There are currently a number of different models that can be used to explain addiction and recovery. The disease theory is currently the one that is most favored, but this does not mean that it will continue to be so in the future. There are other ways of looking at addiction that have won support, and some would argue provide a better description of the situation. One of these theories is the life process model of addiction.
The life process model suggests that addictions are habitual responses and a source of gratification and security. It is suggested that in order to understand why addiction occur it is necessary to examine them in the context of the individual’s experience, and their social interactions. The claim is that the individual has learned their way into these addictive habits. If this is true then they should be able to learn themselves back out of them again.
Stanton Peele is a psychologist who is most associated with the life process model. He has written a number of books that have been highly critical of the 12 Step programs that are frequently touted as the most effective mains of tackling addiction. The life process model is based on a number of tenets including:
* Addiction treatment always needs to be tailored to the individual. In order words the one size fits all approach does not work.
* There is more than one type of drink problem. This further emphasizes the need for different approaches.
* The individual who is abusing alcohol is doing so to help them cope with life.
* There is no need for people to consider themselves to be alcoholics in order to escape addiction.
* It is always preferable to focus on problems and not labels.
* Primary support is highly important for treating an addiction. This includes family, friends, and work colleagues.
* The focus should be on teaching people how to cope with life away from addiction.
* It is vital that the individual participates in their own therapy goals and plans.
* Improved control over drinking may be an appropriate goal for some individuals. This is a harm reduction approach.
There is much debate as to whether or not addiction should be considered a disease. This is not just disagreement over the use of words as the outcome of this debate has much wider implications. If alcoholism is a disease then this means that it is a healthcare problem and the individual who have it are no more responsible for their condition than the diabetic. The current favored approach to addiction treatment is that it is a disease and so it is appropriate for health professionals to be involved in treatment.
The American Medical Association has endorsed the view that drug dependencies are a disease. In 1991 they classified alcoholism as both a medical and psychiatric condition. The disease theory is associated with the following beliefs:
* Addiction is a chronic lifelong disease
* There is a genetic component that makes people more likely to become addicted.
* Even if the individual manages to stop drinking or using drugs they should still consider themselves to be an addict. The terms recovering alcoholic or recovering drug addict are preferred over recovered alcoholic or addict.
* The 12 steps program is the most effective treatment for all addicts.
* There is no need for therapy to be individualized to suit the addict – one size fits all.
* The primary support for the individual hoping to escape alcohol or drug abuse needs to come from other people who are recovering from an addiction.
* It is vital that the individual accepts the alcoholic or drug addict label.
* Complete abstinence is the only possible solution for people who have become substance abusers.
Despite its general acceptance there is also plenty of criticism directed at the disease model of addiction. It is even claimed that this model is unsupported as there is hardly any evidence to back it up. It is even suggested that this theory disempowers the individual because it turns them into a passive victim. Proponents of Rational Recovery suggest that treating alcoholism as a disease has turned it from being a common vice into a national tragedy.
The life process model has attracted some supporters but so far it has failed to be much of a challenge to the disease model. This does not mean that the theory is without value because it can be helpful for some people who want a more empowered approach to their recovery. It can take a long time for a paradigm shift occurs in any area of knowledge so perhaps the life process model will gain traction in the future.
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