The Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous calls alcoholism an “illness”. The medical community calls addiction a disease. Some hard core 12 Step members will argue there’s a difference but to me it’s just semantics. Regardless, addiction is a health issue and should be treated as such. It’s not a lack of morals or a lack of willpower. To people who think the latter I challenge them to use their willpower to not go to the bathroom next time they have a case of diarrhea.
Despite addiction being an illness there is an issue which I call the Disease Addiction Conundrum. We have to treat the sufferer but we can’t use all the methods we would use for other diseases. It’s something the many in the medical/science community cannot wrap their heads around. I often here about certain medications touted as the cure to alcoholism/addiction. In the case of alcoholism some in the medical community are putting forward naproxen as a way to curb the cravings for alcohol. When I first went to my doctor for help he put me on this and it had no effect. If you look closely at the studies when naproxen does work it’s curbing drinking cravings in people who consume very little alcohol on a daily and/or weekly basis. It would have no use in trying to help the alcoholic of the “hopeless variety” that the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous was written for. A similar medication is called Baclofen.
Another “miracle” drug being put forward is Topirmate. This pharmaceutical works on the part of the brain that acts impulsively. Many alcoholics/addict have a feeling they don’t like (e.g. – anger; sadness; anxiety) they want to change that feeling and instead of thinking of options they go on their first instinct and use what worked in the past – self-medicating through drugs and/or alcohol. Topirmate is supposed to affect the part of the brain where this impulse control occurs. Tests have shown patients who take it do not act on their first instinct to use when they have a feeling they don’t like, but rather, to pause and consider options before proceeding.
I’m not against these types of medications. I say the more help one has the better. But I would only suggest people use them as a secondary part of what has been proven time and again to work at putting the disease of addiction into remission. That would be a 12 Step Program.
The reason many in the medical community are trying to invent their way into a cure rather than rely on the proven 12 Step remedy is because the 12 Steps have a component which can’t be quantified and is beyond the realm of science. That component is spirituality. The 12 Steps already have the psychological component of cognitive behavioural therapy in treating addiction. That is changing one’s thinking and behaviours in a more healthy direction. What Alcoholics Anonymous did (and the Fellowships who followed its lead) is ad a spiritual component stating that probably no human power on earth could “relieve [one] of [his] alcoholism but a [higher power] could and would if sought” (Alcoholics Anonymous, 1939). Anecdotally speaking myself, and countless, others sought help through doctors, psychiatrists and counsellors to no avail. It wasn’t until we embraced a power greater than ourselves, having a spiritual awakening, that we were able to put our addiction into remission. The Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous defines a spiritual awakening as a personality change sufficient to bring about recovery from [addiction].
Once an addict has a firm foundation in recovery (minimum six months) then they can begin to tackle other issues such as PTSD, other trauma, a proper mental health diagnosis, etc. The 12 Steps programs do not reject science but use it as an adjunct to the program.
Other medications are being used to treat drug addiction such as methadone or suboxone for opiates but in my humble opinion this is a money making industry and does not provide actual freedom from addiction. (See: http://onedaveatatime.blogspot.ca/2015/05/methadone-silent-killer-greedy-industry.html)
Until science embraces something it can’t quantify there will continue be a division between medicine and spirituality.