Addiction: Easier to Beat Than Its Reputation


Great drug reporter and commentator (and Reason contributor) Maia Szalavitz speaks some obvious but too often ignored truths about "addiction," over at Alternet:

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry." However, that's not what the epidemiology of the disorder suggests. By age 35, half of all people who qualified for active alcoholism or addiction diagnoses during their teens and 20s no longer do, according to a study of over 42,000 Americans in a sample designed to represent the adult population.

The average cocaine addiction lasts four years, the average marijuana addiction lasts six years, and the average alcohol addiction is resolved within 15 years. Heroin addictions tend to last as long as alcoholism, but prescription opioid problems, on average, last five years. In these large samples, which are drawn from the general population, only a quarter of people who recover have ever sought assistance in doing so (including via 12-step programs). This actually makes addictions the psychiatric disorder with the highest odds of recovery.

The hype machine of addiction, especially from industries dedicated to trying to manage it, helps hide this fact.

Moreover, if addiction were truly a progressive disease, the data should show that the odds of quitting get worse over time. In fact, they remain the same on an annual basis, which means that as people get older, a higher and higher percentage wind up in recovery. If your addiction really is "doing push-ups" while you sit in AA meetings, it should get harder, not easier, to quit over time….

So why do so many people still see addiction as hopeless? One reason is a phenomenon known as "the clinician's error," which could also be known as the "journalist's error" because it is so frequently replicated in reporting on drugs. That is, journalists and rehabs tend to see the extremes: Given the expensive and often harsh nature of treatment, if you can quit on your own you probably will. And it will be hard for journalists or treatment providers to find you.

That's why it always helps, when people are hyping legal "solutions" to the allegedly insuperable problem of "drug addiction" that "recovery" is likely even without legal or psychiatric interventions (often the same).

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  1. Surprising to absolutely no one.

    1. Except maybe sex addicts.

      1. “Sex addiction. You just can’t beat it.”

        1. {thinks adeptly}…. Yes, you are correct, sir. Sex is fucking awesome.

    2. Except Patrick Kennedy.

  2. “addiction”

    Most of them aren’t ever “addicted” at all.

    No delirium tremens upon withdrawal of alcohol? No addiction.

    Oral prescription Schedule III narcotics use? No addiction.

    Marijuana? No addiction.

  3. Yeah, I remember when I was “addicted” to marijuana from age, like, 13 or 14 to, like, age….maybe 23. Then I got married and my “addiction” stopped. I just quit.

    Alcohol I was “addicted” to from about 18 to 35, so closer to the “average”. That gradually tailed off, to the point that at age 52, I basically don’t drink at all. Exceptionally rarely.

    Thanks God I never went to treatment or AA, or might not have…just stopped…

    1. Yeah, yeah, I know – YMMV, n=1, etc. Still…

  4. By age 35, half of all people who qualified for active alcoholism or addiction diagnoses during their teens and 20s no longer do

    …or perhaps addiction is not well-diagnosed?

    I fail to see how 15 years of your life down the hole thanks to alcoholism is trivial. If over a period of 15 years the average person’s yearly salary was flat, would you consider this trivial or evidence of a problem? The idea that recovery is “hopeless” is untrue, but neither is it a trivial matter to simply drop addictions like you’re dropping a hobby. 15 years is a long time to hold onto an addiction, and it is better to seek help early rather than later — if only to recover control of your own life before the best years of it are behind you.

    As for the “I smoked weed for 5 years and quitting wasn’t a problem” contingent… perhaps you were never addicted in the first place? We aren’t buying into the War on Drugs myths RE: marijuana just so that we can bash organizations that help with addictions, right? Just a thought.

    1. You’re assuming that those 15 years of “addiction” are definitely a negative thing in someone’s life. I spent most of my 20’s in a altered state and had a lot of fun. Now that I’m married with a child there is no way I would want to live that way, but don’t regret any of it.

      1. Spending time in an altered state and having fun with it is a little different from being addicted to that altered state. The fact that you changed your lifestyle and exposure to that altered state upon assuming different responsibilities indicates that you were not addicted in the first place; someone who puts their altered state ahead of their childrens’ well-being or other areas of life that are more important can, OTOH, be rightly described as addicted. 15 years in that state is not a good thing, and the climb back to normalcy sure as hell isn’t easier than simply choosing to either a) not get addicted or b) getting help after realizing that you’re addicted.

    2. Ok. You are an addict. Get help and shut the fuck up. The rest of us want to enjoy our beer, dummy.

      1. I get it you need drugs to kill your sexual frustration go smoke a bong already nerd.

        This is fun.

        1. I fuck the tightest hottest pussy ever, ninny. I’m as sexually frustrated as Venus.

          1. When’s the last time your addicted ass fucked hot pussy?

        2. Waiting, Haysom. When has your bologna pony shot juice into hot pussy?

          1. Shut up!

            He’s kissing your wife goodbye right now!

            Come on now – you asked for it 🙂

            1. Well, if he’s cute and honey digs it… yummy

      2. You are an addict.

        Nah. My dad was, though. He beat the living shit out of anyone in eyesight when he was good and drunk, and spent most of his free time in his room in the bottom of a bottle of rum. (In case you were wondering, yes he was a “functioning” alcoholic; owned several businesses which were quite successful.) This was not typical behavior when he was sober. My siblings fortunately haven’t emulated that particular tendency, but a couple of them have decided to live like WINOs, to the point where one of them has had his kids taken away for his being such an irresponsible derelict. Every penny he gets goes into funding his addiction — something I learned on account of my trying to help.

        I have beer, wine, rum, etc whenever I want, because I’m not an alkie. I don’t really care whether you have a beer or not. However, my experience and level of control is very different from that of a person who has gotten themselves addicted. I’m not so self-involved that I’ll take practical advice given to addicts and pervert it into an anti-freedom message. Progs and WoDs OTOH seem fine doing so — as, evidently, are some libertarians, but the fact is that some people can’t handle their booze and it’s not a bad thing to say so.

        1. My dad almost killed me when I was young when he beat me and he never had a sip of alcohol ever in his entire life. NOT a SINGLE sip. Religion was his drink.

    3. I kind of agree. 15 years is a long time. Probably some people never recover until their health starts to decline and they realize that if they have to choose between their addiction and their life.

  5. Fuck addiction. You all live short lives. The only people who give a fuck about addiction are churchified and progressive Stalins/Jesuses/and Mohammed’s ugly ass because addiction becomes a power tool of control over people they despise.

  6. In the past year I’ve noticed that MDMA has become the party drug of choice (I’m probably noticing a little behind the trend here). I have done some reading on it as I have tried it and it really is an incredible drug for socializing at a bar or really doing any sort of partying. In my little bit of research I’ve notice a lot of negatives “health professionals” have with the drug is that there is likely something else mixed into the drug, so you’re not getting pure MDMA.

    I wonder if it ever dawns on these people that this is 100% due to the fact that the government makes the drug illegal and so you get these quality problems? The drug being illegal hasn’t seemed to have stopped the large amount of young people who use it every Friday and Saturday night so this issue is completely created by the government. Drug warriors really are ignorant people.

    1. I wonder if it ever dawns on these people that this is 100% due to the fact that the government makes the drug illegal and so you get these quality problems?

      Yup and plus 1.

    2. There is a lot to this. Many of the harmful effects of drugs are government-caused (e.g., jail time and lack of consistency in the product; violence associated with the sale of the product; etc).

      This does not mean that there are no harms in using drugs apart from government.

      1. This does not mean that there are no harms in using drugs apart from government.

        That’s called personal responsibility and experience. No gov necessary, Trouser.

  7. So why do so many people still see addiction as hopeless?

    Outsider’s perspective. The only person who can help the addict recover is the addict themselves.
    No drugs or treatment programs really work, so from an external perspective it seems intractable and incurable. Beating your head against a brick wall.

    But then, one day the addict decides to get over it, and does.

  8. my co-worker’s sister-in-law makes $81 an hour on the internet . She has been fired for 10 months but last month her check was $21916 just working on the internet for a few hours. you could try here…


    1. That’s an addiction I could really go for!

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