Curtis Trotter: Addiction: Why can’t they just stop?

Apr. 22, 2014 @ 11:08 PM

The recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman shocked many throughout the country. Indeed it was a tragedy but not all that unique.

The majority of those that die from this devastating disease are not celebrities at all. They are average men, women, young and old alike. Statistics prove there are nearly 30 million people suffering from the disease of addiction, and most individuals have been affected either directly or indirectly by addiction.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, substance abuse is our nation’s number one health problem and alcohol still remains the number one most abused drug in our country. Relapse rates for addictions are similar to those for other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma, according to national experts.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national survey on drug use and health reports, 23.5 million people 12 years of age and older needed treatment for an illicit drug or alcohol abuse problem in 2009, and of the individuals only 2.6 million or 11.2 percent sought and received treatment at a residential facility.

Perhaps the most posed question is: “Why can’t they just stop?”

“The first time a person takes drugs, a choice is involved; those who develop addictions usually could never imagine where that first choice would eventually lead them,” said David A. Cunningham, LADAC, NCACI, CAI, QCS and executive director at English Mountain Recovery. “Once the addiction is developed, their choice becomes limited at best. Until this truth is understood, friends, families, doctors, and the media will keep asking the same question – ‘Why?’” 

One of the most common signs of substance abuse and dependence is continuing the use of the substance despite the negative consequences of the use. These false beliefs — that everything is OK or normal — are referred to as denial. At some point in the spiral down of the addict and/or alcoholic, increased tolerance, cravings, loss of control, withdrawal symptoms and physical dependence close in.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction to alcohol and other drugs as: “A chronic, progressive, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive use of one or more substances that results in physical, psychological, or social harm to the individual and continued use despite this harm.”

As far back as 1956, the American Medical Association (AMA) deemed addiction as a primary, progressive, chronic and fatal disease with identifiable symptoms. In 1951 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared alcoholism as a “serious medical problem.”

“In the face of this evidence many people tend to believe the myths and misconceptions about addiction to alcohol and other drugs,” said Cunningham.

David Vincent, LADAC and clinical director of English Mountain Recovery has seen success with this treatment model.

“I could give examples giving governmental and brain chemistry studies, about addiction in general, but I have found but that abstinence and a strong recovery after-care plan make the most sense,” Vincent said. “Treatment is stopping the behavior and helping the addict heal and fill the void with useful tools that they will use from now on. Abstinence is the start, the steps taken after the substance is gone, is the recovery.”

Curtis Markham, M.D., certified by the American Board Addiction Medicine, and medical director at English Mountain Recovery, believes that abstinence-based recovery should be the ultimate goal in the treatment field.

“Even though it may be in contradiction to other treatment philosophies, such as harm reduction, being accepted as end points of therapy in and of themselves because the evidence is clear that the mesolimbic dopamine reward system, which is the part of the brain affected by addiction, begins to heal only after abstinence from mood altering chemicals has been achieved.” Markham said.

Gene Marie Rutkauskas, MS, LADAC, QCS, NCACII, assistant cinical director of EMR agrees.

“My own experience over the past 26 years of providing alcohol and drug treatment services, combine with education, training, and an knowledge of best practices in A&D treatment, repeatedly shows me that abstinence must be the goal of addiction treatment, it works.” Rutkauskas said.

Recovery from the disease of addiction involves taking responsibility for the disease and making the necessary lifestyle changes that compliment long term sobriety. Self-defeating behaviors are replaced with gratitude, honesty, forgiveness and humility that are all complimentary to a new spiritual path and lifestyle.

“An abstinence based treatment center is the best start an alcoholic or addict can make to begin their personal road to recovery. At English Mountain Recovery, we provide a minimum of 90 days due to a number of very important reasons. Remaining in treatment for an adequate period of time is critical for treatment effectiveness and additional therapy coupled with sober living environments produce further progress. Abstinence based treatment and recovery is hope based. It does not substitute one drug for another and there is great deal of focus on the spiritual aspects of recovery.” Cunningham added.

English Mountain Recovery implements strong clinical and innovative treatment modalities such as different counseling therapies, individual and group therapy, equine therapy, trauma therapies, experiential therapy, family program and psychodrama just to mention a few. Family involvement is highly encouraged and supported so the entire family can begin a new life of recovery together.” Cunningham said.

English Mountain Recovery is nationally recognized by many professionals as an affordable and a quality addiction treatment center. Much effort has gone into providing a very innovative and unique approach. Our goal is to treat the entire individual; body, mind and spirit.

English Mountain Recovery is a private not for profit residential alcohol and drug treatment center dedicated to the treatment of individuals and families who are faced with the alcoholism and drug addiction. Nestled in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, English Mountain Recovery provides a healing environment where clients can focus on their treatment and recovery. If you or someone you care about is in need of assistance, their professional staff is there to help you. Those seeking immediate help should contact them at 1-877-459-8595. Many hot-lines are also available in the phonebook under substance abuse.

EMR can be reached at, by email at

This article first appeared in the Knoxville Focus on March 10, 2014. Curtis Trotter, its author, is part of the RSS staff at English Mountain Recovery.