Outgrowing Addiction

"We do not see addiction as a permanent personal trait," Peele and Rhoads write.


U.S. drug policy is based on the premise that psychoactive substances cause addiction, which supposedly justifies using force to keep people away from them and to "treat" those who nevertheless manage to obtain politically disfavored intoxicants.

In Outgrowing Addiction, psychologist Stanton Peele and child development consultant Zach Rhoads offer a radically different perspective. They argue that addiction can be understood only in light of personal and social circumstances, which can be changed without coercive intervention (or even professional help) to achieve abstinence or moderation, depending on which is more appropriate for the individual.

The book combines a concise explanation of that view, which Peele has been espousing for nearly half a century, with practical tips for people who want to break bad habits or know others who do, especially parents whose children run into trouble as adolescents. Peele and Rhoads reject the disease model of addiction, which undermines recovery by teaching that self-control is impossible and which promotes the "fantasy that we can sidestep cultural, community, and personal problems" through "medical solutions."

Instead they offer a "developmental model" based on the experiences of people who overcome addictions when they find other sources of pleasure and meaning. Contrary to popular belief, such "natural recovery" is the norm, as illustrated by examples ranging from soldiers who gave up heroin after returning from Vietnam to heavy college drinkers who moderate their consumption when they assume adult responsibilities.

"We do not see addiction as a permanent personal trait," Peele and Rhoads write. "We see it as something that ebbs and flows in individuals over time, and that most of us are bound to outgrow." That "pragmatic, empowering" approach is a welcome antidote to the prevailing view that addicts must be rescued, whether they like it or not, by agents of the state.

NEXT: Blood, Delusions, and Corruption in the American West

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “find other sources of pleasure and meaning” like free solo climbing, nothing self-destructive about that. Else: rape cage!

  2. Instead they offer a “developmental model” based on the experiences of people who overcome addictions when they find other sources of pleasure and meaning.

    Obviously, if a Scotsman can quit on his own, he’s not truly an addicted Scotsman now is he?

  3. After quitting smoking almost 10 years ago, not a day or even very few hours go by without “wanting a smoke”. Watching shows that depict the nearly ubiquitous smoking of much of the 20th century are especially challenging. Man in the High Castle is notable in that regard. Some of the actors depict the pleasure with an infuriating accuracy. Sitting in traffic with an active smoker upwind is another…

    1. Maybe you ought to start smoking again.

      1. Yeah, seems he’d be a fool not to, if it’s as he describes.

  4. So how much longer before even suggesting that people have individual agency and do not need collectivist intervention is deemed harmful and prosecuted by the State?

    1. You’re a funny guy.

  5. My wife was a public health nurse. One of her clients was a Filipino man with communicable TB who refused to take his medications. She came back with a cop who told him that if he didn’t take the pill with her watching, he could do so in jail. That is how medical science treats a disease.
    My brother-in-law was a social worker who ‘treated’ alcoholics who had been told to get into a program or lose benefits. His cure rate was less than half compared to those who decided on their own they needed to change. That’s how behaviors change.
    Addiction is not a disease. It is a bad choice, probably brought on by a strong desire to escape reality for whatever reason, from loss, to low self-worth, or just boredom. If any addict is to change, he must decide to do so on his own. Any psychologist or sociologist who says otherwise is trying to keep you from looking behind their curtain.

    1. By and large, I agree with you. Speaking as a former severe alcoholic whose family has been ravaged by addiction, the desire for change truly must come from within.

      I do, however, vehemently disagree with your assertion that addiction is not a disease process. Disease is defined as “any deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function of any body part, organ, or system that is manifested by a characteristic set of symptoms and signs and whose etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.” Full-blown chemical tolerance and attendant cyclical addictive behaviors certainly checks all those boxes. Genetics also play a large role – had I known that I had a genetic gun pointed at my head, I would’ve never touched alcohol.

      I have colleagues who do still believe that forced AA/NA is the ‘only way’ to regain even a semblance of a life worth living, and who also believe using state force is an appropriate ‘incentive.’ For my part, it took the horror of DTs to make me swear off liquor. I’ve explained that NOTHING – and I mean NOTHING – will change the behavior of someone bent on self destruction. My sister died from an opioid-benzo OD after three turns at court-ordered ‘drug court’ and numerous, lengthy jail stays for public nuisance/intox crimes, but the lesson seems lost on many of them.

      1. It does check the boxes (or many of them depending on your definition) of disease, but I think it can be counterproductive to think of it that way. As you say, the way to get out of addiction is through personal choice and a desire to get one’s life together. Calling it a disease makes it easier to forget the personal responsibility aspect of it.
        But when it comes down to it, if someone is in a really bad place and something like AA works for them, I’m sure it can be a very good thing. It certainly seems to work for some people and I’m not going to tell them it’s the wrong way to do it if it’s helping them. But goddamn, AA devotees can be annoying.

  6. Addiction is very costly to society because it must either be treated as a disease, crime, or both. It’s kind of ironic how the pharma companies, who medicalised smoking as an addiction, unleashed opioids wit the full blessing of the medical establishment

    1. There is a difference. I can’t think of one thing that smoking ever did for me. Opioids on the other hand were very helpful in reducing pain from a couple injuries I had. That isn’t to say some don’t get addicted through prescription opioids (the last number I recall hearing was 3% do). I do think there must be a way to help them, but the government has made it so that doctors have to cut off those addicted. So what happens is people seek illegal sources and the ones who don’t get addicted have to suffer through pain.

      1. Nicotine, if I’m correct is one of the best known cognitive enhancers.

        1. OK, but smoking is a terrible delivery system. Use snuff, nicotine gum or the patch.

        2. I believe it is. It’s also apparently good for Parkinson’s disease.

  7. “Instead they offer a “developmental model” based on the experiences of people who overcome addictions when they find other sources of pleasure and meaning. ”

    Once it was easy to find meaning and pleasure in life through work. That doesn’t seem so easy any more with all the stress involved in growing employment sectors like fast food, call centers etc, where workers are surveiled down to the second, their precious fluids taken and subjected to medical testing, etc etc. What happened to pride in a day’s work? No wonder why the temptations of heroin and other drugs are so overwhelming.

    1. Of all addiction theories, the most compelling is the Marxist one.

      1. Marx isn’t the only one who though work ideally gave one meaning and pleasure, Freud, another Jew, thought much the same thing.

        1. You know how them Jews are.

    2. “What happened to pride in a day’s work?”

      Haha! The GD government you worship has made it unnecessary to work for so many people. Your brethren have replaced it with pride in one’s color, sexual preference, race, physical deficiency, etc, anything but work.

      1. “anything but work.”

        And anything but work is an inadequate substitute for a source of meaning and pleasure. If you think that the colour of one’s skin is such a source, don’t be surprised if you find yourself chasing the dragon (imbibing No. 4) like the rest of America’s losers.

    3. I don’t think anyone ever found joy in a day’s work. There’s a reason aristocrats since the beginning of time have preferred not working, and, for that matter, other people doing their work for them.

      1. You lack imagination, Tony. Plenty of people enjoy work.

        1. Really? How many people would do their job if they weren’t getting paid for it?

          1. Are you confusing a job with slavery?

            Just because you expect to get paid for what you do doesn’t have anything to do with finding joy in your work.

          2. Well, that’s a whole different question.
            And for some people the pursuit of success in business brings joy or fulfillment. There are lots of people who have enough money they don’t have to work, but choose to work anyway.
            But even people who aren’t rich businessmen can enjoy their work. If I were independently wealthy, I probably wouldn’t have a job like I do now, but I’d still be doing a lot of the work I do because I’m interested in it and like to be busy.
            If you’d rather sit around and drink in your spare time, good for you, but don’t assume that everyone is the same way.

            1. “If you’d rather sit around and drink in your spare time, good for you, but don’t assume that everyone is the same way.”

              Some like to drink, but it seems that opiates are the drug of choice among America’s losers. Tell me the next time you meet a rich business man working a cash register at McDonald’s because he ‘likes to be busy.’

      2. I cannot agree with you Tony.

        I have found joy in a days work. There was that one thing that happened when it all came together. We nailed it.

        My wife has a job and comes home every day to tell me what happened. Most often she had a good day.

        So a days work. Well it is not easy. As a man in this world you got that by now.

  8. I think that a lot of “addiction therapy” is a scam… See this example:

    Yes, I am an asshole… I have bribed some shrinks to explain that I have a “personality disorder” instead. So whenever I act like an asshole, I can whine and moan to the courts, and they will let me off!!! Then the taxpayer will pony up, and I will go and see my fave shrink-therapist-recipient-of-my-rivers-of-tears-of-self-pity… And I will steer the taxpayer monies to my fave uncle-shrink!!! He’ll therapueutricize my assholeishness, ooops, I mean, my “personality disorder”!!! He’ll give me a kickback, and we’ll laugh all of the way to the bank!

    Also, for all of you who believe everyone who acts like an asshole has a “mental problem” that can be properly treated by a shrink or therapist, that they should be forced to get Obama-care-mandated, taxpayer-funded drug addiction (or other) “therapy” from the likes of “Chris Bathum”, see ,
    Malibu ‘Rehab Mogul’ Guilty on 31 Criminal Counts
    Christopher Bathum’s rap sheet includes a long list of charges, from fraud to forcible rape.
    Your tax and health-insurance money at work!!!

    In case I am too long-winded and not clear above… What I am saying is, if you are an asshole and want to NOT be an asshole (be cured of your “personality disorder”), then good on you, you recognize your problems; that is a LARGE part of the solution! But be VERY careful when you go to the Government-Almighty-certified “therapists”… Some significant number of them may be even bigger assholes than you are!!! (“Physician, heal thyself!!!!”) And NEVER take ANY kind of therapy from Tulpa, or from Tulpa’s head voices!!!

    1. “Tulpa”

      Looks like he lives in your head rent free.

      1. Just go to the Oregon Standoff thread that SQRLSY shit crazy all over if you have any doubt.

        1. Yes, and half of that was Tulpoopy using fake ID-names (handles) where he-she-it pretends to be you… Using identity theft, basically, to say stuff that you didn’t say, using your name! Inserting invisible control characters in your name, when he-she-it posts… A classic shitweasel trouble-maker, who has NOTHING better to do with life!

          1. You got some shit in your teeth.

      2. Right along with my urges to eat shit and then barf. Fortunately, I strangle these thoughts in their crib. Too bad that no one thought of doing that with Tulpa… But that would be “pre-crime” punishment, which I generally do NOT subscribe to!

        1. Gross you want to eat shit.

          1. He actually said that. Wtf?

            1. How does anyone not notice that Squirrly is always making jokes?

          2. G.G. Allin fan?



              Holy shit, I Iearned something new today!

  9. “Peele and Rhoads reject the disease model of addiction, which”

    Thank God

  10. Peele and Rhoads reject the disease model of addiction, which undermines recovery by teaching that self-control is impossible and which promotes the “fantasy that we can sidestep cultural, community, and personal problems” through “medical solutions.”

    If only AA would get the message.

    1. What if it got misdirected to AAA?

  11. The concept of addiction as a disease or moral deficit is rooted in the Judeo-Christian idea of self-denial.

    1. Same place free-market capitalism comes from, except money is a socially acceptable addiction.

  12. My experiences as an addict surrounded by other addicts are very much in line with Peele and Rhoad’s hypothesis; they’re really on to something.

    Ignoring the myriad failures of the Drug War at large, the way we treat addiction is wasteful, hugely destructive of liberty and often counterproductive. The first step to throwing off your shackles is a desire to escape slavery! Many ‘treatments’ fail to recognize this basic truth, and their failure rates amply demonstrate it. As it stands, addiction is a booming business for the state and private sector, and seems set to only grow with time. I guess from a profit/social control perspective, failure is beneficial in ensuring a steady stream of ‘repeat customers.’

    Anyone even tangentially involved in the mental health field should read the work of Thomas Szasz and take them to heart. I went through years of school and don’t remember hearing his name mentioned even once! The man was a visionary.

  13. You shared a useful post and it helps most of the people and thanks for sharing this. Keep sharing useful posts like this.

  14. If the public would take the advice offered by Peele and Rhoads, the US would save trillions of dollars, would end prohibition on drugs, and well-meaning family and the government would stop forcing treatment that makes people worse (such as prison and 12 Step programs most notably), but offer help to stop for those that want it such as free methadone, buprenorphine, and to start talking about prescription heroin.

    1. “but offer help to stop for those that want it such as free methadone, buprenorphine, and to start talking about prescription heroin”

      Because there’s no better way to find meaning in life than a prescription for heroin.

  15. I don’t know about these theories.

    Someone I know who was an alcoholic and sober for some years told me this simple analogy for what addiction does in your brain.

    Imagine a field of grass. You walk across it every day. Eventually there is a path there.

    You can stop walking across the field and the grass will grow back. You can’t see it but the path is still there under the grass.

    That made sense to me.

  16. You can book an appointment for the Aadhar card. Recently the government of India (though the UIDAI Portal) launce new facility for Aadhar cardholder.visit for more info

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.