Jeffrey A. Schaler, Ph.D.

In The News

Liberty Magazine

"Reflections," pages 10-11

A fatal collision
By David Ramsay Steele

Earlier this year, two pickups collided on Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state. It was a head-on crash: one of the pickups was traveling west in the eastbound lanes.

The driver of that vehicle was Audrey B. Kishline, aged 43, who suffered severe internal and head injuries. Two occupants of the other pickup were killed: Richard D. Davis, aged 38, and Lachelle Davis, aged 12.

As Liberty goes to press, no one in the mainstream media seems to have noticed the significance of this traffic accident, though very likely some journalist will have made the connection before this issue hits your mailbox. Audrey Kishline is a prominent figure in the movement to provide alternatives to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

AA was founded in 1935, and has been a remarkably effective spiritual cult. Some years ago it was reliably estimated to have over two million members worldwide, most of them in the U.S. Among AA's tenets are: that heavy drinking is a disease, that an "alcoholic" (a drunk) is incapable of reforming himself and can only recover by relying upon "a higher power" (God), and that a drunk can never return to social or moderate drinking - the only hope for recovery involves lifelong total abstinence.

All "Twelve Step" programs are offshoots of AA and share its religious underpinnings. The addiction treatment industry is largely staffed by veterans of AA, who ceaselessly proselytize for its distinctive views. Many people don't appreciate that these are religiously-motivated theories, and are contradicted by the findings of research into heavy drinking and other addictions.

A number of organizations have sprung up to challenge AA and offer alternatives. The Secular Organization for Sobriety (SOS) was founded in 1985 and Rational Recovery Systems (RRS) in 1986. Though these organizations disagree with AA about God, they seem to agree with AA that total abstinence is required for recovery.

Audrey Kishline's organization, Moderation Management (MM) broke new ground. It appeared to reject total abstinence in favor of moderate drinking. MM was founded in 1995 by Kishline and a couple of associates, following the success of Kishline's book, Moderate Drinking: The New Option for Problem Drinkers (1994). Kishlline, a "recovered alcoholic," had been a member of AA, had become disenchanted with it, and had then read Herbert Fingarette's persuasive book, Heavy Drinking (1986).

In 1995 Kishline enjoyed more than the statutory minimum fifteen minutes of fame. She appeared on numerous TV talk shows and was featured in several national magazines. At first, she may have seemed to agree with writers like Fingarette and Szasz that there is no such disease as "alcoholism" and to oppose outright the AA view that total abstinence is essential for recovery.

Then Kishline began to emphasize something she had already broached in her book: her view that moderation works only for "problem" drinkers and not "chronic" drinkers or alcoholics, who ought to practice abstention. This issue became a point of contention within the organization, and one of Kishline's principal collaborators subsequently left.

In fact, any distinction between problem drinking and alcoholism is arbitrary. In any case, Kishline's followers were easily able to diagnose themselves as problem drinkers, not chronic drinkers. People who knew Kishline reported their impression that in practice her conception of "moderation" was fairly flexible.

Media attention to MM died down after 1995, only to flare up again in April 1998. Larry Froistad, a twenty-something computer programmer and participant in an MM Internet discussion list, divulged the fact that he had murdered his own fiver-year-old daughter. Some list members reported Froistad to law enforcement agencies. In the ensuing controversy, Kishline was criticized because she seemed to show more concern for protecting the "confidentiality" of Froistad's confession than for investigating the cold-blooded killing of a child.

Those list members who had reported Froistad's online confession received hate mail from pro-Kishline members. Froistad subsequently made several further confessions to the murder, and retracted each one in turn. Now claiming innocence, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 40 years for the killing.

Another organization, SMART Recovery, was founded in 1994, as a breakaway from RRS, and has grown very rapidly, to become easily the most active group favoring moderation. Whilst rejecting the notion that recovery always requires total abstinence, most members of SMART Recovery believe that in many individual cases abstinence is the best practical chance. Kishline's MM has therefore appeared unique in its strong emphasis on moderation rather than abstinence. A fuller account of all these organizations is given in Jeffrey Schaler's book, Addiction Is a Choice (2000).

Will the Kishline auto accident be a boost for total abstinence and a blow to moderation? I hope not, since the Twelve Step cult, by undermining individuals' sense of personal competence and responsibility, does a lot of harm.

And this story does have one more little wrinkle. A short while before the accident, Kishline announced that she had relapsed into excessive drinking and had again begun attending AA meetings

--David Ramsay Steele

Copyright 2000 Liberty Foundation

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