A reader recently challenged my practice of criticizing the ideas and methods of the recovery culture, saying:
I applaud your efforts to spread your message and try to help others that find themselves in the same situation you were in. All commendable. What I find disturbing is that you find it necessary to do so by denigrating other methods to prop up your theories and methods.
If you truly thought your method was so effective, you wouldn’t find this necessary.
I find that last self-righteous sentence to be intentionally ignorant. The reader drops the whole context in which we deal with people with substance abuse problems in this country. Every person I have ever talked to about addiction has at least heard the idea that addiction is a disease, and every person I’ve ever talked to who has a problem with substance abuse, is well versed in the disease theory and it’s logical offshoots. Furthermore, a Gallup poll in the 1990’s found that 90% of people believe that alcoholism is a disease, and a more recent poll found that 76% of people who have a substance abuser in their family, believe that addiction is a disease, and I think it’s fair to assume that the family member in question also believes it is a disease. After all, most conventional treatment programs make it their stated goal to teach the substance abuser that addiction is a disease. So the context which must not be dropped, denied, or ignored – is that people in the US who have substance abuse problems or have loved ones with substance abuse problems, are at least highly aware of the disease theory, if not in full belief of it. These are the exact people for whom I write this blog.
Then again, as the reader asks, if I had a good solution for substance abuse, then I should just present that solution, without concerning myself with the other methods. That would be nice, if we could drop the context I just presented, but can we? Let’s look at my method. I can sit down with a person who has a substance abuse problem, and present them an educational course on the nature of choices & values. I can teach them the difference between the nature of choices which lead to substance abuse, and the nature of more long-term focused choices. I can give them cognitive exercises which help them build awareness of the thought processes which lead to their personal choices. I can give them goal-setting exercises which help them to generate and implement alternatives to their current lifestyle. I can also use coaching techniques to actively guide them through a process of ending their old behavior and moving ahead with life. There are many things I can teach which set a person with a substance abuse problem on the right path, and empowers them to build a better life for themselves.
There is a growing body of research on self-changers (people who end their substance abuse problems without treatment or 12-step programs), both on the prevalence of this phenomenon, and the factors which make it successful. These people make up the vast majority of substance abusers who successfully end their problems (75% to be exact). My current method is a combination of an educational approach which teaches them these keys to self-change, and uses personal coaching to guide them through and accelerate the process of change (a process they would most likely naturally experience at some point, as long as they stay away from the recovery culture). My method rests on the above premises, and the premise that human beings have free will, that they choose their own behavior.
In contrast to this, the disease theory and it’s proponents teach that the substance abuser has a disease which causes compulsive substance abuse, that drugs have “hijacked” their free will, that they are powerless, that the only way to solve their problem is through treatment, that “relapse is a part of recovery”, that they will be a lifelong addict, etc. The reality is that the disease theory and these other myths of the recovery culture are thoroughly entrenched in our society and the minds of the people I’m trying to help. I cannot drop this context. My clients cannot afford for me to drop it. I can teach them whatever I want about choice and self-empowerment, but if I don’t tackle these hurtful ideas which they’ve already been taught, then they may continue to believe this nonsense, if not on a conscious level, then at least on a subconscious level (where it will breed an insidious feeling self-doubt). If they believe the disease theory, then they may continue to fall into it’s traps – my view on addiction is directly contradictory to the prevailing view, a person can’t follow both at the same time and hope to succeed. Furthermore, the preponderance of evidence shows that a person’s chances for success are greatly reduced by attending programs which teach the disease theory.
So, why do I find it necessary to denigrate other methods and programs? Because they are wrong, they are spreading falsehoods, they are ineffective – because they are directly standing in the way of success. I guess it’s fair to say I’m denigrating them, but I see it more as debunking. I am trying to remove the bad ideas that stand in the way of success for my clients, my readers, and all people with substance abuse problems. We who have better methods, cannot escape these ideas, because everyone we come into contact with has been taught these ideas. The recovery culture is creating new victims every day, leading people astray with their lies. As a practical matter, we have to point out the errors in these claims and their resultant methods and programs, so that people can free themselves from learned powerlessness and make progress in solving their problems.