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Disease Model vs. Learning Model

Disease Model vs. Learning Model

I think most of us are well aware that for many years addiction was viewed as a moral failure. People who could not control their drinking and use of drugs were seen as weak-willed and morally corrupted. If they could just exercise self-control, they would be fine. That view, though persistent even today, has largely been dispelled. We talk about addiction more as a disease today.

The Disease Model

The disease model of addiction has been helpful on all fronts. People who struggle with addiction are better able to understand themselves and their inability to control substances if they see themselves as wrestling with a disease. Anyone who suffers from a disease requires treatment, not judgment. Addicted people could get themselves out from underneath the crush of shame and self-loathing.

The disease model makes treating addiction more effective. By isolating and identifying a set of symptoms of the disease, health care professionals can treat those conditions. By extension, those health care professionals can treat the disease. Modern recovery comes out of this view of addiction.

There is another model of addiction current today. This is the learning model of addiction. Addiction treatment experts see addiction as a developmental sequence. Addiction consists of a series of events which turn into habits of thinking and feeling. The learning model takes account of social, environmental, and even genetic factors in the development of addiction.

The learning model also focuses on early development as something crucial to understanding addiction. This model of understanding addiction recognizes that shame and isolation are clearly counter-productive. But so is the pressure of treatment models which act as regime of behavior, one that prescribes how to think and feel. Treatment for addiction, in the learning model, needs to be a program of continued growth.

The Learning Model

In the learning model of addiction it is understood that people develop their dependence on substances from a life-time of learning and experience. Treatment and recovery need to be understood as yet another phase in the process of personal development. In this way, the process of recovery becomes part of the overall learning process of life. People are given the tools and the freedom to practice features of recovery over long periods of time so that recovery and life in general are indistinguishable.

There is no real reason why the disease model and the learning model of addiction need to be exclusive. The fact is, addiction treatment demands a variety of approaches and methods. There is no “one size fits all” panacea for addiction treatment. There are benefits to both models. However, for some, the idea of a disease does not offer the image and promise of recovery. Disease sounds destructive to some people and these people may do better under a treatment program which leans on the learning methods and practices.

Addiction treatment experts largely agree that a variety of methods offers the greatest benefit. The old style of treatment in which people had 12 step or nothing was just not broad enough for the broad spectrum of addictions. Nor was it broad enough for the reasons behind addiction. Thankfully we now have options for recovery.

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