Among the challenges I face in attempting to educate people is their strict adherence to what they think they know. Popular culture provides certain myths that become adopted as though they’re facts – without little reflection or testing about the basic truth of the myth.
For example, that there could even be a question about addiction and whether or not it’s a disease. TV show like, “Intervention,” present a certain attitude that, if a person could go to rehab and “deal” with his or her addiction, then they could become the healthy person they once were. But this view is crap.
Substance use is measured along a continuum of functioning. Addiction is the end result this continuum and by the time a person has slipped into an addiction, he or she has probably endured significant losses. A person afflicted with Addiction has also endured significant bio-psycho-social changes that more than likely adversely impacted his or her capabilities to function within the “normal” spectrum of human functioning. But, if we’re being honest, very few people in today’s world are “healthy.”
The reality is that reducing or eliminating use of a substance may not, in and of itself, lead to health. Because our models for what comprises health are built on an increasingly compulsive society, trying to teach healthy ways to change is getting harder and harder. Plus, on average, it’s my experience that most people think that addiction is a silo in which “other” people live. To the average, as long as “those junkies” stay within their silo, there’s nothing to worry about. But, I know different.
Really, with the propagation of Facebook and other social network sites, narcissistic tendencies are becoming more and more the norm. Plus, the need to check for “likes” is becoming yet another new compulsive behavior. As these compulsive behaviors become more and more ingrained within our day-to-day culture, what constitutes an addiction becomes harder and harder to define.
Regardless though, I think that we should continue to reference functioning as a marker for an addiction. Substance abuse isn’t the only arena for dialogue about compulsive behavior. If we look at any behavior that is done automatically and without conscious awareness and how that behavior is adversely impacting someone’s life, we can then begin to assess ways and means of redirecting that compulsive behavior such that higher functioning can be restored. If someone has slipped into full-blown Addiction, then, yes we as treatment providers should get the substance use (or process use) under control, but we should also, simultaneously, find ways to improve overall life functioning.
Addiction is a disease. There’s no doubt in my mind. However, until we recognize the compulsion in which we all live, we may not see the impact we have on increasing Addiction rates. Myths about Addiction won’t help anything: The truth is that substance use is all around us, every day, and compulsive behaviors that will manifest as Addiciton are becoming “normal.” We are all in this mess together and fighting Addiction is everyone’s war – whether we want to realize it or not.