The Diseased States of America

Stanton Peele By: Dr. Stanton Peele

Posted on June 24th, 2015 - Last updated: October 22nd, 2018
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Calling addictions diseases is driving us all crazy

I usually watch Morning Joe, MSNBC’s early-morning news program, while working out at the Park Slope YMCA.

First, I have to confess, I have used my visits to the Y to bring up to Mayor Bill de Blasio alternatives to his daughter’s having declared herself to be in life-long recovery.  Frankly, the Mayor seemed politely disinterested.

But I digress.  This AM the three men on the AM Joe panel—Willie Geist, Mike Barnicle, and Joe—led off with a discussion of a new revelation about Pete Rose’s gambling as a baseball player, which has kept him from entering baseball’s Hall of Fame.  When asked whether Rose bet against his own team, Barnicle raised his eyes knowingly, “Have you ever known a degenerate gambler?  They’ll bet on anything.”

Aghast, I shouted at the screen, “Don’t you know that DSM-5 has declared that gambling is an addiction and a mental disorder that clogs the brain‘s reward pathways? You can’t call Rose a degenerate!”

The discussion, with additional panel member Pulitzer-Prize winning Washington Post journalist Eugene Robinson, then moved on to a new JAMA study indicating that two-thirds of Americans are obese or overweight (and close to three-quarters of those 55 and older).  Joe immediately argued that the United States was going to have to rein in Americans’ overeating, since it is the principal driver of our overwhelming health care costs.

On this topic, co-host Mika Brzezinski, who is “at war with obesity,” jumped in.  Her book,Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction—and My Own, declares that overeating is due to an addiction to food.  However, just as Barnicle took a moralist and choice position with regards to compulsive gambling, Brzezinski also adopted an environmental and choice position.  She emphasized how Americans were offered, and made, poor food choices. Does that make overeating and obesity diseases?

And, now, the third topic, about which panelists only described their sorrow and pity.  Former Major League Baseball player and analyst Darryl Hamilton was shot to death by his partner, who then shot herself.  Previously, the woman had been charged with trying to throw gasoline on her ex-husband, accusing him of infidelity.

What could motivate a woman to kill herself and her lover?  And, making the crime almost infinitely more horrifying, police found the couple’s 13-month-old boy in the home.

Could it be that this woman was addicted to her lover, and that when she felt her relationship was in danger, she struck out in utmost desperation, rather than to lose what she felt to be an essential element in her life, more important to her than motherhood and living?  But wouldn’t that be an addiction, the worst addiction of all? (How many people kill themselves in front of their babies when deprived of a fix or a chance to gamble?)

But if all addictions are diseases, counting up only these three non-drug compulsions—overeating, gambling, and love—not to mention Chiara de Blasio’s teenage drinking and marijuana use—then doesn’t every single American suffer with a disease?

I’m someone who frequently perceives and labels addictions in people’s behaviors.  But I see addiction as being due to people’s life situations and outlooks, as well as to the normal ebbs and flows of existence. The advantage of this perspective?  Everyone isn’t saddled for life with one or another excessive, destructive behavior—experiences that we all have had—as a chronic brain disease.

Article by Stanton Peele for Psychology Today.

The Life Process Program by Dr. Stanton Peele is a renowned and effective alternative addiction treatment program, created for those that do not agree with the 12-step philosophy or did not find success with the steps. You can try the Life Process Addiction Program for FREE with a 14 Day Trial. 


Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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