By Tom Horvath, PhD
Addiction professionals say they’re working toward ending stigma surrounding addiction, but they also tend to promote addiction as a disease. These activities are contradictory. By promoting addiction as a disease they play into the general tendency to perceive in-groups (“normies”) and out-groups (those with the disease). Instead of emphasizing that “addiction is a chronic brain disease” or “treatment works,” the following ideas, depending on the context, would make much more helpful and less stigmatizing messages:
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1. Addictive problems range from very mild to very severe.
2. Most addictive problems are not in the severe or very severe range.
3. Many individuals with addictive problems resolve them without professional help or mutual help (such as SMART Recovery or AA).
4. Addictive problems can arise with a wide range of substances or activities (like gambling, pornography, sex, video games, shopping, etc.), or with food.
5. Many factors can influence the development and maintenance of addictive problems, including psychological, social, and biological factors.
6. Some individuals have multiple addictive problems, and many also have other psychological problems. Often all of these problems need to be addressed in order for successful change to occur.
7. There may be as many ways to develop addictive problems as there are individuals who have them, and also as many ways to resolve them.
8. For many individuals with addictive problems, an effective change process includes building up the positive aspects of their unique lives, including their productivity, connections with others, and sense of meaning and purpose.
9. Whether some addictive problems are diseases, and of what type, remains an area of scientific investigation; experts have a range of opinions on these issues; disease or not, resolving an addictive problem improves life.
10. If someone has addictive problems they can address them now, on their own. Help from a variety of sources is available if needed.
11. Even if an addictive problem does not fully resolve, partial success improves life and can often be maintained.
12. If seeking professional help getting a second or third opinion is advisable, just as one would with a serious medical condition.