For more than 20 years, Bob Reese was a self-described high-functioning drunk while working as head athletic trainer for the New York Jets. He realized that had to end when he began suffering blackouts even after moderate drinking.
He switched from his beloved Scotch to bourbon in hopes of cutting back, told himself another drink would kill him, and finally turned to rehab and Alcoholics Anonymous. Reese has been sober since 1991 and now he's sharing his success story on a national registry, operated by the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute in Roanoke, intended to collect and share the experiences of "recovery heroes."
The Carilion Research Institute is asking people like Reese who have turned around their addictions to alcohol, drugs and other abusive behavior for at least one year to share their strategies with researchers as part of the National Quit & Recovery Registry, which started in October.
Using social media and other tools, the registry is gathering the lessons of people who have quit tobacco or have been in recovery for addictions that also include gambling, overeating and excessive sexual activity.
But does a truly lasting recovery from addiction call for something much deeper than secular programs can offer?
The recovery group Teen Challenge USA, based in Ozark, Mo., with four facilities in Virginia, teaches that relying on personal strength and the support of secular addiction recovery groups can only help a person to abstain from their addictions for so long, and instead a faith-based recovery program can bring lasting results.
"I commend anybody who tries to help people to try and break bad habits," said Jack Smart, President of Teen Challenge. "But we don't just tell them to stop, we tell them to establish a strong relationship with God and he will replace those desires to go back to what has been binding them with godly characteristics."
Secular recovery groups focus on tactics and techniques to encourage other struggling addicts. The National Quit & Recovery Registry is currently in development. Tactics and techniques used by people who have been clean for at least a year will be among the testimonies to hopefully reach those who need some extra encouragement.
"We figure if they have a year or more under their belt, well, then they've learned some techniques they are able to bring to bear to sustain their recovery," said Warren Bickel, the director of the Advanced Recovery Research Center.
"I would say secular programs are strongest in their explaining of what happens to a person physiologically when they're involved in drugs and alcohol and how it affects their minds and lifestyles," said Smart. "But, I see a problem with secular programs because they ignore what we emphasize, which is the spiritual part. What good is there in a life turned away from addiction without the fullness of change that Christ brings? Ending an addiction is good, but finding Christ is better."
Emphasis on the biblical concepts and ideas are designed to replace the ones they had before. By getting involved in small group ministries, students of the Teen Challenge program are able to have that accountability aspect that secular groups have, but instead of fellow struggling addicts, they rely on the Bible.
"We are biblically based. After our initial encouragement we give them massive quantities of the Word of God, and provide biblical ministries so they can start practicing what they are learning." Smart said.
Recovering addicts often struggle because Christ isn't at the center of what they are doing and giving them the motivation they need to live a free and a clean life.
"They may have some desire to stop using drugs or alcohol, but they will have a tendency to go back to their addiction because they don't have the wherewithal to fight temptation," said Smart. "It is important to identify the root issue and administer Christ's love as effectively as possible. A full recovery can only take place once they have established a firm commitment to God."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.