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Calling an Addiction a Disease

Doesn't being "ill" absolve me from responsibility?

GYE Corp. Thursday, 02 February 2012

Why do the 12-Step groups call the addiction an "allergy" or "disease". Won't that absolve people of responsibility for their acting out?

The idea of this being an "illness" has nothing to do with absolving ourselves from responsibility at all. And to prove this, let me bring a few quotes from a 12-Step book I have (from the First Step).

  • We realized we were acting insane. It's not sane to repeat self-destructive behaviors.
  • We recognized how insidious the addiction is, how it continues to tell us lies, getting us to continue to act out again and again.
  • We recognized that will power alone, is not effective in dealing with the complex problem of sex addiction.
  • We cannot think our way out, we need to act our way into a new pattern of thinking.
  • Powerless does not mean helpless.
  • Powerless is never an excuse to continue.
  • We are responsible for our recovery.
  • Determination is completely up to us.

Let me explain what the 12-Steps mean by it being a disease: If a cucumber falls into brine and you take it out right away, you can just wash it off and it will be a cucumber again. But if it sits in the brine for a little longer - it will become a pickle, and nothing you can ever do will make it a cucumber again. It's the same with this addiction. Someone who fell once or twice out of curiosity can be washed off and get out of it. But once a person has sunk his mind into this stuff for years, and he has trained himself to use lust as an escape mechanism from life whenever feeling R.I.D (Restlessness, Irritability, Discontent) and he has trained his mind to be triggered by everything he sees, this person develops an "allergy" to lust that never really goes away. What that simply means is, that for the rest of his life, he knows that he can not take even the first sip of lust, because if he does, he can easily lose control. His acting out all these years burned neuron pathways into his brain by "conditioning" himself to be aroused by everything he saw.

And this is a proven condition as well. A big psychiatrist (who doesn't even know much about the 12-Steps) once explained to me that an addict develops a medical condition known as "hyper-sexuality" by conditioning himself over time to react to triggers and get aroused. He explained to me that this condition can be tested by special sensors which show how an addict's dopamine levels spike high on the chart from the slightest triggers.

What the psychiatrist calls "hyper-sexuality" is what the 12-Steppers call an "allergy".

Knowing that one has this condition doesn't absolve him of anything. (After all, he is the one who sat in the brine all these years and became a pickle!) It's just called "getting honest about the facts about ourselves". And the reason why that is so important for an addict, is because once he knows that he has this condition (and that he is allergic to lust like someone who is allergic to peanuts), he changes his entire attitude in the following three ways:

1) He stops trying to "test" lust and see if he can maybe "lust a little", like most people can... He knows that he simply needs to stay away from lust completely and not let it in at all - because once he allows himself to "struggle" with it, he'll fall.

2) Also, he stops wallowing in guilt and realizes for a change that he is not someone "bad" who needs to become "good", but rather he is simply "ill" and needs to get "better". When attacked by lust he simply says to himself, "well I'm an addict after all, there I go again!", and he surrenders the lust to G-d - knowing that he can't afford to even battle with it at all.

3) Instead of "fighting it" and losing, like he always did for years, he changes his focus to simply doing G-d's will for him today, to the best of his ability. Instead of viewing it as a valiant "struggle" of good over evil, he begins to look at lust as simply a distraction from doing G-d's will, and he asks G-d humbly to remove it from him so he can continue to live for G-d and not for himself.

This is a beautiful and proven approach that has worked for millions of people around the world to find freedom from their addictions, be it alcohol, drugs, lust, or others.