Addiction Recovery: A Culture of Failure

Why is it when I tell someone that I don’t drink, they automatically assume that I’m “in recovery?” When someone tells you that they’ve quit smoking, do you think they are in recovery? Or how about when someone loses 100 lbs; are they “in recovery” from obesity? You could say this of any habitual behavior that people overcome: nail biting, hair chewing, knuckle cracking, speeding, gum chewing, eating chocolate, etc. The list of behaviors that people endeavor to change is endless.

The problem with the term “in recovery” is that it implies that at some point a person was ill, not simply engaging in a behavior. And by being “in recovery” it also implies that the person will likely at some point easeus data recovery crack relapse, because relapse is an expected part of the lifelong recovery process. When cancer patients say they are in remission everyone understands that the cancer may still be present in their body, but is not currently active. My grandmother’s breast cancer stayed in remission for more than five years before we learned it had metastasized to other organs throughout her body. Unlike addiction, there was no choice my grandmother could have made to keep her cancer in remission. Despite her healthy lifestyle choices, the cancer returned anyway, and she passed away less than three months after learning it was back.

Substance use, gambling, shopping or promiscuous sexual behavior are behaviors that are the result of conscious thought driven action. They are not the result of an illness or disease, like cancer. By labeling conscious thought driven actions as illness, well meaning addiction professionals take away the two key components to helping people overcome these problems: responsibility for their actions and hope for a better future.

Throughout the 80s and 90s researchers showed unequivocally that people never actually lose the power of choice over their behaviors. And studies have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of heavy substance users (i.e. those who would be classified as addicts or problem substance users) simply mature out of the problem on their own without any kind of treatment or support groups. According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, substance use peaks between the ages of 18 – 24 and then drops off dramatically as people age. This data has not changed throughout the history of data collection, with one exception; people exposed to drug treatment continue to use substances at a much higher rate than those who are not exposed to treatment.

Let’s explore this concept for just a moment: people who are told that they have an incurable, progressive disease that renders them powerless over alcohol or other drugs continue to use substances at a higher rate than those who believe they have control? It makes perfect sense. In the world of research this belief is called¬†learned helplessness¬†and it has been studied by Seligman, Bandura, Glasser and others over the past 40 years.

Beliefs are an interesting thing. They are usually not based in fact or reality, but instead are based in faith. People’s behaviors are always in tune with their beliefs, and in turn a person’s behavior usually reinforces their beliefs. Therefore if people believe they have power, they will act as if they have power; and in turn, if people believe that they are powerless, they will act as if they are powerless. Why, then, do the vast majority of treatment programs throughout our country force people to believe that they are powerless over substances and will be “in recovery” forever? The reasons behind this are vast; and today those reasons have more to do with a multi-billion dollar drug treatment industry than with helping people. Unfortunately many well meaning addiction professionals are caught up in this system that is designed to keep people dependent, controlled and powerless.

While I did struggle with substance use problems more than 20 years ago, I am not, nor have I ever been, “in recovery.” I am just like the millions of adolescents and young adults who partook in just a bit too much partying, who struggled with anxiety and depression during a difficult transition in life, and who had academic problems as a result of my immaturity, poor choices and poor behaviors. And just like millions of adolescents, at some point I grew up. So I guess if I’m recovering from anything it’s from adolescence!

You may ask, what about the thousands of people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and beyond who choose to drink and do drugs in spite of some undesirable consequences? Perhaps they simply never moved beyond their adolescence… or perhaps, at some point when they should have been learning how to take responsibility for themselves and grow up, they were told that they were powerless.

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