The following article, Addiction IS NOT a Chronic, Progressive Disease — Opinion, was first published on Flag And Cross.
Are you a drinker? Do you take drugs? Are you the parent, a sibling or a friend of a substance user? If so, you’ve likely wondered why you or others drink and drug heavily, and why they do it regardless of the costs and dreadful consequences that sometimes befall the user. You’ve also probably heard that “Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive disease.” Maybe you’ve been told that drug addiction is also a “chronic brain disease.” Most likely you’ve also found these statements a bit suspect because you might know people who were once hardcore users, and they just quit. We all know someone who was once a heavy user and then made the decision to stop on their own, and did. These cases fly in the face of the powerlessness narrative we hear all the time.
So what’s the truth? Is addiction chronic? Is it a disease? Let me be clear…No and No.
Addiction is NOT a Chronic, Progressive, Disease
Here is a fact that never gets the airtime it deserves. It’s an important statistic, because it throws the entire chronic disease model on its head; over 90% of people with addictions move past their problem when you factor in age. That means that 9 out of 10 users (even opiate intravenous users) move past their addictions as they grow older in age, whether they went to treatment or not – and most didn’t go at all. The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap covers this reality in detail:
“When researchers crunched these numbers in the NESARC data, figuring in the trends on age, they found that more than 9 out of 10 will eventually resolve their substance use problems – treated or not. More precisely, the probability that a problematic substance user will resolve their problem for various substances is: (Heyman, 2013)
1. Alcohol – 90.6%
2. Marijuana – 97.2%
3. Cocaine – 99.2%
Although they didn’t offer a probability rate for heroin, we have no reason to believe it should be any different. 96% of heroin addicts were currently resolved in the NESARC data. This is similar to previous data on heroin use. For example, a study on Vietnam vets diagnosed as heroin-dependent found that within the first 3 years about 88% quit without relapse, and in a 24 year-long follow up, 96% had eventually resolved their problems. You should also know that only 2% of those vets received treatment! (Robins, 1993)”
These facts made me question so much more of the commonly held ideas that are pushed throughout our society today. And so, myself and my research colleagues, Michelle Dunbar and Steven Slate, began to look into other commonly held ideas about addiction to find their validity.
One of these was, is addiction a chronic condition? Does an “addict” or an “alcoholic” always get worse with use? Does their situation always progress in a downward spiral into jails, institutions, rehabs, and death as the treatment community constantly says? Here is what we found. (This next excerpt comes from Chapter 1 in The Freedom Model for Addictions.)
Addiction & Recovery: Flipsides of the Same Coin
The recovery society labels heavy substance use as “addiction” and defines it as a state of involuntary behavior caused by a disease. We simply call heavy substance use an activity that people have learned to prefer very strongly. But when substance users learn to view this preference as an addiction, it adds a layer of confusion that both blocks people from reconsidering their preferences and makes it harder for them to change if they should somehow see fit to do so. The reasons for this are that these substance users are struggling to fight something that isn’t there; that is, they’re trying to “recover” from a nonexistent disease.
It is imperative that we say this right now, and that you remember it:
Since addiction is not a disease,
it can’t be medically treated,
and you can’t recover from it.
Let that sink in for a moment. Many of you seek out our solution precisely because you know something is wrong with the idea that you have a disease called addiction. However, many of you then ask us to show you “how to recover from addiction”, or “how to get into recovery”, or “how to maintain recovery.” You’re looking for an alternative treatment for addiction. You are still looking for some outside force to battle the supposed forces of addiction. This just goes to show the depths of your confusion, and the stranglehold the recovery society has on our culture’s views of substance use. If your problem isn’t a disease, then it can’t be treated. There is no proper medical treatment for a non-medical problem. (With the exception of detox for withdrawal, where medical protocols may be necessary. We are discussing addiction in the more commonly held perspective here – that as a mental and emotional compulsion, not the physical dependence that might occur after you’ve chosen to use heavily and consistently. Even physical dependence does not cause compelled use. We cover the research on this point later on in the text.)
The recovery society and its treatment providers invented the concept of addiction whole cloth – they invented it, they promoted it, and they own it. You can’t mention addiction without implying involuntary, un-chosen behavior. They created a boogeyman called addiction that robs you of the power of choice and forces you to use substances against your will. With it, they created the idea that there is something to be treated, to fight, and from which substance users can recover.
There is nothing to fight, nothing from which to recover. There are only personal choices to be made (emphasis added). Your substance use isn’t involuntary. You voluntarily choose it, because, for better or worse, you prefer it at this point. You could try to “recover” by avoiding “triggers,” and working on “alternative coping mechanisms” all you want, but if you still prefer heavy substance use, you will still find yourself wanting to do it, and you will probably do it anyways.
The goal of recovery puts people on the wrong path, and it makes obstacles where they needn’t be. The concept of “triggers” is the perfect example of this. People become convinced that if they, for example, see a billboard advertising beer, they’ll be uncontrollably triggered to start drinking right then and there. Life then becomes a quest to avoid such triggers for those “in recovery”, and they live with the paranoia that something will set them off drinking at any given moment. In this way, efforts at recovery keep addiction alive, by sustaining the identity of a fragile helpless addict. Meanwhile, when someone comes to the realization that they just don’t like drinking that much anymore, and that they prefer being sober more than being intoxicated, nothing will trigger them into drunkenness. They can be in a room full of people swilling it up, and aren’t tempted in the slightest.
Do you want to critically examine your preferences and change them, or fight a boogeyman? These are mutually exclusive courses of action. The Freedom Model will show you how you can change your preference for substance use.
Think of it this way, if you didn’t have cancer, you wouldn’t spend your time getting chemotherapy. It would not only be a waste of your time, but it would be costly, cause you other problems, and take away from time that you could be using to build a happy life. This analogy shows the absurdity of the situation that somehow, even some people who disagree with the disease model of addiction still seek out treatment for it and focus on recovering from it. Mind you, plenty of incredibly intelligent people fall for the recovery trap, because the addiction disease proponents have done an amazing job at mainstreaming their views.
While the myth of addiction as a disease has been proven false by credible research over and over again for many decades, the idea of “recovery” from alcoholism and addiction has remained by and large unexamined with the same critical eye, until now. This book will challenge everything you believe to be true about addiction and its stable mate, recovery. It will then provide a new way to see yourself; as a person who is fully free to change your substance use if it is unsatisfactory to you.
Once you understand that substance use is really a choice, and that you are truly in control, your changes will be easy to make. You will turn the page on this chapter of life and move on. You probably don’t think it’ll be that simple at this point – and that’s the problem. When people are arranging to come to our retreats to learn The Freedom Model, they often ask us to set up a year or more worth of weekly aftercare sessions for them. Some will even offer huge sums of money to try to convince us to set up this formal support system for them, but we won’t do it. The idea that some kind of support is needed is a recovery society idea. It is based not only on the assumption that you are weak, but more importantly on the myth that there is something you must battle. Recovery ideology states there is a force stronger than your free will compelling you to want and to use substances; that something outside of your own mind can make your decisions for you; that some outside strength is needed to support your fight against addiction. We can’t and won’t attempt to support you in fighting a non-existent thing. We can’t make your choices for you. We can only offer to provide information that you can use to make new choices, and once you have this information, it’s up to you to use it.
Risky, Costly Behaviors are Chosen Risky, Costly Behaviors
As was stated at the beginning of the article, the results of using drugs and alcohol heavily can be dramatic and painful. But this fact alone does not mean the option to use them was not freely chosen, nor does it mean you will not be able to stop using them or that you have a chronic progressive disease of some kind that compels you to use substances. Based on the data, addiction is not chronic, and it isn’t a disease. Remember, more than 90% of people with an addiction/s end their addictions, and they do it themselves internally and most times without any help at all.
There are many costly painful habits and choices in life. Just because a choice ends badly, does not mean it wasn’t freely chosen.
A disease is a condition that includes measurable pathology, and requires outside intervention such as medicine, antibiotics and surgeries to cure. The good news is addiction has none of these factors or defining characteristics, not one. Instead, the numbers and vast bodies of evidence show us that the human mind, free will and our pursuits of happiness drive both our addictions and our walking away from them.
If you or a loved one would like to receive a free digital copy of The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap, go to our website and enter the coupon code upon checkout www.thefreedommodel.org/products/
and type in the coupon code FREEDOM108 or call us direct at 888-424-2626
For more information about The Saint Jude Retreat residential Freedom Model Program, go to www.soberforever.net
For more information about our at-home program, The Freedom Model Private Instruction Program, go to www.leaveaddictionbehind.com
Robins, L. N. (1993). The Sixth Thomas James Okey Memorial Lecture. Vietnam veterans’ rapid recovery from heroin addiction: A fluke or normal expectation? Addiction, 88(8), 1041–1054. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1360-0443.1993.tb02123.x
Heyman, G. M. (2013). Quitting drugs: Quantitative and qualitative features. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9(1), 29–59. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032511-143041
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