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      Sober Nation

      Putting Recovery On The Map

      07-24-15 | By

      Why We All Need To Stop Debating The Disease Model Of Addiction

      The Pointless Debate

      You know what they say about opinions…

      I recently read an article published on the NY Post. The article is called Addiction Is Not A Disease – And We’re Treating Addicts Incorrectly. A man named Kyle Smith published a well researched and well-articulated article expressing his reasoning behind why we should stop calling addiction a disease. I respect everyone’s opinion and he makes some very valid points.

      The issue I have is when people spend a lot of time writing articles that really are intended to sensationalize something as emotionally charged and life-shattering as addiction. Let me explain…

      Addiction Treatment And The Disease Model

      This article had some very strong viewpoints about why the treatment system keeps the “disease model” alive. Let’s look at what was said.

      “Reliance on experts is supported by both supply and demand sides: As customers, we love to think that if we have a particularly nasty problem, there is someone out there who knows exactly what to do. And the $35 billion addiction treatment industry is happy to take your money to help.”

      I get it. There may be some shady treatment centers out there. However, to imply that treating addiction is solely a monetary mission is ridiculous. Nowhere does he mention the thousands of professionals who went to school for years and put themselves into debt so that they could help people. Should all of these people work for free? Why is it that when you get paid to help people, you are scrutinized as an exploiter of people in need?

      People dedicate their lives to treating addiction. Day in and day out, talking to families who are heartbroken and afraid and don’t know what else to do. So easy is it to sit behind a keyboard and imply that people refer to addiction as a disease because they want your money.

      These people are real. I know many of them. I know dozens of hard-working men and women who have dedicated their lives to doing the unforgiving work of helping people with addiction. Disease or not, addiction is a riddle that we may never solve and many times it requires professional help. Most of the sober friends I have needed treatment and stayed sober with the life skills and knowledge base they learned from treatment.

      Did they have to pay for this service? Of course they did. Housing, feeding, protecting, transporting and detoxing people costs a lot of money. But I know that these friends of mine (and myself) are grateful for the experience they had at a treatment center.

      Is the addiction treatment industry perfect? of course not. But to imply that there is some grand conspiracy set out to convince people that they are sick so that facilities can collectively pump them through a system for money is ignorant and simply not true.

      The treatment industry is 90% hard working good people. Don’t undermine that.

      The Disease Model And The Emergence Of Stigma

      The article in reference did make a good point about addiction and the judgments it creates. This should be noted…

      “Addiction-as-disease is in some ways a thoroughly American idea. It ties together how we approach medicine (with a precisely defined target and a definitive program to fight it) and our proudly tolerant spirit in which being judgmental is seen as a kind of vice. Plus it opens up profit opportunities from sea to shining sea.”

      First off, notice that bit again about profit opportunities? Hmmm.

      More importantly, the author does make a good claim about tolerance and how the disease model may influence our judgments towards addicts. To think of an addict as a “sick” person, does take away some of the accountability. Many 12 steppers can attest to hearing slogans like “it wasn’t me, it was my disease.” I see the viewpoint and I recognize it as valid.

      But let’s think this through.

      If identifying addiction as a disease makes it easier for someone to cope and deal with their addiction, isn’t that what we want? Isn’t it better to be sick and sober than to be not sick and using? Isn’t it better to be judged as a sober man or woman than judged as an active drug user?

      If someone is shooting heroin, they just want to stop. If seeing themselves as “sick” and “powerless” gives someone a window into sobriety, why on earth would anyone care? On the flip side, if someone see’s themselves as a person with “bad habits” who uses drugs to escape and needs to see themselves as empowered in order to stop, what does it matter?

      An America with less addiction is a better America. Period. No matter what the path of recovery is.

      Let’s End The Unnecessary Debate Of The Disease Model

      In 1967, The American Medical Association officially labeled alcoholism as an “illness.” The disease model has been reinforced by Alcoholics Anonymous and subsequently other 12 step fellowships such Narcotics Anonymous.

      Ever since, the disease model has been the topic of harsh debate and fervorous opinions. The part that confuses me so much is this… Why does everyone care so much about what it is?

      Personally, I see where both sides are coming from. I see how addiction has similar characteristics of a disease, but I also see how it is unique in that it is a behavior of which in itself requires choice.

      When I see these articles and these heated arguments (I myself have participated and am guilty in this) I realize that everyone is really missing the point. The point is that addiction is by far the most prolific and the most expensive health issue our country has and if we spent more time and energy trying to prevent and effectively treat it and less time trying to figure out what it is, maybe the damage addiction causes would be less impactful.

      In order to effectively treat addiction it is necessary to understand it. However, addiction is unique in that there is more than one effective treatment model with seemingly positive success rates.

      There should not be a one size fits all approach. Maybe the disease model form of treatment is effective for some, maybe behavior modification is effective for other people. Maybe, just maybe, there are people who had drinking problems in the past and were able to change their behavior and today drink in moderation. These are all very plausible realities.

      The less time we spend arguing and the more time we spend providing compassionate treatment and empathy to those in need, the better off we will all be.

      What Is The Solution??

      The solution is to come together as one.

      The solution is to treat addiction as a health problem instead of throwing people in jail. The solution is to treat every addict as an individual with specific viewpoints and specific needs.

      That’s it. As Americans, we have a proclivity to black and white statements. We are more comfortable with seeing a direct course of action that could possibly fix a particular problem. But addiction doesn’t work that way.

      So be open minded. Be mindful of the notion that we may never have a true understanding of why some people abuse drugs or alcohol. That is okay.

      This is a very grey issue, with a lot of variables. I remain optimistic that the recovery community and everyone else will one day come together to love and help each other.

      We need to spend less time labeling people, and more time helping them.


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