It is a bit of a myth, in my opinion, that the causes of substance abuse are needed first before you can properly treat the condition and help someone who is abusing substances.
For one thing, the 12 step movement started to try to first smash this idea of “root causes” when they determined finally that addiction and alcoholism were a primary disease, rather than a secondary disease that had an underlying cause such as mental illness or past abuse issues.
In other words, the 12 step model established that “addiction exists,” and that it can exist in a vacuum, all by itself, for no reason at all. You can have the most perfect child grow up in the most perfect environment with absolutely no family history of addiction or alcoholism, and guess what? That kid can still turn into a hard core, raging alcoholic or drug addict. Yes, this can happen, and no, you cannot always point to something say “well of course the kid got messed up, because this happened, or that happened, or whatever.” Sometimes it just happens.
Addiction happens. Sometimes it just happens. You cannot predict it, you cannot control it, it cannot be prevented in all cases. This is the reality. Deal with it.
Now then…..since we realize that sometimes, addiction really is “causeless,” we can start to look at the idea that the treatment for addiction is universal.
The old method does make sense….that you would identify the causes that you believed led to the addiction, then treat those causes, and hopefully the addiction would fix itself.
But history proved that model to be lacking. It did not work. Root causes were addressed, and addictions remained. People continued to “self medicate,” even when they had nothing left to medicate.
So addiction really is primary.
So the question is not “what caused the addiction” so that we can then go fix those causes, the question really is:
What does addiction cause?
Because that is what really starts to define the drug addict or the alcoholic. The effect that years of drug abuse and alcohol addiction can have on a person actually start to change that person in a profound way.
The personality is altered because the person uses drugs or alcohol to cope with life. And they do it over and over again, every single day. So it changes them.
Addiction causes this. Their addiction produces massive change in personality. They become isolated over long periods of time, for one thing. Other changes result as well.
Addiction leads to changes. Not the other way around.
And so the solution is simple, really. You eliminate the drugs and alcohol, and then you have to fix the changes that resulted from the addiction. In Narcotics Anonymous, they refer to this as “addict behavior.” In Alcoholics Anonymous, they refer to this stuff as “character defects.”
In my way of thinking, you can throw all that stuff out the window and boil your recovery down to some simple principles that do not necessarily rely on moral judgments:
1) Personal growth. You overcome the results of your addiction and find recovery when you can start to grow and lean toward more positive choices in your life. So this is basically based on a standard of your health and well being. In other words, we could define “personal growth” as those things that contribute to your overall health. This includes an holistic approach and things such as mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, etc. Things which detract from things and are unhealthy for you then become “bad” for your recovery and eventually lead you back to relapse.
Therefore, instead of using a moral standard, you are using your own personal health as a measure of what is good and what is bad.
2) Strive for holistic health – see above. When you push yourself to improve your health in many areas of your life, it strengthens your recovery.
3) Self esteem – not the touchy feely affirmation type that you can supposedly generate. I am talking about setting goals and meeting them, and thus creating your own self esteem through merit. You know, like building a new life! This is powerful stuff and if you take the time to do positive stuff in your life every day, then your recovery will get better and better.