This is a bit off topic, but as it relates to addiction, I suppose it falls within the scope of this site.
Whenever discussing mental illness, including addiction, with those who favor a biological explanation, it is almost inevtiable that someone will bring up the fact that this or that mental illness causes chemical, or electro-chemical, changes in the brain, and then use this to argue that only chemical intervention can cure the disorder.
I just don't see how that follows.
First of all, thought itself is nothing but an electrochemical process in the brain. Thoughts cause electrochemical changes. So why could not those electrochemical changes counteract the changes caused by a mental disorder?
But even if we assume that the electrochemical changes caused by thought for some reason could not correct the changes caused by illness, then why could thought not overcome the impulses caused by those problems. For example, if I touch an open flame, a strong biochemical signal tells me to withdraw my hand, yet I can force myself to keep my hand there. So there is nothing absolute about a biological urge. We can still overcome it.
This is not to say chemicals can be of no help. Obviously a healthy dose of morphine would make it easier to ignore the impulse telling me to take my hand out of the flame. And perhaps various psychiatric medications can be of help. I just don't see how anyone can argue that they are the sole possible cure.
But, as I said, this is a bit off topic. I only mention it as people sometimes argue that addiction is also uncontrollable, and for the reasons mentioned above, I cannot agree with that position either. However, we are drifting a bit far afield form my declared topic, so I will cut things short.
As a final thought I will simply offer this, that were addiction utterly incurable without pharmaceutical assistance, how did we ever have any former addicts before pharmaceuticals were developed?
Note that my final sentence also applies to those on the other end of the spectrum who are extreme proponents of 12 step programs. Most are quite modest in their claims, but I have met a few who claim there is no recovery without a 12 step program. To which, again, I must reply, then how did we ever have former addicts before the 12 step program was developed?
Originally Posted in Examining the War on Drugs on 2008/05/30.