When I was in high school, I attended a chapel service where the chaplain gave a brief talk I have remembered to this day. He said “every sermon is a lie.” That got my attention. “Black Bill” is what we used to call him -he always dressed in all black. Black Bill went on to explain …..whenever a person preaches a sermon he or she is emphasizing a certain point usually to the exclusion of equally valid and important counterpoints.
Take for example, he said, commonly-used proverbs (well not so commonly used these days) such as “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. It is a good message to convey: Be thoughtful and prudent about jumping too quickly to a conclusion. Consider all aspects before making a decision. But that statement is a “lie” if you consider “Opportunity knocks but once.” Meaning? Don’t procrastinate. Don’t be so careful about seizing a good deal as options and situations like this aren’t always readily available. You might miss out if you hesitate too long.
Or how about: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Meaning? Too many people working on a project can be ineffective and inefficient. But what about the opposite message in “Many hands make light work”? Doesn’t this say the more people who help, the quicker and easier the work gets done?
Every sermon is a lie.
The Opposing “Sermons”
This phenomenon played out recently in an article written by Lee Tannenbaum, M.D., a member of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) and certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine (ABAM). In the bi-monthly publication, Addiction Professional, Dr. Tannenbaum suggested that ASAM talks about addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, and teaches about managing addiction as a chronic relapsing medical disease. But then ASAM members and conference presenters act like a “split personality” with a “never-ending discussion about, and homage to, 12-Step programs” (like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous). Tannenbaum argues for less emphasis on non-medical treatments; less inpatient and residential rehabilitation treatment; and more evidence-based medical treatment.
Stuart Gitlow, M.D., Acting President of ASAM, wrote a letter to the editor in the September/October edition of Addiction Professional. Dr. Gitlow wrote in part: “Once a patient has stopped using addictive substances, the clinician can begin treating the discomfort caused by the combination of the genetic and environmental influences – addictive disease itself…” He further went on to say: “It is this discomfort that will drive relapse unless it is properly addressed in a lifelong manner with sufficient intensity as to reduce risk. The primary modality of addressing this discomfort is via the development of emotional bonds – relationships between patient and clinician, addict and sponsor….These bonds are a key component of a standard medical model, which is based upon biologic, psychologic and sociocultural underpinnings…..it is unlikely that we will soon be able to address the disease itself in a purely biologic manner.”
Bridging the Point and Counter-point
When ASAM released a new definition of addiction in August 2011 (see Tips and Topics, Volume 9., No.5, www.changecompanies.net/tipsntopics/?m=201108) the first two sentences in the long definition were: “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward structures of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate cortex, basal forebrain and amygdala, such that motivational hierarchies are altered and addictive behaviors, which may or may not include alcohol and other drug use, supplant healthy, self-care related behaviors.”
People like Dr. Tannenbaum could be forgiven for thinking that ASAM is much more focused on the biological aspects of addiction, especially when there is increasing emphasis in conferences on neurotransmitters and receptors, medication management and biological etiology and biomedical treatment. However…. the second sentence in the ASAM Short Definition of Addiction says: “Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.” The psychosocial, spiritual manifestations of addiction cannot be healed by medication, brain scans, and biomedical interventions.
Dr. Gitlow spoke of the development of emotional bonds – relationships between patient and clinician, addict and sponsor, as a key component of a standard medical model. When he said “it is unlikely that we will soon be able to address the disease itself in a purely biologic manner”, I would go even further. Not only is it unlikely, I would say it does not fit the reality of addictive disease to pursue purely biologic treatment. To focus on purely biomedical approaches is futile. In addition, Dr. Gitlow’s highlighting of the importance of relationships and emotional bonds is consistent with what we know contributes most to effective outcomes in psychotherapy and addiction treatment – the quality of the therapeutic alliance.
You can read more about the importance of the therapeutic alliance: see references 4 and 5 below.
So here are summary points to bridge the point/counter-point gap:
- Addiction is not just a brain disease. It is time to get back to a biopsychosocial understanding of addiction. It is biopsychosocial in what causes it. It is biopsychosocial in the way addiction manifests itself and affects people and their families. As well, treatment should be biopsychosocial and promote holistic and person-centered services which touch the physical, mental, social and spiritual aspects of people.
- We know there are genetic and biochemical origins to addiction. Google Marc A. Schuckit, M.D. as a starting place to understand these aspects of addiction. In addition, there are psychiatric and psychological underpinnings to addiction as well as public health principles which contribute to addiction– e.g., the more available a drug and the lower the price, the more widespread are the health and social costs of addiction to those drugs. That is why alcohol and nicotine are our biggest drug problems in deaths, health, welfare, criminal justice and other social personal and financial costs.
- Who crosses the line into addictive illness?
This depends on an individual’s own “recipe”, as it were, of biopsychosocial factors. The 65 year old man may have no genetic predisposition or family history of addiction. He was a social drinker all of his life, but forced to retire by company policy, fills the vacuum with drinking. Now later in life presents with an alcohol use disorder having succumbed to overwhelming psychosocial factors. The 20 year old has a strong genetic predisposition, multiple family problems and role models for using alcohol and other drugs as a way of living. He lives in a drug “ghetto” with drugs on every corner. Now you see him in your office with already five years of heavy addiction problems.
- Because of the variation in how people develop and manifest addiction illness, no one treatment method or program is effective for all people. (See NIDA’s reference #6 below).
1. Tannenbaum, Lee (2011): “ASAM’s Split Personality” Addiction Professional, Volume 9, No. 4. July/August 2011 pp. 66-71
www.addictionpro.com – search Archives for the original article.
2. Letters. Addiction Professional, Volume 9, No. 5. September/October 2011 page 8.
3. “The Definition of Addiction” Adopted April 12, 2011. American Society of Addiction Medicine Public Policy Statement. www.asam.org/DefinitionofAddiction-LongVersion.html
4. Miller, S.D., Mee-Lee, D., Plum, B. & Hubble, M (2005): “Making Treatment Count: Client-Directed, Outcome Informed Clinical Work with Problem Drinkers.” In J. Lebow (ed.). Handbook of Clinical Family Therapy. New York: Wiley.
Reprinted in Psychotherapy in Australia, Vol.11 No. 4 August 2005.
5. Mee-Lee D, McLellan AT, Miller SD (2010): “What Works in Substance Abuse and Dependence Treatment”, Chapter 13 in Section III, Special Populations in “The Heart & Soul of Change” Eds Barry L. Duncan, SScott D.Miller, Bruce E. Wampold, Mark A. Hubble. Second Edition. American Psychological Association, Washington, DC. pp 393-417.
6. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research Based Guide” (Second Edition). April 2009.