A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Archive for June, 2010

Addiction – Not Only a Disease but also a Symptom?

Seek peace from within...it's worth the effort

Addictive behavior, or excessive/compulsive behavior of any kind, can be viewed as a symptom of an underlying, distressing psychological issue.  For example, someone struggling with loneliness, depression, or low self-esteem may turn to the mood-altering effects of alcohol/drugs or excessive/compulsive behaviors (gambling, sex, food, spending, etc.) to try to escape their emotions.  The alcohol/drug or the distracting/compulsive behavior (gambling, sex) is utilized to help avoid facing one’s own psychological distress.  Thus, people are soon addicted to the physical effects of the mood-altering substance (alcohol/drugs, cigarettes, food, etc.) and/or the psychological effects of the excessive/compulsive behavior (spending, gambling, sex, etc.).  We are vulnerable to what relieves pain because, as human beings, we do not like pain – emotional or physical.

In my attempts to counsel others, I take the approach that it can help to view an addiction as a problematic behavior, with a deeper, pain-relieving purpose.  Much of my focus during individual and group counseling sessions involves finding ways to tolerate seemingly intolerable pain and discomfort.  Thus, I encourage others to try to take responsibility for coping with their pain in an effective, adaptive way.  I suggest this outlook, in contrast to a disease model of addiction, to help others gain a realistic amount of control over how they cope with their lives.  We never truly have complete control over our lives, but we can realistically seek to control the ways we cope with life.

Letting go of a very traditional and longstanding disease model of addiction, at least to some extent, can seem threatening.  The disease model offers protection and comfort by taking blame off the person for their self-defeating/destructive behavior. And who among us really wants to try to take responsibility for something which seems wholly outside our control.  Abandoning an emphasis on the disease model, and accepting that addiction also has components related to the addicted person’s moment-to-moment choices, puts blame and responsibility back on the individual.  It can take great effort to achieve readiness for this level of responsibility.  At the same time, achieving insight into one’s actions is also quite empowering and uplifting.  Such empowerment and insight, I believe, can lead to a true, lasting recovery from emotional pain and related self-destructive behaviors.

I welcome and appreciate your feedback on this strategy to wellness, as opposed to what I see as the somewhat narrow, traditional, disease-model focus on AA/NA, etc. as being the only necessary component of addiction treatment.  I support the idea that the disease model, like the biopsychosocial model of addiction, is a valuable tool which is necessary, but not sufficient to effectively treat an addiction.

Let me know what you think.  Peace to you.