to automatically come back whenever certain problems or stresses occur.  If we aren’t alert we may not notice them until it’s too late.

Step 8:  Family Involvement

The eighth step is family involvement.  A supportive family can make the difference between recovery and relapse.  We need to encourage our family members to get involved in Alanon so they can recover from codependency.  With this foundation of shared recovery we can beginning talking with our families about past relapses, the warning signs that led up to them, and how the relapse hurt the family.  Most importantly we can work together to avoid future relapse.

If we had heart disease we would want our family to be prepared for an emergency.  Chemical dependency is a disease just like heart disease.  Our families’ needs to know about the early warning signs that lead to relapse.  They must be prepared to take fast and decisive action if we return to chemical use.  We can work out in advance, when we are in a sober state of mind, the steps they should take if we return to chemical use.  Our very life could depend upon it.

Step 9:  Follow-Up

The final step is follow-up.  Our warning signs will change as we progress in recovery.  Each stage of recovery has unique warning signs.  Our ability to deal with the warning signs of one stage of recovery doesn’t guarantee that we will recognize or know how to manage the warning signs of the next stage.  Our relapse prevention plan needs to be updated regularly; monthly for the first three months, quarterly for the first two years, and annually thereafter.

Originally Published In:  Alcoholism & Addiction Magazine: Relapse – Issues and Answers: Column 3:  How To Develop A Relapse Prevention Plan: By Terence T. Gorski, September 25, 1989, and updated regularly since that time.

About the Author

Terence T. Gorski is the President of the CENAPS Corporation a training and consultation firm specializing in relapse prevention, addictive relationships and treating chemically dependent ACA’s.  He holds a B.A. degree in psychology and sociology from Northeastern Illinois University and an M.A. from Webster’s College in St. Louis, Missouri.  He is a Senior Certified Addiction Counselor In Illinois.  He also contributes articles and interviews to major magazines, acts as a consultant to the health care industry, and conducts workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Some of his books include Passages Through Recovery, Staying Sober: and Relapse Prevention for African Americans. These and many more are provided in our Recovery Bookstore under the heading “Relapse Prevention. For more information about his leading techniques used by some of the nation’s top rehabilitation facilities or to  enroll in one of his training programs, you may also visit his site directly at

Levels of Relationship – Your Choice

October 25, 2013

Relationships_Business_01No one person can meet all of your needs and wants an wants. We need relationships with many different people, on different levels. We need a richly woven fabric of relationships, proper placed with clear boundaries and expectations.

In this blog, I am inviting you to experiment with thinking about relationships in what may be a very new and different way. I want you to imagine that relationships can exist on different levels.

You can choose the level of relationship you want and invite others to join you there. They of course have the right to accept, refuse, or renegotiate the invitation. You will be invited into relationships with others, and you have the same rights. It is important to recognize what level of relationship you are be invited into and make a choice. Then you need to set and maintain clear boundaries.

Many people find it helpful to think of relationships as unfolding on five levels.

1. ACQUAINTANCES have superficial relationships with you that are respectful such as a waiter or waitress, someone you casually work with, etc.

2. COMPANIONS share activities with you, but the activity is more important than the person. If I work out with someone and they want me to go to a movie instead I will probably say no. If I need a tennis partner and you don’t want to play, I will call another person I know who plays tennis. Many people have acquaintances with people they work out with at the gym. They may not see each other or share any other interests other than that. AND that’s OK. This means I can have some people I work out with, other people I play chess with, and a whole different group of people who share my interest in martial arts. I don’t expect these people to cross-over into other activities — and that’s OK.

3. FRIENDS are companions who share a wide variety if interests and activity. The purpose of the activity is to spend time with the person. So if we both don’t want to see a movie we will figure out something else to do. Being with the friend is primary, the activity is secondary.

4. PARTNERS are people who we make serious commitments to regarding work, earning money, building a business, buying a house, etc. a partnership is conditional whereas friendships are unconditional. If you are responsible for investing my money, that it what I expect you to do. If you don’t make me money on investments I find someone else. If I hire you to do a job and you don’t do it I let you go. Nothing personal. I need to get that job done and you agreed to do it in exchange for reimbursement.

5. LOVERS/INTIMATE partners are people that we share physical affection, sensuality, and sexuality with. Now here where it gets complicated.

Some people have casual sex with attractive acquaintances. Other people start out as workout partners and it explodes into passionate sex. Some people are great lovers and terrible friends and life partners.

The problem is we are conditioned by a cultural fantasy, not a reality, that one friend or intimate partner should meet all if our needs in all areas across the entire life span.

People who get married often mistakenly believe the most important thing in a marriage is love. That fantasy crashes when you get divorced and stand before a judge reestablishing legal contracts regarding money, property, custody of and visitation with kids.

Most people are serial monogamous. They have a period of dating, then make some commitments by sharing rent, buying a house together, having children which legally obligates both parents to share economic responsibilities for supporting the children.

About 60% of the people getting married today will be divorced within seven to nine years. Of those who get divorced half will remarry within seven years with more than half if those second marriages ending in divorce once again.

Thinking in terms of levels if relationship can help to be realistic in their expectations. No one can be all things to their partner. A great lover may be a terrible patent. A good friend may be an irresponsible business partner.

There us one thing that I believe is true. If you only have sex with friends there are less likely to have problems. Jump into bed with an attractive acquaintance and you’re playing Russian Roulette with your love life.

I explain this way of thinking about relationships in the book Getting Love Right – Learning The Choices of Healthy Intimacy by Terence T. Gorski  (A 5 star rated by readers at Amazon)

Gorski Books:

Stress Self-Monitoring and Relapse

April 27, 2012

By Terence T. Gorski 

An exciting new development in the treatment of addiction is the integration of stress management into the treatment and recovery process.  Although stress management has been recognized as an important adjunct to addiction treatment for over twenty years, the relationship between acute stress reactions, denial and treatment resistance is now becoming clear.  As stress goes up, so does denial and treatment resistance.  A key to effectively managing denial and treatment resistance is to teach recovering people to recognize their stress levels and use immediate relaxation techniques to lower their stress.

Recovering people are especially vulnerable to stress.  There is a growing body of evidence that many addicted people have brain chemistry imbalances that predispose them to both addiction and difficulty in managing stress.  The regular and heavy use of alcohol and other drugs can cause toxic effects to the brain that create symptoms that cause additional stress and interfere with effective stress management.

Many recovering people have severe problems with Post Acute Withdrawal (PAW).  PAW is caused by brain chemistry imbalances that are related to addiction that disrupt the ability to think clearly, manage feelings and emotions, manage stress, and self-regulate behavior.  PAW is stress sensitive.  As the level of stress goes up, the severity of PAW symptoms increases.  As PAW symptoms get worse, recovering people start losing their ability to effectively manage their stress.  As a result they are locked into chronic states of high stress that cause them to vacillate between emotional numbness and emotional overreaction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, exposure to stress is one of the most powerful triggers for relapse to substance abuse in addicted individuals, even after long periods of abstinence.  Stress can cause a problem drinker to drink more, and a recovering alcoholic to relapse.

Many counselors are dealing with these stress related problems by using a simple tool called The Stress Thermometer.

The Stress Thermometer

The Stress Thermometer is a self-monitoring tool that teaches people to become aware of their current stress levels, notice increases and decreases in stress during sessions, and encourages the use of immediate relaxation techniques to lower stress as soon a stress levels begin to rise.  The stress thermometer makes the problem of stress an acceptable issue to bring up any time stress levels increase to a point where denial and resistance are activated.

The concept of using a stress thermometer came from thinking about how we use a temperature thermometer to measure our body temperature.  When we take our body temperature we use a thermometer to tell us accurately and objectively what our body temperature is.  When we use a stress thermometer, we use a system for self-monitoring our stress levels that can tell us accurately and objectively how high our stress levels are.

The stress thermometer is divided into four color-coded regions: blue – relaxation, green – functional, yellow – acute stress reaction, and red – trauma reaction.

Relaxation: Stress levels of 1, 2, and 3 are coded blue. Blue is a color that represents a state of relaxation. We are relaxed and attending to the completion of any tasks. Stress Level 1: Relaxed Nearly Asleep; Stress Level 2: Relaxed – Not Focused; and Stress Level 3: Relaxed – Focused

Functional Stress: Stress levels 4, 5 & 6 designate the zone of functional stress. They are coded green because green is a color that represents “go”.  At stress levels 4, 5, and 6 we are experiencing stress levels that are high enough to give us the energy we need to get things done but are not so high that the stress begins to impair our performance.  Stress Level 4: Focused and Active; Stress Level 5: Free Flow With No Effort; and Stress Level 6: Free Flow With Effort.

Acute Stress Reaction: Stress level 7, 8, and 9 are coded yellow. The color yellow represents caution. At stress levels 7, 8, and 9 we are experiencing an acute stress reaction. The word acute means immediate and severe. Our immediate levels of stress have gotten so high that we can’t consistently function normally. We’re in danger. Stress Level 7: Space Out; Stress Level 8: Get Defensive; and Stress Level 9: Overreact.

Traunatic Stress: Level 10 Plus

Mistaken Beliefs About Relapse by Terence T. (Terry) Gorski

April 17, 2012

The only way for recovering people and their families to be free from the fear of relapse is to understand it. Here are some simple point that may be helpful in preventing and managing relapse instead of blinding fearing it. Ironically, the constant fear of relapse lowers the quality of recovery, weakens us, and in doing so increases our risk of relapse. This post will teach you how to correct the most common istaken belief about relapse.

Mistaken Belief #1:  Relapse Is Self-Inflicted

Relapse, in most cases relapse, is not self-inflicted. Relapse-prone patients experience a gradual progression of symptoms that create so much pain that they become unable to function in sobriety.  They turn to addictive use to self-medicate the pain.  These patients can learn to stay sober by recognizing these symptoms as relapse warning signs, identifying the self-defeating thoughts, feelings, and actions they use to cope with them, and learning more effective coping responses.  Unfortunately, most relapse-prone patients never receive relapse prevention therapy, either because treatment centers don’t provide it or their insurance or managed care provider won’t fund it.

Mistaken Belief #2:  Relapse Is An Indication Of Treatment Failure

Relapse is not necessarily a sign of treatment failure. Between one half and two-thirds of all patients treated will relapse, but at least one half of all relapsers will find long term recovery.  The belief that relapse means that treatment failed ignores the fact that, for many patients, recovery involves a series of relapse episodes.  Each relapse, if properly dealt with in treatment, can become a learning experience which makes the patient less likely to relapse in the future.

Chemically dependent people can be divided into three groups based upon their recovery and relapse history.  One third of all patients are recovery prone and maintain total abstinence from their first serious attempt.   Another third are transitionally relapse prone and have a series of short-term and low consequence relapse episodes prior to finding long-term abstinence.  The final third, the most difficult patients to treat, are chronically relapse-prone patients can’t find long-term sobriety no matter what they do.

Recovery-prone patients tend to be addicted to a single drug, have higher levels of social and economic stability, and not have dual diagnosis or serious coexisting problems.  They are what are often referred to as “garden variety addicts” who have uncomplicated chemical addictions.

Transitionally relapse-prone patients tend to have more severe addictions that are complicated by other problems.  They have the capacity, however, to learn from each relapse episode and take steps to alter or modify their recovery programs to avoid future relapses.

Chronically relapse-prone patients tend to have severe addictions complicated by serious dual diagnosis.  Most chronic relapsers have either severe post acute withdrawal caused by the effects of chronic alcohol and drug poisoning to the brain, a coexisting personality or mental disorder, or a serious coexisting physical illness.  Many fail to recover because these coexisting conditions are not properly diagnosed and treated.

Mistaken Belief #3:  Once Relapse Occurs The Patient Will Never Recover

Even chronically relapse-prone patients are not hopeless. In 1988, I had dinner with over sixty skid row alcoholics who had completed a relapse prevention program at Alexandria Regional Detox Center.  These people were previously labeled as hopeless and given short-term revolving door non-medical detox.  All were sober for over six months after participating in weekly outpatient relapse prevention groups coupled with twelve step programs.  All of these people wanted to stay sober.  Prior to relapse prevention therapy, they did not know how.  Once they learned effective strategies for identifying and managing relapse warning signs, they were able to stay sober in spite of the other serious problems they experienced.

Best Wishes In Your Ongoing Recovery,

Terence T. Gorski


Check Out Gorski’s Book

Recovery books, tapes and resources authored by Terry Gorski are available through Herald House Independence Press, 1-800-767-8181 or  The CENAPS office at 352-596-8000 or visit for more information.  GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications


April 17, 2012

This is a great page. It was developed by young people who have experienced cyber-bullying and come out the other side. They want to share their experience and help others out of the trap. It is written by young people, for young people. Bullying of all sorts is hitting epidemic proportions. These dynamic young people decided to do more that whine and complain — they are talking about positive solutions. Adults need to know — we can learn from our children.


CHECK OUT GORSKI BOOKS: Email: for special offers or visit

Defining Ourselves — Selected Quotes by Terry Gorski

April 16, 2012

Defining Ourselves

Get Credits for reading Gorski’s Books: www,

On Being Sentient

“As a sentient being I can grow beyond my original programming!  Therefore, I can choose who I am what I am to become!” — Data, Star Trek – The Next Generation

Knowledge of Self IS Power

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering of others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.” — Tao Te Ching Repeating the Past

If you don’t have a vision for the future, then your future is threatened to be a repeat of the past. – A. R. Bernard

If you don’t know history you are condemned to repeat it. — Unkown

We Are Not Defined By Our Past

We are fallible human beings.  We all make mistakes.  Our mistakes, as painful as they may be, teach us vital lessons about who we are.  Learn from your mistakes – don’t define yourself by them!” — Terry Gorski

Finding the Quit Voice Within

We all are programmed to have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, preferences and prejudices.  Somewhere within this complex mix lies that one aspect of self that makes us uniquely who we are.  We are led to it by a small quiet voice within.  We learn about our uniqueness through trial and error.  We learn from the consequences of our decisions and actions.

Growing Beyond Our Programming

“From the moment we are conceived we are programmed with strengths and weakness that are at once a unity of the biological, psychological, social, cultural and spiritual conditioning.  There is also the quiet voice of The Great I Am urging us to grow beyond what we have been programmed to do and to be.  We are all created to grow beyond our original programming.  It is what makes us human

The Unique “I Am!”

All of us are unique individuals. We share common characteristics with other people, but each of us was born with special strengths and attributes that are uniquely our own.  We don’t automatically know what defines us.  We must judge in deep reflection what comes naturally to us, what we do well, and what feeds our soul.  Then we must let our life experiences be our guide. — Terry Gorski

On Being an Original

You’ve got to be original, because if you’re like someone else, what do they need you for? — Donna Lynn DeLuca

What this means to me is that to be original” we must learn to dig deep beneath our cultural programming and discover who we really are – discover our true self and our true mission in life!

What Lies Within

What lies behind us and what lies before is of little concern compared to what lies within us.  — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“A friend walks with you as the world walks by! — KC Hollmer

We All Have A Destiny

Some call it a vocation or calling.  Others call it a destiny or a God-given gift.  Other simply know in their heart that it is what they were created to do and to be!.” — Terry Gorski

The Measure of a Person

”The measure of a man is not determined by his show of outward strength, or in the volume of his voice, or the thunder in his actions. It is to be seen, rather, in the terms of the nature and depth of his commitments, the genuineness of his friendships, the sincerity of his purpose, the quiet courage of his convictions, his capacity to suffer, and his willingness to continue to grow up.” — Grady Poulard

The Measure of a Life:

“I can’t claim to understand the measure of a life, but I can tell you this:  It has something to do with the willingness to defy unjust authority and to feel good about it! I know this because when my 81-year-old mentor died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open.  I’m pretty sure he was happy with his final resting place because he was buried on the mountain where he lived all his life, even though he knew before he died that to be buried there was against the law.” — Unknown

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness has two components(1) just being present and knowing clearly what is happening, and (2) intuitively responding to our experience in a skillful way. Before we do anything, we need to be aware of what is really going on, not just react to stimuli in an unconscious way. ~~Kevin Griffin


Integrity means doing what is right, even when it isn’t popular. Popularity allows you to live with others, but integrity lets you live with yourself.  – Rosemary Bossi

The Power of One

“One person can make a difference!  Every person should try!” — John F. Kennedy

Writing and the Sense of Self

“It is better to write for the self and have no public
Than to write for the public and have no self.
It is better still to write for the public
In a way that enhances and strengthens your sense of self.” — Terry Gorski

What Defines Me as A Person

There are three major things that define me as a person:

(1)  My ability to take complex and abstract ideas and explain them in plain English with a simple series of practical ways that people can use to apply these ideas to their lives.

(2)  My ability to survive, persist and learn to manage anything that life throws at me (even if I don’t like it, in the moment I don’t believe I can do it, and I experience many temporary setbacks on my ways to figuring it out).

(3)  My undying faith that I was born for a reason and a quiet spiritual voice within will show me that purpose if a learn to be turn over control, quiet my mind, listen to the voice, and follow directions to the best of my ability.

Pride & Character

Pride is to character like the attic is to the house – it is the highest part, and generally the most empty — John G

The Disease Model of Addiction

April 14, 2012

The terms disease, illness, and disorder are so similar in their definitions that it becomes very difficult to tell them apart. There are medical diseases, illnesses, and disorders. The same is true in the realm of psychiatric or mental health – there are diseases, illneses, or disorders. The primary issue is a central and critical one — is the person sick and do they require treatment? — or are they back and require punishment? As a result moral issues have inflamed emotions and reason has taken a back seat to a thoughtful approach about effective public policy. The end result is the over two million addicted people are in prison. Why?


On Friday, October 4, 1996 at the 10th Annual Dual Disorder Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada Terence T. Gorski presented a paper and publicly debated G. Alan Marlatt on the issue of whether addiction is a disease.  Here, for the first time anywhere, are Mr. Gorski’s edited lecture notes that were prepared for this presentation.

Disease Model Of Addiction
An Article By Terence T. Gorski

Presented At The 10th Annual Dual Disorder Conference
Friday, October 04, 1996, Las Vegas, NE

GORSKI-CENAPS Web Publications

Updated in Straight Talk About Addiction
By Terence T. Gorski,

Published On: October 4, 1996:
Updated On: August 07, 2001 
© Terence T. Gorski, 2001

On Friday, October 4, 1996 at the 10th Annual Dual Disorder Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada Terence T. Gorski presented a paper and publicly debated G. Alan Marlatt on the issue of whether addiction is a disease.  Here, for the first time anywhere, are Mr. Gorski’s edited lecture notes that were prepared for this presentation.

My name is Terry Gorski.  I’m the President of the CENAPS Corporation, a training and consultation firm that specializes in chemical dependency and related behavioral health problems.  I am pleased to have this opportunity to discuss with Dr. Marlatt the issue of whether Alcoholism does or does not meet the criteria of being a disease.

The way that we conceptualize alcoholism and other drug dependencies is critical to the development of effective policy for its treatment.  Effective policy is necessary to secure the adequate resources needed for its treatment.

If alcoholism is defined as a disease, it will be treated as a healthcare problem.  As a result, alcoholics will be assured the right to receive appropriate medical treatment for this disease.  The treatment of Alcoholism will be covered by health insurance and other health care financing plans in both the public and private sectors.  The appropriate health care groups will be mobilized to support its treatment.  And, most importantly, ongoing biomedical research which relates alcoholism to other diseases will be funded.

If alcoholism is not defined as a disease, we will be making the decision that it does not rightfully belong within healthcare.  Alcoholics, then, will be denied access to vital healthcare services.  Insurance and other health care financing plans will exclude alcoholism.  Alcoholism, which is responsible for 30% of all inpatient hospital days and nearly 50% of emergency room visits, will be divorced from the medical field.  As a result it will never be fully integrated into our health care system.

If Alcoholism is not a disease, then what is it and how should society deal with it?

The answer to this questions is vital.  If alcoholism is not a disease, then it is not a healthcare problem.  If it is not a healthcare problem then the healthcare system that is devoted to the prevention, early identification, and treatment of disease should not become involved with those afflicted with alcoholism.  If this is the case, where should the alcoholic go to receive treatment?

To say that Alcoholism is an “addiction”, an “affliction”, or “an appetite habit disorder” is to avoid the key question:  “Does Alcoholism meet the criteria of a disease?”  If we call alcoholism by another name, we must still apply the same question.  If we call it an addiction, we must ask the question “Does an addiction meet the criteria of a disease?”  If we call it an affliction, we must ask the questions “Does an affliction meet the criteria of a disease?”  If we call it an appetite habit disorder, we must ask the question “Does an appetite habit disorder meet the criteria of a disease?”

To answer the key question of whether or not alcoholism (or whatever we choose to call it, is a disease, we must look to the technical definition of “disease” and then look at the phenomena of alcoholism and see if it meets that criteria.

What is a “Disease”?

To intelligently discuss the issue of whether or not alcoholism is a disease, we must first define the term “disease”.  To do this I turned to the 24th Edition of the Stedman’s Medical Dictionary which provided the following definitions.

1.    A disease is a morbus, an illness, a sickness that causes an interruption, cessation, or disorder of bodily functions, systems, or organs

2.   A disease is an entity characterized by at least two of these criteria:

  • a recognized etiologic agent (or agents);
  • an identifiable group of signs and symptoms;  or
  • consistent anatomical alterations of known body systems.

To determine if alcoholism is a disease, we must see if it meets this definition.

My position is that alcoholism is a disease.  This position is shared by many prestigious organizations including the World Health Organization (WHO), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the American Psychiatric Association (APA).  The Congress of the United States of America formally acknowledged that Alcoholism was a disease with the passage of the Hughes Act in 1970.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) was created to promote research on the nature of this disease.  A major thrust of NIAAA has been on the biomedical aspects of this disease and much progress has been made in understanding its etiology, symptoms, and treatment.

There is a good reason for taking the position that alcoholism is a disease – alcoholism meets all of the criteria of a disease as defined by any medical dictionary or text book.

Let’s go back to the Stedman’s Medical dictionary’s definition of a disease as see if these criteria accurately describe the phenomena of alcoholism.  To do this we will need to systematically answer two questions:

1.    Is alcoholism “an illness or a sickness?

2.    Does alcoholism causes an interruption, cessation, or disorder of bodily functions, systems, or organs?” 

3.    Is alcoholism “an entity characterized by a recognized etiologic agent (or agents); 

4     Is alcoholism “an entity characterized by an identifiable group of signs and symptoms?”

5.    Is alcoholism “an entity characterized by consistent anatomical alterations of known body systems?”

6.    Do all people who experience alcohol problems have the disease of alcoholism?”

Let’s systematically answer these six questions.

Question #1:  Is alcoholism “an illness, or “a sickness”?

The answer to this question is yes.  Alcoholism is a leading cause of death in the United States.  Alcoholism is a major factor in rapidly growing healthcare care costs.  Nearly 30% of all inpatient hospital days and 50% of all emergency room visits are devoted to the treatment of medical problems related to alcoholism.  Anyone who has known an actively drinking alcoholic will attest to the fact that they get physically sick.  This is evidence by the fact that known alcoholics have significantly higher utilization of medical treatment than non-alcoholic patients.

Even Dr. Marlatt will concede that Alcoholism is “an affliction”.  There seems to be universal agreement that alcoholics become ill or sick in the medical sense of the word and seek treatment in large numbers that illness or sickness.

Question #2:  Does alcoholism cause an interruption, cessation, or disorder of bodily functions, systems, or organs?” 

Again the answer is yes.  There is a definite profile of alcohol-related damage to body systems and organs that usually does not occur in people who do not have alcoholism.  The major organ system that is affected is the brain.  There is clear evidence from neuropsychological studies that alcoholics have cognitive impairments related to the organic damage caused by chronic alcohol poisoning to the brain.  The DSM IV clearly identifies and differentiates “substance related organic mental disorders” and describes their direct correlation to alcoholism.

Many other organ systems are also affected.  There is a specific profile of alcoholism related damage to other organ systems.  The liver, the pancreas, the heart, the endocrine systems among others are all affected.

Alcoholism can be a fatal disease.  Many alcoholics die from their alcoholism each year.  Why?  Because if the alcoholic continues to drink heavily and regularly the organ system problems will become fatal.  The NIAAA informs us that alcoholism is the third most common cause of death next to cancer and heart disease among adult Americans.

Questions #3:  Is alcoholism “an entity characterized by an identifiable group of signs and symptoms?”

Again, the answer is yes.  But here we must be careful to make careful distinctions between alcohol use, alcohol-related problems, and alcoholism.

About 70% of all Americans use alcoholic beverages on a regular enough basis to be defined as “drinkers”.  About 60% of these drinkers (40% of all Americans) consume alcohol in moderation and experience no problems.  These people experience alcohol use, which definitely is not a disease.  About 40% of these drinkers (30% of all Americans) consume large amounts of alcohol and experience some problems as a result of their use.  These people experience alcohol-related problems which DSM-IV defines as alcohol abuse.

Since these alcohol abusers do not develop biomedical conditions related to their alcohol abuse, this group does not technically meet our definition of disease.  Alcohol abusers, however, are engaging in high risk behaviors that can lead to alcoholism.

About 10% of these drinkers (7% of all Americans) develop biomedical complications as a result of their alcohol abuse.  These people definitely meet the criteria of having a disease.  For the moment, let’s restrict our attention to this 10% of people with alcohol-related biomedical conditions.

There are clearly described signs and symptoms that are associated with alcoholism.  These signs and symptoms were originally identified at the turn of the century and have been studied and clarified since.  Many researchers and leading professional organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Associate recognize these signs and symptoms.  With that in mind let’s briefly review the history of the discovery and refinement of the signs and symptoms of alcoholism.

The IOM Report to Congress based its reasoning upon a model that describes alcoholism as existing on a continuum of alcohol-related problems.  Let’s look at how we can use this model to correctly reason to the conclusion that there are a large numbers of individuals that have a profile of alcohol related problems (i.e. signs and symptoms) that meet the criteria of having a disease.

Continuum of Alcohol Problems Model

According to the Institute of Medicine Report to Congress, alcohol problems exist on a continuum of severity from mild to severe.  The following is one set of criteria that can be used to place different profile of alcohol related problems on this continuum.

1.    Mild problems create subjective distress and interpersonal conflict but do not result in social or occupational impairments.

2.    Moderate problems create periodic or persistent social and occupational impairments and minor health problems but do not result in incapacitation.

3.    Severe problem result in periodic or persistent incapacitation as a result of severe physical, psychological, or social problems.

Mild Alcohol Problems:

People with mild alcohol problems (i.e. those who have experienced only subjective distress or mild interpersonal conflicts related to alcohol or drug use) do not, at that moment, meet the criteria of having the disease of alcoholism because: there is not a full and complete profile of signs and symptoms and there is not sufficient evidence of a disorder marked by structural or functional impairment.

Some individuals who experience mild problems with alcohol or other drugs will progress to more severe problems.  Others will not.  In those who experience a progression from mild to severe problems, the rate of progression will vary from gradual to rapid.  This variance in the rate of progression, as we will see latter, can form the basis of developing subtypes of alcoholism.

There is currently no absolutely reliable way to predict which individuals will experience progression and which will not, although risk of progression increases with evidence of genetic, prenatal, and familial risk factors, an d early age onset of initial problems.

It is reasonable to assume that the mild alcohol-related problems in individuals who eventual progress to severe problems may, in fact, be the early stage symptoms of alcoholism.  Since, however, reliable predictions cannot yet be made as to who will and will not experience progressive problems, definitive diagnosis based upon mild alcohol problems cannot yet be made.  As a result it is best to describe such individuals as being in high risk of developing alcoholism rather than conferring the definite diagnosis of alcoholism.  As can be seen,, as of this presentation it is not appropriate to describe the mild alcohol-related problems as a disease.

Severe Alcohol Problems

People who have developed severe problems with alcohol and drugs have a consistent profile of alcohol and drug related problems that can appropriately be classified as a disease.  Most individual who develop severe problems with alcohol and drugs share the following signs and symptoms:  (1) Severe subjective distress;  (2) severe interpersonal conflicts; (3) severe social and occupational problems; and (4) incapacitation as a result of severe physical, psychological or social problems.

The profiles of the symptoms of patients with severe alcohol problems have been well mapped and constitute the basis of many well accepted diagnostic typologies that meet the criteria of a disease.  Let’s review some of the most notable.

Moderate Alcohol Problems – The Borderline Cases

It is clear that people with mild alcohol problems do not meet the criteria of having a disease.  It is also clear that people who have severe alcohol problems do, for the most part, meet the criteria of having a disease.

Where Do We Draw The Line?

Now we must turn to a critical issue.  Where do we draw the line between having the disease of alcoholism and not having it?  How do we correctly classify the people with moderate alcohol problems?  As of this presentation there are no definitive answers.  It is important however to point out that in clinical practice these distinction are being made on a daily basis.

Some clinicians operate according to a set of decisions rules that in essence say, if in doubt, declare the client an abuser and attempt moderation training until that approach fails.

Other clinicians operate according to a set of decision rules that say:  “Since no one has ever died from abstinence, and many alcoholics who attempt controlled drinking and fail suffer serious problems up to and including death, if in doubt declare the person as having a disease and treat it accordingly.

Here we confront the link between diagnosis (Is it a disease or not) and treatment (Does recovery it require total abstinence or not).  I will return to this issue latter.  For now, let’s simply point out that we are not addressing the issue of effective treatment (i.e. abstinence vs. controlled drinking).  We are addressing the issue of whether or not alcoholism or certain of its subtypes are appropriately classified as a disease.


Most people who have severe alcohol problems as described above meet the criteria for Substance Dependence as presented in the DSM-IV.  These criteria include:

A.  A Pattern of Compulsive Use marked by a loss of control over the ability to regulate use or to abstain.

B.  Tolerance marked by both the need for larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the desired effect and a diminished perceived effect with the same amount.

C.  Withdrawal marked by the development of a specific withdrawal syndrome upon the cessation of use or the use of the same or similar type of drug to relieve or avoid the withdrawal syndrome.

D.   Substance-induced Organic Mental Disorders that result from the toxic effects of chronic alcohol and drug poisoning to the brain.

DSM IV places a heavy weighting upon the pattern of compulsive use as the primary factor distinguishing between abuse and dependence.  This pattern of compulsive use is marked by the following signs and symptoms:

1.  Craving:  A strong desire to use the substance.

2.  Loss of control over use:  The tendency to use larger quantities of the substance than intended and to use the substance for longer periods of time than intended.

3.  Inability to abstain:  The persistent desire to cut down or control accompanied by the failure to be able to so in spite of past attempts.

4.  Addiction Centered Lifestyle:  The increased amount of time spent in seeking and using alcohol and other drugs resulting in the centering of major life activities around alcohol and drug use.

5.  Addictive Lifestyle Losses:  The tendency to give up or reduce the frequency of involvement in important life activities to accommodate the increased amount of time spent in drug seeking and using.

6.  Continued Use In spite of Problems  The tendency to continue to use alcohol and drugs in spite of problems.

It is appropriate to describe people with severe alcohol problems that meet the DSM IV criteria of substance dependence as having a disease.  In these cases there is clear evidence of a syndrome (a clearly identifiable pattern of signs and symptoms) and a disorder (clear evidence that those signs and symptoms have created both functional and structural impairment.

Question #4:  Is alcoholism (defined as drinkers who develop biomedical complications from alcohol abuse) “an entity characterized by consistent anatomical alterations of known body systems?”

The answer to this question is definitely yes.  There is no doubt that alcoholism produces a syndrome marked by predictable signs and symptoms.  There is also no doubt that these signs and symptoms frequently create functional and structural damage to the brain and other organ systems.  These facts, however, do not address the question of why a person would voluntarily keep drinking and using drugs until brain and organ system damage developed.

This question can be answered, in part, by understanding the relationship of brain reward mechanisms and the behavior of using alcohol and drugs.  This demonstrates that the tendency toward alcohol seeking behavior is strongly linked to progressive alterations in the function of the brain, and in late stages to the development of structural damage to the brain and other organ systems.

Recent NIAAA Research clearly shows that there are biomedical processes that occur within the brains of alcoholics that reinforce the regular and heavy use of alcohol.  These biomedical brain reinforcement processes are different from the classic alcohol withdrawal syndrome.  Let me quote the summary of this research reported in the Alcohol Alert from NIAAA for July of 1996.

1. People will tend to repeat an action that brings pleasure or reward.  The pleasure or reward provided by that action is called positive reinforcement.

2. Certain behaviors, especially those associated with survival needs, are linked to biochemical processes within the brain that cause powerful biological reinforcement for these behaviors.

3.  This biological reinforcement is related to the release of specific brain chemicals when the behavior is performed.  These brain chemical produces a sense of pleasure or reward.

4.  Evidence suggests that Alcohol and Other Drugs of Abuse (AOD’s) produce chemicals that are surrogates of these naturally occurring brain chemicals that produce biological reinforcement.

5.  As a result the use of AOD’s cause a rewarding mental state (euphoria) that functions as a positive reinforcer of the initial use of AOD’s.  This rewarding mental state is defined as euphoria.  (Euphoria is a state that is separate and distinct from the symptoms of intoxication).

6.  As a result individuals who receive positive reinforcement for AOD use as a result of the production of these brain chemicals are more likely to engage in drug seeking behavior and to use drugs regularly and heavily.

7.  The biochemical reinforcement that results from alcohol and drug use is more powerful and persistently reinforcing than the biomedical reinforcement provided by other survival related actions.

8.   As a result, people who experience this are more likely to feel that the use of alcohol and drugs is more important than engaging in other vital survival linked behaviors.  As a result they will tend to use AOD’s instead of actively meeting other vital needs.

9.  This perception that alcohol and drug use is more important than meeting other needs results in alcohol-seeking behavior.

10.  After alcohol seeking behavior has been established, the brain undergoes certain adaptive changes to continue functioning despite the presence of alcohol.  This adaptation is called tolerance.

11.  Once this tolerance is established, further abnormalities occur in the brain when alcohol is removed.  In other words, the brain looses it capacity to function normally when alcohol is not present.

12.  This low-grade abstinence-based brain dysfunction is distinct and different from the traditional acute withdrawal syndromes.

13.  This low-grade abstinence-based brain dysfunction is marked by feelings of discomfort, cravings, and difficulty finding gratification from other behaviors.

14.   This creates a desire to avoid the unpleasant sensations that occur in abstinence.  This desire to avoid painful stimuli is called negative reinforcement.

15.  People who experience biological reinforcement (both positive and negative) are more likely to use alcohol and drugs regularly and heavily.

16.  People who use alcohol and drugs regularly and heavily are more likely to develop physical dependence syndromes marked by tolerance and classic withdrawal symptoms, and biomedical complications resulting from alcohol and drug use.

17.  There is evidence that people who are genetically and prenatally exposed to addiction may have pathological brain reward mechanisms.

18.  This pathological brain reward mechanism is marked by a below average release of packets of brain reward chemicals when not using the drug of choice.  When the drug of choice is used the brain releases abnormally large amounts of brain reward chemicals.  When not using, the person experiences a low grade agitated depression and a sense of anhedonia (the inability to experience pleasure or find satisfaction in any activity).  This feeling creates a craving for something, anything that will relive the feeling.

19.  When the person finds the drug of choice that releases large amounts of brain reward chemicals, the person experience a powerful sense of pleasure or euphoria.  The experience feels so good that the client begins seeking that experienced.

Progressive Symptoms of 
Addictive Brain Reward Mechanisms

Let’s explore the progression of symptoms that may be related to this pathological brain reward mechanism.

1.  Chronic Low Grade Agitated Depression:  Due to abnormally low release of brain reward chemicals the person experience a chronic state of low grade agitated depression.  This state is dysphoric and creates an urge to find something, anything that will relieve this state.

2.  Biological Reinforcement:  The person experiments with a drug of choice that activates the release of brain reward chemicals.  This results in an intense feeling of euphoria and personal well being.  For the first time the person’s mood normalizes and they feel good.  They can experience pleasure.  Whatever feelings they are experiencing prior to use becomes normalized.  As a result the drug of choice can be used as a psychoactive medication.

3.   Obsession, Compulsion, and Craving:  The biological reinforcement creates a positive experience.  The person trains themselves in the process of euphoric recall.  they remember how good the experience was and exaggerate the memory of the good feelings.  This thinking about the euphoria stimulates the limbic system to develop and emotional urge to repeat the experience.  This emotional urge, as it grows strong, can activate a primitive tissue hunger for the drug.

3.  High Tolerance:  The person is able to use large amounts of the drug of choice without becoming intoxicated or impaired.  As a result they can use heavily without apparent adverse consequences

4.  Hangover Resistance:  The person experiences minimal sickness on the morning after using alcohol and drugs.  This rapid recovery allows the person to resume use rapidly and to use the drug of choice frequently.

5.  Addictive Beliefs:  As a result of the experiences created by the biological reinforcement, high tolerance, and hangover resistance the person comes to believe that the drug of choice is good for them and will magically fix them or make them better.  They come view people who support their alcohol and drug use as friends and people who fail to support it as their enemies.

6.  Addictive Lifestyle:  The person attracts and is attracted to other individuals who share strong positive attitudes toward the use of alcohol and other drugs.  They become immersed in an addiction centered subculture.

7.  Addictive Lifestyle Losses:  The person distances people who support sobriety and surround themselves with people who support alcohol and drug use.

8.  A Pattern of Heavy and Regular Use:  The pattern of biological reinforcement has motivated the person to build a belief system and lifestyle that supports heavy and regular use.  he person is now in a position where they will voluntarily use larger amounts with greater frequency until progressive addiction and physical, psychological and social degeneration occur.

9.   Progressive Neurological and Neuropsychological Impairments:  the progressive damage of alcohol and drugs to the brain create growing problems with judgment and impulse control.  As a result behavior begins to spiral out of control.  The cognitive capacities needed to think abstractly about the problem have also been impaired and the person is locked into a pattern marked by denial and circular systems of reasoning.

10.  Denial:  The client is unable to recognize the pattern of problems related to the use of alcohol and drugs.  When problems are experienced and confronted

11.  Degeneration:  The person begins to experience physical, psychological and social deterioration.  Unless the person develops an unexpected insight or is confronted by problems or people in their life the progressive problems are likely to continue until serious damage results.

12.  Inability to Abstain:  The person attempts to abstain but is plagued by acute withdrawal and the longer term withdrawal symptoms associated with chronic brain toxicity.  In addiction the low grade agitated depression and symptoms of anhedonia return.  The combination of problems impair judgment and and impulse control.  When coupled with the addictive belief systems and the deeply ingrained pattern of obsession, compulsion, and craving the person find themselves unable to maintain abstinence and relapses.

Question #5:  Is alcoholism “an entity characterized by a recognized etiologic agent (or agents)?”

The answer again is yes.  The etiology of alcoholism is a complex interaction between genetic and prenatal factors, impaired neurological development resulting from impoverished environment in infancy and early childhood, and psychosocial factors that support the heavy and regular use of alcohol.

Public Health Model:  The World Health Organization Provides an excellent model for understand the role of environmental factors in the etiology of disease.  According to this model etiological factors interact with environmental factors to produce disease.  Distinction need to be made between three elements:

1.  The Susceptible Host:  Different people have different biochemical reactions to the ingestion of alcohol.  Some of these reactions create resistance to alcohol related damage.  Other people have biochemical reactions that make them more sensitive to damage and hence more vulnerable.

2.  The Toxic Agent:  In this case the toxic agent is alcohol.  The exposure to alcohol is a necessary catalyst for the development of the disease in a susceptible host.

3.  A Permissive Environment:  The environment will increase or decrease the likelihood of exposure to the toxic agent (alcohol).  The more a culture reinforces the use of alcohol as necessary or desirable the greater the likelihood that more members of the culture will be exposed to the toxic agent.

Genetic and Prenatal Predisposition

There is convincing evidence that there is a genetic and prenatal factors can create a predisposition alcoholism.  This evidence is reviewed in depth in the series of reports to congress on alcohol and health submitted by the NIAAA.  The most recent reviews of the genetic research are in Alcohol and Health Research World, Volume 19, Number 3, 1995.

1.Impaired Neurological Development in Childhood:  There is a growing body of evidence that an impoverished environment during early infancy can impair neurological development and as a result prevent for genetic and prenatal tendencies.  Impoverished environments create chronic states of pathological anxiety through abuse.  Impoverished environments also deprive the infant of sufficient sensory stimulation needed for adequate development of the psycho-sensory system.  This psycho-sensory system is closely related to the production of reinforcing brain chemical.

Psychosocial Predisposition:  There is also convincing evidence that psychological and social factors can increase the risk of future alcohol and abuse and alcoholism.  There is an interaction between personality style, lifestyle, culture, and social system.  When these psychosocial variables encourage the following behaviors related to alcohol and drug use the prevalence of addiction increases.  The factors the increase the incidence of alcoholism appear to be psychosocial factors that:

1.  Promote the use of alcohol and drugs as safe, normal, and low risk behaviors

2.  Support frequent use.

3.  Support heavy use.

4.  Promotes intoxication as normal.

5.   Views intoxication a reason to exempt individuals from personal responsibility for the consequences of behaviors while intoxicated.

Question #6:  Do all people who experience alcohol problems have the disease of alcoholism?”

The answer here is no.  Not all people experience alcohol related problems have the disease of alcoholism.  There are different subtypes of alcohol related problems.  To assume that all subtypes of alcohol related problems are caused by the same etiology is a serious error.  All alcohol problems cannot be accounted for by a single disorder.  The issue of whether alcoholism is or is not a disease can only be intelligently discussed in relation to each of its known sub-types.

The judgment as to which subtypes of alcoholism are appropriately called a disease needs to be based upon the use of the standard criteria which we just reviewed. These criteria can be used to distinguish a disease from a non-disease.  There are specific subtypes of alcoholism that clearly and undeniable meet the criteria of a disease.  There are other subtypes of alcoholism that do not meet the criteria of a disease.

All subtypes of alcoholism have known etiologies that result from a complex interaction among physical, psychological, and social predisposing factors.  Not all sub-types have strong physiological predisposing factors.  The etiological factors can be described in one of three broad categories:

1.  Physiologically Dominant  Predisposing Factors:  These are factors related to genetic, prenatal and early childhood experiences that alter or predispose brain function to favor the development o an addiction to alcohol.  Traditionally physiologically dominant predisposing factors lend weight to defining a disorder as a disease.

2.  Psychosocially Dominant Predisposing Factors:  These are factors related to psychological predisposition (as reflected in thoughts, feelings, and behavioral habits that set the stage for heavy, regular and abusive drinking) and social predisposition (as reflected in cultural practices and social systems that support the regular, heavy, and abusive use of alcohol).  Traditionally psychosocially dominate predisposing factors when presenting in isolation from physiological predisposing factors lend weight to the argument that a disorder is not a disease.

3.   Mixed Etiological Features:  Most subtypes of alcoholism have mixed etiological features consistently of differently balanced profiled o physiologically dominant and psychosocially dominant predisposing factors.

The New Paradigm for Alcoholism

There is clear evidence that a new diagnostic paradigm is emerging that is reframing the definition of disease from one that is physiological symptoms only to one that is biopsychosocial in nature.  Therefore the clear distinction between physical and psychosocial predisposing factors may become less important in future definition of disease.



Babor, T.F.; Hoffman M.; DelBoca, F.K.; Hesselbrock, V.M.; Meyer, R.E.; Dolinsky, Z.S.; and Rounsaville, B.  Types of Alcoholics I: Evidence for an empirically derived typology based on indicators of vulnerability and severity.  Archives of General Psychiatry 49: 599-608, 1992.

Cloninger, C.R. Neurogenetic adaptive  mechanisms in alcoholism.  Science 236: 410-416, 1987

Schuckit, M.A.  The clinical implications of primary diagnostic groups among alcoholics.  Archives of General Psychiatry  42:1043-1049, 1985

About the Author

Terence T. Gorski is internationally recognized for his contributions to Relapse Prevention Therapy. The scope of his work, however, extends far beyond this. A skilled cognitive behavioral therapist with extensive training in experiential therapies, Gorski has broad-based experience and expertise in the chemical dependency, behavioral health, and criminal justice fields.

To make his ideas and methods more available, Gorski opened The CENAPS Corporation, a private training and consultation firm of founded in 1982.  CENAPS is committed to providing the most advanced training and consultation in the chemical dependency and behavioral health fields.

Gorski has also developed skills training workshops and a series of low-cost book, workbooks, pamphlets, audio and videotapes. He also works with a team of trainers and consultants who can assist individuals and programs to utilize his ideas and methods.
Terry Gorski is available for personal and program consultation, lecturing, and clinical skills training workshops. He also routinely schedules workshops, executive briefings, and personal growth experiences for clinicians, program managers, and policymakers.

Mr. Gorski holds a B.A. degree in psychology and sociology from Northeastern Illinois University and an M.A. degree from Webster’s College in St. Louis, Missouri.  He is a Senior Certified Addiction Counselor In Illinois.  He is a prolific author who has published numerous books, pamphlets and articles.  Mr. Gorski routinely makes himself available for interviews, public presentations, and consultant.  He has presented lectures and conducted workshops in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

For books, audio, and video tapes written and recommended by Terry Gorski contact: Herald House – Independence Press, P.O. Box 390 Independence, MO 64055.  Telephone: 816-521-3015 0r 1-800-767-8181.  His publication website is

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