90% of people with addiction are not getting treatment, and that needs to change – according to a new promo for A&Es long running show Intervention. It’s ironic that they’re coming out with this messaging now, because it’s exactly the message I’ve been fighting this year. See their promo below:
I was tapped to give a TEDx Talk back in September. You can read the text and see the video here. I chose as a major part of my message, to deliver information about what’s called “natural recovery”, which is the phenomenon of people getting over their addictions without any formal help (that is, without addiction treatment or support group attendance). The reason I chose this information is because most people simply don’t know it. Everywhere they turn, they hear that addiction is a disease that must be “treated” and that without treatment, people are unable to quit or moderate. This message literally kills people’s motivation to change. They believe that it is not within their power to make different choices.
For the past few years, I’ve been giving some of my students copies of medical journal articles demonstrating rates of natural recovery, and something amazing has happened as a result. After our first class session for many of these people (certainly not all), they read that stuff, and then come back the next week absolutely elated that they’ve already either fully quit drinking, or at least drastically cut down – and they credit this information about natural recovery as being the thing that convinced them they could do it. They suspected they had the power to change, but the tide of misinformation telling them that they couldn’t, was sapping their confidence and holding them back. This is powerful information.
Anyways, getting back to the Intervention promo, it’s dead wrong. It suggests more people need to get into treatment. It presents the fact that 90% aren’t getting treatment as a tragedy. I present it as a godsend. We don’t need to be sending these people the message that they’re screwed without treatment – we need to let them know they can do it. Here’s what I laid out in my TEDx Talk (and the upcoming Saint Jude Retreats book) specifically debunking the kind of messaging that’s in this Intervention promo:
Only 1 in 10 addicts get treatment. Yet 9 out 10 of all addicts resolve their problems anyway. 90.6% resolve their alcohol problems; 97.2% resolve their marijuana problems; and 99.2% resolve their cocaine problems.
Moreover, Recent data showed 96% resolved their heroin problems. And of the Vietnam vets who were addicted to heroin in the war, 98% of them didn’t get treatment, yet only 12% relapsed. Recovery, without treatment, is the norm.
But when people receive treatment, things get worse. The Vietnam vets who received treatment had a 67% relapse rate. Following treatment, addicts typically struggle longer, relapse more often, binge more, and have increased overdose rates. The reason for this is that treatment programs are like that concerned parent on the playground. They send a clear message to the drug user that his problems are tragic and insurmountable.
I also showed that those who don’t get treatment, actually reject treatment. It’s not that they can’t afford treatment, it’s that 96% of them say they just don’t think they need it:
Now here are some links to the supporting research:
“96% of those who don’t get treatment say they don’t think they need it” – National Survey on drug use and health
96% of heroin addicts currently in remission: NESARC Prescription Opioids and Heroin Results
Review of epidemiological research on addiction, by Gene Heyman: Quitting Drugs: Quantitative and Qualitative Features
90% probability of recovery: Addiction and Choice – Theory and New Data by Gene Heyman
A&Es Intervention is just plain wrong. It is not a tragedy that 90% of addicts don’t get treatment. More than 90% of addicts are resolving their problems, regardless of the fact that they’re not getting treatment. Convincing more of them that they’re helpless without treatment won’t help. It will hurt.