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The old models of addiction stated unequivocally that addiction is a disease. It is a progressive and fatal illness. And we are never cured. We must spend the rest of our lives living some sort of recovery regimen or we risk falling back into active substance use and abuse. There is tremendous debate these days regarding this “fact.”
There is an emerging group of addiction treatment experts who insist that addiction is not a disease. These addiction treatment professionals maintain that substance abuse disorders are a combination of learned and deeply ingrained patterns of behavior and that the disease model is simply inadequate to explain addiction. Further, they insist that the disease model actually hinders effective treatment of addiction.
No matter where anyone may stand on this issue. I have come to a place in my recovery where I do not require a label for my past substance abuse problems. If I live with the addiction model I have to admit that I live every day of my life in a state of debilitation. I just do not feel like I am at any kind of disadvantage in my life simply by virtue of the fact that I once had a problem with alcohol and drugs.
On the other hand, if I allow myself to lose sight of just how bad my struggle with alcohol and drugs really was. I risk experimenting in ways that will lead me right back to the bad old days. I need to strike a balance between the opposing camps which either define addiction as a life-long illness or see it as a matter of environmental and behavioral factors.
This boils down to being honest with myself and others. Honesty is central feature of recovery no matter what addiction formula we may subscribe to. I need to maintain an honest relationship with my world and that means seriously and honestly acknowledging that I cannot safely drink alcohol or use drugs. I have never used these things in a safe and responsible way, and it is unlikely that I ever will. That said, I cannot go about my life in fear of these things. Alcohol and drugs are all around me. It is my decision to not use.
I also have to maintain and honest relationship with others. I do not sugar coat my substance abuse issues nor do I lead off with and admission that I am an alcoholic. In the presence of alcohol, I simply say no thank you. It is not good for me. I do not have to explain that I am an alcoholic.
Addiction research continues to re-define the problem of substance abuse. These new findings are essential to learning new ways to treat addiction. What we as people who have struggled with substance abuse gain form this research is a widening understanding of the fact that addiction is more than our own individual struggles. We are relieved of the burden of inaccurate “identities.” We are given the freedom to just be human and so much more than addicts.
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