There is a common misconception that addiction only affects moral wrongdoers or the weak-willed. Addicts just need to muster up enough willpower, strip themselves of pride, or “wise up” so that they can lead normal lives.
You may have also heard that addicts have an “addictive personality” or a major character flaw. Additionally, family members and friends witness their addicted loved one break promise after promise and think that they lack commitment, they’re lazy or simply just don’t care.
It’s understandable to draw these conclusions, but research contradicts these ideas. Addiction affects the brain to the point that it is “hijacked” and is biochemically imbalanced, resulting in seemingly irrational behaviors.
“The addicted brain is distinctly different from the non-addicted brain … Addiction is tied to changes in brain structure and function (Science Magazine, 1997).”
“…The common view that drug addicts are resistant because of pernicious personality characteristics that are part of their condition. Denial is often regarded to be a trait of ‘chemical dependency.’ In fact, extensive research has revealed relatively few consistent personality characteristics among drug users, nor do studies of defense mechanisms suggest any unique pattern associated with addictive behavior (Miller, 1985).”
Most treatment options are designed to “treat” these morally wrong issues and “defects in character” as AA calls it. Although well intentioned, the common and traditional methods of addiction treatment are only one-dimensional. There is much more to consider.
Although the 12 steps help some and encourages a valuable social support system, it often does not address the underlying issue.
I am certainly not discrediting the power of God, but rather discouraging the moral pounding into an addict and how they should behave if they had greater moral rectitude. This is exactly what addicts do not want to hear and research shows it actually feeds their reluctance and resistance to change.1
Professionals know that addicts are very reluctant to the 12 steps because it can be stigmatizing. This may explain the reported 80 percent dropout rate within the first year.2
In fact, research shows that most addicts become sober on their own,3 when THEY decide how and when to make the change. And when they do, it produces more successful outcomes.4 This doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t help, but rather, help needs to be provided in the right way.
The reason that many addicts suffer with addiction and often relapse after graduating from a program, is because their biochemical makeup is thrown off as a result of their drug using, and moral pounding doesn’t address this issue.
Onlookers only see the addict’s behavior, while researchers examine what is going on inside the addict’s brain. Researchers determined that addicts have malfunctioning and depleted neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are the basis of how we think, act and behave. Once corrected, addicts think, act and behave appropriately.
Doctor Grant, serving as a medical director over a hospital, found that once he corrected the biochemical problems caused by addiction in his patients, it boosted success and lead to a decrease in addictive behaviors by 83 percent. He noted that treating the underlying biochemical problem should be the first step in recovery.5
Not only does an addict’s success through recovery increase when proper evidence-based methods are used, but other behavior problems improve as a result of correcting the biochemical issue.
One researcher, Dr Stephen Schoenthaler, studied the affects of vitamins administered to inmates over the length of 29 years, in effort to restore chemicals in their brain. His findings reveal that individuals who received vitamins had a 38% decrease in behavior problems.6 He concluded that a low concentration of essential nutrients in the body inhibits the brain to function properly and increased problem behaviors.
Another study from Dr. Bernard Gesch, found that just improving young offenders diets resulted in a 25 percent reduction in criminal offenses.7
Some research indicates that over 80% of people on probation who participated an evidence-based nutrition program, led crime-free lives.8
Effective addiction treatment should therefore focus less on the label of a defected moral character and more on a biochemical issue that needs to be addressed.
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