Who wants to bother with 12 steps, when there's a pill for that?

Jennifer Imsande
Jennifer Imsande, of Duluth, is associate director of the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Imsande

Nisswa, Minn. -- Millions of Americans likely resolved on Jan. 1 to drink less -- and possibly eat, shop, gamble and smoke less, too. So there should be demand for the new drinking drug I read about last week. It's designed to curb people's craving for alcohol after the first (or second or third) drink. European researchers expect testing to be complete in 2012.

Nice. Just in time to help the millions whose 2011 resolution failed.

Funders hope that alcoholics - whose ranks one market analyst called "an untapped gold mine" -- will fall into this drug like cats in the cream.

They probably will. I would've. Had the drug been around when I stopped drinking, I wouldn't have used abstinence and recovery. I'd have barreled for my physician and said, Hey (to steal Robin Williams' line about addiction) -- if one of these new pills will moderate my craving for alcohol, what happens if I take two?

Abstinence is so absolute. So harsh. It would be nice if the 11th Step of all recovery programs committed us to using "prayer and medication," but that's not what it says. And it's such a drag to face reality using prayer and meditation. It can feel like trusting a tuft of grass to hold us down in a tornado.

Because reality is scary. Reality is our children making poor choices that get them into serious trouble with serious consequences. Reality is getting fired just when we really needed the job, or being left just when we thought our relationship was going really great. Reality is the day we realize that life isn't what we wanted it to be, and neither are we.

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The familiar sidewalk graffiti proclaims, "Reality is for people who can't handle drugs." Being one of those unfortunates, I was stuck. I had to find spiritual solutions to the paradox, uncertainty and ambiguity that were the real cause of my drinking.

Twelve-step programs have two things to say on standing our ground when reality gets up in our grille: One, there is a God; two, you're not it. If we're keeping our hands in the vehicle, our Higher Power can drive us around and through some really complicated stuff effortlessly. The purpose of the steps is to show us how to keep our hands in the vehicle.

Aside from Antabuse, which is really just aversion therapy and does nothing to control craving, there was no pharmaceutical solution when I stopped drinking, nor even a useful self-help one. There was only the spiritual one.

I'm grateful I took it. Spiritual work is the hardest work I do. It's easy to believe that whenever something feels wrong with me it can be fixed by something outside of me. It's another thing altogether to realize that the fix always lies inside. That realization yields the real gift of spirituality: The assurance that we'll be OK, no matter what happens to us.

But I wish you the best with this new drug. Do me a favor? Take two and let me know what happens.

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Jennifer Imsande is associate director of the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at the University of Minnesota Duluth. She is a source in MPR's Public Insight Network.