This week CBS News begins an addiction awareness campaign entitled “ 14 Days On The Wagon”. An awareness campaign designed to get people to stop drinking, smoking, doing drugs and refrain from other addictive behaviors for a two-week period in the hopes they will feel better, and see that there is a healthier lifestyle that awaits them. The basic premise is set out below:
“If people go through this two weeks, this 14 days on the wagon, and they have a hard time doing it, it should be a real eye opener,”
At first blush this seems great. Of course, the only way to “get sober” with regards to drinking or “clean” with drugs is to start with day one. A well-known twelve-step saying is “one day at a time” What about fourteen days at a time?
I spoke to quite a few people in the addiction community ranging from treatment providers to awareness advocates and recovering addicts to get various viewpoints on this initiative. Here were some of the comments that were part of a common consensus.
The initiative is well intended. If someone tries to stop for two weeks and fails, he or she will realize they have a problem and seek help and using the resources on the website begin to embrace a healthy, non addict lifestyle.
The initiative is misguided for the following reasons:
a. There can be severe health and psychological consequences to going cold turkey for two weeks without medical or psychological support.
b. It fails to distinguish between non-addicts who simply want to live a healthier lifestyle and can stop their behavior for two weeks with no problem and addicts who may need real, ground level support to get through a day let alone two weeks.
c. This initiative reinforces the idea that suffering from “substance abuse” is a choice, which negates the “chronic disease” that the AMA and knowledgeable Addiction Physicians and Psychiatrists” know this to be. In doing so, it risks increasing the shame and stigma associated with addiction if the addict is unable to complete the two weeks. He blames him or herself for the “choice”. An even deeper sense of hopeless may set in.
d. Failure in this “choice” can also cause family based shame and stigma. Family members can use their ability to stay sober in blaming the addict for his/her failure.
“I was able to stay sober why can’t you”
e. It promotes both the medical and psychological fallacy that fourteen days of sobriety will help an addict better understand addiction.
Awareness is great, but while the mechanics of addiction are the same, the stories are different. Stories that may include depression, co-addiction, childhood trauma, suicidal thoughts and so on. An attempt to stop drinking or doing drugs for two weeks will not address these issues and can even lay them bare to the world with no support other than a few videos on a website.
In the end, this campaign could have done so much more by doing so much less. It is far too over-reaching and attempts to “one size fits all” the complexity that is addiction. It could have accomplished the same with a non-judgmental, three-day event without the “in your face” stigmatizing aspect. I really hope it helps some people. I really hope no one dies or sinks further into addiction because of it.