The term addiction has developed into a term that has no meaning; not because it’s inherently meaningless, but rather, because it has so many definitions therefore making it meaningless. Words matter. And in the realm of substance use, they really matter because lives are at stake. Addiction has become the catch all term. In any other medical scenario, the definitions for various conditions are very clearly staked out, but not so with addiction. Addiction is misconstrued as a disease, when in actuality, addiction is not a disease. What we call addiction in Western Culture is actually a two part situation that defines the construct: physical withdrawal, and a mental habit. Both are described by “professionals” and laymen alike as “addiction”. Yet neither is addiction in the classic sense of rendering people powerless over substances. Physical withdrawal does not force one to use substances, and mentally choosing a drug habit is a series of choices and is not a medical condition at all, nor is it a disease, or even a metaphorical disease. So to understand what addiction actually is requires a real understanding of what it is not first. All of this is explained in masterful detail in The Freedom Model for Addictions, Escape the Treatment and Recovery Trap. So if you’re inclined to want to delve deep into debunking addiction myths, that’s the book to read.
Ironically the only arena in addiction where the definitions of the condition are somewhat accurate at times is in the actual medical portion of the situation, that being withdrawal/detoxification. In the realm of detoxification, and the symptoms of physical withdrawal, the defining characteristics of acute poisoning are easily recognizable. People poison themselves with heavy use and they shake, sweat, have seizures, and some even die because of the acute poisoning that has taken place. However, when withdrawal symptoms get labeled as “addiction” the actual toxic condition of the body is being horribly misrepresented. So to be clear, withdrawal is the result of physical toxicity and a condition of being poisoned by a substance. This is not addiction! When we mentally frame being poisoned as an addiction – “I get dope sick when I stop my heroin use; I’m addicted.” – we cause real confusion. Being poisoned is being toxic. But being toxic does not force one to use the substance at hand – this is still a choice. Therefore, addiction in the classic sense of a loss of one’s control is not applicable where choice is at the center of the “condition.” Many millions of people get “dope sick” and then choose to detoxify and move on with their life. This is no different than going to a poison control center to detoxify from a poison ingested. But once the myth of withdrawal causing one to use substances is believed by the user, the mythology redefines a toxic condition as an “addiction”. This is wrong headed and harmful.
When we begin to define mental processes or emotions in relation to one’s use of substances, then we really get lost in a mischaracterization of the facts. Addiction (I use that term here for the convenience of the term) is a voluntary and repetitive preference for, in this case, a substance/s. When we describe this voluntary preference as an “addiction” – the cultural influence that states people cannot mentally or emotionally stop themselves from ingesting said substance – we are misrepresenting one’s decisions to use substances. Marginalizing choice and free will in this way is the addiction treatment industry’s goal. For without the destruction of the reality of free will, treatment would be obsolete. The push to define addiction as an unstoppable and inevitable disease for anyone who prefers alcohol or the use of drugs redefines the preference for use as something only an outside agent or professional can cure; hence the need for addiction disease propaganda in addiction treatment circles. This disease myth also provides the treatment industry a convenient second benefit – the health insurance reimbursement for treatment services. It is after all a 36 billion dollar industry – even if the entire foundation of the industry is based in addiction terminology and protocols that are based in myths and financially based motivations.
Here are the facts – the addiction construct is a straw man created in the 20th century. People’s alcohol and drug use is real and can be overwhelming and painful. Withdrawal is real in some cases, but is an easily fixed situation with the correct medical protocols. Withdrawal does not force one to use (unless they believe the myth that it does). Addiction is not a disease – it’s a repetitive choice based on a temporary preference for heavy and/or habitual use. Most of the addiction construct is believable because it is filled with half-truths and some facts mixed with a massive dose of misinformation geared towards forcing or coercing people into the rehab industry. And the last fact: if so many billions of dollars were not on the line, everyone would agree completely with all the facts laid out in The Freedom Model, but until then, it is incumbent for those seeking answers, to question everything they think they know about addiction. Because in the end, “addiction” as we know it in America, is a construct – a myth – based on misinformation. Maybe it’s time to learn the facts – and that is what The Freedom Model for Addictions was written for.