Exploring the Social Model of Recovery, Part II: San Patrignano – A Case-Study in Community-Based, Free, Long-Term Drug Rehab

This week, we continue our series of case studies in unique, cutting-edge projects that combine addiction recovery with community development, and community economic development in particular. In case you missed it, here is The Social Model of Recovery, Part I.

For this case, we travel to the fertile wine country of northern Italy. Nestled between beautiful green rolling hills, Vincenzo Muccioli founded San Patrignano in 1978 as a “therapeutic community.” Even before then, people had been gathering here to seek out alternative psychology and spiritual healing. The local healers found themselves treating drug addiction more than any other affliction.

The treatment of addiction baffled society as much then as it does now, if not more so. There were no clear-cut, effective treatments, at least not in mainstream medicine.

What is the San Patrignano Approach to Addiction Treatment?

San Patrignano was founded as a co-operative, which had as its goal to provide free treatment for drug addiction. In 1985, Muccioli and his family donated the land, and much of their own inheritance, to the San Patrignano Foundation.

Today, the Foundation is owned by those who live and work on the beautiful land, and is run as a true co-operative. As of 2012, the community had 350 employees and 1,320 guests. It is, by far, the largest residential drug rehabilitation program in Italy.

San Patrignano is not so much a drug treatment center, but a drug treatment community. “The approach to addiction at San Patrignano is based on a social solution and not a medical one,” explains Danny McCubbin, founder of San Patrignano UK. “With a 72% success rate, it costs absolutely nothing to enter the community.”

The program can last up to four years for those interested in taking full advantage of its resources. San Patrignano is able to provide free treatment to those who suffer from addiction with the proceeds of its social enterprises, much like Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles.

What this therapeutic community provides its young guests with is self-esteem; a sense of belonging, purpose, and meaning; and very important skills that they can use for the rest of their lives.

There are fifty-seven trades to choose from, including horse training, carpentry, plumbing, graphic design, farming, wine production, and baking. Each of these trades are taught by experts in their fields.

Ironically, San Patrignano is known for producing some of the best wines in the region – of course, this may come as no surprise to those of us who have suffered from addiction, that we know our wines (and beers, and whiskeys, and weed, and cocaine…).

How is San Patrignano Funded?

San Patrignano is completely independent and autonomous. In this way, it does exactly what it helps its guests to achieve; it takes no government funding, and is completely self-supporting.

Half of its budget comes from private donations, and the other half half from the sale of its products: cheese, wine, furniture, and a number of other goods and services produced and provided by the residents, themselves. “We don’t want people to buy because they are moved by the story,” explains the founder’s son, Andrea Muccioli, who now runs San Patrignano. “That’s not dignity for our residents. They have to be excellent in their own right.” Indeed, the quality speaks for itself.

And the healing powers of the community speaks for itself, too. The sense of belonging that residents experience while preparing food and eating together – food that they themselves grew! – provides them with an indescribable sense that everything is good in the world.

This sense is missing in our world today. That lack of love and connection that comes from growing up with absent, abusive, stressed out, or otherwise un-attuned parents, this is what causes addiction in the first place.

This lack is what people look to drugs to fix. And if the cure for addiction isn’t as profound and powerful as the drugs we used for so long to ‘fix’ ourselves, then there’s no hope for recovery.

After experiments like San Patrignano, treatment will never be the same. There’s no looking back. Looking forward to next week’s blog, we will head to South-West England to take a look at Second Chance Salads, another innovative experiment in social enterprise as a means to address the confounding problem of addiction.

alo house

We believe trust, meaningful connections, and kindness are the essentials to beginning a journey in recovery. We are dedicated to providing an honest, authentic, and genuine treatment environment that gives our clients a unique opportunity for healing.

Alo House is LegitScript Certified and a Joint Commission Accredited Addiction Treatment Center.