In 2005, a couple of years after I opened my addiction clinic in Amsterdam, I had what they call a life-changing and defining moment. The mental process that led up to the change had started about a year earlier, but I began to put my new way of looking at addictions into practice with my clients.
questioning what they call “the disease concept” of addictions in all its
forms. I began to believe that alcoholism and drug addiction could eventually
cause brain damage, but up until that point, there was always the element of
I knew for
myself that I had the disease, but many others didn’t.
I began to
see that the “disease concept” of addictions can hurt people more than it
helps. It can give egotistical, mean, and scary people a great excuse to
continue what they are doing, even if it is hurting other people.
started Smith and Jones in 2003. It was born in a tiny room that was part of a
12-step meeting house, and when I started up, I had nothing but a strong will
to help turn the lives around of people like me.
in the beginning that Smith and Jones was going to be different from any other
clinic in the world. It was going to use the 12 step programs and a lot of the
concepts that were part of that, but my main focus was going to be about
motivation and choices.
using drugs and alcohol on August 1, 1998, and I stopped because I made a clear
and defined choice, not to ever do it again. It wasn’t the treatment program of
a clinic that “cured” me. It was my choice and the action that I took afterward
to support my decision.
I hated the
victim mentality and the soft “healing” approach that traditional addiction
treatment program for people that in my mind, needed a good ass-kicking.
myself as a soldier at war, but the war wasn’t with a phantom illness that
someone may or may not have been using as a good excuse to behave like a
complete asshole. The battle was with the people that were lying, manipulating
and hurting a lot of people, including themselves by doing stupid shit.
clients came to Smith and Jones, people signed forms stating that they were
fully aware that S&J was not a healthcare provider and that S&J
accepted no liability for anything.
document was of utmost importance for me in the clinic.
philosophy on addictions and for any other situation is that everyone,
including me, has a choice. Many addicts can choose to stop using, many
alcoholics can choose to stop drinking, many anorexics can choose to eat, many
video gamers can make a choice to turn the Xbox off.
thing was for sure, I wasn’t a medical professional.
For years I
had been in the public eye as a no-nonsense coach who actually had little
respect for many of the traditional healthcare methods. I was especially
critical of the psychiatric system.
was that unless someone was suffering from real mental illness, they always had
a choice. Just like me. All the bad shit I have done in my life was my choice.
Like it or not, I have a dark side, and I never hid that from anyone.
But we must
imagine the unthinkable for a moment.
addiction was not a disease like the medical community is telling us? What if
drug addicts used drugs because they damn well wanted to and when they were
confronted with the evil that they were doing, they blamed it all on some kind
of phantom disease and that by doing this, they had no responsibility anymore
for what they were doing. They had an excuse. They were victims, and they
didn’t need to go to prison. They needed soft and loving medical care because
they had a disease.
What if many
alcoholics were alcoholics because they liked being alcoholics? What if they
chose their drinking over their jobs, families, and responsibilities because
this is what they wanted to do? What if they liked to drink and be drunk
because it felt better then dealing with all the responsibilities that normal
people have to deal with every day?
“video game addicts” were not addicts at all? What if they were mean and nasty
kids that shit on the feelings of everyone around them by sitting in the corner
for hours and hours killing “make-believe” people and monsters on a computer
screen. What if the parents of these kids were actually abusing their children
by not making them stop “playing” the video games because it gave the parents
some peace and quiet?
these sweet young girls that were angry that they weren’t getting the attention
that they wanted in normal life discovered that they could get all the
attention in the world if they stopped eating? What if anorexia wasn’t real?
“anorexia” was actually an out of control hunger strike? What if many of these
girls loved the power that they had over people around them by not eating? What
if they enjoyed watching their families struggle to try and make them happy so
that they would eat again?
What if some
(certainly not all) psychiatrists were the ones that kept this whole sick
system running by diagnosing them as ill, vulnerable people instead of throwing
them out of the house onto the street?
What if many
“sex addicts” were people that loved the feeling of lust and orgasm so much
that they wanted to have this feeling all day long and at all costs?
What if many
married men that are “hooked” on pornography are actually like little children
who are not willing to grow up and face the fact that their marriages are dead,
but they stay in them because they don’t want to lose their surrogate mothers?
What if the
“disease” of addiction was a scam that doctors, psychiatrists and addiction
treatment centers wholly supported because it was a huge money-making
enterprise? What if by “making” people “sick,” they all benefitted greatly from
having another “patient” to care for?
concept is a disturbing one. Over the last 25 years, I have worked with
thousands of alcoholics, drug addicts, video gamers, women with “eating
disorders” and all kinds of other people that came to me for “help” with their
addictions. I have “helped” many people find their way to Alcoholics Anonymous
and other “disease-based” treatment programs, and I opened the first
residential clinic in the world for “video game addicts” in 2006. I know what I
am talking about.
that sometimes, not always, a person that is using drugs or other chemicals
destructively may have a disease of sorts. But most times, the behavior is all
about something else and not a primary illness.
I used to
do a seminar called “Are you sick, or are you an asshole?”
hit home with the clients that were there at the time. It is indeed a severe
question for someone who has been hurting and damaging people and then doing
drugs or some other kind of addictive activity.
current addiction treatment business, the psychiatrists and the therapists that
have been trained in the disease model of addiction treatment immediately
suggest that the terrible behavior that someone is practicing is the result of
brain disease. This diagnosis takes away any concept of responsibility and
automatically turns the asshole into a patient.
I have met
countless families that have brought people to me because someone in their
family was not only destroying their own life but the lives of everyone around
them. These people are heroes.
I have met
mothers that tried everything to get their addict to stop doing what they were
doing without success. I have heard heartbreaking stories from brothers and
sisters that have not gotten anywhere near the attention that they needed and
deserved because their sibling was “hooked” on something or another. I have met
fathers that have done all they could to help his child. These people truly
have lived in a war zone.
saddest thing of all is that these people often actually go crazy from living
with an addict that lies, cheats and steals all day long. They don’t know any
more what reality is. They don’t know what the truth is. They have been
contaminated by the addict that has drugs or alcohol to enjoy while they have
nothing but pain and sorrow.
to top it all off, the psychiatrist diagnoses him or her with some kind of
psychiatric illness, and this adds a terrible dynamic to an already sick family
system. They have no right anymore to be angry if someone is sick! How can you be mad with a sick person? This, I
believe, is criminal. The only people that benefit from this nonsense is the
addict and the medical staff that is earning buckets full of cash by keeping
these people sick.
In all the
years of working with addicts, the ones that eventually got well were the ones
that had the courage and humility to admit the truth and face the consequences.
The relapse rate of the addiction treatment business in the world is appalling.
The addiction business is the only one that accepts failure as part of the
illness. This is an industry that actually keeps people sick.
that the difference between real diseases and addiction is the element of
choice. You can’t choose to have cancer. But you can select for freedom from
addiction at any time.
an event in my own life that probably influenced this opinion of mine more than
When I was
14 years old, my father went to his first meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. His
drinking had spun entirely out of control, and life in our home was often
unbearable. When he drank too much, he sometimes became a violent asshole. We
were all delighted when he announced one day that he was going to his first AA
while he was at the meeting, I and my mom and my sister waited at home
anxiously for him to return home. I still remember to this day how we all ran
around trying to look busy when he drove his car up the driveway.
inside, and he called us all together. We sat at the kitchen table, and he
seemed happy. We waited to hear what he had to say.
learned some essential information. “he said. “I have learned that I have a
terrible, incurable disease called alcoholism, and this is why I sometimes
drink too much.”
We sat in
shock at the table. I was only 14, but I had been hit too many times when he
was drunk to be able to get my head around this information.
does this mean,” I asked. “Are you dying”?
said. “It means that I have an illness, and this is why I sometimes drink more
then I should.”
He got up
out of his chair and walked to the liquor cabinet. He took a glass and filled
it with ice. We all watched in fear.
the bottle of whiskey, and he filled the glass with it.
He sat down
at the table again, and he cried real tears.
sick.” He said.
running up the stairs to my bedroom, and I dove onto my bed and put my head
under the pillow. I cried and cried.
cry because my father had some kind of disease called alcoholism. I cried
because I felt like my life was now truly fucked. He drinks, become an asshole,
and now he has an excuse, I thought.
formed me into who I am today and why I look at the “disease” concept of
addictions with skepticism. In the 50 years that followed this event, I have
had to deal with my own addictions and the addictions of others that I seemed
to attract to me like a magnet. I used the “disease” concept as an excuse for
my own appalling behavior for many years.
have a choice to have the illness of addiction, but I always have a choice to
do something about it.
And so do you.