Suzanne Thistle ’01 Highlights Natural Recovery from Substance Use Disorders

Suzanne Thistle ’01 Highlights Natural Recovery from Substance Abuse Disorders

Those suffering from alcohol and drug disorders are often prescribed medications that are themselves addictive. The goal of breaking free and not swapping one destructive habit for another is an achievable alternative, as Suzanne Thistle ’01 vividly illustrates in Chem-Free Sobriety, her new best-selling book.

“In this book there are nuggets of wisdom to get and stay sober, to not drink and not use,” says Thistle, who has taught a Drug Behavior course at Plymouth State since 2006.

The core of Chem-Free Sobriety is composed of Thistle’s interviews with 101 New Hampshire residents from diverse socioeconomic and career backgrounds, ranging in age from their early twenties to late eighties. The interviewees’ frank and frequently painful stories detail their struggles to maintain balance in their professional and personal lives, their numerous stumbles along the way, and the breakthrough epiphanies that ultimately led to sobriety without medication.

The core of Chem-Free Sobriety is composed of Thistle’s interviews with 101 New Hampshire residents from diverse socioeconomic and career backgrounds, ranging in age from their early twenties to late eighties. The interviewees’ frank and frequently painful stories detail their struggles to maintain balance in their professional and personal lives, their numerous stumbles along the way, and the breakthrough epiphanies that ultimately led to sobriety without medication.

“This position is very controversial,” says Thistle. “The pharma companies want to medicate and have convinced doctors and Congress that meds are number one. And it’s controversial to an extent in the counseling field. A colleague said to me, ‘Sue, you can’t talk about not taking medication—you’ll get slammed.’ That’s why I had to do these interviews. You have 101 people who are saying the same thing—that natural recovery is possible.”

Thistle notes that drug companies make lots of money selling Oxycontin and other drugs that pose high risks for addiction and dependence, and is devoting a percentage of her book’s net sales to abstinence-based recovery in New Hampshire.

Thistle’s motivation for combating the scourge stems from first-hand knowledge of the problem and years of research into potential solutions. “My passion for sharing what I’ve learned about abstinence-based recovery began in 1987 when I stopped using all addictive drugs,” she says. “I switched from a preoccupation with using drugs to a fixation on educating myself about addiction.”

Thistle speaks candidly about her journey, which was influenced early on by her father’s ability to gain sobriety after years of alcoholism. “After I become sober, I read everything I possibly could and still do,” she says. She completed a practicum with the PSU Health Center, shared information with the University community on natural ways to get high, and participated in campus health fairs while earning her BS in health education and wellness management. She later received her MA in counseling psychology with a substance abuse concentration from Antioch New England Graduate School.

The first-time author has worked with schools, the Department of Corrections, and treatment centers across New Hampshire. She was executive director of the White Horse Addiction Center in Center Ossipee and of Headrest in Lebanon, and her leadership in the field includes service on the Governor’s Alcohol/Drug Treatment Task Force and on the board of the New Hampshire Association of Drug and Alcohol Counselors Public Policy Committee. Her efforts have been recognized with the Treatment Agency Provider of the Year Award from the NH Providers Association and the Legislative Advocacy Award from the New Hampshire Alcohol & Drug Abuse Counselors Association.

While her book strongly makes the case for natural recovery, Thistle doesn’t advocate this path for everyone. “I’m not against meds in any way,” she says. “I’ve been referring people for medication for years, but some people who don’t want it or need it are being pushed to take it. People can and do get sober without medication, but they should be evaluated by a medical doctor because it can be dangerous for some folks to just stop.”

In addition to the interviews, Thistle’s self-help book includes pages of recommendations, wisdom, and calls to action from those who have successfully recovered without medication, and resources for those looking for assistance.

“I thank you for writing the book and sharing it with the world,” says Celeste Clark, executive director of the Raymond (NH) Coalition for Youth. “It gives hope, which is so greatly needed for those struggling and their families and loved ones.”

Chem-Free Sobriety is available via Amazon.