Have you ever wondered why the idea of “addiction as a disease” only includes behaviors and habits that society deems as negative or harmful? Habitual activities that are positive or neutral would never be labeled a disease. Driving a car is a habit which most adults do every day and feel they can’t live without, yet no one would ever say we are suffering from the “addiction disease” of driving. Are marathon runners suffering from running addiction? What about motorcycle riders, skydivers, skiers, swimmers… you get the point. I love reading and sometimes I will stay up very late to finish a chapter or a book and be tired and irritable the next day. Does that mean I am “addicted” to reading? After all, I overindulge from time to time in spite of negative consequences.
Think about it, what activity or activities do you really enjoy? Of those activities, think of a time when you have chosen to overindulge in spite of negative consequences. Really analyze in your mind one or two of those experiences and think about why you chose to do it, regardless of the consequences. What you have just described is the essence of addiction. The “addict”, who seems so out of control, who has made what our society considers to be poor choices and who has experienced dreadful consequences due to repetitive drug and alcohol use, is making the exact same decisions you have made. Simply because you and I cannot imagine why they want to live that way does not mean they don’t want to or that they have lost control. What it means is you and I would not choose to live that way, but the fact is they do.
The disease theory of addiction centers on this kind of egocentric, moral judgment. People, especially health professionals, look at those who seemingly have destroyed their lives using alcohol and drugs, gambling, watching pornography, shopping, or overeating and conclude their behavior cannot be the result of conscious choice. They mistakenly assume that those people can’t possibly like what they are doing. And in promoting this assumption they make it impossible for people to figure out what they like about it and if they can be happier changing the behavior. This analysis is an essential component to solving an addiction.
Billions of dollars have been spent and are still being spent trying to discover the point at which people lose the power of personal choice with respect to certain behaviors, but as you look at peer-reviewed research, the scarce few studies that have been published supporting the disease theory all have a caveat or flaw that renders them inconsequential or inconclusive. Additionally, those studies are all funded by the pharmaceutical and treatment industries or state and federal governments who collect billions from keeping addiction a disease.
Even those studies that claim to find a genetic marker or link to addiction fail to account for choice. Having a genetic predisposition or a genetic marker for a specific characteristic never replaces free will and choice. While the information may be interesting for the purposes of analysis and, perhaps, even as a means for predicting potential problems, it can also discourage a healthy belief system and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What We Believe About Ourselves Matters
When we, at The Freedom Model, say addiction is not a disease, there is always backlash, but it is almost always from those who make a very comfortable living off it being a disease. They ironically accuse us of trying to make a buck off our “opinion” at the expense of those suffering from the “disease”. Anyone who has gone against the grain and worked tirelessly to change a well-entrenched damaging scientific paradigm, will tell you there are much easier ways to make money! There is little money to be made in making waves; in questioning everything; in thinking for oneself. To the contrary, there is an abundance of money in following the pack, and keeping the status quo. And there is an overabundance of money in convincing people they are powerless over their own thoughts, desires and behaviors as evidenced by the fact that addiction treatment is a $40 Billion industry. Because when people believe they are powerless and can’t find their way out of an alcohol or drug problem, they and their families will pay whatever they feel it takes to have someone fix them. The problem is, the only person that can change a substance user is the substance user; and that change actually takes place within their own mind.
You see, once people are convinced they can’t change themselves then the real struggle begins. I’ve been there. I can remember waking up and pouring myself a Jack and Coke in the morning, believing that I needed it. I can remember swearing that I would only have two drinks so I could drive home, and then waking up the next morning after a black out, wondering if I would find my car outside and what kind of shape it would be in. I was raised with the addiction disease and powerlessness mythology drilled into my head, and I truly believed if I ever started drinking I would have problems. And, I did.
After studying behavioral health and addiction in college, while actively struggling with substance use and mental health issues, I began questioning all that I was learning about addiction. I could see even then that the research didn’t seem to match the addiction disease mantra. It didn’t seem to support it at all, but instead seemed to show that people did have control and could stop.
After college, my life spiraled out of control, so I went to AA because it was all I knew to do. But I became one of “those people”; I questioned everything I was being told. I just couldn’t buy it. I watched my grandmother die of cancer; I knew what a real disease looked like. I was told to take the cotton out of my ears and stick it in my mouth. I was discouraged from thinking for myself. I can remember one night when I asked what I thought was a damn good question, “If I’m happy not drinking and I don’t want to drink, what exactly is going to make me drink?” One woman became angry and accused me of being on a pink cloud. She said, “You better watch out. The last woman I heard talk like that is dead.” And everyone nodded their head in solemn agreement. But I remained steadfast in my questioning, and began researching addiction disease model for myself, and what I found changed my life forever.
The research shows that believing you are powerless leads to higher rates of dangerous binge drinking as well as mental health problems. I saw that firsthand in the 7 years I stayed in the rooms of AA. And yes, I did see people die, which seemed to reinforce what I was being told in AA; or did it? I wondered, what if the reason people are dying is not because they actually have a disease and are truly powerless over substances, what if it’s because they believe they are powerless? What if what they are being told is totally wrong and is hurting them?
When you look at the research with a skeptic’s eye, it reveals the truth. Teaching people they are powerless over substances and are suffering from a disease from which they can never recover is a recipe for a lifetime of misery and struggle. And what makes it that much worse is – it is entirely false.
By providing people the truth—that all people are incredibly powerful because they have complete control over their thoughts, desires, and behaviors—then showing them exactly how they can change their thoughts, desires and behaviors, they become free to think, feel, behave and live however they choose. The truth is each one of us is responsible for our own happiness and success and always has been. Research has found that those who are successful embrace this reality and those who are not reject it. Either way both groups are still making a choice.
Getting over an addiction can be easy, and it can be a very positive experience. But it starts with getting the right information. If you are struggling or you know someone who is, I encourage you to check out The Freedom Model for Addictions or you can call me directly at 888-424-2626. We developed the very first non 12 step program in 1989, and it’s been an uphill battle against the leviathan that is addiction treatment ever since. In the process we have helped thousands of people find complete freedom from both addiction and perpetual recovery. If you have been to treatment and failed, please, please don’t give up. There is a solution, and it makes perfect sense.
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