When it comes to addiction and recovery, there’s a lot of good information out there, but there is also a lot of what can only be described as pseudoscience.
Pseudoscience is a series of beliefs and practices that appear scientific at first glance, but actually have no basis in scientific fact. In some cases, this lack of proof is because the methods are untested, or there is only anecdotal evidence to support the claim – such as “my cousin’s boyfriend’s mother’s best friend from high school’s piano teacher tried it, and it works!”; in other cases, the theories and practices are tested, and found to be ineffective.
Some prime examples of the pseudoscience in action are those “detox pads” that supposedly remove toxins through the soles of your feet. The pads don’t work, but that didn’t stop people from spending thousands of dollars on them.
Of course, if the only problem with pseudoscience was that it relieved a few gullible people of their money, that might not be a big deal. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop at people’s pocketbooks; pseudoscience can also be downright deadly.
The Pseudoscience of Addiction and Recovery
The pseudoscience of addiction and recovery cover both the mechanisms by which people become addicted and the mechanisms by which they become well.
The Pseudoscience of Addiction
The pseudoscience of addiction essentially blames the victim for his own downfall and that certain people have some kind of innate character flaw that makes them more prone to addiction. These ideas are often based on bigotry and ignorance about certain ethnic groups and, as a result, the face of addiction is often that of a poor minorities living on welfare in violent urban areas.
This particular pseudoscience surrounding drug use and addiction plays out in public policy, such as requiring people on public assistance to submit to drug tests despite the fact that in a state where all welfare recipients were tested, only about 2.7 percent tested positive.
It also affects how people are treated for drug-related crimes, such as blacks being nine times more likely than whites to be imprisoned for drug-related offences, despite the fact that whites are 45 percent more likely to sell drugs, and are also more likely to use drugs.
These misconceptions about drug abuse and addiction not only color how people with addictions issues are treated by legislators and law enforcement, they also influence the type of treatment they get in recovery, and even whether or not they go into recovery at all.
The Pseudoscience of Recovery
One of the biggest bits of pseudoscience about recovery is this idea that punishment is a quick and effective treatment option. This idea of punitive recovery is behind incarcerating drug users over sending them to rehab, despite the fact that drugs are often readily available within the prison system, and that people often come out just as addicted as they were when they went in.
Punishment is also a driving force behind some recovery programs where beatings and even electrocution are used to deter people from using drugs. The idea being that if they associate drug use with pain they will be more likely to stop using and stay sober.
Another form of punishment is forcing someone to quit “cold turkey” despite the fact that doing so is not only painful, but can actually be deadly certain circumstances. For example, if a heavy alcoholic or a valium addict suddenly stops using, he can actually die from the withdrawal and other complications because his body has acclimated to the drug to the point that it actually cannot function without it.
Even treatments that are designed to be humane, such as rapid detox, are not without serious problems.
Rapid detox is the process of heavily sedating the patient while also administering medications that will rapidly “push” the drugs out of their systems. Because the patient is sedated, he doesn’t fell the usual pain and other unpleasantness from the detox, and he awakens with the drugs out of his system.
The downside to rapid detox is that it is very expensive, and it is not necessarily any more effective at keeping people off drugs than the standard detox and long-term therapy. Often times, people who go through rapid detox end up relapsing and needing traditional long-term care to fully recover. This is because the rapid detox will remove the drugs, but they don’t remove the physical, emotional, and mental dependence on the drug.
The Science of Addiction and Recovery
The fact of the matter is that addiction is multi-faceted. People from all walks of life and all ethnicities can develop addiction, and their reasons for doing so, and for using the drugs in the first place, are varied and complex. Additionally, long-term drug use actually makes changes to the brain, which means that stopping use involves more than just a force of will.
Recovery is a long process with multiple steps that involve not only removing the drug from the patient’s system, but helping the patient to recognize addictive thought patterns, and learn new mechanisms for coping with stress and other triggers.
There is no quick fix for addiction, and belief systems for addiction and recovery that are based on pseudoscience often do more harm than good.