‘Unbroken Brain’ Explains Why ‘Tough’ Treatment Doesn’t Help Drug Addicts

Tough love, interventions and 12-step programs are some of the most common methods of treating drug addiction, but journalist Maia Szalavitz says they’re often counterproductive.

“We have this idea that if we are just cruel enough and mean enough and tough enough to people with addiction, that they will suddenly wake up and stop, and that is not the case,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross.

Szalavitz is the author of Unbroken Brain, a book that challenges traditional notions of addiction and treatment. Her work is based on research and experience; she was addicted to cocaine and heroin from the age of 17 until she was 23.

Szalavitz is a proponent of “harm reduction” programs that take a nonpunitive approach to helping addicts and “treat people with addiction like human beings.” In her own case, she says that getting “some kind of hope that I could change” enabledher to get the help she needed.

Interview Highlights
On her criticism of 12-step programs

I think that 12-step programs are fabulous self help. I think they can be absolutely wonderful as support groups. My issue with 12-step programs is that 80 percent of addiction treatment in this country consists primarily of indoctrinating people into 12-step programs, and no other medical care in the United States is like that. The data shows that cognitive behavioral therapyand motivational enhancement therapy are equally effective, and they have none of the issues around surrendering to a higher power, or prayer or confession.

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