This past summer our national appetite for sensational and tragic stories of high-profile individuals was fed constant headlines about Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears. These two individuals provided material for every established and aspiring comedian, as well as for tabloid and other newspapers and magazines, not to mention online media. Much of the focus was on Spears' and Lohan's aberrant behavior and seemingly cavalier attitude toward addiction treatment. Noticeably absent was much in-depth reporting or speculation on the seriousness of their disease or the consequences of it going untreated. The fact that addiction is a chronic, progressive disease that can be fatal if left untreated has yet to receive broad public understanding and acceptance.
Spears' and Lohan's experience with addiction treatment is evidence of a larger social dilemma. Our society is drifting in the direction of believing that we are entitled to be happy, not feel pain, and live as we please. Consequences for our behavior and coming to grips with our limitations and shortcomings are not highly valued. Our society runs the risk of actually believing that we are entitled to be happy all the time and that pain, suffering, and unhappiness are to be avoided at all costs. Such a sense of entitlement is the precursor to thinking that pain and hard work are unnecessary for happiness.
Yet if recovery is the ultimate goal and outcome of addiction treatment, and recovery is a life-changing, life-reorienting experience, then for recovery to be achieved, it must include hard work, pain, and certainly suffering. To grow, change, and recover, it is impossible to not experience some pain, suffering, and discomfort. After all,
discomfort is the pathway to growth and recovery.
Our society's growing entitlement approach to life leads people to seek the easy path, the one that asks for the least introspection, demands as little change as possible, and allows people to avoid true recovery. Society continues to look for the silver bullet, the easy way to deal with addiction. Instead of recovery, many with the disease of addiction settle for something far less intrusive—and genuine.
So as celebrities quickly cycle in and out of “rehab,” comedians make fun of all individuals with a chronic disease, whose lives are out of control and for whom the lack of treatment may well result in death. How did we get to a point where we use others' disease to entertain ourselves?
We got there because we have not yet fully integrated into society's fabric and fiber the understanding and the value that addiction is a disease. We have failed to remind everyone that true recovery is hard work, involves pain, and is a gift to be cherished, nourished, and passed along to others.
Spears' and Lohan's behavior is making headlines, but the real issue is much deeper. When entitlement and pain collide, society's tendency is to take the easy way. Yet the route to healing, health, and recovery almost always goes through the doorway of pain. Rather than protect persons from their own pain, we need to ensure we have competent programs and highly qualified staff committed to waling with persons through their pain toward the brighter light of recovery. When entitlement and pain collide, we need to make sure we do everything possible to ensure that people do not avoid their pain, and that they know they do not have to encounter their pain alone. The true spirit of recovery—a path of pain that leads toward authentic healing for the disease of addiction—is what society's attitude toward addiction needs to be.
Ronald J. Hunsicker, DMin, is President and CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. He is also a member of Behavioral Healthcare's Editorial Board. To contact Dr. Hunsicker, e-mail