~ by Joe Herzanek

In today’s world in which more and more information is readily available, there seems to be more and more confusion regarding the topic of an “Addiction Cure.” Is there a cure for addiction? Some people would argue quite convincingly that there is.

I will point out that “even quitting use completely, for many years—does not mean that someone is cured.”

You’ll probably read or hear information on this topic with various points of view. The concept of an addict who has been clean for years and years—not being cured—is a tough one to comprehend.

I recently received this letter (below) from a reader who presents his point of view. Please read it and then read my response to him. I believe you may hear and learn to discern some of the more subtle differences and truths regarding this baffling disease of addiction.

Letter signed “an ex-addict from the Netherlands”:
“I just finished your book and want to thank you for your courage. Your insight is an inspiration to me. I have great admiration for people who dare to be vulnerable and put their journey on paper.

I too was once addicted. I ended my addiction in 2008. Now, I coach others to free themselves from the confidence trick of drugs. Ironically, I live in the Netherlands where drug culture is not the same as we know it in the United States. I moved here from the great state of Colorado (yes, the “coffee” shops had plenty to do with it). My four years at college were, without question, the place my addiction took off. Cheap beer, cheap pot, cheap coke . . . and lots of willing “students.” Destructive combination.

Joe, there is another reason I feel compelled to write today. To be honest, there is a core component in your philosophy (and AA’s and pretty much every 12-step program) that I disagree with. I’d like to share it with you:

You write (and AA preaches) that an addict is never cured. In your view, an addict is forever “recovering.” Truth be told, not only do I disagree with this idea, I think it makes it harder for addicts to even attempt to quit.

Allow me to explain. I believe in my heart of hearts, based on my own personal experience, that when a drug addict no longer wants to take a drug, truly has no desire whatsoever to take the drug, he/she is free. Cured.
Recovered. An “ex-addict,” not a “recovering addict.” It is OVER. Why saddle ourselves with the gloomy proposition of forever having to look over our shoulders for triggers, temptation, pending relapse. Once we see that drugs never gave us anything, nothing at all, and that drugs have absolutely nothing to offer us in the future, we are done.

I coach my clients to revel in that moment, to celebrate the new-found freedom and to immediately get on with the joy of life in front of them. Right now! Don’t wait 150 days. Don’t wait to get your next chip. You’re free. You get it. It’s over. Enjoy, from now on.

If support groups help, great. If a “sponsor” helps, super. If counseling counsels, right on. We certainly must nurture our physical and spiritual selves for the remainder of our days. But to constantly be adding up the days, months, and years, waiting until enough time has passed before we are free seems so daunting to users that they won’t even attempt to quit for fear of the lifetime of “battle.”

And don’t get me wrong. AA saved my father’s life. AA saved my brother’s life. I am grateful for AA’s huge contribution to health and well being in our culture. But the idea of “recovering” needs an update, a dose of
evolution, a face-lift if you will. Once you quit, you’re not an addict. You’re an ex-addict.

In the brilliant words of the American folk singer Todd Snider, “Drugs? I’m over it.”"

Thanks again Joe and God Bless You.
~ an ex-addict from the Netherlands

Dear Ex,
Thanks for the encouraging words in your email. We have spent many years trying to come up with quality information on this very perplexing problem called addiction. Our focus is with alcohol and other drug dependencies.

I’ll limit my terminology regarding addiction to tangible substances such as alcohol, coke, meth, weed, heroin and so on. When it comes to using the word addiction for gambling, porn etc., I’ll let someone else tackle these issues.

What I’m picking up in the second half of your email is the dilemma of differentiating the words “recovered and recovering” as they relate to addiction. Hence we find ourselves using labels that most people do not want to use, such as addict and alcoholic. Who wants to forever identify themselves as either of these??

On the other side of the argument is the term “cured.” Almost all who study and work in this field say there is no cure for drug addiction—so who is correct?

I think one way to approach this is to review a definition of alcohol/or drug addiction. Although there are many signs and symptoms, there is one that is common to all alcoholics and drug addicts—and that is loss of control. At some point a person will lose the ability to control their use. Whether they are daily users or binge users, the common thread is—once they start using they cannot control how much or when to stop.

So if we can agree on that point we can go on to a discussion about cure. To me a cure means a reversal, or absence of the problem or disease. In the case of addiction to substances I, in the past thirty-three years, have never seen an addict regain control of their use—to become a social-occasional user.

So I believe that if I were to tell someone they are cured, they may think they no longer have a problem. That opens the door to another attempt at social use—which NEVER turns out well.

The way I explain it to people is to think of it like cancer. There is no cure for cancer but cancer often goes into remission after treatment. It does not mean they have been cured or that a cure has taken place. It’s still there but it’s in remission.

Personally, I have not used anything since 1977—but I’m not cured. My disease is in remission. If I were to choose to try to drink occasionally or socially I would bring my disease out of remission and very soon it would again cause lots of problems.

I do agree with what you said though—that once a person “gets it” they can move on with their life. Once they come to believe and understand their disease at a deep level they can and should move on with their life. I don’t tell people they “have to go to lots of meetings for the rest of their life.” Each person will have to decide for his or herself—how much involvement they need to stay sober and how often they should attend support groups.

AA and the 12 Steps are the best support for laying that foundation. This is what has worked the best for the most. And in the long run it is, in my opinion, better to err on the side of caution concerning this horrific and devastating disease.

Grace and peace,

Joe Herzanek/Addiction Counselor
For more info on this topic read page 239 in “Why Don’t They Just Quit?” What families and friends need to know about addiction and recovery (Is there a cure for addiction?)

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Author's Bio: 

Joe Herzanek, a man who battled his own demons of addiction over thirty years ago, says, “I know people can change. If I can do it, anyone can!” Joe’s own life struggles and practical advice offer hope and solutions to those living amidst the turmoil of someone’s alcohol and drug abuse.

From age 13 to 29, Joe battled his own drug and alcohol addiction—finally receiving treatment. He now has over 31 years of abstinence from substances. Treatment gave him the information and structure needed to begin his journey of recovery.

Joe Herzanek is the president and founder of Changing Lives Foundation. As a certified addiction professional in Colorado he spent over seventeen years working in the criminal justice system as the Chaplain at the Boulder County Jail. Joe is the former host of Recovery Television, speaker, producer of several DVDs, including “The 10 Toughest Questions Families and Friends Ask About Addiction and Recovery” and author of the award-winning book "Why Don't They Just Quit?"

His passion is to help men and women who are struggling with addiction, as well as providing answers and solutions to family and friends who are searching for ways to help their loved-one begin the road to recovery.

Joe Herzanek and his wife Judy have three (adult) children, Jami, Jake, and Jessica, and enjoy the beautiful Colorado outdoors with their two Cairn Terriers, Lewis and Clark.

Joe offers words of encouragement: “Addiction is not a hopeless situation,” he writes. “Addicts and alcoholics aren’t crazy, and they can quit.”

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