This is a truly sad and disturbing story that sums up why I fight against the myth that addiction is a chronic disease, and that addicts/alcoholics are helplessly out of control. A 41 year old man in the Netherlands decided to euthanize himself after 8 years of a painful alcohol use problem.
‘My parents especially have done everything humanly possible to save Mark. They adopted his two children, they took him in when his marriage finally collapsed, they helped him find accommodation, they arranged rehab, they gave him money, support and unconditional love.
‘Through eight grueling years and 21 hospital and rehab admissions they continued to believe in a happy ending.’
Nevertheless Marcel Langedijk said, his brother would only return to drinking again after every attempt at rehabilitation.
It was there that it was decided nothing could be done, and that the best solution would be for the afflicted sibling to die.
One headline succinctly summed up the problem as I see it:
Alcoholic, 41, given lethal injection because he saw death as his only option
This is so tragic. He saw death as his only option. Under the Netherlands euthanasia law those “experiencing unbearable suffering with no prospect of improvement” can apply. The government obviously agreed this was the case and signed off on it, based on the idea that addiction is a chronic, incurable, relapsing disease.
At what point do we realize that we are harming people with this rhetoric about addiction being a chronic incurable disease??? I’m not sure if most people realize this, but the picture they paint for you when you go for help with a substance use is incredibly grim and fatalistic. In no uncertain terms, you are told that you cannot control yourself, you cannot change, you can only painfully cope with the disease of addiction for the rest of your life. In an extraordinarily crafted mindf**k, if you disagree with this diagnosis, you are then told that your disagreement is actually a symptom of this chronic disease: denial.
By the time you finally believe this nonsense, death can seem like the only option. This poor man’s case isn’t an isolated one, it’s just a formally documented one. We may never know how many people give up and purposely overdose every day, but I guarantee it happens, and it happens because people are left feeling utterly helpless as a result of believing this disease of addiction rhetoric. If they don’t purposely overdose, then they resign themselves to a life of suffering and give up hope. Either way, lives are wasted, as the result of a failed theory that the world seems utterly addicted to.
I beg of you: think critically about the disease model of addiction. Over the past week, I’ve been seeing multiple posts from those defending the disease model by simply posting a link to the new Surgeon General’s report on addiction, and appealing to his authority. They just believe it, because someone with a fancy title says it’s so. Not everyone agrees though. Stanton Peele has a good response to the report over at The Influence; and it should be no secret that this is a controversial issue with PhDs on each side, I quote a few of those on the “not a disease” side at this link. What’s more, if you don’t know it, then let me tell you – authorities get things wrong often – especially in the realm of medicine and psychiatry. Here are some links that should arouse some skepticism in you:
- 35 FDA approved drugs later pulled from the market. There are some doozies there, yet we were lulled into believing they were safe because the government approved them.
- Retraction Watch is a website that follows retractions from medical and other scientific journals – “peer reviewed research” that we all believe because a bunch of PhDs agree to publish it. Believe it or not, sometimes it turns out to be wrong. Retraction Watch isn’t full of sexy scientific fraud stories, but there are some – and more often there is human error. Researchers aren’t gods.
- Articles on Slate and Neuroskeptic covering research refuting the Ego Depletion theory. This theory had been popular for about a decade, had tons of research backing it up, and I even had students coming in who’d read a popular book on it, thinking it should apply to their struggles with addiction (it’s about self-control). Well it turns out it’s not all it was cracked up to be. I have to say, I knew this theory was garbage all along, mostly because the idea of willpower itself is just deeply flawed to begin with. Oh yeah, and Carol Dweck also tested it back in 2011, finding that the belief in limited willpower was causing limited willpower.
- No suggestion to be skeptical of the medical institution would be complete without a quick overview of bloodletting – one of the oldest medical practices. It killed more people than it seemed to help, yet it was standard practice for almost 3000 years! Some still do it today – as you’ll see in the link.
All of this is to say that you shouldn’t believe everything the medical authorities say. Granted, they get MANY things right today, as we live in an era of great technology. But addiction? Everyone knows someone who’s been to rehab, and came right back out drinking or drugging more than when they entered – this fact should send up red flags. They are getting it wrong on addiction. The spread of the disease model of addiction, and its counterproductive treatment will go down in history as one of the biggest and most destructive errors of the 20th/21st centuries.
We know today that all of the major claims of the disease model of addiction are either wrong or nowhere near proven. So called “addicts” do not lose control of their substance use. Even though their brains can be shown to have adapted with repeated substance use, they still quit without brain surgery or medication – thus proving these brain changes don’t compel them to keep using substances.What’s more, for all the hype about addiction being a brain disease, there isn’t a single published piece of research demonstrating that those brain changes cause continued craving/use as Gene Heyman reported. The condition is not chronic, as most “addicts” quit/reduce use to non-dependent levels without treatment, before the age of 30, and in a shorter amount of time than any mental illness – again, see Heyman for an overview of this. Finally, addiction treatment hasn’t been shown to increase success rates over what they would be without treatment – so the constant claim that addicts “need” treatment, that they “can’t quit without treatment” is flat out wrong. Treatment adds nothing, and it often makes matters worse. I covered this point in my TEDx Talk, which was recently released by TED on youtube.
Yet the disease model of addiction and treatment for this mythical disease live on. How can this be? Health and mental health/behavioral problems are an area uniquely ripe for ineffective technologies to persist within, because of the placebo effect and misattribution. This is why bloodletting lasted for so long. If you had asked many surviving people who underwent bloodletting whether it worked or not, most probably would’ve sworn up and down that it had saved their lives. If you had suggested otherwise, they would’ve told you “it saves millions of people – don’t you dare question it!” Yet we now know it did absolutely nothing for most ailments, and often made them worse. The fact was, that people’s own immune systems were curing them of many ailments, but because they went and had bloodletting done, they saw it as the thing that saved them. This is plain misattribution, but it’s also probable that some placebo effect was in play too. It’s not unlike people who take various homeopathic remedies for the common cold, and swear by them today.
If you had asked many surviving people who underwent bloodletting whether it worked or not, most probably would’ve sworn up and down that it had saved their lives. If you had suggested otherwise, they would’ve told you “it saves millions of people – don’t you dare question it!”
This attributional error can’t happen in most other areas. For example, if a mechanic performs an ineffective fix on your car, the car won’t fix itself. The car will still run bad, and you will know the mechanic did a bad job. People are different than cars though. We solve most of our own problems – especially the psychological and behavioral ones. We solve them by thinking differently, figuring things out, changing perceptions, and having realizations. Yet if we do this while seeking treatment for the supposed disease of addiction, we credit the medical establishment for somehow treating our disease. If we figure these things out while attending meetings, we then think we need to keep attending meetings – as if they are what is keeping us from using substances recklessly, rather than our own power of choice.
You don’t have to believe this disease model of addiction and give up hope. It matters whether you believe it or not – if you do believe it, then you may give up on trying to change – in the worst way possible. Mark Langedijk, who finally chose euthanasia for his alcohol addiction, had all the support in the world – he had 21 hospital and rehab stays over an 8 year period to address his addiction. It’s safe to say he must’ve become a true believer in the disease model of addiction, and that this philosophy lead him to believe he had no other option than to end it all. This decision was the result of being fed a pack of lies.
I support anyone’s right to end their own life at will, but it’s a tragedy that anyone should do it based on a pack of lies. Euthanasia is meant for people who face a life of extreme, unavoidable, unending suffering. Addiction is not that. It is not a disease. It is a condition people control themselves – they can change by their own power of choice, and there are ways we can help them to do this – but instead we convince them they don’t control, and try to scare them clean. That is when the suffering truly sets in – it’s all due to the lies and It’s all avoidable, if we’d only have the guts to abandon this failed theory.
Those professionals who keep spreading the disease model in the face of so much evidence that it is flat wrong and unhelpful are committing a crime against humanity. The government officials who prop up the disease model of addiction and regulate help, thus making other models legally impossible to apply should be ashamed of themselves – they’re destroying society’s chances of finding a real solution. The whole lot of them are committing a travesty when they insist that they’re somehow giving people compassionate medical treatment.