My posting from Monday (“What if Addiction Is Not a Disease?” https://soberlawnews.com/what-if-addiction-is-not-a-disease/) stirred a tremendous amount of controversy and discussion (https://www.facebook.com/soberlawnews/), all of which is healthy and necessary. It appears I am not alone in asking (if not demanding) that we begin the movement towards a relatively standardized model of care (which includes both treatment, if needed, and more importantly, recovery support services). I feel as if we are debating whether the world is flat, or whether leeches are the best form of medical care. It’s not that anyone is “wrong,” but there is science, and then there is experience.
In the June 25, 2016 Sunday NY Times’ Opinion Page, writer Maia Szalavitz writes a first-hand account in her piece: “Can You Get Over an Addiction?” about this very discussion. She writes:
There are, speaking broadly, two schools of thought on addiction: The first was that my brain had been chemically “hijacked” by drugs, leaving me no control over a chronic, progressive disease. The second was simply that I was a selfish criminal, with little regard for others, as much of the public still seems to believe. (When it’s our own loved ones who become addicted, we tend to favor the first explanation; when it’s someone else’s, we favor the second.)
We are long overdue for a new perspective — both because our understanding of the neuroscience underlying addiction has changed and because so many existing treatments simply don’t work.
Addiction is indeed a brain problem, but it’s not a degenerative pathology like Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, nor is it evidence of a criminal mind. Instead, it’s a learning disorder, a difference in the wiring of the brain that affects the way we process information about motivation, reward and punishment. And, as with many learning disorders, addictive behavior is shaped by genetic and environmental influences over the course of development.
[However, we] treat no other medical condition with such moralizing — people with other learning disorders aren’t pushed to apologize for their past behavior, nor are those affected by schizophrenia or depression.
Once we understand that addiction is neither a sin nor a progressive disease, just different brain wiring, we can stop persisting in policies that don’t work, and start teaching recovery.
Maia Szalavitz is the author of “Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction.”