The Biggest Lies in Recovery, pt. III: All Addicts Are the Same

by Thaddeus Camlin, Psy.D.

a group of addicts who all look the sameThis week’s topic is the third installment in a series exploring lies that have permeated the recovery culture.  The first article challenged the lie that perfect abstinence is the only way to succeed in recovery.  Last week’s article challenged the lie that most people in recovery fail.  This week’s article challenges the lie that all addicts are the same, which is often perpetuated by the phrase ‘terminal uniqueness.’

Universal statements about any group of humans other than those who struggle with substance use are generally quickly dismissed.  Consider the absurdity of statements like, all mothers are the same, all children are the same, all men are the same, all politicians are the same, all criminals are the same, etc.  To dehumanize is to divest of individuality.  Any absolute generalization of any group of people is credulous, uninformed, and dehumanizing.

It is impossible for all people who struggle with substance use to be the same because no two humans are the same.  Undermining the individuality of people is a precursor to violence, oppression, marginalization, and even genocide.  It is not a stretch to wonder how the process of dehumanizing “addicts” by saying they are all the same might contribute to extreme tactics like the war on drugs, which is currently resulting in executions of thousands of people in the Philippines.  The execution of thousands of “addicts” getting a different reaction than the execution of thousands of people suggests a process of dehumanization at work.

It saddens me that people who struggle with substance use often hear damaging lies from “professionals” they pay for “help.”  Perpetuating the dehumanizing lie that everyone who struggles with substance use is the same justifies a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment, which is pure professional laziness.  Substance use is the only field in which a ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment is employed.  Then, when the one size fits all treatment does not work, those being treated are blamed for the failure.  If treatment does not work the problem is with the treatment, not the person.  Imagine people being treated for cancer being told that the treatment wasn’t effective because they didn’t work the chemo hard enough!

Given the one size fits all approach to treating substance use that is justified by the lie that all “addicts” are the same, it is no wonder to me that most people recover from problematic substance use on their own.  Everyone who struggles with substance use is a unique individual with a complex history, and that’s why there are as many paths to success in recovery as there are individuals.  Saying all “addicts” are the same is not only evidence of a mental vacation, it insults the value and worthiness of the individuals struggling.  A cookie-cutter approach may have a place in preparing holiday treats and southern California housing developments, but not in helping individuals who are hurting.

Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  It follows then, that sending people who struggle with substance use to the same ‘one size fits all’ approach to treatment over and over and expecting different results is, well, to put it nicely, not helpful.  Instead, we can see through the dehumanizing lie that all “addicts” are the same by recognizing the obvious truth that every person who struggles with substance use is different and deserves personalized help that honors individuality and humanity.