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The Points Interview: William White

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

Bill White Casual

William White

Today’s Points interviewee is William White, author of such books as Slaying the Dragon:  The History of Addiction Treatment and Recovery in America; The History of Addiction Counseling in the United States; Drunkard’s Refuge:  The Lessons of the New York State Inebriate Asylum (with John Crowley); and Alcohol Problems in Native America: The Untold Story of Resistance and Recovery (with Don Coyhis). His latest book is Recovery Rising: A Retrospective of Addiction Treatment and Recovery Advocacy.

Describe your book in terms your bartender could understand.

Let me first say that readers who know me well will find this an amusing question. Recovery Rising is a collection of 350+ stories drawn from my nearly half-century of work in the addictions field. The vignettes honor my peers who have long worked in this special service ministry and mark the passing of a torch to a new generation of addiction professionals and recovery advocates. It is both a personalized history of the evolving world of addiction treatment over the closing decades of the 20th century and the opening decades of the 21st century and a collection of reflections about how to conduct oneself within this most unusual of occupations.

Book Cover Paperback

I think historians will be interested in the question of how to write history while it is “still smoking” (Barbara Tuchman) when one is also deeply involved as actor and observer in the events being recorded. In this latest book, I abandoned the primary source scholarship of my earlier work to create a primary source—a personal narrative that will serve future historians of addiction treatment and recovery.  There is also a Forest Gump quality to my encounters with the leaders, institutions, and events within the modern history of addiction treatment and recovery that I think some alcohol and drug historians will find of interest.

Now that the hard part is over, what is the thing YOU find most interesting about your book?

I find the evolution of addiction treatment, the growing varieties of recovery experience, the cultural and political mobilization of people in recovery, and the rise of new recovery support institutions recounted in the book all fascinating stories. The book explores how one composes a career within an emerging profession challenged by social stigma, the lack of historical consciousness, and a weak scientific foundation. The story of how new industries and related professional roles rise out of shifts in cultural ownership of historically intractable problems is of great interest to me. Recovery Rising is my personal account of trying to create and simultaneously ride the waves of such a shift.

Every research project leaves some stones unturned. What stone are you most curious to see turned over soon?

Although an extensive body of scholarship on the history of alcohol and other drugs and related social policies within diverse cultural contexts is available, the scholarship on addiction treatment and recovery advocacy is far more limited and has been hampered by the marked absence of memoirs and personal papers of those who have worked in this arena. A few noteworthy biographies exist of leaders of recovery mutual aid societies, the modern alcoholism movement, and early alcoholism treatment; but the stories of many other early pioneers have yet to be told, especially the leaders of addiction treatment since the 1980s. Harm in the name of help is also a persistent theme within the history of addiction treatment.  Such harm within the modern era has yet to be fully explored.

BONUS QUESTION: In an audio version of this book, who should provide the narration?

The central thread in my book is the rise of recovery as an influential organizing paradigm within the drug policy arena and in the design of addiction treatment and long-term recovery support services. Given that focus, I would probably choose a noted actor in long-term addiction recovery, perhaps Anthony Hopkins or Samuel L. Jackson.

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