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Addiction Is a Choice Paperback – 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

paper 0-8126-9404-X The pendulum has begun its swing backcould it be that drug and alcohol addictions are not diseases after all, but bad personal choices? Can addiction be overcome by mustering the strength of character to turn away from such choices? Psychologist Schaler (Justice, Law, and Society/American Univ.; Smoking, Who Has the Right?, not reviewed) argues convincingly that society has erred in giving in completely to the AA vision that addiction is a disease, that addicts can't help themselves, and that they need a higher power to be saved. Addiction (which at one time meant only devotion or dedication) has come to mean ``any activity which individuals engage in, deliberately and consciously, and are physically unable to stop themselves from pursuing. Rejecting such a definition out of hand, Schaler maintains that ``people are responsible for their deliberate and conscious behavior. He is sympathetic for those struggling with addiction; he doesn't oversimplify his own or his opponents arguments; and he readily acknowledges his philosophical forefathers (Thomas Szasz, for one, from the last time the pendulum was at this end of its arc). His reading of the results of research into addictionthat it fails to support the disease modelis convincing. And his resulting suggestions for changes in public policy and for individual change demand consideration. If not a new model for viewing addiction, at least a provocative update of an old one. -- Copyright ©2000, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


A clear and fascinating read. The wealth of information and fresh insights reflect the writer's career as a scholar-teacher-therapist, and especially his many years of research and practical work in the addiction field. The book dispels many myths about addiction and should provide liberating insights to the afflicted. -- Herbert Fingarette, author of Heavy Drinking, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, UCSB

Addiction Is a Choice is a powerful antidote against the twin poisons of anti-drug propaganda and drug prohibition. -- Thomas Szasz, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry Emeritus, SUNY Health Science Center, Syracuse

Schaler drives a stake into the heart of the 'disease' concept of addictions. Millions of people have stopped smoking, abusing mind-altering drugs, and drinking addictively on their own, without the intervention of counselors or doctors or programs. Dr. Schaler explains persuasively why and how this happens, despite all the genetic and hormonal predispositions. -- Joseph Gerstein, M.D. F.A.C.P., Harvard Medical School

This is indeed a rare book. Schaler has provided a unique, masterly work which explains addiction from a revelatory perspective. The reader can learn how the controversial area of addiction can be looked at and understood in a new light. -- Morris Chafetz, M.D., Founding Director National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 179 pages
  • Publisher: Open Court Publishing (2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081269404X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812694048
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #922,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Nicolas Eyle on June 4, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Addiction Is a Choice," by Jeffrey Schaler, is a refreshing look at a subject endlessly discussed in today's media. Open a newspaper or a magazine today and you are likely to see at least one article on the horrors of drug addiction, and how this terrible "disease" strikes people down, leaving them sick for life, with no chance for anything but a temporary remission. This sort of drivel fuels the Drug War.
The idea that prohibition is necessary because "once someone makes the decision to use an illegal drug all capacity for rational thought disappears and force is the only thing that will save them" is so often repeated that it is accepted by a large number of the public who ought to know better. Jeff Schaler does know better and makes his point effectively.
Schaler tells the frightening story of a teenage girl, brought to him by her mother. The girl was suspended from school and had been in trouble for drug use. The parents were worried. She had been to another doctor, but she continued to use drugs. She had been told that she suffered from the disease of drug addiction and felt helpless and depressed. Schaler told her that addiction was a choice and she had control over her life. The girl believed him and, during treatment, took back control of her life and stopped using drugs. Then, to avoid the peer pressure in public high school to take drugs, she applied to a special school for students who had used drugs. The principal would not admit the girl to the school because the principal believed that the girl was in denial about her "disease."
Schaler spells out the dangers of adhering to the disease model of addiction. "Teaching people in `treatment' for addiction problems that they `don't know they have a problem' may create a problem for them," he writes.
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64 of 78 people found the following review helpful By Matthew A. Evans on June 11, 2005
Format: Paperback
i have to say that, as an alcoholic, i have mixed feelings about this book. on the one hand, i KNOW consciously that i can turn down a drink of scotch or a 40 ounce bottle of beer whenever i want. on the other hand, i can't escape the feeling that i want (note: i won't say "need") these things more than people who do not suffer from an addiction to alcohol. so what an i to conclude?

well, the truth is probably a middle ground between the two camps. addiction is not a "disease" in the sense that cancer or AIDS is. that's ridiculous. anyone who says that they are the same thing are probably overdue for a good, old fashioned, punch in the face. addiction is not a "disease" in the sense that these calamities are.

on the other hand, people who suffer from addictions, like me, (and like innumberable other alcoholics and heroin, crack or even cigarette addicts) are suffering in a manner that the general populace can't understand. they don't understand the compulsion, the psychological selfishness, the shame, or the sense that one needs a "fix" in order to "be ok".

he (the author) has, in some measure, shamed us. but it's not as though we do not need to feel ashamed. we have made terrible decisions, but we have largely allowed the spector of "disease" to free us from our own moral culpability. in the end, the truth is this, and nothing more:

we are responsible for the choices that we have made. if we are addicts, the choices may be harder, but they are still ours to make. we are NOT powerless. we do NOT need Alcohoics Anonymous, though it may help us to lean on others who have suffered as we have.

but, ultimately, the power does not lie with god, or with the collective group of fellow alcoholics. the power lies with you and with me.
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39 of 47 people found the following review helpful By D. F. Watt on August 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
Unfortunately, when subjects are divisive like addiction, the polarization of debate appears to displace more critical and synthetic thinking. As a good index of polarization, this book has received many five and four star reviews and many one star reviews. That says something. Several other reviews have already commented on the polemical and ideological nature of the author's writing. I'm afraid that this treatment, although it addresses some of the excesses of the simplistic "disease model" of addiction, still doesn't really hit the target of a truly balanced or integrated view of this group of disorders. Obviously, there are tons of problems with any view that suggests that addiction is a disease like cancer or diabetes or heart disease. Obviously, all addiction includes a core behavioral component. The $64,000 question is what is wrong with behavior and what is driving this.

Unfortunately, the author seems to believe that it is a "novel insight" (and against the standard view of addiction) to suggest that addiction is a choice brought in to prop up failing emotion regulation, in other words, that addiction is something that comes on board in the context of a generally dysthymic state in an effort to move towards a more euthymic state. This is bloody obvious to anybody who has ever treated anyone with an addiction and who has ever taken any kind of careful clinical life history for patients struggling with an addiction. Whatever neurobiological issues there are in addiction, and there are a ton of them that the author glosses over or misrepresents, it is obvious that addiction takes place in the context of failing affective regulation.
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