Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment:

Medical(disease) model, or something else?

I recently spoke to a graduate of an in patient addiction treatment facility in Tennesee who told me that he was cured of his alcohol addiction.  I didn’t know how to respond since my training as a therapist has always been that once a person has been diagnosed with having an addiction to drugs or alcohol, that is a life sentence.  AA groups all over the country are helping people cope daily with addiction.  They teach that the person has an incurable disease.  They must fight this disease every day.   We encourage people to get into groups and to get a sponsor.  These programs are helping people, I mean they just are.


I have always had a problem with the diagnosis as a lifelong disease with no cure.  There are too many variables like life choices, family of origin issues, easy access to drugs and alcohol and simple behaviorism 101.  The medical model treats addiction as the main issue and disregards any attempt to find a cause or triggering event or series of events.  Some treatments even include using drugs. Logic brain wakes up, opens the door, stretches and says, “Wait.  Did I just hear that we are treating people with chemical dependency issues with more chemicals”?  We answer, “ YES. It is science, accepted by the AMA so you can go back to sleep now”.  Logic brain yawns, goes back to sleep.

We all have clients who makes excuses and deny the problem.  Drinking helps me relax, helps me forget, numbs the pain etc…  All my friends drink.  I just want to have a good time.  Everybody in my family drinks and they don’t have problems.  Or, I only use heroin on the weekends, it doesn’t affect my job/family/finances…  My Dr. prescribes me pain pills for my back pain….It isn’t enough, so I have to make copies and go to several other pharmacies……

So what I hear as a therapist is cognitive and behavioral problems. I don’t hear “disease”.  I hear, “My mother was a narcissist”. “My father abandoned us”.  “My sense of self worth is very low”.  ”I am unloveable”.   “The chemicals I use help me cope with life”.  “My father beat the hell out of me for 12 years”.  “I don’t think I have a problem”.

Our clients who are ready to admit the problem accept the disease model which lets them off the hook.  It isn’t my fault, it is a disease.  I inherited the disease from my parents/uncles/ancestors.  Look,  I am Irish okay.  So we send them to AA.  Or some in-patient program which will graduate them, and send them to AA.   It works.

So, I was excited to hear about a program that actually gave hope to clients that their addiction isn’t a life sentence.  That program is Spring to Life Recovery.  This is a Christian non-profit organization.  The cost for in-patient treatment is $7500.00 for 42 days.  The price drops if they commit to 84 days and so on in increments of 42 days.  They do not accept insurance yet, but hope to have that option by December.

The treatment program is heavy on Bible, so it won’t be a good fit for everyone.  But it may be a good referral source for some of our clients.

My friend and his family are doing very well.  His wife reports that he is like a new person.  He has refused to accept a label, or identity that says he is an alcoholic.  Instead he says, he used alcohol to cope with his issues, but he has learned that he doesn’t need that anymore.  His alcohol use was a symptom of a problem.  He identified that problem and solved that.  Now he doesn’t need alcohol anymore.  He just got out of treatment, so he isn’t ready yet to start drinking again. And maybe he never will, but he doesn’t need alcohol anymore.  That is the whole point.