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Recovery: The Triumph of Medicine Over Moral Judgments

Updated: Oct 7, 2023

In recent years, our understanding of addiction has evolved dramatically. We've moved away from stigmatizing notions of addiction as a moral failing and towards recognizing it as a medical diagnosis. September is celebrated as Recovery Month, a time to shed light on the challenges individuals face while recovering from substance use disorders. This month provides a unique opportunity to highlight the critical shift in perspective that has occurred in how we view addiction—as a medical condition deserving of care, compassion, and support. Since the inception of the United States, a longstanding schism has existed regarding alcohol consumption. This division can be traced back to historical events such as Benjamin Rush's medical inquiry, a prominent figure among the nation's founding fathers, and the moral campaigns spearheaded by the temperance movement.(B S Katcher, 1993.) Throughout the Victorian era, the progression of addiction treatment unfolded.

  • In 1864, the establishment of the New York State inebriate Asylum marked a significant development in this journey. Interestingly, this institution was later deemed unsuccessful and transformed into an insane asylum. This historical transformation serves as a reflection of the trend in America, where things we fail to comprehend are often categorized as insanity.

  • In 1901, the Charles B. Towns joined forces with Dr. Alexander Lambert to start the Charles B. Towns Hospital. For just $350 each day you too could " recover." This is where Bill Wilson, the father of Alcoholics Anonymous, checked in not once, not twice, but four times! Talk about a revolving door to recovery!

  • 1935 AA was formed, and in 1939 the first edition of the big book was released ( Ps, I recommend anyone with even a passing curiosity to check out.)

  • 1956 the American Medical Association (AMA) officially labeled alcoholism as a disease.

So as much as much as my inner nerd wants to; I won't inundate you with over six decades of additional details, so let's fast forward. In 2019, the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) made a crucial update to its definition, aligning its stance to bolster support for patients, media engagement, and policymakers.

"Addiction is a treatable, chronic medical disease involving complex interactions among brain circuits, genetics, the environment, and an individual’s life experiences. People with addiction use substances or engage in behaviors that become compulsive and often continue despite harmful consequences. Prevention efforts and treatment approaches for addiction are generally as successful as those for other chronic diseases."

Defining addiction might seem like a straightforward task, but its significance extends far beyond mere semantics. In fact, it plays a pivotal role in how society perceives, treats, and ultimately helps individuals with addiction. Addiction is a deeply intricate issue, overshadowed by societal stigma and addiction is, often overshadowed by societal stigma especially as women, the whispers start when you reach for water over white claw. "Is she pregnant? Well I heard she had some issues , you know." So much of our society is punctuated with the presence of alcohol which fuels shame, and drives us into the shadows, in our quest for conformity only further perpetuating the problem.

  1. When you encounter the terms "alcoholic" or "addict," what initial assumptions or beliefs come to mind?

  2. Have you ever contemplated reducing your consumption and promptly experienced feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment? Exploring our own inner selves and gaining self-awareness can be a challenging endeavor, as many individuals tend to invest more in popular trends and getting to know others rather than delving into self-exploration.

I challenge you this month to cultivate curiosity and create room for these questions, if not for any reason other than the potential for personal growth and learning.

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