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mental health mondays :: going through a crackhead phase?

addictions are a controversial area of mental health research, what with conflicts over whether an addiction is a mental disorder, a symptom of a disorder or both. [note: it can be both, the conflicts generally arise in determining which it is in each specific case.] but the discussions are about to get even more controversial, because there is evidence we might be giving addictions more credit than they deserve.

because of the degree to which an addict can damage themselves and the people around them, it's tempting to ignore some of the complexities of the disorder and to concentrate on getting addicts into treatment as soon as possible so that they recover as completely as possible. however, the results of a massive study in the united states have shown that the majority of people who meet the criteria to be considered addicts of a large variety of substances recover whether or not they're given treatment. that's a big, scary statement, but there's a lot of data behind it.

stranger still, it seems that some of the drugs associated with the greatest risk of addiction and damage, e.g. cocaine, are associated with higher rates of recovery [from the addiction itself- this doesn't cover any health problems that may have been exacerbated by the addiction] than drugs like nicotine and alcohol. in fact, nicotine addicts had the lowest rate of recovery of any addict group, but a substantial majority were able to break their addiction at some point.

there is a lot of information that needs to be analysed here, not least the fact that gender, race and socio-economic status seem to influence your odds on being able to shake the addiction bug or that those with co-morbid mental or mood disorders are less likely to recover , but the point is that our woefully inadequate understanding of what addiction is and how it works is more woefully inadequate than we realise. health journalist maia szalavitz thinks, for instance, that we should reject the model of addiction as a disease, which is by nature progressive unless treated/ cured and more like a developmental condition that may well pass with time if controlled. this absolutely flies in the face of the usual methodology [used by so-called 12 step programs like alcoholics/ narcotics anonymous], where someone is an addict for life whether they are in remission or not.

now let me be clear that no one is saying that you shouldn't treat addiction and that it will just get better with time. what's being said is that not all addictions require treatment and that rather than painting everyone with the same brush, health professionals should consider a lot of factors, such as the level of damage that's being done, the age of the addict and the substance that's being abused in order to come up with the best individualised plan.

this ultimately seems to be the truth behind much of the research on mental disorders: the more we study, the fewer general rules there seem to be.

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