Can You Cure Yourself of Drug Addiction?

Summary and Analysis…

This article contains an interview with Sally Satel, a “resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and lecturer in psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine.” The interview focuses on whether it is possible to quit drugs without treatment. The introduction to the article references studies that demonstrate large majorities of drug addicts stop using drugs without therapy, a point Ms. Satel confirms: “most people recover and most people do it on their own. That’s in no way saying that everyone should be expected to quit on their own and in no way denies that quitting is a hard thing to do.”

Ms. Satel also highlights the importance of motivation in the recovery process, lists some strategies or changes addicts sometimes make themselves to aid self-recovery and voices criticism of the orthodox “addiction is a brain disease view.” Specifically, she notes “the language ‘brain disease’ carries the connotation that the afflicted person is helpless before his own brain chemistry. That is too fatalistic. It also overlooks the enormously important truth that addicts use drugs to help them cope in some manner.”

Excerpted from Scientific American

A prevailing view of substance abuse, supported by both the National Institute on Drug Abuse and Alcoholics Anonymous, is the disease model of addiction. The model attributes addiction largely to changes in brain structure and function. Because these changes make it much harder for the addict to control substance use, health experts recommend professional treatment and complete abstinence.

But some in the field point out that many if not most addicts successfully recover without professional help. A survey by Gene Heyman, a research psychologist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts, found that between 60 to 80 percent of people who were addicted in their teens and 20s were substance-free by their 30s, and they avoided addiction in subsequent decades. Other studies on Vietnam War veterans suggest that the majority of soldiers who became addicted to narcotics overseas later stopped using them without therapy.