Considering Our Alcohol Use: The Different Models of Addiction
The Learning Model: Introduced by Marc Lewis in The Biology of Desire. Agrees with the disease model in many ways except for the concept of addiction as a lifelong disease. Instead, addiction is the brain going through learned processes based on rewards and brain chemistry. The brain has been taught to use alcohol, and can also be un-taught. The Learning Model can be applied to any sort of habit, like developing an exercise routine, watching hours of The Great British Bake Off, or sipping coffee every morning. This model also considers our social environments; when we are around people who are using alcohol, or our close friends and family often use alcohol, their behaviors influence ours.
When we think about habits and habitual use of alcohol, the Learning Model is especially useful. Rather than see addiction as something irreversible—a lifelong disease—we can look at addiction as a learned behavior that we can course correct. Later on we’ll learn about neuroplasticity and neural pathways, but in essence, the more we use alcohol, the more our brain learns that alcohol makes us feel good. That we need it. But because our brains are very malleable, we can also unlearn these messages with time.
Take some time and reflect on these different models and see what rings most true for you. Having a framework to understand our difficulties with alcohol is helpful, but doesn’t have to be prescriptive. Take what works for you and add it to your alcohol-free toolbox.
American Addiction Centers. (n.d.). Learning Theory of Addiction and Recovery Implications. https://www.mentalhelp.net/addiction/learning-theory/
Australian Government Department of Health. (2004). Models that help us understand AOD use in society. https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-toc~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb-3~drugtreat-pubs-front5-wk-secb-3-4