Living Beyond: Identifying With The Addiction

A Monthly Column By Dr. Asa Don Brown


“Addiction isn’t about substance – you aren’t addicted to the substance, you are addicted to the alteration of mood that the substance brings.” ~ Susan Cheever

As a clinician, I unapologetically believe that we must no longer identify our patients/clients with the addiction. While they may struggle with an addiction, the addiction itself is no different than any other form of medical ailment or disease.

We are no more a broken arm, a cancer, or a liver disease, than we would be an addiction that has held us captive. Why then, have we permitted psychological/psychiatric diagnoses to be equated with one’s personal character? Unfortunately, our patients/clients are identified as “being …” whatever diagnosis that we are seeking to treat, aid, and manage. If we were diagnosed with a psychologi- cal disorder and it was equated to our identity, we may ourselves feel shame, humiliation, and embarrassment. There should be no shame associated with mental health, but if we continue to treat psychological/psychiatric disorders as a person’s overall character then we have an uphill battle. As clinicians, we have taught our patients to identify themselves with the addiction and to cling to ideological perceptive that they are the addiction. Again, we are no more the addiction than we are a broken arm, a cancer or a liver disease. If someone is afflicted with an addiction, they “have” an addiction, they are not the addiction.

“Addiction is a disease – a treatable disease – and it needs to be understood.” ~ Dr. Nora Volkow

Psychology itself has committed an injustice to those it serves, because we do “label” those with all forms of psychological/psychiatric diseases, disorders, and struggles. Perhaps, as a professional community we ought to rethink our approach to diagnosing and treatment. Perhaps, we ought to reconsider treating all forms of psychological/psychiatric diagnoses as we do all other forms of medical and physical disorders and diseases.

Consider the following; what if you had recently been diagnosed with what is commonly known as “Pink Eye” (Conjunctivitis). As someone struggling with pink eye, you do not want your entire personal character to be eternally associated with this eye disease, no more than you want to be eternally labeled with an acute psychological/psychiatric disorder. Moreover, if you have been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), you do not want this label to be associated with your personal character. Therefore, while many struggle with both chronic and acute psychological/psychiatric disorders, we should begin treating those individuals as we do all other health related conditions. If so, maybe we can move beyond the stigmatization that continues to plague the mental health field.

In my final thoughts, I challenge you to consider why we are trained to diagnosis. As all clinicians should be aware of, a clinical diagnosis is central to offering something tangible in an intangible field. The diagnosis provides a source of hope, understanding, compre- hension, compassion, clarity and an ability to safely move forward. All psychological/psychiatric diagnoses should help the individual, and those serving him or her, an ability to place some perspective on what has been ailing this individual. As all clinicians know, the addictive nature of the individual often consumes the person; howev- er the addiction is not the person. The addiction is either related to an organic disease or chronic psychological stressors and influence. For many, the addiction’s attraction and charm is the root of the addiction, but the nature of the complex disease almost always has a much more profound historical background. Always remember, that you and those that you treat are no more the addiction than you are any other physical ailment.

May you begin living beyond.

Dr. Asa Don Brown

Author: Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.