Is an addict ever cured?


Is an addict ever cured?


~ by Joe Herzanek

Is an addict ever cured? In today’s world in which more and more information is readily available, there seems to be more and more confusion regarding the topic of an “Addiction Cure.” Is there a cure for addiction? Some people would argue quite convincingly that there is.

I will point out that “even quitting use completely, for many years—does not mean that someone is cured.

You’ll probably read or hear information on this topic with various points of view. The concept of an addict who has been clean for years and years—not being cured—is a tough one to comprehend.

I recently received this letter (below) from a reader who presents his point of view. Please read it and then read my response to him. I believe you may hear and learn to discern some of the more subtle differences and truths regarding this baffling disease of addiction.

Letter signed “an ex-addict from the Netherlands”:
“I just finished your book and want to thank you for your courage. Your insight is an inspiration to me. I have great admiration for people who dare to be vulnerable and put their journey on paper.

I too was once addicted. I ended my addiction in 2008. Now, I coach others to free themselves from the confidence trick of drugs. Ironically, I live in the Netherlands where drug culture is not the same as we know it in the United States. I moved here from the great state of Colorado (yes, the “coffee” shops had plenty to do with it). My four years at college were, without question, the place my addiction took off. Cheap beer, cheap pot, cheap coke . . . and lots of willing “students.” Destructive combination.

Joe, there is another reason I feel compelled to write today. To be honest, there is a core component in your philosophy (and AA’s and pretty much every 12-step program) that I disagree with. I’d like to share it with you:

You write (and AA preaches) that an addict is never cured. In your view, an addict is forever “recovering.” Truth be told, not only do I disagree with this idea, I think it makes it harder for addicts to even attempt to quit.

Allow me to explain. I believe in my heart of hearts, based on my own personal experience, that when a drug addict no longer wants to take a drug, truly has no desire whatsoever to take the drug, he/she is free. Cured.
Recovered. An “ex-addict,” not a “recovering addict.” It is OVER. Why saddle ourselves with the gloomy proposition of forever having to look over our shoulders for triggers, temptation, pending relapse. Once we see that drugs never gave us anything, nothing at all, and that drugs have absolutely nothing to offer us in the future, we are done.

I coach my clients to revel in that moment, to celebrate the new-found freedom and to immediately get on with the joy of life in front of them. Right now! Don’t wait 150 days. Don’t wait to get your next chip. You’re free. You get it. It’s over. Enjoy, from now on.

If support groups help, great. If a “sponsor” helps, super. If counseling counsels, right on. We certainly must nurture our physical and spiritual selves for the remainder of our days. But to constantly be adding up the days, months, and years, waiting until enough time has passed before we are free seems so daunting to users that they won’t even attempt to quit for fear of the lifetime of “battle.”

And don’t get me wrong. AA saved my father’s life. AA saved my brother’s life. I am grateful for AA’s huge contribution to health and well being in our culture. But the idea of “recovering” needs an update, a dose of
evolution, a face-lift if you will. Once you quit, you’re not an addict. You’re an ex-addict.

In the brilliant words of the American folk singer Todd Snider, “Drugs? I’m over it.”

Thanks again Joe and God Bless You.
~ an ex-addict from the Netherlands

Dear Ex,
Thanks for the encouraging words in your email.
We have spent many years trying to come up with quality information on this very perplexing problem called addiction. Our focus is with alcohol and other drug dependencies.

I’ll limit my terminology regarding addiction to tangible substances such as alcohol, coke, meth, weed, heroin and so on. When it comes to using the word addiction for gambling, porn etc., I’ll let someone else tackle these issues.

What I’m picking up in the second half of your email is the dilemma of differentiating the words “recovered and recovering” as they relate to addiction. Hence we find ourselves using labels that most people do not want to use, such as addict and alcoholic. Who wants to forever identify themselves as either of these??

On the other side of the argument is the term “cured.” Almost all who study and work in this field say there is no cure for drug addiction—so who is correct?

I think one way to approach this is to review a definition of alcohol/or drug addiction. Although there are many signs and symptoms, there is one that is common to all alcoholics and drug addicts—and that is loss of control. At some point a person will lose the ability to control their use. Whether they are daily users or binge users, the common thread is—once they start using they cannot control how much or when to stop.

So if we can agree on that point we can go on to a discussion about cure. To me a cure means a reversal, or absence of the problem or disease. Is an addict ever cured? In the case of addiction to substances I, in the past thirty-three years, have never seen an addict regain control of their use—to become a social-occasional user.

So I believe that if I were to tell someone they are cured, they may think they no longer have a problem. That opens the door to another attempt at social use—which NEVER turns out well.

The way I explain it to people is to think of it like cancer. There is no cure for cancer but cancer often goes into remission after treatment. It does not mean they have been cured or that a cure has taken place. It’s still there but it’s in remission.

Personally, I have not used anything since 1977—but I’m not cured. My disease is in remission. If I were to choose to try to drink occasionally or socially I would bring my disease out of remission and very soon it would again cause lots of problems.

I do agree with what you said though—that once a person “gets it” they can move on with their life. Once they come to believe and understand their disease at a deep level they can and should move on with their life. I don’t tell people they “have to go to lots of meetings for the rest of their life.” Each person will have to decide for his or herself—how much involvement they need to stay sober and how often they should attend support groups.

AA and the 12 Steps are the best support for laying that foundation. This is what has worked the best for the most. And in the long run it is, in my opinion, better to err on the side of caution concerning this horrific and devastating disease.

Grace and peace,

> Recommended Books and DVDs for families of substance abusers and addicts.

> Addiction Recovery Resources for Families of Substance Abusers, Addicts and Alcoholics

Why Don't They Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.

Why Don’t They Just Quit? Hope for families struggling with addiction.
~By Joe Herzanek

Updated Edition:
Contains 7 new chapters and info on: Heroin, Shame & Stigma, Harm Reduction, Marijuana, Synthetic Drugs, 12-Step Groups & The Church, and much more! reviews:
As the mom of a child struggling with addiction,
and the author of ‘The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction,’ my ‘go to’ book is still “Why Don’t They Just Quit? ~Sandy Swenson

Best book ever about addiction. Written by one whose done it and is recovering. Easy to read, not preachy, just honest. I recommend this book to anyone with an addict in their life! ~Lynda A

Got an addiction problem in your family? Read this book. Joe knows his stuff. This book helps you to better understand those who are dealing with friends and family that are addicted to drugs and alcohol. I have read several of these books but this one is the best. ~RJ

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Chaplain Joe Herzanek, Author ASK JOE:
> If someone can stop using drugs or alcohol for weeks at a time, they “aren’t an addict—correct?

> Chronic Pain Management & Pain Pill Addiction: What to do?

>How can I know if my addicted friend or loved one is telling the truth?

>Should my husband “back off?”

>Gambling vs. Drug Addiction? What is your opinion?

>How can I tell if someone is an addict/alcoholic or just a heavy user?

>What is Methadone? What is Harm Reduction?


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10 thoughts on “Is an addict ever cured?

  1. Laurence Taylor

    There are probably as many answers to this topic of being cured as there are minds that have them, and then some, especially if those minds have loved the affects produced by some chemical or another for a prolonged period of time. I am one who has come to believe in looking at addiction from the point of view of it being an illness simply because it has been the gateway for me to access the power to live sober. I started drinking and using when I was a 11 and remember swearing I was never gonna get loaded again over and over add infinitum, naseum anyway lol. I kept wondering what was wrong with me? Why couldnt I stop turning to and doing this stuff that was hurting me and everyone around me? Was I evil? Bad? Cursed? Sure felt like it. Went in and out of institutions, scared to death everytime, swearing, promising, praying, begging. Only to return to doing it again. Why? I went in and out of treatment, joined the Army, kicked out, missions, church, etc. Get sober awhile, get loaded, sober, loaded, on and on. Been to therapy, worked as a counselor, you name it I tried it. What finally happened was, I ended up drinking again after 5 1/2 years. With all I knew, learned, with life as good as I always wanted it, I got a thought that came to me that it would be great if I could have a few shots. Out of the blue, so I went to the store and got a half pint. Because of what I learned and accepted about the craving like an allergy, an abnormal reaction, that once I start I can not stop. That takes place in my (body). The obsession, the thought that comes in one day out of nowhere that I cant make go away, that knaws at me while I smile and say what everyone expects, “I’m fine” until I give into it, that happens in my (mind) along with other things, resentment, delusion, etc. Not easy to concede for anyone. To say that I am strangely insane when it comes to alcohol, drugs, sex, whatever? Especially if I am able, intelligent, friendly? Are you kidding? Ego, pride, dignity, whatever you want to call it does not have the ability in and of itself. Then you have what I have come to know as the “Spiritual Malady” This ill at ease thing, this irritability (easily annoyed) sober or loaded, restlessness ( cant be still) and discontentment (never satisfied) this dis-ease. It wasnt until this description was presented to me, did I begin to Recover! Why? It made sense. Like going to a doctor and guessing what was wrong, rather than doing a thorough diagnosis. I always thought I knew what was wrong or what to do. But how could the same mind that did not plan to become addicted, that was, be the same one that was going to know the solution. I loved the affects produced by alcohol and drugs they did something for me that I did not know I needed. They actually were the solution to an internal condition that I did not know and was never gonna see on my own and since I had been fooling myself, I certainly couldnt be honest with anyone else, therefore no human being was going to be able to help me either. Once I conceded I had these symptoms, went back through my life looking at the truth of my experience, not what my head said, the actual truth of what went on I saw that I lacked the personal power needed to overcome this problem. I became willing to believe I had an illness of the mind, body and the spirit. It was suggested that I take the steps many like me had taken and I have been sober and living to help others ever since. That was 11 years ago. The facts are evident it works. Not just for me but many others as well. Anything that has the ability to save millions of people from destruction and death must warrant our consideration as an answer.

  2. Joe

    Dear Dian,

    Thanks for the post. You offer a few unique insights on this topic and also on the topic of ‘control’ or lack thereof.
    I do agree obviously about the food issue. Yes, we must learn to control how much we eat because we cannot live very long if we choose to totally abstain from food.

    The huge difference though is in the area of psychoactive drugs that produce any kind of euphoric feelings. Many of these drugs, again as we all know, are very powerful and very addictive—often costing people their lives (a pretty high price (no pun intended) to pay for a brief period of “feel good”).

    So once the person realizes they have extreme difficulty trying to use in ‘moderation’—then why take the chance? Much is at stake. And drug use is not necessary to enjoy life.

    You comment: “One has to undergo some type of mental change in order to “get out from under” the control of the substance which we have given control to.”

    I don’t think that a person ‘gives their control away’ I believe it is taken from them by their addiction and will never be returned. Ever.

    I do believe that a psychic change, epiphany, spiritual experience of some kind needs to take place in the persons brain. This psychic change, in my way of thinking, is a complete and total acceptance that the person no longer has control over their substance use AND that they never will regain the ability to use in moderation.

    Millions have tried and no one has succeeded )-;

    So this psychic change is acceptance of complete defeat—of ever go back to being a social user. Freedom is found here (-;


  3. Dian Benge

    OK, this is a very interesting topic. Addiction is a disease, whether it be to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, etc. The drugs, alcohol, sex, food, etc, are the symptom. The underlying disease, as Joe says, is the “out of control” aspect. One has to admit they have a problem and make “life adjustments” in order to change. One has to undergo some type of mental change in order to “get out from under” the control of the substance which we have given control to.

    I have been clean for a little over 3 years now and I struggle with the aspect that “we as addicts, have no control over anything.” It appears, if you study a 12 step program, that it tells you you have no control, tears you down to humble you ( just like the military), and then if you successfully agree that you have had no control over many things in your life, by talking about the problem and hearing how others have learned to deal with things, that you begin to gain some control over some of the things in life.

    I believe we have a problem in giving control over to other things and people. That we have to acknowledge that and “relearn” how to take that control back. We are taught from an early age that we have no control, that our parents, the government, our boss, and even our higher power, all have control over us. is it any wonder that many of us never learn to cross over to learn how to control things? Some people successfully learn to take back control, and some can and do regain that skill of “moderation” that many do not.

    Does this necessarily mean that we can never partake of the object of our addiction again? With some of them, if we determine that they are really not useful to us, and that there is no justifiable good to come out of partaking of it, then it is probably a good thing not to partake so as not to “risk” giving over our control to that thing again. However, what about food, we have to eat, and a food addict has to learn how to eat in moderation, not stop eating all together, so as I said. This is the tricky part. I am not sure about whether someone who has an addiction to drugs or alcohol, can ever “use in moderation” or “use successfully” again except that I have to separate the meaning of “use”. To use something is to partake for personal satisfaction, the high of it if you will. But if one learns how to partake of, in moderation, only in healthy moderation then one might be able to consider this successful. I think the problem is a character defect that we have that gives up our control, we didn’t lose it we gave it away. We have to take it back. But we have to learn to control only ourselves and not everything else.

    Does that make sense to anyone else?

  4. Joe

    Amen to all that Cathy. Even after many years of abstinence we, whether we like it or not, must never forget that the ‘control of use switch’ has been permanently turned off. Never to work again. But that’s OK because ‘Life is Good’ without substances (-;

  5. Cathy Taughinbaugh

    I believe the words, “Addiction has no finish line.” are true. I don’t think cure is the right term for recovery. You have to be vigilant and know everyday that you are an addict and what that means. Many addicts also seem to trade one addiction for another. None of it seems fair, I know, but we have to live with the cards we are dealt and live our best life.

  6. rita smith

    Once again could you please send this to my email. I can not email from my f.b. site. I share the same view as you on this matter and would like to share it with people I am in contact with other than f.b… Thank you so much for your sharing your wisdom on this matter. I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing, (practicing spiritual principles in all my affairs, working with other addict’s, going to meetings , and the most important keeping Jesus as my main line at ALL times… Thank’s
    I know what my disease is capable of !!!!

  7. Joe

    Dear Truthseeker,
    Thanks for the post. Your dad, assuming all the above is correct, is a very unusual person. I,personally, have never met someone like your dad. He is a ‘one in a million’ kinda guy. I have to wonder though, if he previously had a severe alcohol addiction problem that almost cost him his marriage and family why would he even consider drinking again?? Taking that chance. I do know this is NOT the case for millions of others. Everyone I know who goes back to attempting ‘controlled occasional drinking’ sooner or later starts the vicious cycle all over again )-;
    Best of luck to your dad. Regards, Joe

  8. Truthseeker

    “In the case of addiction to substances I, in the past thirty-three years, have never seen an addict regain control of their use—to become a social-occasional user.

    So I believe that if I were to tell someone they are cured, they may think they no longer have a problem. That opens the door to another attempt at social use—which NEVER turns out well.”

    I disagree with these statements and here is why. I have my personal example of my father who was an alcoholic for 15 years. Then one day when my mother could not take it anymore, he went in for treatment and stopped drinking for good. He did not touch alcohol for over 10 years. Then around 2001, I was visiting my family, and we had a family gathering with many dishes and alcoholic beverages. I was surprised to see that my dad was pouring alcohol for everyone including himself. It was just a couple of sips of champagne, but still. Then I saw it on many other occasions. Since then I’ve witnessed my dad having a few sips of wine or champagne when I would visit them. My mom and he told me that he does that every time they have some major celebration, like a birthday or some holiday. He sips 1-2 times and does not take it any further. He never craves or asks for it. He stops at just a few sips/half a glass at most. He told me he does not have any cravings for it or any thoughts of drinking just to drink. When there is a celebration, he does it socially with the family, not because he likes the taste or has cravings, just as a solidarity gesture. Other than that, he is totally fine. It is 2011 now and for 10 years this is how it’s been.

  9. jherzanek Post author

    Just received this comment from a reader: “Personally, I don’t think there is a cure, but long term remission is very possible with a holistic change in thinking and actions. The person I’m in touch with who had long term sobriety and is currently hammered in a London hotel room is a reminder to me!
    He got arrogant about his disease.”

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