Factors behind drug addiction treatment failure

Drug addiction affects the lives of more than 22 million individuals in the United States, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. However there are many factors behind drug addiction treatment failure.

Currently, there are nearly 12,000 drug detoxification and rehabilitation facilities in the country, individuals devote long periods of time out of their lives being treated, federal and state governments devote vast resources supporting treatment efforts, and insurance companies pour enormous sums of money into funding treatment, yet the problem of substance use continues unabated.

Patients who are treated for alcoholism and drug addiction so frequently return to rehab that the phenomenon is known as the “revolving door” of rehab. Most people who are treated relapse, often repeatedly.

Medicine has made great progress in treating childhood leukemia, AIDS, heart disease, and many other medical problems. Yet the problem of addiction remains highly resistant to treatment. What are the factors behind drug addiction that makes it so intractable?

The major factor that makes drug addiction so hard to treat is that the assumptions underlying most treatment are not correct. Addiction is treated as a disease, which it is not. It’s a behavior pattern. Research simply doesn’t support the disease theory of addiction and the fact that medical treatment doesn’t work should come as no surprise.

The current approach to addiction is like that of a witch doctor who believes that cancer is due to being possessed by spirits. Therefore, he attempts to drive the imagined spirits out of the patient’s body but the cancer remains. We treat a behavioral problem as a disease and the behavior tends to persist. This failure further convinces us that the supposed disease is a very serious one because otherwise our treatment would succeed! In this regard, we’re like the witch doctor. Until we change our assumptions, we will continue to get poor results.

Another of the serious factors behind drug addiction lies in the various beliefs that the unsupported disease theory of addiction generates. The theory suggests that the supposed disease is chronic, incurable, and will last a lifetime. It suggests that addicted people are powerless over drugs and suffer from an unfathomable “loss of control.” This is the idea that any drug, even in a minute quantity, will cause addicted people to lose control and lead them into a binge of unrestrained abuse.

So how is this supposed disease treated? Through faith healing in a 12 step program. Most physicians recognize that they can’t treat addiction so they refer patients to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Cocaine Anonymous (CA), or other 12 step program, all of which rely on religion or spirituality.

So long as addiction is treated as a disease and treated like a witch doctor might, the results will continue to be disappointing.

However, there is an effective alternative. The non-profit St. Jude retreats don’t consider addiction to be a disease but a behavior pattern. The Cognitive Behavioral Education offered by St. Jude’s very effectively helps people achieve and maintain clean and sober lifestyles. Outside researchers have found that former guests of St. Jude enjoy a success rate in doing so of at least 62 percent.