“Addiction, it’s a disease.”
“No, it’s not. The person is just weak.”
Neither of these is true. But, these statements do spell out the confusion that surrounds the construct of addiction. Let me start by stating the truth – addiction is not a disease and it’s also not a matter of weakness.
To put the disease theory to rest, read the logic in the following statement. You do not get cancer on payday, and then when your money runs out, the cancer disappears. Yet, a drinker’s “disease” is characterized by this kind of silliness. Are we really to believe you can choose and unchoose cancer on a whim like you can when it comes to drinking and drugging? Real diseases don’t work that way. They kill you whether you like it or not. You have no choice. People who choose to go to the bar or crack house have a choice. That simple analogy puts this disease nonsense into a more realistic light.
Watching a person with a heroin habit seek their drug of choice in any number of very deliberate ways, ends the weakness argument quickly. “Addicts” and “alcoholics” are some of the craftiest, most determined individuals I’ve ever met when it comes to getting their alcohol and/or drugs. They’re obviously not weak.
Maybe a Brain Disease Then?
Scientific looking brain scans that show an “addicted” brain next to a healthy brain of someone who quit a month prior are the supposed “evidence” that shows the changes that have occurred in the “addicted” brain as a result of the substances that person habitually ingested. This “diseased brain” will now supposedly render them powerless to stop using substances. Being that this is the main symptom of the brain disease, that they cannot stop, one has to ask then, “How did the person with the ‘addicted and diseased’ brain stop?” Remember, there is a scan of that person’s healthy brain sitting right next to the “addicted brain “scan image. Think about that. The very scans used to demonstrate that the person has an altered brain which renders that individual powerless over substances proves just the opposite. We know this because we have that healthy scan sitting right next to the “addicted brain” scan that was taken at the height of the individuals “addiction.” So they did stop, and they stopped when they were most addicted according to the scans and the study! Put another way, how can it be that the addicted brain changed to a healthy brain, but only after quitting, when the theory states that at the height of this “disease” you can’t quit because your brain is altered and won’t let you quit?! I know, you might need to read that statement a few times because that is how the brain disease nonsense keeps chugging along – it’s cloaked in confusion and falsehoods.
Here is logic that makes more sense. Brains change constantly. It’s called the physical result of learning. It’s normal. Drinking and drugging, like driving a car, juggling, or walking, all change the brain. They are habits. Habits are learned. Habits are normal. It’s how humans work. Once you see “addiction” for what it really is, habits, then you can move past all this disease propaganda. The scans prove it.
Now to the Weakness Argument
“He is too weak in the mind to stop himself.” That is what we hear. We hear a drunk say “I can’t stop.” We hear the opiate user say they cannot get past withdrawal. But here are the facts (Slate, Scheeren, & Dunbar, 2017):
Now remember what the treatment advocates are saying. In no uncertain terms, they say that “addicts” can’t control themselves, and can’t stop using substances without treatment. A mountain of evidence says this is wrong. The studies above, as well as yearly surveys, show that over time, people naturally quit or reduce their substance use to non-problematic levels on their own. Most “addictions” start when people are in their early 20s, and more than half of them resolve by 30 years old. Problematic substance use rapidly declines with age. When researchers crunched these numbers in the NESARC data, figuring in the trends on age, they found that more than 9 out of 10 will eventually resolve their substance use problems – treated or not.
More precisely, the probability that a problematic substance user will resolve their problem for various substances is:
- Alcohol – 90.6%
- Marijuana – 97.2%
- Cocaine – 99.2%
Although they didn’t offer a probability rate for heroin, we have no reason to believe it should be any different. 96% of heroin addicts were currently resolved in the NESARC data. This is similar to previous data on heroin use. For example, a study on Vietnam vets diagnosed as heroin dependent found that within the first 3 years after their return to the States about 88% quit without relapse, and in a 24 year long follow up, 96% had eventually resolved their problems. You should also know that only 2% of those vets received treatment! (Robins, 1993)
If those who drink and/or drug heavy and habitually stop at the rate of over 90%, then no one can say they are weak. I realize these facts and figures may surprise you. That’s simply because the talking heads, addiction researchers at large, and politicians focus only on the small percentage that continue to use, rather than focusing on the vast majority who move past dependency. Here it is in a nutshell. If everyone who ever had a problem with substances was unable to stop and was “weak” the rate of death from substance use would be staggering! But it’s not. It’s much less than 1% of the population. It is not a matter of weakness, it’s a matter of choices; choices that in fact, very few people make.
But, are they weak when they’re using and strong when they quit? Are those who never quit weak? Well, these questions rest on the premise that there is some force pushing people to use, and which they must have the strength to resist. Ask yourself this – do you really think the average person is walking around every day of their life strongly resisting a force pushing them to drink several bottles of wine or shoot up multiple bags of heroin? These ideas probably don’t cross their mind at all. They’re not being “strong”. They just don’t want to do these things. Likewise, the so-called addict isn’t being weak when they use, they are simply doing what they want to do, based on the fact that they see substance use as an activity that’ll make them feel how they want to feel. Nor are they being strong when they quit or reduce their substance use, they simply come to see quitting or moderate use as behaviors that will make them feel how they want to feel. Some people maintain the view throughout their life that they need heavy substance to feel how they want to feel. It doesn’t mean they’re weak. As we mentioned earlier, they then strongly pursue substances. They aren’t crumbling under a force. They are doing what they want to do. Anybody can change what they want in this realm, but unfortunately, many are distracted from examining their wants because they’re too busy trying to fight an imaginary disease or overpowering force that they’ve been taught to blame for their own cognitively created desires.
Heyman, G. M. (2013). Quitting drugs: Quantitative and qualitative features. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 9(1), 29–59. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-clinpsy-032511-143041
Robins, L. N. (1993). The Sixth Thomas James Okey Memorial Lecture. Vietnam veterans’ rapid recovery from heroin addiction: A fluke or normal expectation? Addiction, 88(8), 1041–1054.
Slate,S., Scheeren, M., & Dunbar M.(2017). The Freedom Model. Manuscript in preparation.