Addiction: Bad habit or Incurable Brain Disease?

It is very popular these days to call all recreational drug use and all recreational alcohol intoxication “substance abuse”. And the NIAAA and NIDA are very, very busy trying to convince the US that all substance abuse is “addiction” and that addiction is an “incurable brain disease that can never be cured but can only be arrested by lifelong attendance at 12 step meetings.” What a load of horse pucky!

Statistics from NIAAA itself show us that almost everyone with a diagnosable drug or alcohol use disorder will quit on his/her own without any treatment! Researchers like Albert Bandura tell us that the more that people believe that they can change a bad habit, the more successful they will be at doing so. So why do 12 step programs and the drug and alcohol treatment industry want to convince people that they have an incurable brain disease? Not because they have any interest in anyone’s health. But rather because they have a vested interest in the incurable disease model.

If we told everyone that they just had a bad habit and that they could fix it on their own if they made a big enough effort, then almost everyone would do so, and there would be no new AA members and no gigantic profits for the drug and alcohol treatment industry. This is why they are so insistent on convincing people that it is an incurable brain disease.

Let us come to our senses and reject the disease model of addiction and return to the bad habit model. Sure it will put a lot of drug and alcohol counselors out of work. But maybe they can go and start earning an honest living by picking fruit or flipping burgers instead.

There is nothing diseased or morally wrong with recreational drug use or recreational alcohol intoxication. Only a very tiny minority will find that it turns into a bad habit. And if it does turn into a bad habit you can fix it on your own by either quitting or by going back to recreational use. You don’t need AA if it doesn’t appeal to you and you sure as hell don’t need some billion dollar rehab program like Hazelden that can’t produce better results than a placebo.


Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

NIAAA five year Strategic Plan

Copyright © 2010, The HAMS Harm Reduction Network



About Kenneth Anderson

Kenneth Anderson is the author of the book How to Change Your Drinking: a Harm Reduction Guide to Alcohol. He is also the founder and CEO of The HAMS Harm Reduction Network.
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1 Response to Addiction: Bad habit or Incurable Brain Disease?

  1. Chaz says:

    Hey… I hear ya. I too have concerns about the momentum of the recovery industry and even some over AA of which I am a member.

    The way I see it, some (I’ll repeat tht), some, may need ongoing treatment for life or at least for a very long time. For these people, their addiction to alcohol or another drug has moved beyond the power of the will do do anything about it. It is now beyond their control.

    One of the early AA people seemed quite clear on the fact that unless a person fit this description, that AA was not for them. That would leave a lot of people with alcohol problems for whom AA and whatever other means of ongoing support would not be appropriate. Or maybe they needed help for a while but could indeed then manage on their own.

    Organizations of people virtually always develop a sense of pride and self-importance. And there is also always the profit motive now for treatment centres. So there would, in my view, be many motives for perpetuation of support for alcoholics and addicts. Many AAs need to be needed and often turn people off by smothering them or becoming insistent on their need for AA. I do not see that this was ever the intent.

    Profit-driven treatment centres are another issue. I bugs the hell out of me that addiciton and recovery has almost become a badge of honour in some circles. And even though an AA member, I do not relate to the disease concept. Alcoholism and addiction have many characteristics of diseases and if they are approached as if they are diseases, many can find help. But I do not call them diseases.

    They are a combination of many complex and destructinve things including some very bad habits and immaturities. Many of us get so wound into these habits of thought or behaviour we cannot get out without help.

    I have a hard time seeing though that the simple desire or willingness to quit is enough. I live in a city with a huge drug problem. We have a zone downtown that is known thoughout North America for its drug culture. Many people die daily down there. Pain is all around. And we hear many stories of people wanting to get out but can’t find a way. Individual volition is not enough. I can’t say for which individuals this is true and which ones just need to give their head a shake and try harder. A lot of them are total messes with mental and emotional disorders and histories of heinous abuse.

    I do feel however that the drift toward more need for help and less need for individual volition is a dangerous one. The willingness and desire to get clean and sober must be at the core of any successful recovery. And the more willingness, the better. We cannot underestimate the importance of it.



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