Review of Slaying the Dragon by William L. White
The book Slay the Dragon, written by a William L. White who is a Senior Research Consultant at Chestnut Health Systems / Lighthouse Institute and past-chair of the board of Recovery Communities United (HBO Biographies). The book was published in 1998 by Chestnut Health Systems and since then is believed to be one of the most remarkable stories about addiction and alcoholism problems in American society.
William L. White has a Master’s degree in Addiction Studies. He has worked full time in the addiction field since 1969. Some of his positions in the field included: street-worker, counselor, clinical director, researcher, trainer and consultant. He is the author of twelve books, and he co-authored more than two-hundred-seventy articles. In addition to that, many of White’s books have been awarded, particularly Slaying the Dragon that received the McGovern Family Foundation Award. Furthermore, White’s contribution to the fields of alcoholism, drug-use, recovery, smoking, and others has been awarded by various associations of the field (HBO Biography). The fact that White has been working in the field for already forty years and has experience of working at various positions makes him have a broader social eye and the needed qualities and knowledge to write about drug/alcohol policies and problems.
William L White’s book can be classified as a history of the alcoholism treatment and recovery efforts in the United States of America. The book was written to be used as a manual by treatment professionals and experts. Slaying the Dragon is written in a very light style, the author enriches the narrative with lots of details. At the same time, the arguments White makes are not forced on the reader, living him/her a choice to form his/her own opinion on the matter.
The first main point presented in the book is that the concept of alcoholism as a disease is far from being new. In fact, the first colonists had severe drinking problems, drinking alcohol on daily basis. Even at that time there had been professors who suggested abstinence from alcoholic beverages, though such suggestions were usually received very coldly. Next interesting point the author makes is that once it had been realized that alcoholics should be treated, there were disagreements as to whether the treatment should be religious or secular. In fact, while some societies did make their goal to help people suffering from the addiction, others supported their speeches with religious slogans, filling in their pockets with costly membership fees.
In the section II of the book White sheds light to the divide between the addiction field and psychiatry. This divide shaped in the nineteenth century when the owners of the insane asylums did not want to admit inebriates, and vice versa. The latter was so because both institution thought that letting people from one another in would ruin the reputation. Another point White makes is that there are physical and psychological treatment approaches to alcoholism. He does not mention, which of the methods he finds the most helpful. Though he does provide a lengthy review of various psychological and physical treatment methods used from the early nineties on. When talking about AA he mentions that the initial heads of AA movement were un drugs while carrying out their first lectures, this seems to be like an interesting fact indeed. White emphasizes the “critical center upon which the entire modern industry of addiction treatment has turned” (p. 230, 1998) to be the time when public and private purses for alcoholism and addiction treatment were established in the sixties and seventies of the twentieth century.
White’s book is written in form of an encyclopedia. Over the course of the whole book he states hundreds of historical facts and supports them by evidence. This makes it rather hard to define the main arguments of the book. One of the main arguments of White, I believe, is the one that alcoholism should be treated spiritually. Treatment is the only way to overcome this disease, the way it is to overcome any other disease. However, he believes that while AA centers were successful in the past, today they are over-popularized and attended by people who are not willing to take it seriously (p. 278, 1998). Still, in no way White agrees that the disease theory was invented by AA. Finally, White argues that the extent of liquor industry involvement in the modern alcoholism movement is rather insufficient.
To support his position White uses the knowledge he has acquired while working in the field. On top of that White presents a tremendous literature review on the topic of alcoholism and its treatment over the centuries. This book is White’s twenty years of work product. The arguments White makes are well supported by his research. His arguments about AA and its position today are supported by the first person insight into the current situation.
I agree with the information presented in the book. There are several reasons to it. First of all, it is clear that the author possess deep knowledge of the concept. When his knowledge is supported with historical evidence, his arguments become even more noteworthy. I must emphasize that the amount of research White has carried out for the book is remarkable. Almost four hundred pages of the book are simply filled with facts and quotes from various literary sources. This, of course, positions this book as a reliable and trustworthy source.
I do agree with his opinion that today AA has become something it should have never become. Most of the people going there are forced to do so by their bosses, spouses, etc. These people do to recognize that they have a problem, thus they are reluctant to participate in the AA activities. This prevents members that recognize that they have problems to solve them.
Finally, it must be said that all White’s arguments seem reliable to me because he seems to be honest. At times he might be too emotional, though not in a slogan-way. Thus, I cannot but agree to his argument that an organization should not try to change one or help one become someone else. Rather it should strive to create atmosphere, in which one would want to change.
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