What if, early in your life, people of great authority told you that you could only go so far? Imagine receiving the following messages:
"You cannot get a college education and become a doctor or a lawyer."
"Your dream of becoming a professional baseball player, dancer, or musician is impossible."
"If you believe more is possible, you are setting yourself up for a huge disappointment."
"Aiming for more will only exhaust and demoralize you and result in your failure to reach even a lesser goal."
"Just take our word for it. We know because we’ve been there, and you are just like the rest of us."
You probably would have been very upset, hurt, and even angry,…and rightly so. One can see how you might not have even tried for anything beyond these predictions.
How Negative Narratives Fuel Addiction
Some of you may have experienced occasional situations like this. However, people with addictions are faced with similar prescriptions, predictions, and admonitions everyday, especially from treaters (e.g., "Moderation is impossible," "You can't change without admitting powerlessness," "You can never be around people who are drinking"). Although well-intentioned and coming from a place of love and concern (and often fear), caring individuals feed these negative, limiting, and inaccurate narratives about what is possible for people with addictions.
I believe such statements and beliefs turn addicted individuals off to the idea of change and to treatment, and as such, are at least partially responsible for the limited success we sometimes see with addictions. It is time to challenge these assumptions. My new blog, "Recovered: The Most Optimistic, Surprising and Accurate View of Addiction Yet," will help you rethink some of the most common misconceptions about addictions.
By describing a negative narrative and an alternative viewpoint in each post, my goal is to expand the realm of possibilities for individuals struggling with addiction. Armed with accurate information, everyone can get the help that is most likely to lead to recovery and the realization of their potential. There is no reason anyone, even individuals who have substance issues, should be deprived of the innate human drive to reach for his or her dreams. We are all entitled to dream and dream big. Some of us might just need a bit more specific information so we can dream with our eyes open.
Once Addicted, Always Addicted?
The first negative narrative is that addiction is always a chronic and progressive disease without any chance of a cure. While we rarely talk about cures for most serious medical conditions, we do speak about remission, which is when the disease or disorder is held back, managed, or treated well enough that the affected individual is symptom-free, not continually getting worse or its symptoms are not chronically at a clinically damaging level (cancers, for instance, can be in remission). I do agree that addiction is a disease and that it is very serious, in some cases more so than in others. It can get progressively worse in some but not all cases, and sometimes it is a chronically symptomatic condition if not treated or managed well.
But is remission from addiction possible? Chances are, if you are like most people, you would say, "No." However, you would be mistaken according to the official manual used by licensed healthcare providers and addiction scientists to diagnose substance use disorders and other addictions, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition or DSM-5, published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013. A surprise to many, it reads that “sustained remission” is the absence of symptoms (i.e., negative consequences of alcohol or drug use) for a period of 12 months or greater, or “early remission” if for a period of 3 to less than 12 months. So, the accurate answer is, YES! Remission from addiction is possible!
Not informing people that remission from addiction–the dream of addicted individuals and their loved ones–is analogous to telling your son that after Little League, there IS no more baseball, that Major League Baseball doesn't even exist. Imagine if he believed this. How would he feel one day when he came upon Yankee Stadium? When I've told my clients that addiction remission is possible, they've first argued with me to the contrary, but then accepted it and were much more motivated, optimistic, and engaged–ultimately achieving way more than they had previously.
Unfortunately, most people think, “Once addicted, always addicted.” For some reason, the voice of the healthcare and scientific community arguing otherwise has not been heard well enough, which limits possibility. When you limit possibility and reduce positive expectations, you begin fueling a negative, often very pessimistic, self-fulfilling prophecy.
I have treated hundreds of clients over my 22-year career, most of whom achieved their personal treatment goals and many of whom fully recovered from addiction, but all of who said that one of the key ingredients of their success was that I believed they could do more. So if you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, find an addiction specialist and recovery coach who believe in remission–who can see all of the possibilities. Let's not limit ourselves or our loved ones who are struggling with addiction.
Let's dream with our eyes open.
Let's always believe in getting to the big leagues.
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"'Addict' is a Dirty Word: What We Call People Matters."