The key issue in addiction is free will. There’s no way around this. The entire notion of addiction rests on the assertion that the “addict” lacks free will in some way (either solely in regard to substance use – losing free will over substances after freely choosing a single dose, or else when faced with some kind of trigger to drink/drug; or altogether, according to theorists who believe free will is fully an illusion, and that the addictive behavior is just one more fully determined behavior in a life that is fully out of our control to begin with). I believe in free will and that choosing differently is the way out of “addiction”, thus I fight the disease model of addiction, since it’s the most popular way this non-free-will understanding of heavy substance use is spread. My current work on the latest version of The Saint Jude Program is focused on showing the substance user how to get in touch with her ability to choose differently–and in my opinion, the only reason I have a job is because the recovery culture has taught people to live in denial of their free will. They’re spreading ideas that hurt people, and some of us are trying to clean up the wreckage left in the wake of rehabs and recovery groups.
I’ve been greatly influenced by the works of Stanton Peele, who’s been at the forefront of fighting the disease model for decades. It’s safe to say he’s been the most influential man on the free will side of this battle. So I was delighted when he told me he just wrote a new paper on free will and addiction. Check out the abstract:
Abstract: The world, led by the United States, is hell bent on establishing the absence of choice in addiction, as expressed by the defining statement that addiction is a “chronic relapsing brain disease” (my emphasis). The figure most associated with this model, the director of the American National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, claims that addiction vitiates free will through its effects on the brain. In reality, while by no means a simple task, people regularly quit their substance addictions, often by moderating their consumption, usually through mindfulness-mediated processes (Peele, 2007).
Ironically, the brain disease model’s ascendance in the U.S. corresponds with epidemic rises in opiate addiction, both painkillers (Brady et al., 2016) and heroin (CDC, no date), as well as heroin, painkiller, and tranquilizer poisoning deaths (Rudd et al., 2016). More to the point, the conceptual and treatment goal of eliminating choice in addiction and recovery is not only futile, but iatrogenic. Indeed, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s epidemiological surveys, while finding natural recovery for both drug and alcohol disorders to be typical, has found a decline in natural recovery rates (Dawson et al., 2005) and a sharp increase in AUDs (Grant et al., 2015).
Read the full paper here: People Control Their Addictions
This is the kind of bold approach I like. It strikes right at the issue. The last 15-20 years we’ve had addiction “science” jammed down our throats by the likes of Nora Volkow, and they’ve been so successful with their propaganda that it has officially become politically incorrect to suggest that heavy drug and alcohol users have the ability to choose. As Stanton points out, along with this surge in the popularity of the no-free-will disease model of addiction, we’ve seen more addiction, less untreated recovery, and more people dying. Now of course correlation isn’t necessarily causation, but my opinion is that these two things are related. We shouldn’t be surprised that a relentless quest to convince people they’ve lost free will would result in people behaving like they’ve lost free will. The current “addiction epidemic” is likely a logical result of people believing in addiction rhetoric. Or to put it as people are so fond of telling me about my own message about addiction: Nora Volkow (and co) “you’re killing people.”
One section of the paper that really appealed to me was a discussion of a therapist’s struggle to accept a client who used nicotine gum with no intention of quitting. She couldn’t bear to accept that her client would continue using nicotine gum simply because she liked it. And so she had to tell herself that the client needed the nicotine because of some deformity/deficit in her brain.
This example uncovers the unspoken moralizing expressed by most treatment advocates. They see heavy substance use, or even ANY substance use (in the case of some drugs, such as nicotine, cocaine, or heroin) as inherently so awful that it’s immoral. They view the act of judging others as immoral to be immoral itself, and so how do they deal with the fact that they’re passing judgment? To protect their own self-image as non-judgmental compassionate people, they reason that the substance use must be involuntary, the substance user must be compelled to use or need the substance as part of some biological imperative. Therefore, they’re only judging the substance use, and not the person. But they truly are judging the person and prescribing what that person should and shouldn’t want for themselves. The true foundational thought “you shouldn’t want to be high on heroin every day” leads to “your brain lacks dopamine, and therefore you need heroin or a medically approved substitute – you have a disease”, all in an effort to reduce the cognitive dissonance of the self-proclaimed helpers and preserve their compassionate non-judgmental self-image.
In a bold and brilliant move, Stanton compares this to the issue of politically correct narratives about homosexuality:
This phenomenon of mislabeling continued addiction as a biological imperative has been imbedded in harm reduction by Dole and Nyswander (1967), the developers of methadone maintenance, through their claim that former heroin users absolutely require substitute narcotics such as methadone or buprenorphine because they suffer from a permanent “metabolic disease.”
But they don’t. Maybe people want that substitute (and who is to say this “want” is not a “need”), either currently, for a long time, or forever. It’s their right to choose, without added guilt laid on by therapists or would-be helpers. The parallel is inescapable to observers who justify gay lifestyles on the grounds that people’s sexuality is genetically determined. Would such defenders of gay rights then arrest people who chose a same- sex mate but who were proved not to have a gay gene (one that does not exist)? Of course, when confronted with bisexuality, such well-meaning advocates for tolerance based on biological imperatives are left hemming and hawing.
Read the full paper here: People Control Their Addictions
As a non-straight man, I’ll say I’ve always been offended when anyone defends homosexuality by saying we were “born this way.” If that’s what you have to believe in order to not hate or look down upon a queer person, I’m sorry to deliver the news, but you’re judging queer people as bad or less than because of their sexuality. Biologically determined or not, a person’s sexual orientation isn’t immoral or bad. “Shhh, he was born that way, he can’t help it, be nice” is what you say to your young child in a hushed tone when he points and says something insensitive about someone with a physical deformity or handicap. Gay is not bad. We don’t need to be born this way to justify our existence to anyone.
Can you see how the judgment is inherent to the “born that way” defense? If someone expresses hate at a gay person for their sexuality, and your defense is “shut up, they were born that way”, you’re validating the hater’s hate, and essentially agreeing with them that gay is bad. That’s exactly the condescension and judgment expressed when the only way you can be comfortable with a substance user’s existence is by concluding that they have a disease.
Maybe I just like having sex with men, and that’s just alright and moral (regardless of my reasons or if it’s biologically determined) because it’s my own life and doesn’t hurt anyone else, and we can just leave it there because I don’t need to answer to anyone about it. Likewise, maybe the substance user just likes substance use, and since it’s his life, he needn’t justify it to anyone. Maybe they should just buzz off.
But they don’t buzz off. Just like the medical establishment claimed homosexuality as a mental illness and drew homosexuals into treatment (prior to the 70’s), inherently judging us as bad, they now claim heavy substance use as disease, and draw all substance users in, inherently judging their behavior as bad. They push a false dichotomy of judgmental moralizers who wish to jail substance users vs themselves, the compassionate ones who want to treat people for their disease of addiction. Yet both sides are implicitly agreeing that a person’s desire for substance use is bad i.e. immoral and pushing substance users to change that want (i.e. moralizing), while one side pretends not to. If we were having this debate about homosexuals today–treat em or jail em–there would be riots, because at this point our culture realizes it’s wrong for us to butt into people’s sexual affairs. When will we realize the same about substance users? They have a right to want what they want, and to not be coerced out of it by either the courts or the medical establishment. Note, the governors pushing for a medical rather than criminal approach end up utilizing the courts to sentence people to treatment, send police to bring them to a treatment center, and threaten them with jail time if they don’t “comply with treatment.” Whether it’s wrapped in language of compassion and medical treatment matters little, this is still effectively an act of morally judging people’s behavior, demanding they live differently, and forcibly carrying this out while treating them EXACTLY like criminals.
This is what interested me most, because everyone wants to be kind and compassionate (i.e. moral!) so they get suckered into supporting the disease view of addiction which is itself propagated to satisfy a certain pathology in the minds of powerful moralizers in government and the recovery industrial complex.
Peele makes many other great points throughout the paper–points he’s been making forever–but here targeted directly at the core issue of a need for the recognition of free will in addiction. He shows how the evidence essentially proves all recovery is self recovery, and how the non-free-will disease model of addiction only serves to undermine this. Read the full paper here: People Control Their Addictions
[Note: I understand the comparison between sexual orientation/preferences and substance use will cause fireworks with some readers. I understand some will ignore what I wrote, and jump to characterize my view as hateful, and as something other than what it is. I will not debate anything related to this issue; nor will I specifically debate whether people or born with a sexual orientation or not – my whole point is that the debate itself concedes that gay is bad, when it is not. The debate is unnecessary, and a distraction from the real issue of personal liberty. I don’t mean to deny anyone’s experience of feeling they were born straight or gay. I do not know the objective truth here, and do not care. I want everyone to live whatever life makes them happy, free of persecution and coercion.]