Experience with addiction treatment must surely make us even more dubious about the theory that addiction is a disease. The most popular way of helping people manage their addictive behavior is Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and its various 12-step offshoots. Many observers have recognized the essentially religious nature of AA. The U.S. courts are increasingly regarding AA as a religious activity. In United States v Seeger (1965), the U.S. Supreme Court stated that the test to be applied as to whether a belief is religious is to enquire whether that belief "occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God" in religions more widely accepted in the United States. This requirement is met by members of AA and other secular programs that help people with addictive behaviors and encourage their members to turn their will and lives over to the care of a supreme being. What kind of disease is this for which the best available treatment is religion (Antze, 1987)? Clinical applications are based on explanations for why the behavior occurs. An activity based on a religious belief masquerading as a clinical form of treatment tells us something about what the activity really is--an ethical, not medical, problem in living.
What passes as clinical treatment for addiction is psychotherapy, which essentially consists of various forms of conversation or rhetoric (Szasz, 1988). One person, the therapist, tries to influence another person, the patient, to change their values and behavior. While the conversation called therapy can be helpful, most of the conversation that occurs in therapy based on the disease model is potentially harmful. This is because the therapist misleads the patient into believing something that is simply untrue--that addiction is a disease, and, therefore, addicts cannot control their behavior. Preaching this falsehood to patients may encourage them to abandon any attempt to take responsibility for their actions.
The treatment of drug effects, at the patient's request, is well within the domain of medicine, what passes as evidence for the theory that addiction is a disease is merely clinical folklore.
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