The pendulum has begun its swing back—could it be that drug and alcohol addictions are not diseases after all, but bad personal choices?
Can addiction be overcome by mustering the strength of character to turn away from such choices? Psychologist Schaler (Justice, Law, and Society/American Univ.; Smoking, Who Has the Right?, not reviewed) argues convincingly that society has erred in giving in completely to the AA vision that addiction is a disease, that addicts can’t help themselves, and that they need a higher power to be saved. Addiction (which at one time meant only devotion or dedication) has come to mean “any activity which individuals engage in, deliberately and consciously, and are physically unable to stop themselves from pursuing.— Rejecting such a definition out of hand, Schaler maintains that “people are responsible for their deliberate and conscious behavior." He is sympathetic for those struggling with addiction; he doesn’t oversimplify his own or his opponents— arguments; and he readily acknowledges his philosophical forefathers (Thomas Szasz, for one, from the last time the pendulum was at this end of its arc). His reading of the results of research into addiction—that it fails to support the disease model—is convincing. And his resulting suggestions for changes in public policy and for individual change demand consideration.
If not a new model for viewing addiction, at least a provocative update of an old one.