Holistic Treatment is a treatment industry marketing catch-all phrase. Treatment centers use this term to build a case that changing a drug or alcohol habit is complicated and that becoming sober demands that you change all aspects of your life, not just your substance use. The definition of holistic is: Taking into account all of somebody’s physical, mental, and social conditions in the treatment of illness.
While a holistic treatment program sounds both plausible and appropriate as a solution to one’s addiction, it muddies an already difficult situation by overcomplicating it. Another more technical sounding term describing the same term is “biopsychosocial.” In that approach, it’s believed the “addict” needs medications and exercise (this is the bio, or biological element); therapies for emotional problems and traumas (this is the psycho, or psychological element);
and a special sober living home, recovering friends, career training, healthy hobbies, and maybe even treatment for your family so they won’t be “codependent” or “enabling” (this is the social element). They’re taught that the cessation of substance use will somehow magically happen once all of these elements are brought into balance for you by an entire staff of professionals.That’s holistic and biopsychosocial approaches in a nutshell. They become completely unmanageable.
Here is what The Freedom Model for Addictions text discusses on the psychological element of holistic and biopsychosocial treatments for addiction:
“Next, there are those professionals who are obsessed with the psychological causes of addiction. These include mood disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, and trauma/PTSD. The way it’s told by treatment professionals, these “co-occurring disorders” or “underlying causes” leave the substance user with an absolute need for substance use that he will continue to feed until someone outside himself can properly treat his conditions. Here’s how a doctor who works with high-priced rehabs describes the plight of people with substance use problems:
“The vast majority of people with these co-occurring disorders do not receive treatment for both their substance abuse problem and their other co-occurring conditions, which is why most treatment programs have high relapse rates. If you don’t treat the co-occurring condition, then the person is going to continue to have a need to medicate, and if their prescription medications don’t meet their needs adequately, then they’re going to begin to self-medicate again.” (Leeds)
These treatment programs enroll substance users in every kind of therapy possible, diagnose mental illness, prescribe psychiatric meds, and try to root out hidden traumas, as a way to indirectly cause the substance user to stop wanting and using substances. Modern rehabs have gone full bore with this strategy, and yet they still have the same dismal success rates. “Compliance with treatment” is yet again another obstacle in this model. These treatment professionals often can’t seem to cause their patients to continue attending therapy and group counseling, use their “alternative coping methods,” or keep taking their psychiatric meds on schedule. What’s more, many people “comply” with all of these treatment methods, yet they
still find themselves desiring and using substances. In this case, when questioned the believer in the causal power of “co-occurring disorders” will explain that they simply haven’t found the right cocktail of meds and therapies yet.
The fact is, the issue for the individual to figure out is simply this: will further heavy substance use make me happy enough or not? This has not been directly resolved at the level of thought for the struggling individual, so whether the “underlying causes” are resolved or not, he may still desire heavy substance use. This is because those conditions aren’t really underlying “causes.” They may be seen as reasons to use substances by some people at some times, but the fact that everything is going well in life may also be seen as a reason to use substances
heavily. We need to make a note about “psychological causes of addiction” to be clear what our stance is. Heavy substance use is absolutely a matter of psychology; people want it and choose to do it because of how they think. That is to say, it is a matter of the mind and thus psychological. The Freedom Model stance is that people are free to choose to think differently and this will change
the way they feel and behave so in that sense, substance use is a matter of psychology.
en treatment professionals speak of psychological causes, they are usually referring to mental disorders or diseases, which they believe to be out of control of the individual, and to be the cause of that individual’s substance use.
There are many more proposed “causes of addiction,” and the fact is that none of them truly hold water because when the claim is that one thing causes another, this should be readily observable and verifiable in every case, yet it never is with respect to substance use. Causal relationships are not subjective by nature. If I told you putting a lit match to an open tank of gasoline “causes” a fiery explosion, you could test this claim. Assuming you survived the explosion, you could do it a hundred times and it will always result in an explosion. But if I told you that poverty causes addiction, and you went to a poor neighborhood to survey 100 people, you might find somewhere between 5 and 20 people who currently fit the diagnosis ofaddiction. Why weren’t the other 80 people caused to use substances heavily? Then you could go to a high priced treatment center, and find nothing but people who grew up in wealth and luxury. What caused them to become addicted if not poverty? Or say I told you trauma causes addiction. If you rounded up 100 people with high trauma scores, only 15 of them might also have “alcoholism.” This is what the research shows. Yet people proudly claim that trauma causes addiction, as if the only response to traumatic events is to dive headlong into heavy substance use. In fact, this response to trauma is the exception, not the rule – the other 85 arenot addicted. Are they superheroes with magical powers somehow able to flout the law that
trauma causes addiction?
These claims of “causes” are based on nothing more than probabilities and correlations. Some reliable percentage of people with depression or anxiety problems also has substance use problems (20%). This correlation doesn’t indicate that depression and anxiety cause addiction, or even that these phenomena are related in any meaningful way. If there is a relationship, it could be that some depressed people think that getting high is a good way to deal with their
depression, or they may even think it relieves the depression. Or it could be that heavy substance use leads to depression. There could be any number of reasons that some people with depression also use substances heavily, but there is nothing that shows heavy substance use is a necessary result of depression, in the same way that an explosion is the necessary result of putting a lit match to gasoline.”
As you can see, the solution to an addiction becomes increasingly hidden under a pile of variables in the holistic or biopsychosocial model. Trauma, depression, and anxiety can and should be addressed for those seeking solutions for them. However, by heaping these human variables together with an addiction problem, and then stating only a holistic treatment program can sort it out, is akin to digging yourself into a deep hole and then needing someone to come along and throw you a rope. It just might be better to not dig. The Freedom Model separates the preference for a substance and all that goes into that personal preference, from
the other natural issues of being human, that is: being depressed, being anxious and experiencing trauma. One need not be tied to the others. The Freedom Model puts the need for a holistic program on hold, and provides a solution for substance use first. Then your other issues can be addressed as singular obstacles to be tackled one at a time.