By Scott Kiloby

Nobody is truly sober. If there is one thing I’ve learned as a treatment center owner, it is that success rates for addiction treatment run very low across the nation – around 10 to 15%. The lack of a high success rate has to do, in part, with a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of recovery from addiction.  Many recovery programs take away all mood and mind-altering substances from participants from the very beginning or at the very least they encourage taking all that away.  This is because they lack being informed about how trauma and other emotional issues drive addiction. This essentially takes away the medication that the client has been using in order to survive, to medicate real pain such as trauma, fear or self-esteem issues.  That’s really kind of cruel.  More disturbingly, the trauma that many addicted people experience actually originated in the family of origin.  It is often the family that pushes someone into treatment. Essentially, those that possibly had a hand in creating the trauma in the first place are the same ones that then insist on taking away all the ways the person has been self-medicating.  While it may seem as if they are helping, it’s not only cruel, but manipulative.  

I see no need to cite any authority here that addiction is largely driven by unresolved trauma and other emotional issues (along with genetics).  The research is everywhere. Trauma’s role in addiction is now pretty much universally accepted. It is the MAIN driver. And almost no one argues with the research except those treatment centers and clinicians that are stuck in the old model of recovery, which focuses a lot on behavior (e.g., drinking) rather than on resolving the pain that drives the need to drink.

What happens when you take away from an addicted, traumatized person everything that once comforted that pain?  They search for an alternative. 

The hope is that the alternative is less harmful than all the drugs or alcohol that had become harmful to the person.  So most people are getting off harder drugs and finding ways to reduce harm by taking less harmful drugs, less harmful frequencies of chemicals or even less harmful routes of administration.

Looking into the Patients at Treatment Centers

Treatment centers often discourage this behavior of taking less harmful drugs during treatment because it messes with their rigid, “complete sobriety” model.  Sadly, that model may be killing people because it gives them an unrealistic choice. Stop everything that medicates the pain or continue using the substances that are creating all the harm.  Most programs are not flexible to allow that organic, natural recovery that happens when we don’t divide recovery between the haves and the have-nots (the sobers v. the not sobers). Nobody is truly sober.

I looked into the treatment centers, recovery rooms and the lifestyles of those claiming 10, 20, 30 years clean and sober and I noticed something nearly universal, something I could not turn a blind eye towards anymore.  

Truly, no one is sober in those rooms!  Everyone has moved away from the most harmful drugs in their lives (alcohol, heroin, sex, etc) and has replaced the addiction with something seemingly less harmful.  The crazy thing is . . . everyone is already doing harm reduction. It isn’t really a new model. It’s what people have been doing for centuries. They’ve been substituting harmful things with less harmful things.  It’s just that treatment programs aren’t acknowledging fully yet that harm reduction is an age-old way of actually helping people with addictions.  

Harm Reduction as Treatment

When we, as owners of treatment centers, began hearing about the benefits of the harm reduction model of recovery, (rather than the complete sobriety model) our first introduction to harm reduction revolved around understanding how reducing the harm of heroin by placing clients on meds like Suboxone or Methadone (both of which are chemically close to opiates, the same class as Heroin) can be beneficial.  Simply put, my son on heroin might destroy his life unless he switches to Methadone where his doctor can monitor his dosages and take note that the harmful social, physical and emotional effects of heroin are being reduced.

I think many of us scoffed at harm reduction a bit by assuming that this was big pharma’s way of continuing to keep people addicted but at a lighter level (while still making tons of money).  To this date, I’m cautious about our clients at the Kiloby Center receiving powerfully-addictive meds like Suboxone or Methadone unless it’s clear that these particular meds are what is truly needed in those particular cases.  Why am I cautious? I’ve seen our patients at the Kiloby Center discover for themselves that there are better ways to reduce harm. Yes, Methadone and Suboxone can be powerful ways of reducing the harm of stronger opiates, which is why our centers utilize those drugs unless we can find better ways to treat the addiction (which we often do). But here’s the issue:  at our treatment centers, we are increasingly seeing patients who bought into the big pharma harm reduction philosophy and, although they have reduced harm, these patients later become addicted to the very substances used to reduce harm. They became addicted to Suboxone or Methadone. In other words, many of them are having to re-enter into a second or third or fourth treatment center just to get off Suboxone or Methadone.  I suppose that even that is ok. It’s better than never having received Methadone or Suboxone and, instead, staying on heroin to the point of further harm or even overdose.  

As I contemplated the intention behind this harm reduction model, this phrase popped out of my mouth:

“Nobody is truly sober.” 

<Gulp>. Did I just say that? It felt like a blasphemous thing to think because we have all become so programmed into believing in this duality of sober v. not sober.  Surely, there are people with years of sobriety who are not addicted to less harmful substances or activities once they drop their main drug of choice – not addicted to ANYTHING, right?

But then I started to ask myself, where are these people?  I can’t find them. And what does clean and sober mean? Does it refer to someone who not only gives up alcohol and/or drugs, but also abstains from sugar, carbs, cell phones, computers, caffeine, porn, sex, shopping, work, blaming, complaining, money, fame, acknowledgment, attention and love?  Aren’t these all potential addictions? And what makes being addicted to heroin so much morally worse than being addicted to drinking three liters of Diet Coke a day? Sugar is causing deaths just like heroin.

Reframing Addiction as a Concept

Addiction is not a moral issue. People aren’t either good or bad depending on whether they are addicted or not. Arguably the moral stigma is a cultural and religious phenomenon that has been projected into the world of addiction as a way to create a sense of separation from those who are addicted to heavy substances v. those who are addicted to other things.  I can safely say that virtually all people are addicted to something. True, in some cases, those who are addicted to the most harmful substances and activities experience the greater harm. But not in all cases. We now know that addiction has a way of taking over a person’s life no matter what the substance or activity of choice is. There is simply no reason to moralize around this subject anymore.  Part of that harm that people who are addicted experience is actually coming from a society that loves to condemn the heroin addict but who turns a blind eye to the guy who is so addicted to work that he continuously ignores his family. Bottom line: we live in a society that likes to moralize about others who are doing worse things as a way to make the moralizers feel better about their own hidden, more socially acceptable addiction(s).  Hypocritical, to say the least.  

No One is Truly Sober

Yes, you can read this article rejecting the idea that nobody is truly sober.  But look down at the table in front of you. Look in your refrigerator, your cabinets, your computer, your job.  Got a cup of coffee on your desk? How about a sugary muffin? Watch porn in the last few days? Can’t avoid certain social media sites?  If so, you are no better or worse morally than the heroin addict because everyone is doing the same thing – tuning out and escaping uncomfortable emotions and sensations.    Before we point the finger at someone drinking alcohol everyday, we should look in the proverbial mirror with utter honesty. Only pride makes us overlook this most obvious fact:  If addiction is about covering up what we feel in an attempt to escape our present experience, then everyone is addicted, including the 12 stepper reading this article right now upset at the proposition that his caffeine addiction renders him unable to say “I’m sober.”  You can say that all you want, but if you can’t put the coffee down for six months, you’re still not sober in that sense.

So, if nobody is sober, and if everyone is already doing harm reduction by substituting their more harmful drugs of choice with less harmful addictions, then the possibility of success in addiction treatment could possibly rise for the first time in five decades.   How? By embracing harm reduction as a real model of recovery. But that’s only one part of the equation. The New Model of Recovery, developed by the Kiloby Center, and discussed below, is the other missing piece.     

In order for us to truly embrace and further develop harm reduction as a viable means of recovery, we have to embrace aspects of health care that further this goal along – namely trauma work and other methods that deal with the pain that keeps driving us back to addictions.  Without healing the underlying pain that drives it all, we are forced eventually back into relapsing. And sometimes that relapse is back to the most harmful drugs because, quite frankly, they work the best at numbing out our experience. This is exactly why they are called drugs of CHOICE.

What the Kiloby Center for Recovery Offers

At the Kiloby Center for Recovery, we embrace harm reduction because we see the sanity in it.   We’ve seen too many people either die or fall through the cracks because they couldn’t find a home in a very dualistic system of recovery that values you if you are sober and devalues you if you are not.  This begs the question: since drugs are killing so many people, what is our goal here? Are we actually interested in keeping people alive? Are we paying attention to the massive number of overdoses happening each year?  Have we finally realized that people who are addicted don’t drink or use every day just for fun? They are self-medicating. When will we put forth the resources to help heal the traumas of these individuals instead of throwing more money on the war on drugs or on treatment centers who are still “old model,” pure abstinence-based programs?  There is no true abstinence happening anywhere if you consider that being abstinent includes getting off all substances and activities to which you are addicted. Instead, these old model programs have defined abstinence in a way that is “convenient.” By convenient, I mean that these programs can take away the most harmful drugs, leaving people still very much traumatized and addicted to less harmful things.  Everyone in the program gets to proudly proclaim “I’m sober” while scarfing down sugar cookies and coffee and watching porn for hours at night. If these old model programs are truly evidence-based and making some claim about true sobriety, where is the evidence? It’s not there.  

Dissolving Trauma and Embracing Harm Reduction

The Kiloby Center embraces the harm reduction model completely.  It is success when someone who was once killing themselves on heroin switches to marijuana or some less harmful substance or activity. 

But most importantly, read about the Kiloby Center’s advancements in dissolving trauma (a major driver behind addiction).  The really great news is that we have a way of dissolving trauma so that . . . . (Please read this carefully) . . . . as trauma and other drivers are resolved, even substitution starts dwindling away slowly.  Your body starts saying “no” to anything it doesn’t need anymore. When you are releasing and dissolving trauma, your body doesn’t need the drug, alcohol, sugar, porn, or whatever as much or at all because the root drivers are being healed and resolved.  And our new model is simply a way of no longer judging, punishing, or shaming you into sobriety. Why should we? No one is sober. Instead, our work involves gentle, unconditional love and support. We love you whether you are using or not, whether you are using heroin or harm-reducing by switching to Kratom, for example.  We love you because you are a human being, struggling like every other human being. And don’t worry about your friends or loved ones who are trying to make you feel bad about your addictions. Just remember, nobody is truly sober.

Where to read more about being truly sober

Please read the Kiloby Center’s Independent Outcome Measurements (which can be trusted because they are performed by a third party not associated in any way with our centers) that reveal that the vast majority of clients at the Kiloby Center experience massive reductions in trauma, cravings, depression and anxiety precisely because we are bringing addiction recovery out of the dark ages and into the modern times. 

Let’s reformulate what success means in addiction recovery.  Let’s make it align with what has already been happening for many decades (harm reduction).  

Something has to change when it comes to addiction recovery.  For a radical and effective new paradigm, visit


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