Is Addiction an Incurable Disease?

Call addiction what you wish – a condition, disease or a disorder. I have no problem with those labels. What I do have a problem with is every Tom, Dick and Harry in the addiction treatment industry insisting that addiction an “incurable” disease. Terminal cancer is an incurable disease. Addiction is entirely curable. I know this to be true, because I’m a cured alcoholic and there are millions of others like me.

So, why does the addiction treatment profession refer to addiction as an incurable disease? Well, for one thing, it’s good for business. Addiction treatment is a multi-billion dollar industry. Like any other corporate entity involving millions of dollars, there is a vested interest for many treatment centers to keep people coming back. During my own time spent in rehab, I was shocked to learn that many of my fellow patients had been admitted to rehab hospitals three or more times without success.

Labeling addiction as an incurable disease also allows a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. If every patient believes he or she suffers from the same incurable disease, then everyone can agree that lifelong abstinence is the only solution. The truth is, people vary. While it’s certainly true that one drink will cause some alcoholics to spin out of control, others can and do learn how to control their drinking. That’s because addiction is a disease of choice. I don’t mean to imply that every addict chooses to become one. In fact, nearly every addiction is driven by other forces, such as childhood trauma or other forms of abuse the addict has suffered in the past. Dependency on alcohol or drugs is more often a symptom of deeper issues, as a sneeze is to a cold virus. When referring to addition a disease of choice, it means each of us has the power to learn how to control our addiction. Unlike terminal cancer, we can choose our own fate. We can choose to get better, or not.

Although my entry into rehab was voluntary, I didn’t enjoy it, to say the least, and had no intention of repeating the experience. I’d learn how to beat addiction or die trying. Either way, rehab wasn’t going to be a revolving door for me, and I decided to pay close attention to every aspect of treatment. My fellow addicts and I learned a lot in thirty days. We attended group therapy sessions on a daily basis, in order to learn the issues that drove our addiction. We were taught the importance of surrendering our own willpower to our higher power’s will for us. We learned terms like denial, sobriety and emotional maturity. The counselors repeatedly reminded us that any person, place or situation that might affect our sobriety must be avoided at all costs in the early days of recovery, or relapse would be the result.

So far, so good, I thought. These concepts made sense and were useful tools in learning to beat addiction. It wasn’t until our counselor informed us that every addict was suffering from an incurable disease that I began to question the program. He assured us that no addict could ever be cured and that our only hope was in learning to manage our disease. According to the counselor, the answer involved attending lifelong 12 Step meetings and finding a sponsor to watch over us. We would also need to rid ourselves of old drinking friends and never attend any social gathering where alcohol was being consumed. We were told that once an addict, always an addict. We were quite simply too weak and fragile to fend for ourselves.

I’d entered rehab with the idea that we were there to learn how to beat addiction in 30 days or less. Why else would a 30-day inpatient program designed to teach addicts how to overcome addiction even exist? The notion that addiction was an incurable disease had never occurred to me. If it had, I would never have devoted a month of my life to a treatment program, only to be told my disease was incurable. I disagreed and expressed my concerns. Our counselor replied that the alternative was relapse and an early grave, period. He added that the choice was mine to make and he didn’t care either way. A few days later, during group therapy, he announced that my attitude was not conducive to the other addicts’ recovery and ordered me to pack my suitcase and leave.

I left rehab in much the same way I’d arrived – still determined and still an addict, but with one difference. Rehab gave me the basic knowledge I needed to beat addiction without attending 12 Step meetings or buying into the belief that addiction is an incurable disease. Several weeks later I discovered a way to beat addiction using three simple steps anyone can learn. Today, I don’t have to avoid social gatherings where alcohol is served, and can take alcohol or leave it, although I nearly always choose the latter. I’m not a recovering alcoholic, but a former alcoholic.

Dan Farish is an Addiction Recovery Coach and author of

3 STEPS TO RECOVERY – One man’s triumph over alcohol and drugs – a simple approach anyone can use to overcome addiction

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