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Ten Heroes Who are Revolutionizing Addiction and Recovery


From scientists to scholars to activists, meet ten of America's recovery renegades

By Ruth Fowler


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Don Coyhis

Don Coyhis, a member of the Mohican Nation from the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin, never really lost a sense of emptiness, despite being an active, sober member of A.A. Then, after a five-day fast in the Colorado Mountains, he saw a White Bison rise from the ground. After 15 years in corporate America, Coyhis interpreted this as sign that he needed to combine recovery with his Native American roots and he started a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing a blend of tribal culture and the modern world into sobriety--the Wellbriety movement, as outlined in its version of The Big Book, The Red Road to Wellbriety. The White Bison’s nationwide mission is to bring 100 Native American communities into healing through its Wellbriety program based on A.A., its prison outreach, and the through educating the culture about chemical dependency prevention through its Daughters and Sons of Tradition Prevention Program for Young Native Americans. 

Nora Volkow

Leon Trotsky’s great-granddaughter, Mexican-born Nora Volkow is the current Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As a neuroscientist who’s never worked ‘on the frontline’, she’s sometimes seen as too scientific and remote from clinical study and “the solution,” but Nora’s works have brought the study and understanding of addiction—and some recovery—into national scientific awareness. Until Nora Volkow came along, the study of the affects of addiction on the brain was relatively ignored, and her work pioneering the use of brain imaging to investigate the toxic effects of drugs and their addictive properties has changed the way scientists understand addiction and dispelled the myth of addiction as a disease afflicting the morally weak. She’s published groundbreaking studies demonstrating that drug addiction is a disease of the brain, as well as cutting-edge research in the areas of obesity and A.D.H.D. She’s also credited for being the first scientist to use brain-imaging technology to study cocaine addicts,  proving that the drug causes tiny strokes in the brain of many addicts.

Bill Miller

Though he's now retired from practice, psychologist Dr. Bill Miller’s groundbreaking studie on Motivational Interviewing 30 years ago have radically changed how clinicians think about substance abuse, treatment, and how to most successfully effect change in patients. Early on in his career, Miller broached the idea that not all alcohol problems are severe, and looked into interventions for “mid-range problem drinkers”—echoing Tom McLellan’s belief and the approach offered by the Center for Motivation and Change that the traditional “bottom” cited as essential for alcoholic or drug addict to alter their behavior is a potentially damaging myth. They believe that growing understanding and awareness of how to deal with a potential problem (abuse) can stop addiction becoming a problem.

Keith Humphreys

A former colleague of Tom McLellan’s on the White House policy group, Dr. Keith Humphreys is one of the only scientific researchers who studies self-help groups such as A.A., Women in Sobriety and M.M. (Moderation Management), Though he hasn’t “been there” (that is, had a problem with substance abuse or addiction), he helps to bridge the gap between the science and the practice of recovery. Humphreys is currently doing work on the extent to which people in addiction treatment research studies are different from real world patients, and how that makes it difficult to use science in clinical practice.

Paul Molloy

Molloy started his career in government at the highest level—and bailed out because of his severe alcoholism. He cleaned up, got sober and then single-handedly developed Oxford House, a community based approach to addiction treatment which provides unsupported sober housing for people in recovery. The first Oxford House was founded in 1975, and today there are more than 1,200 homes across the United States, as well as thousands of unaffiliated sober living communities based on their principles and practice, ranging from the affordable to the luxurious. Oxford House was one of the first indications to the community at large that recovery is a lifestyle, not a single scientific, psychological or medical method.

Stanton Peele

Few figures in the recovery world have been as controversial as Stanton Peele. While his argument have been vehemently challenged by many AA stalwarts, Peele, who has authored countless books and treatises on the subjects, remained staunchly committed to his thesis that AA is not the only way to teat addiction, and that alcoholism is not a chronic and progressive disease. Most addictions, he believes, are a product of culture and an individual’s response to their personal experience. In his view, “temperance-oriented" cultures like Britain and the United States, who largely believe in abstinence-only cures, tend to suffer much higher alcoholism rates than nations like than France, Italy and Spain, where people are trained to develop “normalized” attitudes toward alcohol from a young age. Peele’s moderation-management methods are lauded by a vocal minority of addiction experts and advocates, but his willingness to challenge A.A. and the complete abstinence model of recovery, have made him a virtual pariah among hard-core A.A. enthusiasts.  


British-born author, screenwriter and journalist Ruth Fowler lives in Venice, California and has written for The Village Voice, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, The New York Post and The Observer, among others. Her memoir, No Man's Land was published by Viking in 2008. She also wrote Finding the Perfect A.A. Meeting, among many other Fix stories.

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