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Waismann Method® Podcast: Dangers of Labeling in Addiction & Recovery and Defeating Addiction

Labels in Addiction and Recovery

Episode 17: Harmful Labels in Addiction and Recovery and Defeating Addiction

On this podcast episode Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC, Waismann Method® and Domus Retreat founder, and David Livingston, LMFT address two questions:

  1. What can be problematic about the use of the term “addict?”
  2. Are there people who cannot defeat addiction?

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Welcome back again to the Waismann Method podcast, I’m your co-host, Dwight Hurst joined by as always by Clare Waismann and David Livingston as they join us to answer your questions about opiate dependence and addiction. Today, we’re going to be covering two different questions. The first one is a question about the use of the term addict and whether or not that term can be problematic. The second question we’re going to look at is, are there some people who cannot beat addiction? So let’s get into that now. Why do you feel the term addict is the wrong term to be using?

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Do you want to do this one, David, or do you want me to start?

David Livingston, LMFT: Why don’t you start?

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Ok, I think it truly reduces the person’s identity down to, you know, the struggle they’re going through. So I think more and more we understand addiction is a result of a combination of physical events, when you call somebody an addict, that’s who they will identify themselves as. And I think that’s unfair. I mean, this is a moment they are going through in life. This is not who they are. Also, they know addiction, it’s described as a combination of negative actions. So to label somebody by it – it’s a very negative label. And I don’t think we should try to help people by starting with labeling them as a negative event. I think it just is. It’s hurtful. That’s my take on it. But again…

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, you feel like it’s labeling someone by the symptoms that they’re having would be one way to say that, like, you wouldn’t call someone a “heart-attack-haver”, that was kind of close, right.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Or, oh, that diabetic is coming in or they know what I’m saying. You can say, well, he is a diabetic and, you know, he is going through treatment or whatever, standing on top of a group and say, hi, I’m John, I’m an addict and I’m always going to be an addict. Oh, my God. You just removed so many things from that person, so many parts of what makes somebody strong and proud, hopeful.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: They know that when they do training for diagnostics and things in mental health, one of the things that they say, in fact, I think it’s even in the diagnostic manual is this instruction that says it is inappropriate to call someone, for example, saying you are bipolar or you are schizophrenic and that it is more appropriate to call them or not to call them anything but to say you have bipolar disorder or you are diagnosed with schizophrenia. And even when we’re talking to ourselves that it can be used for all the people, people say it both ways. So that’s an interesting perspective to look at the term addict in that way. It’s kind of uniquely treated in a way and not in a way to think.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: It’s treated “lesser than”, you know. I think the word itself is so loaded, you know, with stigma, you know, with it it’s got a sense of fear, “lesser than”, you know, people. There are so many sentences that you hear about when the addict’s lips are moving – they are lying, you know, an addict. It’s complicated. It’s complicated and it is negative, I think. Any circumstance that people might believe that recognizing somebody as an addict can be helpful, I think it outweighs, you know, the negative impact that can have in somebody’s identity. And that is so basic of any progress we can do in life is how we feel about ourselves.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: And David, what do you think about the term addict, but I think it.

David Livingston, LMFT: But historically, it came out of a 12 step program and back, you know, back in the day when that program was getting started. There was a lot of denial and not a lot of understanding of alcoholism and other problems and that the word gave some meaning and some and sort of brought into the consciousness of a problem that people were struggling with. And so it had a real value to bring things up and give it a name. And until you can begin to give something a name, it’s hard to know what to do with it. So I think it came from there. And for some people, it’s useful in the sense that it reminds them that they’ve got a vulnerability and there’s a use for some people in that they don’t mind it.

David Livingston, LMFT: For many people, it can feel like Clare was talking about more like a, you know, a jail sentence than it is useful. But all that is even my biggest. The problem I have with it is that that I think what happened is that, you know, at least in the field of psychology, things have moved far, far more towards, you know, behavioralism. And so when someone’s an addict, it’s it’s the behavior. Right? But really, everybody’s compulsive at times. To be alive is to be anxious at times it is to have some level of intensity or impulsivity going on in you. And I think that the whole disease model sort of in some way took some of the shame out of it. And I think that might be the positive part of it. And I hope so. I think that would be good. But my fear is that what it also did is it limited how clinicians and people really have gone into breaking down and understanding that this is something that can be treatable. And although it’s complex, just because people are complex, you can break it down. Most people I know are pretty intense. They just tend to spread that around in their lives to create some sort of balance, they have families, they have friends. So you have to understand and they have a healthy dependency with with with people. And so, you know, when I’m just touching on it, there’s there’s so much more I could say about it. But it’s a complex thing.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: But let me ask a question, David. I think I feel you mixed a bit The word addict with a symptom of addiction, with the condition of addiction. I think when you say it’s great to be able to identify, so I think people do suffer from addiction. As they suffer from any other conditions that are treatable, sometimes not, but with that said, that’s the condition it separates the person of who they are because they are so much more than that. And I think when they describe themselves as an addict, they really shorted themselves by, you know, I don’t even like to say “negative” condition, but by “not a good” condition, “unhealthy” condition.

David Livingston, LMFT: So I agree with that. That can be the part of it that ends up being the limiting factor. And often also what happens is that when people just take that on and say, this is who I am, it can also be a “giving up”. Like, I just accepted that I’m an addict, which is not a good place. Right. That that ultimately, if we’re struggling with something or something’s difficult or limiting or destructive in our lives, really what we want to do is, is take it on. We want to understand it. We want to.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Do you know where the word came from? Well, originally, in Latin? Addictus, addictus means assigned, surrendered. So when you talk about giving up, that’s what the word meant in the beginning. Somebody that gave up, that surrendered.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: That’s very interesting.

David Livingston, LMFT: Right. So the surrender that might be useful is only to surrender to the fact that you’ve got something you’ve got to deal with. Then once you’ve accepted that, like. Oh, right. Like I’ve got a knee problem. I can’t go jogging. You know, maybe I’ve got to find other things I can do because I can’t do that. But it’s but I can do a ton of other things, but at the same time, so that surrender can be useful. It is…

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I go back to terminology, is it surrender or acceptance? You can accept that you have a problem, but you don’t need to surrender to it. I think surrender is pretty much giving up.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: So… The problem then becomes a matter of how is the term being used? How is the definition? And there is this stigma part of that definition that keeps coming up. Right? That we’re talking about.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Yes. It’s heavy. It is like somebody that suffers from obesity. He doesn’t get up and say, hi, I’m John. I’m fat, you know?

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Yeah, well, and you might even say that those that would tell the person to do that are not helping them.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: I could say I think it would be quite cruel, actually, you know. You know, sometimes in a social environment, you know, I will sit on the table and offer for dinner, “Would you like a glass of wine?” And somebody will say, “No, I’m an addict.” I think then there’s a silence on the table. You know, it is. It’s weird, to say the least, that somebody would actually describe themselves as that.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: So it’s meant, as David, you put it, if you know what to call something, it’s meant to be useful and empowering. And then I think, you Clare, you’re talking about how particularly this label can be disempowering, as a matter of fact, correct?

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Yeah, correct. I don’t think it would bother me if I said, “Hey, would you like a glass of wine?” And they would say, “You know, I had an addiction to alcohol at one point.” So, you know, I’ll pass. Then to say, “No, I’m an addict.”

David Livingston, LMFT: Because, I mean, in one sense, what was all the hallmarks of treatment, is it empowerment? Ok, so empowerment is a movement, right? So when you’re learning and growing and developing yourself, you’re moving. So any time you do, you put yourself in a box, like “I am this”. It’s not a good thing. It’s it’s like you’re saying we’re like, so if you’ve accepted that you’ve got a problem with alcohol, you can’t drink. It’s you’ve already moving and you’ve already come to terms with it. And you can say, no, I’m not interested, no thank you. And just move on and you can actually begin to sort of manage your life differently. So the idea of people being better is being in the process. Process is, in fact, you will see in therapy when people are improving that they move more so that they’re less involved in the personalized level of life and more involved in the process level, meaning that they’re thinking about what it is they can do and how they can help themselves in the process of their lives growing and developing. It’ll happen in the room. And while there’s all kinds of personal aspects to that, there’s a sense of life evolving again.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: It’s such a sensitive subject for me is, I truly believe that any part, any part of treatment, not just recovery, any part of getting healthier and becoming a better self, it requires empowerment and the idea that somebody is powerless over a certain substance and admitting to that, not just admitting, but assuming a total powerlessness over a substance, I think is detrimental and dangerous.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: It gets into one of our questions. This is a good, good transition. Are there people who can’t beat addiction? I think that’s a really powerful question because you can get this gets into something that we talk a lot about, which is the identification or the overidentification with the problem. Right? Are there people who just can’t beat addiction at all? And it’s very it’s interesting to look at that. What are some initial reactions that you guys have to that question?

David Livingston, LMFT: I’ll start. I mean, it’s I say you can’t answer that question until you deeply understand the cause of it. OK, so what’s causing the addiction? So if it’s insomnia and they can’t relax and they go into the fight or flight and they, you know, because they have chronic insomnia that’s never been treated, then then, yeah, if you treat insomnia effectively and they’re out of an anxiety state and they are rested, and their nervous system feels good, they may not need a medication to try to do that, which won’t work in the long run. OK? But if it’s you know, there are you know, if it’s a general anxiety disorder if it’s loneliness, like, then what? Like how do you help someone sort of develop a life? So you have to understand that what that the addiction is a compensatory process to compensating for some need, something that is not working and sometimes it’s developmental. There are some people who have a repression barrier that is compromised, meaning that some of it is biologically based, some of it can be due to trauma where they tend to flood. Right. So there’s so so they just have so much stimulation coming up and they can’t manage it. And the ability to repress anxieties and thoughts and feelings is limited. And so those people are more at risk for addiction because they’re trying to suppress that. Now, if you get into a good treatment and they develop an understanding of that, they get into a good psychiatric process, which there are some medications often can be helpful with that. There are ways to treat it.

David Livingston, LMFT: So the answer is always what’s the cause? And if you can answer that and some things are more easily treatable than others.

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: You know, I think the same idea that there are some people that can get over bad behaviors, whatever behavior that is, you know, some people can’t get over lying or cheating, but that’s not the root of the issue. That’s a response for, as David said, something that is not taken care of. So, again, I believe addiction is a consequence of the issue that has not been treated. Are there are people that will never get over addiction. Of course, there are. There are people that, again, they will never get over obesity. I don’t think the problem is addiction itself. I think David once wrote a blog, you know, where he said we need to stop thinking of addiction as a heart-beating condition.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: It’s interesting because the way you put that, it would be like saying, are there some people who cannot survive their heart disease? I mean, there certainly are people who do not survive heart disease. Right? That’s the problem to me is the word “can’t” because that seems to reflect back on someone’s character. And you wouldn’t say, “Oh, you’re the kind of person who can’t avoid a heart attack.” You’d say, “You had a heart attack. And this is what happened afterward.”

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: And it creates tremendous hopelessness and it leads to depression. What leads you even further to want to use a substance so you’re not feeling those negative feelings? With that said, though, I think it’s multifaceted. I mean, again, it’s because you’re dealing with somebody’s physiology, you’re dealing with somebody’s DNA, you’re dealing with somebody’s social existence, history. So there is a lot of components that can drive somebody to addiction. Using a certain substance for a long period of time also has chemical consequences. It does compromise your ability to make good choices.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: So there are some people who definitely have a genetic predisposition to one thing or the other. Well, and heart disease is just as good an example of that. Just like you can be compliant with treatment recommendations for heart disease, just as you can be compliant or non-compliant with treatments that are prescribed because you might have a genetic vulnerability to addiction. Same thing in a way. It’s all trying to get that on the same level to where when we say these things that we truly talking about it on the same level, I guess, is the question. And people often aren’t they have implied…

Clare Waismann, RAS/SUDCC: Or are we truly talking about the same subject or are we just and that’s where I go back. Are we just trying to put circulation and a heartbeat on a condition, that is just a condition? I think we need to really, you know, think what addiction is and focus on the condition, but with the right idea of its power. Because I think we have empowered the words “addict”, “addiction” to such an extent that it truly overtakes people’s lives.

Dwight Hurst, CMHC: Thank you again for joining us on the Waismann Method podcast to learn more about the Waismann Method Advanced Treatment for opiates, go to opiates.com, or send us an email at info@opiates.com and let us know what your questions are that you’d like to hear us answer on the show. You can also hit us up on Twitter @opiates. The music for our show is the song Medical by Clean Mind Sounds, and the show is produced by Popped Collar Productions. Learn more at poppedcollar.net. For Clare Waismann and David Livingston. I’ve been Dwight Hurst. We’ll see you again soon. And remember to keep asking questions because if you ask questions you can find answers and if you can find answers, you can find hope.