Outgrowing Addiction

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U.S. drug policy is based on the premise that psychoactive substances cause addiction, which supposedly justifies using force to keep people away from them and to “treat” those who nevertheless manage to obtain politically disfavored intoxicants.

In Outgrowing Addiction, psychologist Stanton Peele and child development consultant Zach Rhoads offer a radically different perspective. They argue that addiction can be understood only in light of personal and social circumstances, which can be changed without coercive intervention (or even professional help) to achieve abstinence or moderation, depending on which is more appropriate for the individual.

The book combines a concise explanation of that view, which Peele has been espousing for nearly half a century, with practical tips for people who want to break bad habits or know others who do, especially parents whose children run into trouble as adolescents. Peele and Rhoads reject the disease model of addiction, which undermines recovery by teaching that self-control is impossible and which promotes the “fantasy that we can sidestep cultural, community, and personal problems” through “medical solutions.”

Instead they offer a “developmental model” based on the experiences of people who overcome addictions when they find other sources of pleasure and meaning. Contrary to popular belief, such “natural recovery” is the norm, as illustrated by examples ranging from soldiers who gave up heroin after returning from Vietnam to heavy college drinkers who moderate their consumption when they assume adult responsibilities.

“We do not see addiction as a permanent personal trait,” Peele and Rhoads write. “We see it as something that ebbs and flows in individuals over time, and that most of us are bound to outgrow.” That “pragmatic, empowering” approach is a welcome antidote to the prevailing view that addicts must be rescued, whether they like it or not, by agents of the state.

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