Why Do So Many Ignore that Most Addictions are Temporary?


On Substance.com, Maia Szalavitz discusses her own experiences with addiction, and examines the research that suggests addiction is less a chronic disease of the brain and more a passing creature of age and circumstance.

“The average cocaine addiction lasts four years, the average marijuana addiction lasts six years, and the average alcohol addiction is resolved within 15 years,” writes Szalavitz. “Heroin addictions tend to last as long as alcoholism, but prescription opioid problems, on average, last five years. In these large samples, which are drawn from the general population, only a quarter of people who recover have ever sought assistance in doing so (including via 12-step programs). This actually makes addictions the psychiatric disorder with the highest odds of recovery.”

“So why do so many people still see addiction as hopeless?” she asks.

Most People With Addiction Simply Grow Out of It: Why Is This Widely Denied? (Substance.com, September 29, 2014)


  1. The author lumps substance abuse and substance dependence together as “addiction” to make her point. This has been a pet peeve of Carlton Erickson’s (author of “The Science of Addiction”). Erickson makes a distinction between drug abuse and drug dependence (the older DSM-IV categories in substance use disorders). He said on his website Addiction Science Research and Education Center (http://www.utexas.edu/research/asrec/presentations.html) :

    “Drug abuse often precedes dependence”. The myth suggests that drug abuse causes drug dependence, when in actuality they are two different drug-use conditions. In many people dependence is preceded by abuse, but some people develop dependence without going through the progression of drug use, abuse, and dependence. In addition, many people abuse drugs for many years without developing the disease of chemical dependence.

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    • When psychiatry causes addiction they call it drug ‘abuse’ to put the blame on the patient wile quitely ignoring the fact they were ones that introduced them to benzodiazepines or amphetamines in the first place.

      I also noticed the majority of young people with addiction problems coming into rehabs were put on addictive stimulants for so called ADHD as kids. Someone should do real study on that.

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    • People have seen through the mask already guys. When “drug/alcohol addiction” is a brain disease according to NIDA but no other addiction is a brain disease. Please for the sake of yourselves and the people who are now being labeled with a “brain disease” and having their chronic pain medications away because they drank to much in college and admitted it! Now the public will be far less empathetic about addiction and helping those with problems dealing with human nature! The longer the CDC guidelines are used the way they are now, the worse it will get for the public caring! Way to many people in physical pain and not getting care, wait until more and more people see their child or parent, in pain and told to go to yoga, meditation or physical therapy they have done countless times. This disease model thinking has Americas healthcare revolving around addiction instead of the other way around! Let me help you understand a different way! Back in my day, we were taught the truth in Chem. Dep. classes. It’s called a disease so the treatment can get paid for. It was in the book! Oh and yes, just like when it became a disease the first time, the doctor back then just like Dr, Kolodny today had empty treatment center rooms to fill! Guess when you take history out of the class, the disease comes back with a vengeance! I walked away from this years ago and have been speaking out since they decided to use treatment tools on the entire public! B.S. on that! This is about control using the healthcare system. No other “disease” out there that has as broad a brush as addiction, Perfect! Just like the expectation of the disease model!

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  2. For those concerned with government policies on addiction and physical dependence, there is an excellent TED talk that I believe contributes greatly to the discussion: “Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong” by Johann Hari. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY9DcIMGxMs . In this 15 minute talk, he explores the idea that addiction isn’t caused by drugs even when the drug becomes the physical agency of dependency. He suggests that the original research on drug addiction was mis-designed by placing rats in a highly negative and unstimulating environment where opioids became the only “stimulus”. But when placed in a “rat park” with abundant opportunities for normal rat social interactions, sex and play, the rats no longer preferred opioids.

    A large scale experiment with this concept is underway in Portugal. In that country, drug possession and addiction have been decriminalized. Law enforcement resources formerly dedicated to locking up addicts or forcing them through withdrawal programs are now being diverted to community reintegration and therapy programs. And guess what: rates of addiction are dropping, as are overall costs.

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