Anyone who abuses substances; whether it be alcohol, crack, heroin, or any type of opiate, has a behavioral problem, not a disease. Cancer and diabetes are legitimate diseases; they are both beyond the individual's control at the onset. Alcohol and drug use are not, they are simple choices. 12-step programs, such as NA (Narcotics Anonymous) and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) tell people that they have to go to support meetings, that they need to relapse, and that they are diseased. That is not true. Change your thinking and you change your behavior.
There are approximately ten million substance users admitted to treatment programs in the United States each year, learning that they have a disease and that they are in denial. (SAHMSA, 2008) As these people accept the misinformation from treatment programs, it provides them with an opportunity to avoid their reality and an excuse to avoid making the hard decision to abstain or moderate their usage or continue using substances to excess. In essence, treatment programs replace the substance user's natural powers of common sense and free will with an external imaginary power of a simple, inert substance.
Millions of these "hopeless" types have had the courage to search out and find better lifestyle alternatives. They have chosen to stop drinking and drug using and have attained happiness for the rest of their lives. In fact, the vast majority of these people do this on their own. (Heyman, 2009) What keeps people active in their substance use is their perception that there are no better alternatives to using drugs and alcohol for sustaining a level of happiness and fulfillment. This lack of more attractive lifestyle alternatives is the simple, but accurate, explanation to a seemingly complicated problem. Choosing to change is the beginning of a life transformation and must not be underestimated.
Positive alternatives to drug and alcohol use are infinite. Prior to the medical community creating excuses (such as the disease theory) for substance user's inappropriate behavior, those who used substances excessively simply got over their problem, were locked away in jails or institutions or died. There was no middle ground. There was no tolerance for their abusive and sometimes criminal behavior. It was a simple problem; change your lifestyle or pay the price and the truth is, most changed.
However, during the last century the American culture has shown an ever increasing intolerance for any personal discomfort, which has created a fertile soil for the seeds of the disease movement to grow. If there are excuses, like the disease theory, for people's poor behavior and immature, selfish choices, then the growing pains associated with personal change and maturity can be avoided.
All of these problems are however, are a function of choice, not disease. And the good news is that choices can be changed. That is what we at St. Jude's do everyday; we build an options list for people who come to us believing they don't have any.