Addiction Treatment Wouldn’t Have Stopped The Chattanooga Shooter

The Chattanooga Shooter

In the media’s mad dash to blame anything for the actions of the Chattanooga shooter, we’re now hearing that an untreated dual-diagnosis of depression and addiction was the cause.

An AP report put a familiar storyline out there, stating “Several years ago, relatives tried to have Abdulazeez [the Chattanooga shooter] admitted to an in-patient program for drug and alcohol abuse but a health insurer refused to approve the expense.” Since then, networks such as NBC have run with the theme, reporting on a “downward spiral” of substance use and depression that led to the shooting.

The storyline that’s developing is that as Abdulazeez struggled with substance use, even losing a job over it, he was essentially forced to go to Jordan as a getaway because he couldn’t get the addiction treatment he needed. But does this add up? Let’s look at the issues.

We’re told constantly about how tragedy strikes when insurance companies just won’t lay out the dollars to pay for addiction treatment. Unfortunate addicts are forced to commit crimes, degrade themselves, and die by overdose for the lack of treatment. There’s no shortage of people convinced that this is a national crisis requiring desperate measures. For example, the following account was offered up as a common occurrence in addiction treatment admissions in 2013:

The doctors… told Michael he’d have better luck with the insurance company if he had a dual diagnosis: a drug addict who was also mentally unstable.Would he, they asked, be willing to say he was going to harm his mother or himself. If Michael was mentally unstable, they could admit him, Denise [his mother] said. And his insurance would cover that.

The journalist describes a culture of fraud carried out by desperate parents and healthcare workers to secure insurance payments for addiction treatment. That people have to do battle with insurance companies while their children die without treatment is a story that evokes the deepest outrage.

So when we hear that the same happened to Abdulazeez, we’re also supposed to get outraged at the insurance companies for not delivering what he needed, and maybe even causing the shooting rampage that took 5 innocent lives. But did Abdulazeez need addiction treatment? Does anyone need it? That is, would it improve their lives or solve their problems more than not receiving addiction treatment? The media never seem to ask this question. But the answer is well known to epidemiologists and researchers familiar with addictions: addiction treatment doesn’t help, and sometimes it even hurts.

“Only 11 percent of those with an addiction receive treatment. It is staggering and unacceptable that so many Americans are living with an untreated chronic disease and cannot access treatment.”

So goes the familiar storyline pushed by treatment lobbyists. Meanwhile, research has repeatedly shown that the vast majority of people overcome their addictions. As researcher Gene Heyman PhD of Boston College and Harvard noted in a damning report on the disease approach to addiction:

Most addicts quit using drugs at clinically significant levels, they typically quit without professional help, and in the case of illicit drugs, they typically quit before the age of 30.

And the numbers back him up. Data from the most reliable study in recent years (the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related conditions) show that addiction remission rates are “83.7% for nicotine, 90.6% for alcohol, 97.2% for cannabis, and 99.2% for cocaine.”

In the face of these facts, you’d be hard pressed to say that it’s a tragedy that only 11% of people get treated for their addictions. The fact is that they’re already getting over their addictions without treatment. The Chattanooga shooter didn’t need addiction treatment because no one needs addiction treatment.

It’s a bold statement but it’s true. Treatment isn’t necessary, and in fact it doesn’t help. For example, with alcohol dependence, for which the most data exists, the same study showed that those who received treatment were slightly more likely to remain dependent than those who didn’t receive treatment.

Other studies have shown harsher results. A famous randomized controlled trial found that those exposed to traditional treatment support methods became 5 times more likely to binge drink after treatment than those who received no help at all. And when the epidemiological data on heroin and opiate addiction was examined, the results were shocking. Whether or not they received treatment, the majority of those with prescription opiate or heroin use disorders were in remission – in the case of heroin, upwards of 90% were in remission! What’s more, those who didn’t enter treatment had significantly shorter bouts with opiates. The mean duration of their most recent episodes of addiction was 17 months for untreated heroin users versus a staggering 69 months for heroin users who had received treatment. Prescription opiate addicts had a similar gap, with untreated addicts having 35 month episodes while the treated addicts had 59 month episodes.

As all the data shakes out, it’s clear that there is not only no need to get treatment for addiction, but it may also compound the problems of substance use.

We’ve been told that the Chattanooga shooter Abdulazeez was addicted to alcohol and other drugs, and we’ve been led to believe that his insurance carrier’s refusal to fund addiction treatment was the root cause of his violent attack last week. The untreated addiction and depression was the problem, right? Although we don’t yet know which drugs he was addicted to, it is clear that he didn’t need treatment for addiction, because as we demonstrated, treatment for addiction doesn’t work. Addicts already get over their addictions without treatment, and at higher rates without treatment. So essentially, any so-called treatment success stories are people who would’ve recovered on their own without help. Addiction treatment is unnecessary for everyone, and it was unnecessary for Abdulazeez. It wouldn’t have stopped his attack. This is all to say nothing of the basic logical point that while 89% of addicts do not receive treatment, it is clearly not the norm for any of them to go on a shooting rampage as result.

“But,” you may say, “what about Abdulazeez’s depression – he was a dual diagnosis patient with addiction and depression, so he’s different.”

No he’s not.

The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related conditions also found that depression was irrelevant to recovery from addiction, as researchers unequivocally stated:

No association was observed between mood and anxiety disorders and dependence remission for any of the substances assessed.;jsessionid=48E81EE2FEB2000403C78498AD10F3C7.f03t02

That means that depression does not lower anyone’s chance of recovery from addiction. And besides, Abdulazeez had been receiving treatment for depression from the age of 13. How did that work out?

Most people will get over their problems without addiction treatment, and those who don’t, wouldn’t have gotten over it with treatment anyway, because treatment has not been shown to work. The fact is that if addiction treatment changes the course of people’s lives, then the evidence points to a change for the worse. The reason for this is simple. Addiction treatment (and related treatments) teach people that they are not in control of themselves; that their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are out of their own control; and that they should expect a lifetime of struggle with “diseases” that cause their problems. Treatment goes against every instinct you’d have in helping a loved one. It’s full of doom and gloom. Abdulazeez didn’t need treatment for addiction, nor does anyone. Would it be useful for people to get effective help? Yes. But should they get what’s offered up as treatment? No.