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Media Coverage of Radioman's Drug Rehab Rife with ErrorsNovember 18, 2003
Maia Szalavitz
What science really says about addiction and recovery

Rush Limbaugh’s return to radio seems unfortunately to also be the return of the media’s unquestioning approach to the philosophy of the 12-steps for treating addiction.

One of the most widely used quotes from his first broadcast following his return to the airwaves was, "This is not something someone can do alone."

In fact, research on addictions shows that the vast majority of people quit them without formal treatment—or even self-help groups.

Coverage of Limbaugh’s return also frequently cited this statement, "I have to admit that I am powerless over this addiction that I have. I used to think I could beat it with force of will."

While some people do find the idea of "powerlessness" helpful in preventing a return to experimenting with using and trying to control it, for those who do relapse (as about 80-90% will do at least once), the University of New Mexico’s William Miller has found that a greater belief in powerlessness is associated with longer and more destructive binges. It only makes sense: if you believe you have no control once you start using again, you are unlikely to attempt to rein yourself in.

Underlying the coverage — and Rush’s confident pronouncements — is the notion that 12- step programs are the only way to recover. This is taught in rehab programs like the one Rush attended; unfortunately, if we are to move towards more effective and evidence-based care, the media has got to stop leaving such statements unchallenged.



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