The 3-Minute Scientific Explanation of Addiction

The famous neurobiologist Anthony Movshon said that the human brain works like a camera. He said that the rational part of the brain is like the camera’s “manual settings,” which we can set according to how we want the picture to come out. Emotions, he said, work like the “automatic settings;” they function outside of our control. This metaphor of the human mind as a dual system offers a useful way to explain the nature of addiction and why addicts can’t stop using drugs on their own.

the rational part of the brain is like the camera’s “manual settings”

Addiction is an illness of the brain. It begins with a person using drugs to manipulate the manual settings of the brain, forcing it to produce chemicals that cause pleasant feelings. When the person continues to manipulate the brain through the use of drugs, the brain’s functioning begins to rely on the artificial chemicals of the drugs, rather than on the chemicals it normally produces. This is why addiction is known as chemical dependency. When this dependency on outside chemicals (drugs) sets in, the automatic settings of the brain take over.

The automatic functions of the brain control body functions that operate out of our conscious control, such as breathing, heartbeat, hunger, and thirst. These functions guard against our interference, because they need to work quickly and accurately, and our interference could cause them to malfunction. These automat- ic systems also block any attempts to control the bodily processes of addiction. The brain sends the sensation of hunger when the body needs nourishment; in this same way, the brain sends the sensation of hunger for drugs or alcohol to sat- isfy its need to receive outside chemicals. This sensation of hunger for drugs is what is commonly referred to as a “craving.”

When a craving arises from the automatic functioning of the brain, no act of will- power can overcome it. Just like there is no way to control hunger or thirst through willpower, neither is there a way to stop the cravings for drugs that an ad- dicted person experiences. Trying to resist these urges is like trying not to drink a cold glass of water after having been in the desert for 3 days without a drink; a powerful force is needed to break the craving.

Only an intervention from the outside can break the hunger for drugs in an ad- dicted brain. Research shows that it takes effective treatment composed of a com- prehensive system of drug rehabilitation and psychotherapy designed to effect change in the functioning of the automatic system of the brain. Any other form of therapy or treatment will be ineffective. Thinking cannot overcome emotions; willpower cannot overcome bodily functions. The manual settings can’t change the automatic settings; that’s why addicts can’t stop using on their own.

How to Host a Productive Drug Intervention

In our article on the dangers of drug Interventions, we explain why they can be damaging. Below are some guidelines on how to find the best intervention process to effectively admit an alcoholic or drug addict into a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program that will end their addiction cycle.

1. The best interventions are based on the fact that denial cannot be encountered with confrontation. Powerful research in psychotherapy proves that confrontation does not work to overcome the addict or alcoholic’s resistance to stop using and gain recovery. Actually, it makes their resistance stronger. Therefore, a skillful interventionist will not guide the concerned people participating in an intervention to attack or confront the addict or alcoholic. Instead, they would deliver a simple and compassionate sharing of facts — including the information that they no longer want to be a part of the addict’s or alcoholic’s life if they continue to use — and an offer to support their efforts to stop using. This offer needs to include admittance into an addiction, alcohol, and mental health rehab treatment center that would follow the intervention.

2. The best interventions promote personal investment in treatment, as it is the main indicator of the success of that treatment. Strong research in psychology shows very clearly that the success of addiction and alcohol treatment is determined by the degree to which a professional interventionist, counselor, or therapist can engage the person receiving treatment into becoming invested in their treatment and therapy.

3. The best interventions try to minimize the amount of loss of trust that results from the need to lure an alcoholic or addict into the intervention meeting under false pretenses. As mentioned before, this can affect the success of the treatment that needs to follow the intervention. Organizing the intervention behind the alcoholic’s or addict’s back will produce negative feelings of resentment, anxiety, and depression that could threaten their future success in treatment. A great deal of skill is therefore demanded from the interventionist leading the meeting to not only organize the intervention well, but also repair the loss of trust that will result from it. This loss of trust presents a major obstacle to the success of treatment, and an obstacle to motivate the addict and alcoholic to not only stop the use of drugs, but also to attain physical and mental fitness.

The above information is designed to help people who suffer the effects of a loved one’s illness of addiction, to assist them in finding help when it has been decided that an intervention is necessary. Many people have adopted the title of “interventionist.” Great care is necessary in choosing the right person for this huge task. Please use the information above and question anyone that you are considering to use as an interventionist about their philosophy, style, and knowledge of the listed facts. If their answers are vague, general, or unsatisfactory, please seek help somewhere else.

Interventions can either bring a person the help that they need to heal or destroy their chance to receive this assistance. In the wrong hands, interventions can be very dangerous.

Drug Interventions May Be Dangerous for Alcoholics and Drug Addicts

Drug and alcohol interventions are one way to get a person with an addiction to confront the consequences that their actions have on their work, family, and other aspects of their lives. The intervention is usually a meeting of close friends, family, and employers who are concerned and hurt by the alcoholic or drug addict.

This action is usually prompted by the fact that alcoholics and other kinds of addicts will not admit that they have a problem even if they have lost their jobs, ruined relationships, or their life as they once knew it.

During a typical intervention process, an interventionist — i.e. a person who is an expert in coordinating and guiding interventions — arranges a meeting. The intervention meeting is usually organized without the alcoholic’s or drug addict’s knowledge, and without their participation.

Once the meeting is set up, the addict or alcoholic is usually brought to the intervention meeting under false pretenses. In this intervention meeting, the concerned people confront them about how their substance abuse has affected their own lives. In a traditional intervention, the addict and alcoholic are given the choice to attend treatment or they will not be allowed to participate in the lives of their concerned loved ones. The successful intervention is commonly ruined by referring the addict or alcoholic to an alcohol and drug treatment rehabilitation center that is chosen on the basis of business connections rather than on clinical excellence.

Below, we highlight how an intervention may present a danger to the lives of everyone involved. These are drawn from psychological research regarding the dangers inherent in interventions. We also present guidelines on how to create the best intervention process.

Alcoholics and other kinds of addicts will not admit that they have a problem even if they have lost their jobs, ruined relationships, or their life as they once knew it.

Alcoholics and addicts suffer from a defective psychological defense mechanism called denial. Denial is supposed to save us from shock and extreme psychological hardship. For example, if we were to experience a terrible accident where one of our loved ones died, we would have a feeling of not being in touch with reality. This kind of dream state protects us from being overwhelmed by the pain that we would experience if not for denial. It is the predominant psychological defense mechanism in addiction and alcoholism. But, instead of helping the addict or alcoholic protect their sanity, denial helps them to ignore shame and guilt, but also the reality of the damage that they are causing themselves and others.


Fact: Research shows that denial cannot be encountered with confrontation. Strong evidence suggests that confrontation strengthens the degree of denial that an addict or alcoholic may be experiencing.


The intervention meeting is usually organized without the alcoholic’s or drug addict’s knowledge, and without their participation.

The fact that the person is ambushed during the intervention process creates problems. Very strong evidence shows that when a person doesn’t feel a part of a decision making process, they don’t buy into its effectiveness. Therefore, the alcoholic or addict will resent being ambushed, will experience it as a violation of their personal freedom, and will not become invested in their own treatment and recovery process, even when they are coerced into it. This is one of the biggest challenges in an intervention; one that is dangerous and yet inevitable. It therefore demands a great skill from the interventionist to overcome this initial hurdle that could derail treatment.


Fact: Research shows that a personal investment in treatment is the main indicator of the success of that treatment.


The addict or alcoholic is usually brought to the intervention meeting under false pretenses.

Successful psychotherapy is founded on trust. The fact that alcoholics and addicts are drawn into the intervention meeting under false pretenses presents a very difficult situation. The spirit of the intervention meeting is to confront the addict or alcoholic with the many ways they hurt themselves and others because of their substance abuse. In the intervention, they are being confronted with their tendency to not be honest with themselves and others.


Fact: Confronting people with their dishonesty by having lured them into the intervention meeting under false pretenses is contradictory and can affect the success of the therapy, and the alcohol and drug rehab treatment that needs to follow the intervention.


The successful intervention is commonly ruined by referring the addict or alcoholic to an alcohol and drug treatment rehabilitation center that is chosen on the basis of business connections rather than on clinical excellence.

Unfortunately, many successful interventions are ruined when the alcoholic or addict are referred to a treatment center that is chosen on the basis of business arrangements between the treatment center and the interventionist making the recommendation. The best interventionists refer their clients to treatment centers that:

  1. Follow a philosophy and have a staff skillful in breaking through the denial of the addict or alcoholic in a non-confrontational way.
  2. Staff that know how to encourage and motivate the addict or alcoholic to become personally invested in treatment.
  3. Staff that are skilled in helping the addict or alcoholic overcome negative feelings of anger, anxiety, depression and resentment resulting from the intervention process.

Avoiding the potential pitfalls listed above can result in an intervention that can lead to successful addiction and mental health treatment. Treatment that itself can lead to mental and emotional fitness. Interventions can be dangerous, or can help a person overcome the illness of addiction. We hope that, empowered with this information, you may lead your loved one to success.

Which Is the Best Alcohol and Drug Rehab Center for You or Your Loved One?

When you or a loved one are seeking treatment for a drug or alcohol addiction, finding the right treatment center is challenging and confusing, emotionally and practically.

In your search, you’ll often feel bombarded by 800-numbers, banners, bells, and whistles, all claiming to have the capability to “save your life;” all claiming to be the most “caring,” “understanding,” “luxurious,” or “scientific” treatment facility in the world.

So, how do you know which is the best one for you? Here are some facts about alcohol and drug treatment centers to help you make the right decision.

1. Drug and Alcohol Rehab Centers are supposed to be designed to help people with drugs and alcohol addiction problems, but most are not. In reality, most rehab centers were not designed at all. Largely, these drugs and alcohol addiction rehabilitation centers follow a treatment system that is dictated by the opinions of the substance abuse counselors who work there. They don’t all agree with each other, and they counsel people according to whatever they believe “got them clean,” not according to scientifically proven methods. This alcohol and drug rehab approach leads to confusion and simply does not work.

Suggestion: Ask how the treatment system of the rehab center that you are considering was designed. If you get a vague answer, you will know that they don’t have a cohesive plan, this will result in client confusion and likely failure.

2. Treatment centers, large and small, luxurious and poor, have adopted the same old way of treating drug and alcohol addictions. Even when most treatment centers present themselves as delivering “evidence based,” or “scientific” therapy, the truth is that they use the same tired and ineffective approach that has ruled the field of addiction treatment for 30 years. This system was originally called the “recovery model,” but for the past 30 years, has been termed other things like the holistic model, 12-step model, Florida model, or the catch-all term, the eclectic model. Regardless of the name used to disguise it, this old system of treatment has proven effective only 30 to 50 percent of the time.

Suggestion: Ask what specific model of treatment you or your loved one will receive. If the answer is the 12-step or the recovery model, you are being sold the same 30-year-old system of alcohol and drug rehabilitation treatment that has resulted in a mere 30-50% success rate.

3. An effective treatment center should instead be founded on:

  • The most advanced research in mental health and psychotherapy in the social sciences.
  • Individualized treatment that takes into account the individual needs of the person receiving treatment, not the counselor’s personal opinions.
  • A treatment environment located in the middle of a real living environment, not a campus or a setting isolated from the real world.
  • The incorporation of psychotherapy that focuses on treating the anxiety and depression that comes with drug addiction.
  • The incorporation of physical fitness, mental fitness, and non-religious spiritual practice.
  • The teaching of real-life living skills.
  • Bilingual staff trained in providing treatment according to one consistent and scientifically validated system of treatment.
  • Flexible treatment options that offer partial hospitalization with or without supervised living, and intensive outpatient treatment with or without supervised living.
  • Treatment plans that are adapted to the person’s available time off work, vacation, and their sick leave.
  • Flexible treatment plans that adapt to an individual’s work schedule, so that they can attend treatment without losing their jobs.
  • Fierce protection of the person’s confidentiality, dignity, job, and relationships.

Suggestion: You may use the suggestions, and the list of characteristics of an effective treatment center, as a checklist to determine whether the rehab program you are considering meets the standards of a true 21-century treatment center. The more that it meets the characteristics in this list, the more you can be assured that you or your loved ones will receive the best care for the illness of addiction. Insist on it. You deserve nothing less.

Many Drug Treatment Centers Forget to Include Treatment in Their Centers

Most treatment centers today can easily be confused with spas.

Being treated for addiction in a spa may sound like a good thing, but it’s not. Addiction treatment centers that emphasize offering luxurious amenities are fine for tourists, but they are damaging for people who need treatment for their addiction. Actually they are dangerous.

Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. It takes years for someone who suffers from addiction to finally admit that they have a problem, and agree to get treatment. When they have decided to accept treatment, it is imperative that they receive the treatment that they need—because they may not return to treatment ever again—and will continue to suffer grave, and even deadly consequences.
  2. In Treatment-Spas people have to compete for clinical attention with 25, 50, and sometimes as many as 100 other clients. According to research— a personal relationship between clients and clinicians is the main factor in successful treatment. It’s common sense that personal relationships are not possible when clinicians have to deal with big client populations.
  3. Addiction Treatment-Spa centers Are often located in vacation spots that are nothing like the places where most people actually work, and struggle to live without using drugs. But according to scientific research—people should learn skills in places that are similar to the places where they will have to use those skills. For example: you will perform better in a test, if you study in the place where you will take the test. In the same way you will be more successful living without drugs in a real-life environment, if you learned, and practiced, living without drugs in a real-life environment. Learning to live without drugs in a Spa will prepare you to live without drugs in a Spa.
  4. Addiction Treatment-Spas isolate people from their lives. They restrict people from having and using their phones and computers—in order to isolate them from their  family, and their normal lives. In contrast—treatment is most effective when people stay connected to their daily lives as they go through treatment, and face the problems that they have created. After all, in treatment they are supported by professional help as they face their problems. The effectiveness of this approach has been proven by the effectiveness of Intensive Outpatient Programs, and fellowships like AA, and NA—where people learn to live without drugs, while living their lives, and solving their problems, with the support of others.
  5. Treatment-Spas invest the majority of their resources on luxurious amenities and marketing—not clinical quality. As a result they offer outdated and ineffective treatment models that show a success rate of only 50%. In contrast—real treatment centers invest the majority of their resources in excellence of treatment—focusing their resources on the application of scientific research— and talented therapists.

Going to an addiction treatment center is a crucial event in a person’s life. Going to the right one can save their lives—going to an ineffective one can result in increased denial, years of further use, and continuing destruction of a life.

Going to an addiction treatment center is a crucial event in a person’s life.

You and your loved ones need a Drug Treatment Center that focuses on Effective Addiction Treatment. Not a Spa.

Addiction Treatment is Addiction Treatment & Alcoholics Anonymous is Alcoholics Anonymous

Over 20 years ago I walked into my first substance abuse course at Nova University.

The professor walked into the room, waited for silence and said, “Addiction treatment is addiction treatment, and AA is AA, period.” The professor was John Mullen. John had been a member of Alcoholics Anonymous for almost 40 years at that time, and a substance abuse counselor for decades. He was admired in both roles.

It’s interesting that John made this pronouncement as his opening statement. It’s interesting that he felt that he had to. During the last 20 years working in the field of addiction treatment, I have understood why he did: using the setting of an addiction treatment center to attract people to the fellowships of AA and NA is a violation of the best practices of addiction treatment, and the principles of AA, and NA.

I agree with John, the treatment of addiction must focus on the drug and alcohol abuse of the addict and alcoholic, but must equally focus on delivering powerful therapy interventions that treat the compulsion, depression, and anxiety that are integral parts of the disease of addiction.

My colleagues in the addiction treatment field, of course, may want to dispute my claim that they are using an addiction treatment approach that is composed of 12 Step instruction-as-therapy. However, their protests will be met by the experience of most people that have been to an addiction treatment center in the past 40 years. Most people that have been through addiction treatment know, and report, that most drugs and alcohol addiction treatment centers, in existence today, practice an approach to treating drug addiction and alcoholism that is dictated by the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous.

Furthermore, It is a fact that most of the treatment activities of most treatment centers are focused on getting people to internalize and practice the methods outlined by the 12 Steps of Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous. This approach is evident in most addiction treatment centers’ schedules of activities, in their promotional materials, and in their websites. In most addiction treatment center’s schedule of treatment activities you will find: 12 Steps instructional lectures, group therapy based on 12 Step instructional materials, and treatment plans that outline goals like “completing steps 1, 2, and 3. ” (of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous).

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the 12 Step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, millions of people have obtained sobriety. However, as any member of Alcoholics Anonymous, or Narcotics Anonymous knows, these fellowships are not in any way involved in mental health treatment. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous see the problems of alcoholics and addicts as being directly related to the abuse of drugs and alcohol. As stated before, the conflict that John Mullen was warning about is created when addiction treatment centers use the methods of the 12 Step fellowships of AA and NA to people that, according to the philosophy of AA and NA, need more intense mental health treatment than these fellowships are committed to provide. Here are the examples:

Narcotics Anonymous proclaims that addiction is “One disease” and the solution is “One Program” (Narcotics Anonymous). The “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous clearly explains the difference between people that can benefit from the programs of recovery from alcoholism based on the 12 Steps, and those that need mental health treatment: in Chapter 5 of the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it says that:

“Those who do not recover are people who… are constitutionally incapable… seem to have been born that way… who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders, and cannot or will not completely give themselves to this simple program”

In other words, the 12 Step programs are for people who have the capacity to completely give themselves to this simple program (AA). According to the philosophy of AA, engaging in this program to gain sobriety demands a capacity, and ability, that is lacking in people who are constitutionally incapable (Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5). The book of Alcoholics Anonymous (Chapter 5), also include a definition of people that may not be able to gain sobriety through their program: “people who suffer from grave emotional and mental disorders”. In summary, the 12 Step programs of AA and NA clearly identify people for whom the 12 Step programs don’t work. Who are these people? These are the people that need alcoholism and addiction treatment.

So I (and probably John, if he would still be with us) ask my colleagues in the addiction treatment field: how can you succeed in treating addicts for whom the 12 Steps did not work, by instructing them to practice the 12 Steps? The practice of turning addiction treatment into 12 Step treatment, violates the integrity of the 12 Step fellowships, and the best practices of clinical addiction treatment. The two, as John taught, have to be practiced separately, so that they complement each other, but don’t violate their separate integrity and effectiveness.

John died of cancer years ago. Those of us who listened to his message are still going against the common practice of turning treatment centers into 12 Step training facilities. We do so because we uphold the basic principles of the 12 Steps, and our principles as Clinicians. Addiction treatment is addiction treatment, and Alcoholics Anonymous is Alcoholics Anonymous. Period.