Addictions counselors gained turf in the mental health field in the late 1970s through the 80s. They identified themselves as recovering addicts who had been saved by twelve step programs. They fought for professional status and third party payment, claiming they were the only practitioners who could save the lives of people who were suffering from the progressive disease of addiction. Untreated addicts were doomed to insanity, incarceration, and/or premature death.
The original certified addictions counselors (CACs) were true believers. Anyone who did not embrace their view of addiction was in denial, uneducated or evil. They took it upon themselves to educate judges, probation officers and prison officials about the disease of addiction, and about the vital need for the criminal justice system to mandate drug-related offenders to their programs. I actually heard an eager CAC refer to a judge as “educable”. Her sense of mission obscured all awareness of presumption.
The early CACs loved to talk about denial and enabling. They were the veterans who knew all the tricks of the insidious disease. They told stories of how they were able to detect denial in people who fooled themselves into thinking they were not addicts. And they told the same joke over and over — Question: How can you tell if an addict is lying? Answer: His lips are moving. Their chuckle carried love as well as superiority. Most of them were good people who meant well. But their sense of mission prevented them from recognizing that they were operating a professional treatment service under the influence of conflicting influences.
The early CACs were perfectly positioned to blossom as an arm of the war against drugs. They had pee cups, and they helped the courts enforce abstinence. They believed that anything other than enforced abstinence as a condition of treatment was close to criminal.
A lot should be said about the consequences of addictions treatment becoming an arm of the war against drugs. Right now, one of the most glaring dangers is the unquestioned assumption that we need to transfer funds from prisons to treatment programs. Most of the young adults caught in our criminal justice system grew up on the battlefields of our war against drugs. They began using young, and they live in a world of drugs, both in and out of prison. They do not need treatment for a disease. They need stable environments, jobs, respectful understanding and loving guidance.