Who Started the First Sobriety Program?

The stereotype surrounding Native Americans and their alcoholism has long since preceded their reputation, and is also something that they have fought against adamantly for many years now.

The days of Johnny Cash singing about “drunken Ira Hayes…the whiskey drinkin’ Indian,” are long gone, yet the antiquated notion that Native Americans have a staggering drinking problem still remains. In fact, the contributions that Native Americans have made towards treatment and recovery regarding alcoholism, serve as the foundation for many centers and sobriety groups today.

Seeing as how Native Americans had been making their own alcohol long before it was brought overseas by Europeans, it only makes sense that they would have recovery groups long before them as well. Today’s Alcoholics Anonymous, Moderation Management, and SMART Recovery all owe their roots to the “sobriety circles” founded in the 1750s by Native American tribes throughout the United States.

“Wounded Healers” are what Native Americans called anyone who had recovered from a debilitating illness, because they are healers. Much like this tradition, natives who led the sobriety circles were by those who had overcome their own battles with alcoholism. These “healers” from alcohol quickly adopted the notion of using their own journeys and stories to lead others in an abstinent life from alcohol.

Sobriety circles often use the teachings of their ancestors to help guide others toward the path of sobriety. Referred to as the “Red Road,” the circles promote reaching and maintaining sobriety by deferring to healing rituals, sober friends, and a general reentrance to ancestral Native American culture.

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