ICSAA 2020: The Science of Alcoholism and Recovery

The Conference was rescheduled for 2021.

By Gregg O.

What causes some of us to become alcoholics?  Can it be predicted?  Can anything be done about it?  What should I tell my family?  Are my children and grandchildren at risk?  What are the best ways to treat alcoholism, to abstain from drinking and drugs, and to live a fulfilling and productive sober life?

These, and many other relevant and timely topics will be the subject of presentations at the International Conference of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous (ICSAA), to be held just outside Washington, DC, at the Hyatt Regency Bethesda (in Bethesda, Maryland), from Friday, October 30, through Sunday, November 1, 2020. The cost of registering for ICSAA 2020 is US $125. All the details for registering for ICSAA 2020 and for booking your stay at the conference hotel are shown, with links, at the end of this article.

This will be the fourth biennial ICSAA, the first three having been held in Santa Monica, CA (2014), Austin, TX (2016) and Toronto, ON (2018). While those conferences unquestionably set a very high bar, ICSAA 2020 promises to meet or exceed all expectations.

In addition to the fascinating, educational and enlightening speakers and workshops at ICSAA 2020, the Washington, DC area should be beautiful at that time. Washington’s springtime Cherry Blossoms are well known, but less recognized is how beautiful the city and its surroundings are in late October and early November. Not only is the weather typically the best that autumn has to offer, but there are fewer tourists and school trips, making a visit at that time less congested, with no lines and easy access to the famous Smithsonian Institution, Capitol Building, art galleries, and monuments.

The conference hotel – the Hyatt Regency Bethesda – not only has offered a special rate for ICSAA attendees (US $129/night, plus taxes, compared to the standard nightly rate of over $200), but it has also extended the time for receiving the special discounted rate. The discounted ICSAA 2020 rate will be available from Monday, October 26, through Thursday, November 5.

This is an excellent opportunity to combine ICSAA 2020 with a vacation and sightseeing tour to the DC area! The conference hotel sits literally atop a Washington DC Metro (subway) station, so it will be easy to go see the sights. In addition to the world-class museums, galleries and monuments in Washington, DC, historic Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is 75 miles to the north, and Colonial Williamsburg is around 150 driving miles to the south, and day tours are available to both. A number of links to nearby tourist and historical destinations are listed in a PDF at the end of this article.

Some of the speakers at ICSAA 2020 will focus on the brain chemistry and state-of-the-art science behind alcoholism, and current theories and approaches to prevention, treatment and recovery. Other speakers and panels will investigate staying sober through the arts, through meditation, and through participation in secular AA and other programs. We will have a speaker who will show us how to interview and record oral histories in AA. One of the breakout rooms will offer an AA meeting every hour the conference is in session, each hosted by a different group from around the world. The conference will also feature at least two live interviews, on topics of current interest:  specifically, Joe C (the author of Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life) will interview William Schamberg, author of the newly released Writing The Big Book – The Creation of AA, and John S will interview John H, a “determined atheist,” as to why he left Secular AA for a new approach to recovery.

Special Speakers

We are fortunate to have as a special keynote speaker Dr. George F. Koob, the Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is one of the 27 National Institutes of Health that fund and undertake cutting-edge research. Dr. Koob is an internationally recognized expert on alcohol and stress, and the neurobiology of alcohol and drug addiction. As NIAAA Director, he provides leadership in the national effort to reduce the public health burden associated with alcohol misuse, and oversees a broad portfolio of alcohol research ranging from basic science to epidemiology, diagnostics, prevention, and treatment.  More information on Dr. Koob can be found on the NIAAA Director’s Page.

At ICSAA 2020 Dr. Koob will speak on “Recent Advances in Alcohol Research: A 50-Year Perspective.”

Another special speaker is Dr. George Kolodner, Founder and Chief Innovation Officer, Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Centers, a board certified addiction psychiatrist who specializes in the intensive outpatient (“IOP”) treatment of substance use disorders. In 1973, he designed and founded the first IOP program in the US.  Since then, Kolmac Outpatient Recovery Centers have helped more than 30,000 patients recover from alcohol and drug addiction. Dr. Kolodner will speak about the IOP approach to recovery and another counsellor from Kolmac will speak on the latest recovery methods.  Dr. Kolodner and his staff have worked to increase awareness of IOP and to keep Kolmac on the cusp of leading-edge treatment for women and men. More information about Dr. Kolodner can be found here: Kolmac Outpatient Recovery: George Lolodner MD.

We are also very fortunate to have a special speaker from Britain, Dr. Jon Stewart, a well-known academic in the field of popular culture and popular music.  He also campaigns for greater recognition of the wide range of non-spiritual recovery options via interviews with the BBC and The Guardian, and public speaking engagements at groups such as The Humanists Society, Skeptics in the Pub and QED Conference.  He outlines the benefits of various approaches including secular AA, SMART Recovery / CBT, and The Sinclair Method.  Jon’s work is shaped by a strong familiarity with the methodology and history of 12 Step recovery movements – but also informed by important recent developments in evolutionary and social psychology that are rarely discussed in AA meetings.

A very special speaker who has been invited is Kathy Mitchell, Vice President and Spokesperson for the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS).  Ms. Mitchell recently spoke at The World Health Organization (WHO) Forum on alcohol, drugs and addictive behaviors, held at WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The Forum brought a new impetus to international activities led or implemented by WHO in reducing the health and social burden associated with substance use and addictive behaviors.

Those are some of the speakers and topics available at ICSAA 2020. This will be an excellent and exciting conference, with an opportunity to learn from some of the world’s greatest scientists and alcoholism and recovery experts. In will also be an ideal time to enjoy some wonderful sightseeing. Best of all, and like the three conferences that have paved the way for ICSAA 2020, it will be a time of fun and fellowship, with the opportunity to meet new people, renew old acquaintances and make new friends from all around the globe.

Make your plans now!

Here are some details and links for those interested in attending:

What: International Conference of Secular Alcoholics Anonymous 2020 (ICSAA 2020)

When: Friday, Oct. 30 – Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020

Where:  Hyatt Regency Bethesda
One Bethesda Metro Center (7400 Wisconsin Ave)
Bethesda, Maryland 20814

And for much, much more information about what you might very well wish to do while in the region, you can open and/or download this PDF: ICSAA 2020.

Gregg O. works in Washington, DC, but lives in the Kansas City (Kansas) area, where parking is cheaper and more plentiful. He attends We Agnostics AA meetings in both locales. He and his wife Kenda have three cats, one dog and a ridiculously large collection of See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil Monkey statuettes. Gregg was a Peace Corps volunteer mathematics teacher in Ghana many years ago and is also an occasional speaker on radio history. He is currently an attorney that works with cities and cooperatives that own their own not-for-profit electric utilities.


4 Responses

  1. Bob K says:

    WOW!!! My plan was to NOT attend this event, but I’m pressed to rethink that in learning that Jon Stewart will be there. He is AWESOME!!!

  2. Arlene H. says:

    I am not an alcoholic, but have many first and second degree relatives who are. I would love to attend this conference, but won’t be able to. However, I want to stay updated on any and all developments in this field. I am a lifelong atheist.

  3. Mike O says:

    Science? I thought that addiction was a “spiritual” disease first and foremost requiring a “spiritual” solution found only through the “honesty”, “open-mindedness” and “willingness” of the 12 Steps. I thought that recovery was contingent on the “maintenance” of one’s “spiritual condition”. I thought it was a disease based on “instincts” gone wild and an “egotistical” belief that we are God. I guess when the Big Book said, “science may one day find it (a cure for alcoholism) but hasn’t done so yet.” that perhaps that day is drawing closer.

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