There is a huge mistake by Addiction Treatment Professionals, law enforcement, and the courts in addressing the problem of alcohol and drug addiction. The dominant philosophy the past thirty years has been that the central problem is one of denial. That is to say, the belief that alcoholics and addicts have abnormally robust denial systems. Given this paradigm – the treatment has been one of robust confrontation, and attempt to ‘break’ the denial. This idea leads to justification for brutal treatment programs – sanctioned by health care providers and legal authorities. What a horrendous tragedy.
Denial takes on the connotation of malicious lying. My take is that denial is a healthy part of our natural mental health process. If someone came to my door and told me that you had been killed in an accident I would probably punch them in the face for saying something so cruel. Then I would go find you. Am I in denial? Probably. Is that unhealthy – I don’t think so. Denial is like an emotional regulator – it lets reality in slowly so that we can digest the truth. If I accepted the truth of the messenger’s statement at first blush – I would probably fall over dead myself. In the context of the subtleties of addiction – we have difficulty accepting that we are the cause of such grief. When fundamentally good people engage in fundamentally poor behavior – there is a disconnect from reality. Shock treatment does not work.
I am not saying that reality should not be confronted – but I think the same sensitivity of telling someone of a loved one’s death should be applied in the initial treatment of addiction.