Addiction is not a disease, it’s a choice, right?

“Hi, my name is Dai and I’m an addict.”
This statement never resonated with me. Whether I thought it, wrote it down or said it aloud, I never truly believed it. To me, the term ‘addict’ was framed by a system that’s first tenet was that I was ‘powerless’ against my disease. I was never diagnosed officially of having a disease called ‘alcoholism’ or ‘drug addiction’ but based on my general understanding and framework, I presumed that is exactly what I was. After all, I did what many people do. I looked up the self-diagnostic questionnaires and answered a series of questions. I had a lot of yeses – in fact so many yeses that it was clear, I guess I had a disease.

power of choices

The Problem with saying “I’m an Addict and it’s not my fault”

Continuing down my path of treatment, I attended a number of meetings. As much as I wanted to take it all for face value, I couldn’t. To concede to some external force, and point blame on personal situations, circumstances and anything but myself seemed counter-intuitive. Implying I had no power of choice or free-will didn’t sit well. At no point during the days when I chose various drugs and alcohol to numb myself, did anyone force me to partake in those behaviors. I did it at my volition — and I did it often. I chose freely to misuse substances and to blame anyone or anything other than me seemed crazy.

The following is an excerpt from my earlier article, ‘Seeking a Life Free of Addiction started with a Choice
Did the Bottle Choose Me or Did I Choose the Bottle?1
Before you jump to conclusions or try to guess the “why” behind my actions, let me share a few things with you. I was never a compulsive drinker; I didn’t drink everyday; I wasn’t a “bad drunk” or for that matter even a “good drunk”, but what I was most of all was unhappy.
Christie often asks me, Are you being the type of man you would want to marry your daughters one day?
My decisions and actions didn’t reflect the type of man I wanted to be. No one person wakes up one day and says today I’m going to be a drunk. Alcohol wasn’t the culprit – it had no power over me. I chose to drink as a way to escape, making my decisions freely and without coercion. Drinking alcohol, like many other decisions I made in my life at that time further reinforced, and added to, my unhappiness.
So, why am I sharing this story with you now?
READ full story here

And the survey says…
And based on the responses from last month’s survey, a number of people agree that personal choice and free will overshadow being “powerless” and being a “victim of alcohol and drugs”. Moreover, they reject the idea that people who use heavily are in perpetual need of treatment and rehabilitation.
However, before I dive into the responses from the survey, I know it would be helpful to put some context around those surveyed. Many of the people who happen upon my platform, or took the time to complete the survey, have a genuine interest in personally improving their health and well-being. At one time or another, they happened upon one of my social media shares, links to an article, an interview or the like – of which, every piece of content I create, my aim is to either educate, motivate or inspire people to improving their quality of life. The people surveyed are very much people in the mindset of valuing their health and fitness, and as such, they make daily decisions to follow through on actions that reinforce those values.
Life Free of Addiction Qustion 2
Of all those surveyed, 95% were either substance users themselves or knew someone who has struggled with addiction. I had a feeling this would be the case based on the feedback I had received from a video I had shared on Facebook a couple of months ago (I’ve included it again below). I’ve partnered with St. Jude’s Retreats for this exact reason – we share a lot of the same views and their message, philosophies and history speak volumes to me and my readers.

If treatment has failed you or your loved one, would you be interested in learning about a different approach that is non-disease based?

An overwhelming 77% of respondents are seeking an alternative to the disease concept. Admittedly, seeing this big of a majority response made me feel less alone in my feeling of uncertainty. Uncertainty that my idea of addiction might be completely wrong and that my initial push-back on what many consider the things as they are for treatment might actually be the only correct course of action. Bottom line, myself and 77% of the respondents are open to the concept, and actively searching for an alternative to the disease model of addiction.
Life Free of Addiction Qustion 3

If treatment has failed you/loved one, would you be interested in learning about a different approach that is not a 12-step based program?

The responses to this question echoed my personal journey I’ve found myself traveling the past 6 years. Over 70% want an alternative option that is not set in a 12-step construct. To be completely honest, I had no idea there was so much research supporting that success rates were greater with treatments other than the 12-step systems – including Shock Aversion Therapy and Psychedelic Medication – whoa!
Life Free of Addiction Qustion 4
But what I knew for sure was that something inside of me said that 12-step programs weren’t for me and that there must be another way. And by the looks of survey responses to question 4, many within the fitness community feel the same.

Question 5: ‘If you or a loved one struggle with addiction but haven’t sought help, why haven’t you sought help?’

Question 5 hits close to home for me. All of the options provided are reasons why I chose to not seek help or treatment. 83% of the respondents chose at least one of the following (but many chose more than one):

  • I don’t want to let my past dictate my future
  • I don’t want a record of being treated
  • Because I refuse to be labeled as weak, broken or diseased
  • Because I refuse to go to 12-step meetings for the rest of my life
  • Because you don’t think treatment works
  • Because treatment seems contrary to my values of self-motivation and self-determination

Of course, not all respondents agreed that each and every one of these reasons prevented them from seeking treatment, but a majority said that at least one of them did. And without even knowing it, the greatest rejected many of the beliefs associated with traditional 12-step programs and other treatment options.
Life Free of Addiction Qustion 5
However, the responses collected from question 5 validated my conviction that I am NOT powerless and that I ALWAYS have a personal choice when it comes to any substance usage.

Question 6 asked, “what set of attributes do you feel are most important in overcoming addiction?”

This question requested that the respondent select all that apply to their lives. 85% felt that self-responsibility is crucial, followed by 56% selecting support meetings and groups, followed up with 51% choosing the pursuit of happiness.
Interesting to note that based on the total number of responses there was a very large cross-section of people who selected all 3 of these choices. What makes this interesting is that it is believed that both of these options are ‘mutually exclusive factors’. Mark Scheeren, Co-Founder and Chairman of St. Jude Retreats addresses this in detail in their review of the survey responses. Check out the full article entitled, “Is living a life free of addiction a choice? Why the answer matters to the fitness community”.
struggle today strength tomorrow
The gist of it is that ‘self-responsibility’ implies power, independence and accountability – there’s no weakness when we are accountable. People in my community, at the end of the day, choose to either move their bodies with purpose or not. It’s their choice and not dependent on the support of a group (aka our tribe). At the end of the day it’s our own choice – our free will – if we opt to pursue personal lifestyle changes like improving our fitness or not. A tribe of like-minded, supportive people are great, but it is never the sole reason people succeed at reaching a personal health, fitness or lifestyle goal.
I have to agree with Mark’s observation about addicts and alcoholics – that when I ventured out to meetings, it was implied that for me to successfully treat my addiction, I would NEED the support of the groups. Again, this made me feel powerless, which for those that know me and know me well, this is NOT me.
Regardless of how we perceive the role of support groups and meetings to quell our addictions, it’s apparent that self-responsibility, the pursuit of happiness and one’s free will is paramount to people wanting to overcome addiction.

Question 7 asked for a personal opinion, in response to, “What do you feel classified someone as an addict or alcoholic as opposed to someone who drinks reasonably?”

The subjective nature of this question was brought home by the subjective nature of the answers respondents gave. They were as varied as humans ourselves. There’s no single definition of an addict or alcoholic, as they’re not diseases themselves that can be studied, defined or cataloged. The act of either drinking excessive alcohol or other substances are in themselves actions of choices – and for the majority come down to the individual’s choice to do so.
And I guess that’s the crux of this question – to each their own, they are correct – but only in as far as they come to define someone as an “addict” or “alcoholic”. It’s a matter of semantics, and unfortunately we can’t define or pinpoint an entire group of people as either of these labels because for each person, their internal motivations and driving factors are completely different. They abuse substances based on choosing to do so, not because they are forced to do so.
do my best today
I admit, I struggled with this concept a long, long time. I was trying to fit into a mold of what I thought an alcoholic was. My personal definition was based on a belief that I had a disease and was going to have to deal with that fact for the rest of my life. But was that it? Was there no other option? Seriously?! I couldn’t attach the label to myself. I wouldn’t accept the notion that I had the inability to change my habits, or lacked choice in living my life the way I wanted. An ‘alcoholic’ I was not, and if that was my place, I needed to seek solutions that looked at my behaviors — in particular the situations both internally and externally that influenced the choices and actions I wanted to change.
… and then there was question 8…

“In your opinion, what do you think is the motivating factor as to why someone drinks or uses drugs?”

After more than two decades in the health and fitness industry, I have to admit I’m still trying to figure out what motivates people to do the things they do. When we posed the question, it allowed for a lot of subjectivity and personalization. Just like trying to define what makes someone an addict or substance abuser, the responses were as varied as grains of sand on a beach – no two are exactly alike. What motivates one person, could completely leave the next person feeling unmotivated, so we’re left thinking that yes, you are right and so are you.
However, there’s one recurring notion among the open-ended answers to question 8. Respondents often attached the act of over drinking or drug usage with a want to end sensations of ‘sadness’, ‘depression’, emotional and physical ‘pain’ as well as dealing with the ‘anxiety’ caused by ‘big life problems’. It is perceived that substance abuse is a way to bring people closer to sensations of happiness, when in turn, it actually numbs the negative sensations for all but an instance, and in its absence, one seems to feel better about their current situations.
getting closer with each day
Alcohol, drugs and the like don’t inherently fix problems nor do they create happiness. But respondents, like me back in 2010, seek to find happiness and solace for negative feelings in our choice to consume or partake in substance abuses. These choices, and then our actions is what leads us further away from attaining what we actually want most – to feel good about ourselves and a sense of joy along with happiness in life.
Do you agree with this notion? Think back to what motivates you to make certain decisions in your life. I would wager that many of your decisions, as seemingly small as some may seem, are all internally driven with a hope that they take you one step closer to happy. Whether it be a big life goal, a family vacation, or like many of the respondents wanting to achieve a greater level of health and fitness, each decision we make and action we take is typically driven by a hope that we obtain what we seek.
And this is where question 9 came in…

“Are you familiar with the Positive Drive Principle (PDP)? This principle is the basis for all internal human motivation (including yours). It states: “All people always move in the direction of what they believe will make them happy at any given moment in time.”

More than half the respondents were not familiar with ‘PDP’. Even though this iteration of a concept known by many as the “pursuit of happiness” is prevalent in every aspect of our lives. For example, those who are part of my tribe are very much focused on improving their quality of life through daily exercise, meditation and personal development. The personal commitment to invest 30 minutes a day is to create greater happiness and feelings of joy in one’s life.
When I first connected with Saint Jude Retreats and their methodologies, I knew this was it. Even though I didn’t have the vernacular, semantics or understanding to articulate what it was that I did back in 2010 to overcome my ill habits of alcohol and drug abuse. The Freedom Model’s unique attributes just made sense of my personal experience – free will, autonomy and the pursuit of happiness (PDP) all played a role in my story. Based on the respondent’s answers to question 9, it would seem that the PDP makes intrinsic sense to everyone who learns about it.

The Pursuit of Happiness

So where do we go now?

This survey was very effective at showing that we have some serious misunderstandings when it comes to ‘addiction’. Either you believe you have full autonomy to live your life your way, with power to choose how you’ll spend your days, or you believe you are powerless against a disease sheathed in uncertainties. I think one thing is for sure, for many within the health and fitness cultures, owning our decisions is a must. Believing that we have full control over the foods we eat, the movements we do, and the way we think or feel, that is what it means to live.
Read the full Survey Recap HERE
Our recurring behaviors, or automated choices and how we act, can be influenced and overridden by our free-will and power of self. We have the ability within each of us to choose the path we walk in life – but for some, a daily reminder in the form of a question needs to be constantly asked…
…So, how badly do you want the change?

If you missed it, below is the Talk Recovery radio interview I did with Last Door Society following my earlier post. Have a listen and leave a comment below with your thoughts.
If you, or anyone you know, resonate with any of the information shared in this post, do not hesitate to reach out for more information. Call my friends at Saint Jude’s at 877-958-3310 or reach out to them directly via — don’t bother waiting, don’t seek out the advice of others, simply make the decision to choose you and your health first, you deserve happiness.
FREE RESOURCES for Substance Users and Family Members
This e-book provides family members of substance users with a completely unique and common sense approach to helping their loved one while simultaneously gaining back the focus and freedom for their own lives.
It is Saint Jude Retreat’s mission since 1989 to provide a research based program to help you move beyond your current self-limiting habits and achieve a sustained balance in your life driven by your own freely chosen goals and dreams.

Dai Manuel - The Moose Is LooseThis post is sponsored by Saint Jude Retreats. The opinions and views are wholly my own…
And to be absolutely clear, this is my disclaimer: “Just so you know, I have been compensated to share my ideas on this topic. Sometimes it is in the form of products, or services or even money… But here’s the thing; I won’t  share anything with you that I don’t fully support. It doesn’t matter what it is, or how much they are willing to give me, if I don’t believe in it, It won’t be on my site. Seriously. You’ll just have to trust me on this.” ~ Coach Moose
Dai Manuel is a digital thought leader and lifestyle mentor empowering people to lead a ‘FUN’ctionally fit life through education, encouragement and community. Dai models his work on the basis of 5 pillars (4 actually, plus a roof): Fitness, Family, Finances, and Faith with an overarching roof of ‘FUN’ built on a rock-solid foundation of health.
Dai is also a dad, dating his wife, a founding partner and former COO of Fitness Town Inc, keynote speaker, award-winning blogger (, CrossFit athlete and coach, co-founder of the #YVRDads support group for father, a BC Children’s Hospital Grind For Kids Ambassador, and published author of the Whole Life Fitness Manifesto.
You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.
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