Most everyone will read this title and be instantly horrified or angry. You may be wondering how I can say that a tragic death like that of Whitney Houston is considered a “successful” outcome for drug treatment. But what is truly horrifying is Ms. Houston’s life post treatment, and her subsequent death, fit exactly into an expected and acceptable treatment outcome.
Whether you look into the most common 12-step treatment programs, non-12-step and holistic treatment programs, religiously based drug treatment or any form of addiction counseling, all require the substance user to accept that they have lost control over their thoughts and behaviors; i.e. they are powerless. In fact most drug treatment programs will not allow patients to graduate from their programs without admitting and accepting they have a lifelong disease that renders them powerless over substances.
In many treatment settings patients are asked to look around the room and are told that only 1 in 10 of them will maintain sobriety for any length of time. And worse yet, all are told that they can never recover fully, but instead will remain in a state of perpetual recovery where relapse is common and expected. Not only is this erroneous information stressful for the substance user, but it also provides a ready-made excuse for continued drug and alcohol use problems.
According to multiple sources Whitney Houston attended her first outpatient drug treatment in 2004, and thus began her descent into typical and accepted treatment success: the revolving door. Houston, like the millions of substance users much less notable than she, absolutely accepted her powerlessness and embraced it. She became a living example of the self-fulfilling prophecy created by drug treatment; ‘I must accept that I am powerless; I am powerless over drugs; I have cravings; it’s part of my disease; I can never recover; I must use drugs; I have no power; I want to use drugs; drugs will kill me; I am powerless…’ These ideas are indoctrinated into the drug treatment patient and ruminate around their minds continuously. Treatment providers espouse that if people understand and accept their “disease” that is marked by “powerlessness” that they will then be able to “control” it. What?!? Even the idea itself is convoluted and has now created a culture of ‘Whitney Houstons’ who truly believe they are powerless and can never overcome their problems.
As people who have been labeled addicts continue to use drugs post treatment, (i.e. relapse as referred to by the treatment community), this reinforces the idea in their own minds that they are powerless. While the vast majority of people know they are not “powerless” when they enter their first drug treatment program, most believe they are when they leave. No one ever stops to ask the question, if addiction is a disease and people really are powerless then how do millions of heavy, problem substance users stop using alcohol and drugs or moderate their usage each and every day, and most without any treatment whatsoever? The answer is, they couldn’t possibly, but they do. Teaching Whitney Houston and millions of others like her that they are powerless is a death sentence. Ms. Houston is just one more in a long line of tragic outcomes that drug treatment and the prevailing addiction disease fallacy create.
As we mourn the passing of a truly talented artist, it is most important to understand the real tragedy; that is Ms. Houston was given the wrong information and as a result did exactly as the treatment providers said she would; she kept using drugs. She kept struggling needlessly, when in reality she had the power to change herself all along, and in fact, she was the only one with such power. What is even more tragic and despicable is this same treatment community that gave her the noose that killed her now holds her up as a poster child for the awful ‘disease of addiction’. For them her death is a success on multiple levels as it allows them to continue to disseminate their misinformation that ultimately lines their pockets and keeps substance users dependent forever. What a convenient dichotomy.