On Drugs

Rehab, recovery and the history of 12-step thinking

In North America, addiction, treatment and recovery is a 37 billion dollar industry. But in the absence of consistent standards, people looking for help can get lost in the search for support.

Despite decades of research and practice, there's still no surefire way to clear people of dependency

A patient attends a relaxation session at the Taipas rehabilitation clinic in Lisbon Lisbon's Taipas rehabilitation clinic is one of over 40 such clinics across Portugal. (Rafael Marchante/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode1:06:32

In North America, addiction, treatment and recovery is a 37 billion dollar industry. But in the absence of consistent standards and access to care, people looking for help can get lost in the search for support. 

The list of buzzwords is long: In-patient care, out-patient care, abstinence, harm reduction, non-profit, for-profit, religious, secular — there's no shortage of treatment and recovery plans. Yet, despite decades of research and practice, there's still no surefire way to get people clear of substance dependency. Even now, experts argue over how we what recovery methods works best.

To understand exactly how we got to this point in the debate, we have to travel back — to a time when our ideas about addiction and treatment were a little less nuanced.  

In this episode, host Geoff Turner explores the past and present of addiction, rehab and recovery with:

  • Trysh Travis, author of The Language of the Heart: A Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey

  • Marshall Smith, the recovery lead for the  British Columbia Centre on Substance Use

  • Alex and Sean, two people personally navigating paths of rehab and recovery