Book Review: Thinking Simply About Addiction

Dirk Hansen reviews Thinking Simply About Addiction: A Handbook for Recovery and describes its interesting spin on the concept of powerlessness:

While acknowledging that addiction is “correctly understood as a disease,” Sandor diverges a bit from the mainstream disease theory of addiction, believing that addictions are “diseases of automaticity—automatisms—developments in the central nervous system that cannot be eliminated but can be rendered dormant.”
As examples of simple automatisms, Sandor cites bicycle riding and swimming, two behaviors it is impossible to “unlearn.” Consider swimming: If, for some reason, it became extremely dangerous for you to swim (pollution, a heart condition, sharks), the problem is that “you literally cannot choose not to swim. Your only reliable choice is to stay out of the water, to become abstinent.”
Much of the confusion over addiction, the author maintains, is that “we miss the essential quality that defines addiction as a disease: Something someone has rather than something they’re doing.”
What his addicted patients frequently tell him, Sandor writes, is that “the core experience of being addicted is powerlessness, the experience of having lost control over the use of alcohol or a drug.” As one addiction expert put it, addicts “have lost the freedom to abstain.” Like other forms of rehabilitation, says Sandor, “treatment doesn’t work or not work. The patient works. It seems obvious. If the very nature of addiction is automaticity—the loss of control—then recovery is the restoration of choice, not handing choices over to someone else.”