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Dr. Peter Ferentzy Headshot

Bossy Addiction Treatment - should they tell you how to dress?

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I recently published a book written in response to two overdose deaths of persons very dear to me. After two decades of addiction research, after writing exclusively for peer-reviewed journals, I decided for the first time to write for the public. More recently, my publicist suggested that addressing pop culture would be a good PR move.

OK. I will discuss things that matter to many youngsters out there: multicolored hair (shaved in unusual places), piercings, T-shirts that might offend (or at least challenge) people's sensibilities. You see, quite a few treatment centers will insist that you lose that stuff in order to belong: play ball or get lost. In short, you may be in danger of dying in your addiction, but they don't like your style. So if you don't change it, they'll leave you to suffer, and maybe die.

Is there any reason for this? Is there any evidence - real evidence - that someone with a freaky hairdo or a ripped T shirt that reads either "Malcolm X" or "Ban the Man" is less likely to recover than someone wearing tennis clothes? No, and this really ought to be a no-brainer. Sadly, I will have to invoke my authority to bring home a point that should be common knowledge.

Very well: After reviewing literature pertinent to this topic, as well as consulting with colleagues in the addiction field, I - Peter Ferentzy, PhD and renown addiction expert - can state unequivocally that those authoritarian souls in the treatment system are full of beans.

Yet we have a system in place that will infantilize you at every turn, even if you're over fifty. Here's one of my favorites: no sex or relationships in the first year of recovery. Now, is there any real evidence that people who play around or partner up are any more likely to relapse than those who keep their legs crossed? No (please refer to the previous paragraph).

What are we to make of this? Where does it come from?

I am, among other things, a historian of addiction and can tell you a little right here. It was in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that Western society collectively decided that anyone with a drug addiction is a scumbag with no moral center - someone who has to be told what to do at every step. With no other medical condition -- not even neurosis or mental illness -- are people told how to dress, how to speak, not to date, or even that they need to pray in order to get better.

And with no other medical condition (again including neurosis and mental illness) are people told that they need to suffer horribly - hit bottom - in order to improve. In this vein: with no other medical condition is the governing wisdom that the disease must be allowed to cause a sufficient amount of harm before someone is ready for treatment.

Is there any evidence that if someone isn't ready to kick, more pain and degradation will increase their chances? No, and ditto with the reference to that paragraph above. People are more likely to quit in response to positive developments, and less likely to do so in response to pain, humiliation, and degradation. Think about a tobacco smoker planning to quit. If you were to ruin that person's marriage and render their work situation unbearable, they'd obviously be closer to a "bottom". But (duh) now that this person's life is all messed up he or she is statistically more likely to keep smoking for the next little while. What could help? A better marriage and a happier work environment would reduce stress and (duh) make quitting smoking a lot easier. That's right: the truth is the exact opposite of all this nonsense about hitting bottom we inherited from the twentieth century.

So why do many in the treatment system think they have a right to boss clients around, and basically treat them like punks who can't think for themselves? It's all part of the same, backward thinking that has governed our approach to addiction for over a century. It's that simple: with respect to addiction, the 20th century was wrong.

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