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Official Website of Author Johnny Allem

Say the Second Thing

The work and joy of recovery
Available January 15th, 2018

“Say the Second Thing” furnishes proven, realistic and thoughtful “tools” to address daily situations people face in early addiction recovery (first three years). Each essay focuses on an effective strategy for maintaining and growing recovery in challenges to an individual’s mind, body and spirit. These tools can be learned and practiced methodically or indexed for specific challenges. They are “suggestions” conveyed in a contemporary voice of an experienced helper.

While many strategies grow from the abundant experience associated with Twelve-Step programs, many do not – recognizing the many successful pathways to wellness.

A leading recovery advocate in the modern era.


  • 2016 recipient of the William L. White Lifetime Achievement Award of Faces and Voices of Recovery.

  • Member of the 2004 Institute of Medicine’s historic panel on addiction health that produced Crossing the Quality Chasm – Adaption to Mental Health and Addiction Disorders.

  • Featured in ANONYMOUS PEOPLE, Greg William’s 2015 film celebrating the vitality and importance of the addiction recovery movement and its power to change minds.

  • Founder and Former President of Aquila Recovery Clinic, a cutting edge, outpatient addiction health facility in Washington, DC.

  • A Founder and original Board Member of Faces and Voices of Recovery.

  • Author in 2004 of “Seven Policies to Cure Addiction In Our Lifetime.”

  • Trustee for 12 years of Stepping Stones Foundation, maintaining the home and messages of Bill and Lois Wilson in Bedford Hills, NY.

  • Former President of Johnson Institute, featuring the pioneering work of Vernon Johnson, credited with “raising the bottom” for people entering recovery.

  • Former Deputy Commissioner for Mental Health in the District of Columbia.

  • President and organizer for Society of Americans for Recovery, SOAR, in early 1990s, Senator Harold Hughes’ effort to mobilize the nation’s recovery community into a cogent political constituency.

  • Practicing recovery from alcohol and other drug addiction since March, 1982.

Johnny Allem

My Story

Johnny Allem brings 41 years of personal recovery and leadership as a national advocate for addiction recovery. A co-founder of Faces and Voices of Recovery, and former Deputy Commissioner of the DC Mental Health system, he founded Aquila Recovery Clinics, an outpatient recovery clinic he founded that features integrated care.

His career includes five decades of civic, political, business and healthcare interests. As the President of the Johnson Institute, a policy organization, Mr. Allem developed and conducted training for more than 3,000 “Recovery Ambassadors.” Allem’s addiction recovery story is featured in Gary Stromberg’s book: Second Chances: Top Executives Share Their Stories of Addiction and Recovery.”

Recovery Essays


Testimony of Johnny W. Allem

President, DC Recovery Community Alliance

Before the DNC Platform Hearing on Health

July 22, 2008, Alexandria, VA

It could have gone the other way

It could have gone the other way

Seven Policies Required to

Conquer Addiction in our Lifetime

April 26, 2004 

Seven Policies

Seven Policies

Friday, June 16, 1995


Addiction: It’s a Secret We Can’t Afford to Keep

Washington Post OpEd

Washington Post OpEd

Celebrating Passage of Parity

By Johnny Allem

March 12, 2008



Recovery Essays

It’s been nearly four decades since his last drink. One man is still giving thanks.

Johnny Allem, a longtime advocate for addiction treatment and the founder of Aquila Recovery Clinic, a drug and alcohol treatment program, in Washington, D.C. 



By Courtland Milloy




    From the addiction clinic that he runs in Northwest Washington, Johnny Allem can sometimes see cars double-parked in front of a nearly liquor store. Customers come out hauling booze by the bag, box, the case. 

    “One guy looked like he had enough liquor to stay drunk for a month,” Allem said. 

      He could empathize with the customers. He’d been in many a liquor store doing the same thing, loading up on booze as a quick fix for the stresses and anxieties of life. And it worked, for a while.

    Allem 82, can still remember his first drink: a whiskey purchased at Chevy Chase Liqours during a visit to D.C. in 1960. He was 22 and at the time an up-and-coming political consultant who’d soon go to work on political campaigns as varied as Lyndon B. Johnson’s run for president and Marion Barry’s run for mayor. 

    “It was like electricity running through my body, and for the first time, I felt peaceful inside,” Allem said of that first drink. “All the emotions that had been building up in me through the years just went away,”

    But the peace was fleeting, he said. Even though he would drink a fifth of whiskey nearly every day for another 22 years, he never felt the warmth of that first drink again.

    For more than two decades, he was a secretive, functioning drunk, successful in her work but unhappy in life, frequently sick and always fearful of being found out. He took his last drink in 1982 – and stayed sober with the help of a 12-step program and fellowship.

    Every Thanksgiving Day since, Allem puts sobriety at the top of a gratitude list that is shared with friends and family. Remembering the pain and isolation helps ensure that he never takes his freedom from obsession and compulsion for granted. 

    I talked with Allem about his experience in light of the surge in alcohol consumption that has occurred during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a report in the journal JAMA Network Open, American adults report drinking 14 percent more frequently. 

    For some, Allem said, the booze will probably work as expected. “They’ll lose some inhibitions, seem to have fun, fall into a restless sleep or just pass out and wake up with a hangover.”

    Others will get more than they bargained for, as the quick fix becomes and permanent dependency.

    An estimated 12.1 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And estimated 95,000 

Americans die every year from alcohol-related causes. 

       Allem says people in recovery should speak out more in favor of public policies that treat chemical addiction as a disease and not a sin.

    “We should make sure that future generations get the appropriate help for chemical dependency,” he said. “No more mass incarcerations of drug users. No more war on drugs.”

    He is aware that many have lost their fight with alcohol and drugs. Heartbreaking relapses often end in overdose and death. Victory is not assured, but it is possible.

    In helping patients appreciate how fortunate they are to have broken the bonds of addiction, Allem sometimes recalls the on a sign that hung over the entrance of a new defunct 12-step clubhouse at 14th and V streets NW:

    “It could have gone the other way,” it read.

    He’s not shy about letting his children and grandchildren know about his past. He wants them to be aware of the risks they face. 

    “I know where their genes come from,” Allem said. “My grandfather died from this disease, and it almost killed me.”

    Allem cites studies suggesting that offspring may inherit a genetic predisposition for alcoholism. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania last year identified what they called 18 “genetic drivers” of heavy drinking and alcohols use disorder – the uncontrollable drinking commonly referred to as alcoholism.

    Allem didn’t have a clue about the role of genes when he took that first drink. And he didn’t think much about the impact of his childhood, either. 

    Allem’s father was a fundamentalist traveling preacher who moved around Tennessee and Iowa, ranging as far away as Albuquerque and Los Angeles. “My father was very rigid and impersonal, and I could never live up to his standards,” Allem said. “So I left home after high school and hitchhiked to Knoxville.”

    Allem worked as a night police reporter for a newspaper and a film courier for space launch photographers in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and also begin volunteering in political campaigns. By the time he took that first drink, he was married, had two small children and had a budding career as a political consultant. 

    He would be involved in 130 political campaigns. And the more he succeeded, the worse he felt.

    “I felt like I could earn the respect of others, but never respect myself,” he said. “The more I was appreciated by others, the less I appreciated myself.” He says he thought drinking would drown out his father’s low regard for him. But booze only made him feel lower. 

    Still, he managed to survive, miraculously maintain his sobriety and thrive. He became a leading advocate for science-based addiction treatment policies, found the Aquila Recovery Clinic in Northwest D.C., and wrote a book of tips for staying sober called “Say the Second Thing That Comes Into Your Mind: The Work and Joy of Recovery.”

    Watching that bustling liquor store business, Allem certainly understands the draw. He also knows that when the alcohol sales spike, there is likely to an uptick in demand for treatment. There is satisfaction in being able to help people get sober, but he’d be more pleased if the problems could be avoided all together. 

    “A lot of people are suffering and not getting the help they need, and that makes them afraid,” Allem said. “Instead of exploiting their fears for political gain, we can start reaching out to help people, and by helping others, we begin to heal ourselves.”

            And after 38 years of sobriety, knowing that he can help others makes him hopeful and grateful, even in this year when so many are searching for something for which to give thanks. 

Aquila Awards Dinner_edited

The 2016 Aquila Awards Dinner honored the work of Carol McDaid (on right), veteran recovery advocate and lobbyist to lead the effort for Parity legislation. Seen here, from left, are Jim Vance, NBC4 New Anchor, Johnny, Paul Williams, composer, and McDaid.

Capitol Lawn

One of the first gatherings of recovery advocates on Capitol Hill since Sen. Harold Hughes passage of the Hughes Act in 1969. This 2006 event featured members of Faces and Voices of Recovery. Johnny is kneeling in front row, near the left.

Father Martin_edited

Father Joseph Martin (now deceased), of Ashley Treatment Center, joins Johnny at a 1994 White House workshop on behavioral health sponsored by Tipper Gore.

Hughes and Williams_edited

Twenty years after passage of the Hughes Act recognizing alcoholism at the Federal level, Sen. Harold Hughes saw the need for constituency building if support for recovery was ever to become widespread as a health initiative. His effort to form SOAR (Society of Americans for Recovery) was assisted by Johnny Allem and Composer Paul Williams.


For many years, Johnny was a volunteer for Bridges To Community, a home-building project for families near Masaya, Nicaragua.

Johnny and Paul

Paul Williams continues his nearly 30 years of advocacy support, writing the Foreword to Johnny’s book, “Say The Second Thing.”


Aquila Clinical Director Nike Hamilton served DC Department of Mental Health, teaching and directing co-occurring issues in a program initiated in the 1990s by Johnny when he was Director of Operations at DMH. Hamilton is a nationally recognized trainer in trauma-informed behavioral healthcare.


Volunteers from Aquila Recovery’s alumni and family programs annual staff an exhibit at the NBC4 Health and Fitness EXPO, each training to conduct professional screenings for alcohol and other drug dependencies.


Johnny with long-time friend Doreen Gentzler, News Anchor at NBC4 in Washington, DC. Doreen hosts the “Changing Minds” feature at her station that shares news and information on behavioral health issues.

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