Sober for Good: New Solutions for Drinking Problems -- Advice from Those Who Have Succeeded

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Overview

Finally someone has gone straight to the real experts: hundreds of men and women who have resolved a drinking problem. The best-selling author Anne M. Fletcher asked them a simple question: how did you do it? The result is the first completely unbiased guide for problem drinkers, one that shatters long-held assumptions about alcohol ...

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Sober for Good: New Solutions for Drinking Problems -- Advice from Those Who Have Succeeded

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Overview

Finally someone has gone straight to the real experts: hundreds of men and women who have resolved a drinking problem. The best-selling author Anne M. Fletcher asked them a simple question: how did you do it? The result is the first completely unbiased guide for problem drinkers, one that shatters long-held assumptions about alcohol recovery.

Myth: AA is the only way to get sober.
Reality: More than half the people Fletcher surveyed recovered without AA.

Myth: You can't get sober on your own.
Reality: Many people got sober by themselves.

Myth: One drink inevitably leads right back to the bottle.
Reality: A small number of people find they can have an occasional drink.

Myth: There's nothing you can do for someone with a drinking problem until he or she is ready.
Reality: Family and friends can make a big difference if they know how to help.

Weaving together the success stories of ordinary people and the latest scientific research on the subject, Fletcher uncovers a vital truth: no single path to sobriety is right for every individual. There are many ways to get sober - and stay sober. SOBER FOR GOOD is for anyone who has ever struggled not to drink, coped with someone who has a drinking problem, or secretly wondered, "Do I drink too much?"

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Just as each individual drinking problem is unique -- differing from others in severity, in cause, and in an infinite number of other ways -- so, too, is each problem drinker's road to recovery, according to this provocative book. Conventional wisdom dictates that in order to stop alcohol abuse one must label oneself "alcoholic," abstain from alcohol, participate in a recovery group such as AA for life, and accept the fact that the disease is incurable. Certainly, many lives have been turned around by these dictums, but author Anne Fletcher explores other ways in which people have successfully resolved drinking problems in Sober for Good. Extensive interviews with "masters" -- people who have been sober for at least five years -- reveal that the path to lasting sobriety is not always a 12-step one (although many of the profiled masters are sober through the help of AA) and that some people are able to formulate their own terms of sobriety. While this is not recommended reading for anyone in the throes of a powerful alcohol addiction, lest they abuse the book's message as an excuse to thwart recovery, it is an insightful and unusual examination of all the options available to those who truly wish to conquer a drinking problem, whether it be moderate or extreme.
Stanton Peele
"Fletcher avoids ideological pitfalls and is true to scientific research" (—Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D., author of Love and Addiction and The Truth About Addiction and Recovery
New York Times
The press kit for Anne M. Fletcher's new book, "Sober for Good," states,'Sometimes one book can make a difference.' After reading it, I could not agree more strongly.
Nick Heather
Anne Fletcher shows a remarkably secure grasp of the most important recent developments in our understanding of problematic drinking . . .
USA Today
These stories are part of author Anne Fletcher's in-depth look at people who have overcome serious drinking problems ... Fletcher's main message: That there are many different ways to get and stay sober.
G. Alan Marlatt
I highly recommend this book for readers who are seeking pathways to sobriety for themselves or for others . . .
Mark B. Sobell
"A compendium of hope for those who have concerns about their own drinking or that of someone close to them." (—Mark B. Sobell, Ph.D., Center for Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern University)
William R. Miller
Anne Fletcher has assembled an impressive array of first-person accounts of how real people have resolved their alcohol problems . . .
Barbara S. McCrady
This is a wonderful book — well written, full of hope and useful information, and positive at every turn . . .
A. Thomas Horvath
. . . This is a comprehensive overview — a highly informative, scientifically accurate, and inspiring account of recovery in its many manifestations.
Marc F. Kern
. . . This is the only balanced presentation of the state-of-the-art truths on recovery that I have ever read.
New York Times
The press kit for Anne M. Fletcher's new book, "Sober for Good," states,'Sometimes one book can make a difference.' After reading it, I could not agree more strongly.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Although Alcoholics Anonymous has long been the preferred (and often court-mandated) regimen for the treatment of alcoholism, its ideology isn't for everyone. As Fletcher (Thin for Life) points out, some people are put off by AA's religious tone, others by the concept of powerlessness over alcohol. And, she says, contrary to AA beliefs, many more never "hit bottom," but nonetheless choose to reconsider their relationship with drinking. Additionally, she suggests, with managed care drastically cutting coverage of inpatient treatment, people with alcohol problems need to know about outpatient alternatives to AA. Fletcher, a health and medical journalist, provides a compendium of such approaches, drawing on the voices of "masters" former problem drinkers who have resolved their problems with alcohol and been sober for at least five years. Programs such as Women for Sobriety, Rational Recovery and Moderation Management provide a variety of approaches, and the "masters" themselves offer a collection of strategies for getting and staying sober with support groups, chemical dependency counselors or a combination of treatments. Unfortunately, Fletcher draws a fuzzy line between "problem drinkers" and "alcoholics," a word she avoids because some find it "pejorative." Maintaining that the distress and dysfunction of most people with drinking problems is not as "severe" as that associated with a stereotypical drunk, she promises that, although AA proponents insist otherwise, "you can quit on your own," "you don't have to quit altogether" and "you don't have to call yourself an alcoholic." Though she sometimes appears to bash AA, Fletcher provides a useful overview of the varieties of recovery programs and practices. (Apr. 17) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"The press kit for Anne M. Fletcher's new book, "Sober for Good," states,'Sometimes one book can make a difference.' After reading it, I could not agree more strongly."

The New York Times

"These stories are part of author Anne Fletcher's in-depth look at people who have overcome serious drinking problems ... Fletcher's main message: That there are many different ways to get and stay sober." USA Today

"Sober for Good integrates scientific evidence with real-life stories and commentary to create an effective volume that laypeople can readily understand. It's a compendium of hope for anyone who has concerns about their own drinking or that of someone close to them."—-Mark B. Sobell, Ph.D, Center for Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern University

"An impressive array of first-person accounts of how real people have resolved their alcohol problems, with and without formal treatment. [Sober for Good] reflects a hope-filled truth: that there are many different successful paths to recovery. Those who continue to suffer with alcohol problems, as well as the people who love them, can find hope in these real-life stories"—-William R. Miller, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, Co-Director, Center on Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Addictions, University of New Mexico

"A wonderful book - well written, full of hope and useful information, and positive at every turn. A must-read for anyone concerned about their own or another's drinking, as well as for health care professionals."—-Barbara S. McCrady, Ph.D, Professor and Clinical Director, Center of Alcohol Studies, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

"Fletcher provides a useful overview of the varieties of recovery programs and practices." Publishers Weekly

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780618219070
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/17/2002
  • Edition description: None
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 198,892
  • Product dimensions: 8.92 (w) x 10.86 (h) x 0.88 (d)

Meet the Author

Anne M. Fletcher, M.S., R.D., is the author of Thin for Life, the Thin for Life Daybook, Eating Thin for Life, and Sober for Good. As a registered dietitian, she has counseled hundreds of clients with weight problems in clinical settings. Fletcher was executive editor of the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter and a contributing editor for Prevention. She has won several National Health Information Awards as well as awards from the American Medical Writers Association and the American Psychological Association. She has raised three teenagers.

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Read an Excerpt

1 A New Look at How People Really Solve Drinking Problems If your best friend turned to you for advice about a drinking problem, what would you say? The automatic reaction of most people, nonprofessionals and treatment specialists alike, would likely be “Get yourself to AA.” But is this truly the best response for that individual—is it the only solution? We’ve all heard so many things about recovery, but are they really true?
To find out how people whose lives have been troubled by alcohol have overcome their difficulties, I decided to turn to the foremost experts—those who have actually done it, people who have mastered their former alcohol problems in different ways.* I wanted to determine exactly what these “masters” did—what specific strategies they used—to get sober and stay sober. My call for information was answered by hundreds whose drinking at its worst ranged from what many of us might define as a social drinker’s quota to more than a fifth of hard liquor a day. (All of the 222 masters completed a seven-page questionnaire about their drinking pasts, the turning points, how they resolved their alcohol problems, and how they got on with their lives.) Who Are the Masters?
The masters came to me through postage-paid flyers distributed in public places across the country, advertisements and listings in newspapers and special-interest magazines, postings on the Internet, and recovery groups. Some masters knew me or had heard about my work through a friend.
They come from all walks of life—they’re attorneys, maintenance workers, former topless dancers, college professors, physicians, schoolteachers, homemakers, engineers, judges, former bartenders, current bartenders, nurses, and journalists. They’re Christians and atheists, gay and straight, people from their twenties to their eighties who got sober anywhere from their teens through their fifties and sixties. They include husbands and wives who got sober together as well as a mother and her two grown children who all quit on their own but at different times. A quarter of them are recovery group leaders, mental health professionals, and/or chemical dependency counselors, so they know sobriety from both ends, as former problem drinkers and as experienced helpers of those who are still struggling. Gender-wise, there is close to an even split: 54 percent of the masters are men and 46 percent are women.
Along with stories of people who were rendered destitute because of their drinking, I wanted to include the experiences of people with mild or moderate alcohol problems, because little help is available for them, despite the fact that they are thought to outnumber stereotypical brown-bag “alcoholics” by three or four to one. Therefore, the stories of the masters’ drinking days vary from sagas of high-functioning drinkers who were able to raise families and move upward professionally despite their alcohol abuse to those of hard-core “drunks” who describe loss of jobs, health, children, and dignity. The masters’ drinking at its worst ranged from a reported three to five daily drinks for some people up to two daily quarts of vodka for one man.
At the lower end of the scale, Janet C. (who believes she was “chiefly mentally addicted” to alcohol but considers herself to be an “alcoholic” nonetheless) typically had two or three single-shot martinis before dinner and one or two scotches with soda afterward—surely beyond healthy drinking, but not what most people think of when they picture the stereotypical “alcoholic.” Although she felt that her drinking kept her from being a good parent to her two teenagers, she was always responsible enough to know that she “didn’t dare drive” them around in the evenings.
At the other extreme, the two-quart-a-day vodka drinker, George M., attributes all of the following to his drinking: “My wife left me; I lost my career, my possessions, my teeth, and much of my eyesight; my friends disappeared. I lived in a spare bedroom in my mother’s house, soiled the bed often, had drunk driving and disorderly conduct arrests, and was suicidal.” (With the help of AA, he has been sober for more than five years now.) Like George, a number of other masters once abused drugs such as marijuana and cocaine in addition to alcohol. For all but five of them, alcohol was the drug of choice.
Nearly all of the masters have been continuously sober for five or more years;* the average length of sobriety for the entire group is just over thirteen years. Two thirds of them have at least a decade of sobriety.
Sobriety Means Different Things to Different People For most of the masters, sobriety is synonymous with abstinence. For the vast majority, abstinence turns out to be the best policy: nine out of ten are totally abstinent.
Others have a small amount of alcohol on very rare occasions - - sssssay, when making a toast at a wedding reception. About one out of ten of the masters are near-abstinent, occasional, or moderate drinkers, which challenges the notion that one sip of alcohol will lead you back to full-blown “alcoholism.” For serious problem drinkers and those who are already contentedly abstinent, however, consuming any alcohol can be a risky proposition.
While most people think of sobriety as total abstinence, Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary defines “sober” not as “abstinent” but as “1 a: sparing in the use of food and drink: abstemious. b: not addicted to intoxicating drink. c: not drunk . . . 4. marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness.” The masters whom I call sober, then, are those who have resolved their alcohol problems and gotten on top of their drinking, usually through abstinence but sometimes through moderate or occasional drinking.
I sought the masters’ help in answering such questions as these: How important is it to admit to yourself and others that you are an “alcoholic”?
Can you recover—and stay recovered—without going to a recovery group?
If you get sober with the help of a recovery group, do you have to keep going forever?
What about treatment at places like the Betty Ford Center and hospital alcohol programs—is it necessary?
Where do you turn if you have issues about your drinking but don’t really feel you’re an “alcoholic”?
Is it true that you have to “hit bottom” in order to become motivated to deal with a drinking problem?
Before taking action, are most people “in denial” about their drinking problems?
Do you wake up one morning and say, “That’s it: I quit”? If so, what gets you to that point, and does everything else in life just kind of fall into place afterward?
Is it helpful to see yourself as forever recovering, or can you at some point think of yourself as recovered or cured?
Is it true that having just a small amount of alcohol will send you right back to where you left off in your drinking, or is having an occasional drink a possibility for some people?
What if you don’t have strong religious or spiritual beliefs, such as faith in a “higher power”—can you still get sober?
Do you eventually lose your longing for alcohol, or do you pine for it forever?
I had some of my own thoughts about these matters, since over the years I have coped with and resolved my own issues with drinking. But I wanted to find out what others who once struggled with alcohol had to say. What I learned from these masters is striking, and much of what they relate flies in the face of what we’ve been led to believe about “alcoholism.” Sober for Good examines the common threads among recovery stories of people who have resolved drinking problems in many different ways. A good deal of what the masters share about their triumphs over alcohol is supported by findings of experts whose research doesn’t always make its way to the general public. I’ve interwoven these scientific findings with my discoveries about the masters.
Whether a drinking problem is serious or occasionally troublesome, the wisdom of the Sober for Good masters can help. These people offer possible solutions for those who are just wondering whether they have a drinking problem as well as for anyone who is ready to take action. They offer hope for anyone who is discouraged by the conventional route to recovery, who’s looking for something different. If you’re dealing with a loved one who has problems with alcohol, the words of the masters can offer insight for you as well. (Chapter 7 is specifically for family and friends of problem drinkers.) The masters’ stories show that the road to sobriety does not always have a finite course ending in storybook abstinence. They suggest that recovery takes various shapes and forms as well as twists and turns over time and can be marked by interludes of drinking again—all in the context of a serious effort to keep drinking from interfering with a happy, functional life.
Sobriety Is More Than Not Drinking The masters’ stories reveal that achieving sobriety involves much more than abandoning problem drinking—it’s about taking active steps to achieve a new plane of living, to build a life with no room for alcohol abuse.
Ward R. (twenty-four years)* says his “last drunk” made him realize he had two choices: “I could either work on developing a way of life in which I didn’t want to drink, or I could say ‘To hell with it’ and continue drinking until I died.” Ward made his choice by going to AA but using it in an unconventional way and by developing a life that has no room for drinking. He explains, “I am now retired and my life is full with traveling to other countries, exploring other cultures, being an active member of AARP, working on helping other seniors deal with telemarketing con artists, planning on being a volunteer deputy sheriff, being a member of a gun club, working with other recovering alcoholics, learning how to use the Internet, and remodeling a fixer- upper house I bought. I just don’t have time to sit in a tavern or bar.” Marisa S. (seven years, with the help of Women for Sobriety) says, “Without alcohol, I can be the person I want to be. I have gotten back into my career and have done extremely well, become passionate about my gardening and landscaping, started traveling for pleasure. I can answer the phone or the door without worrying whether I’ll give myself away—‘Am I too drunk?’ or ‘Will people notice?’” Paul V. (nine years, through AA) says, “Since I resolved my drinking problem, there isn’t really an area of my life that has been unchanged. I quadrupled my income, I became an avid hunter, I am far less moody, and my relationship with God is in good order. My perceptions of everything are better.” Roxi V. (six years, with the help primarily of Secular Organizations for Sobriety but also AA) says, “I am happy and celebrate every day of my sobriety. I am a well woman.” Roxi quit drinking in her mid- forties and since has gone back to school and gotten her M.S. degree. Best of all, she states, “I’ve grown as a person. I’ve become and am becoming the real Roxi, and I like me.” As Regina S. says, the masters have “built a life where drinking doesn’t fit in.” These are their stories.

Copyright © 2001 by Anne M. Fletcher All rights reserved Houghton Mifflin Company

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vi
Foreword xv
Introduction xix
1 A New Look at How People Really Solve Drinking Problems 1
2 There's Not Just One Way: How the Masters Got Sober--and Stay Sober 8
3 It's Not How Much You Drink: How the Masters Faced Up to Their Alcohol Problems 26
4 You Don't Have to "Hit Bottom": How the Masters Reached the Turning Point 48
5 It's Not Necessarily One Day at a Time: How the Masters Made a Commitment to Sobriety 75
6 Be Your Own Expert: How Seven Different Masters Found Their Way with Seven Different Approaches 96
7 You Can Help: The Masters' Advice to Family and Friends 146
8 One Drink Does Not a Drunk Make: How the Masters Determined Whether They Could Ever Drink Again 170
9 It's Not Enough Just to Stop Drinking: How the Masters Deal with Life's Ups and Downs Without Alcohol 193
10 Recall the Past, Live in the Present: How the Masters Stay Motivated 217
11 With or Without a "Higher Power": How the Masters Handle Spirituality 235
12 There's Nothing Missing: How the Masters Find Joy Without Alcohol 247
Appendix A Consumer Guide to Recovery Options 267
Selected References 303
Index 311
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Introduction

Introduction

Like all children, I was intrigued by things forbidden. And in my family, one of those things was alcohol. My parents were conscientious teetotalers, which only served to increase alcohol’s allure when I hit adolescence. Although I was a good student who came from an upstanding family, I enjoyed challenging the rules. I don’t remember having my first drink, but I do recall periodically drinking to excess with teenage friends and driving across state lines to where the drinking age was lower, buying malt liquor, and mixing it with cola to get it down. Eventually I grew to love the taste of hard liquor and wine.

By the time I was a young adult, my parents had relaxed their stance and occasionally enjoyed a glass of wine. But I was already learning that alcohol provided the perfect escape from the pressures of an increasingly stressful career as well as from personal angst. The several glasses of wine that I drank on Friday and Saturday evenings gradually became nightly martinis or manhattans. When other people cut themselves off at social events after a couple of drinks, I kept looking for the waiter to refill my glass. The drinking gave rise to a deep personal sadness. Still, after the birth of my first child, I secretly looked forward to the end of nursing so I could go back to my pre-pregnancy drinking habits. To sum it all up, from my early twenties to my early thirties, I drank too much.

Before becoming a mother, I knew that my relationship with alcohol was troubled. I sought professional counseling — in part to find out if I really had a drinking problem — but was told that alcohol was not the root of my sadness. Others in whom I confided also tried to talk me out of my feeling that I had a problem with alcohol. After all, I held responsible professional positions, rarely drank before five o’clock in the afternoon, had a good relationship with my husband, exercised five times a week, and ate healthfully.

But once I took the responsibility for a child’s well-being, I tuned in to my own inner voice, which for years had been warning me about where my drinking might be headed. Thus I began a nearly decade-long search for ways to resolve my issues with alcohol. I had long periods of abstinence, punctuated by interludes of drinking. I saw that when I drank, my moods swung more dramatically. I sometimes forgot things my child had told me the night before. By degrees, I also saw what there was to be gained by not drinking: I liked myself better; I didn’t have to think about whether I could drive in the evening when I’d had a drink or two; I was emotionally available to my family; I slept better and had more energy.

In time, like so many of the people you are about to read about, I decided that what I enjoyed about drinking was overshadowed by the costs. I didn’t like the importance alcohol had assumed in my life, how inconsistent drinking was with the role model I wanted to be for my children. It simply took too much of my time and energy, and I realized that I was a much happier, more productive person when I wasn’t drinking.

Along the way I tried some of the conventional solutions for alcohol problems. Though I was impressed with how helpful AA was for others and I’d benefited from the support, I’d come home from a meeting feeling like the odd one out. My take-responsibility attitude — along with my tendency to challenge the status quo and want to do things my way — didn’t mesh with the program’s twelve-step philosophy. I wasn’t "in denial." I was looking for help but felt I had nowhere to turn. So I crafted my own rather lonely path to resolving my troubles with alcohol, with the help of some open-minded therapists who did not demand that I become abstinent or that I attend a recovery group but respected my ability to make the decision to stop drinking and encouraged me to develop my own strategies to do so.

For years after, I wondered whether I was the only person who had been able to stop drinking without using the conventional path of AA. I also felt frustrated about all the time and energy I’d spent looking for solutions, and upset that nothing that would have fit my needs much earlier on seemed to be available. I began to hear about alternative approaches to drinking problems. Every so often I read about people who had resolved alcohol problems on their own. I began to wonder whether there might be common threads in their stories. Perhaps identifying these similarities as well as the differences could help other people troubled by alcohol.

It bothered me too that the recovery stories I heard were always about down-and-out former drunks — not about people like me, who did something before their drinking got really bad. Having experienced firsthand a sense of loss after I gave up the substance that brought so much comfort and pleasure, I also wanted to know how people with very serious drinking problems — the ones who had seemingly lost it all — had managed to turn their lives around.

For answers, I decided to go out and find people who had once had drinking problems, big ones and small ones. In the spirit of my earlier books, about people who have lost weight and kept it off, Sober for Good stems from my fascination with how people change — how they solve difficult lifestyle and health issues that sometimes seem intractable. My hope is that these true experts can provide inspiration for all those who are still struggling. In my experience, when you’re trying to overcome a problem, nothing works better than the words of people who have been there.

Copyright © 2001 Anne M.Fletcher

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2001

    Good News for Those Seeking Sobriety

    Anne Fletcher delivers good news to those seeking sobriety in her book 'Sober for Good.' Challenging the conventional wisdom that A.A. is the only way to get sober, she debunks this and several other myths about recovery through the stories of over 200 people. Their stories describe the powerful processes that transformed their lives. This is a book full of hope for the suffering, full of support for the sober, full of answers for the curious. It's a solid contribution to the study of treatment of drinking problems. Raise a pint (of soda) to Fletcher.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2001

    You have to read this book! One of a kind!

    I purchased this book last month and just recently finished it. As an alcoholic of over ten years, I finally feel like I'm on my way to recovery. Traditional methods have never worked for me and it's comforting to know that there are alternative ways to recover. Fletcher's personal story provided inspiration, and the stories of the 'masters' gave me guidance.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 6, 2011

    Waste of time

    The essence of this book (at least within the portion I could tolerate reading) is that everyone has an individual story. It was not at all enlightening on the cause of addiction or how to overcome it. "The Easy Way to Stop Drinking," by Allen Carr is much more useful (although very vebose).

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2013

    Nook troubles

    Great book, but the footnotes aren't live, and the Nook editing seems to neglect any text inside a 'box,' which is really a problem in this text. Someone should fix this, as this is an important and useful text.

    It's not perfect, some of the case histories get redundant, but it does provide hope for people struggling with sobriety issues when AA isn't working for them. Despite all the good AA does, it doesn't work for everyone, and people deserve to hear they aren't 'crazy' or 'just stubborn' if the format or 'the God stuff' doesn't work for them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2012

    Terrible Book

    I gambled on this book, in search of support that was NOT
    "AA, You are helpless, submit to god" based.
    The author does nothing but give "shallow accounts" of other peoples stories and they inevitably return to the AA (you are powerless) conclusion.
    If you want an AA; you are helpless approach, go to meetings.
    If you want an alternative perspective; this book is not the answer.
    Ironically, to post this review, i could not choose a "no star" rating, i had to stay within the program, and choose a star rating.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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