Addiction Treatment: Medical (Disease) Model, or Something Else?

I recently spoke to a graduate of an in-patient addiction treatment facility in Tennessee. He said he was cured of his alcohol addiction. I didn’t know how to respond. My training as a therapist has taught me that being diagnosed with an addiction to drugs or alcohol is a life sentence. AA groups all over the country are helping people cope daily with addiction. They teach that the person has an incurable disease. They must fight this disease every day. We encourage people to get into groups and to get a sponsor because these programs are helping people.


Problems With the Life Sentence

I have always had a problem with the diagnosis as a lifelong disease with no cure. There are too many variables like life choices, family of origin issues, easy access to drugs and alcohol and simple behaviorism 101. The medical model treats addiction as the main issue and disregards any attempt to find a cause or triggering event or series of events. Some treatments even include using drugs like methadone as a substitute for heroin.

Logic brain wakes up, opens the door, stretches and says, “Wait. Did I just hear that we are treating people with chemical dependency issues with more chemicals?” We answer, “ YES. It is science, accepted by the AMA so you can go back to sleep now.” Logic brain yawns, goes back to sleep.

Denial is Powerful

We all have clients who make excuses and deny the problem.

  • “Drinking helps me relax, helps me forget, numbs the pain, etc.”
  • “All my friends drink”
  • “I just want to have a good time”
  • “Everybody in my family drinks and they don’t have problems”
  • “I only use heroin on the weekends, it doesn’t affect my job/family/finances”
  • “My doctor prescribes me pain pills for my back pain….It isn’t enough, so I have to make copies and go to several other pharmacies…”

So what I hear as a therapist are cognitive and behavioral problems. I don’t hear “disease.” I hear:

  • “My mother was a narcissist”
  • “My father abandoned us”
  • “My sense of self worth is very low”
  • “I am unlovable”
  • “The chemicals I use help me cope with life”
  • “My father beat the hell out of me for 12 years”
  • “I don’t think I have a problem”

Our clients are ready to admit the problem but accept the disease model because it lets them off the hook.

“It isn’t my fault, it is a disease. I inherited the disease from my parents/uncles/ancestors. Look, I am Irish okay.”

So we send them to AA. Or some in-patient program which will graduate them, and send them to AA. It works.


I was excited to hear about a program that actually gave hope to clients that their addiction isn’t a life sentence. That program is S2L Recovery, a Christian rehab center in middle Tennessee.

The treatment program is heavy on Bible, so it won’t be a good fit for everyone. But it may be a good referral source for some of our clients.

My friend and his family are doing very well. His wife reports that he is like a new person. He has refused to accept a label, or identity that says he is an alcoholic. Instead, he says, he used alcohol to cope with his issues, but he has learned that he doesn’t need that anymore. His alcohol use was a symptom of a problem. He identified that problem and solved it. Now he doesn’t need alcohol anymore. That is the whole point.

Middle Tennessee College and Addiction Recovery Facility Join Forces To Offer College Credit for Completing Treatment

Williamson College is teaming up with Spring 2 Life Recovery to offer useable college credits in exchange for completion of the recovery program curriculum. The agreement will be signed on October 1st, 2019, and go into effect next year.

This partnership is the first of its kind, but hopefully not the last.

“We want other universities and other rehabs to do this, and we’re willing to show them how we got to this place,” said Pastor Adam Comer, CEO, S2L Recovery.

How Did It Start?

The seeds of this agreement were planted years ago when Pastor Comer met Dr. Bryan Thomas, Director of Academic and Student Services for Williamson College. Dr. Thomas and Pastor Comer were both members of a small group at Lifepoint Church in Smyrna, TN. They stayed in touch over the years and, eventually, Dr. Thomas learned about S2L’s recovery curriculum.

“As an administrator, I’m always thinking of partnerships and ways to provide educational opportunities for different student populations,” said Dr. Thomas. “Learning about S2L’s curriculum stirred up the idea of offering transfer credit to students that complete S2L’s recovery program.”

The Curriculum

Dr. Thomas was impressed by the structure and organization of the 7 Principles curriculum, written by Pastor Bruce Stanley at S2L. In one of Pastor Stanley’s previous roles as a department head at Nossi College, he gained experience writing syllabi and curriculums. The marriage between Williamson College and S2L Recovery was fairly seamless because of the shared values between the two organizations.

“Faith-based recovery and faith-based higher education have officially joined forces. I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes,” said Dr. Ed Smith, President at Williamson College.

The 7 Principles curriculum teaches recovery through biblical knowledge. S2L Recovery realizes that everyone’s journey through recovery is different; therefore, the rigid 12 step program wasn’t how they wanted to design their program. Instead, they base their approach around 7 Christ-centered principles so that each student can find their way to recovery at their own pace.

Visit S2L Recovery to learn the latest on their efforts to further the recovery system.

The Goal

The immediate goal is to help each individual enrolled in the program. S2L Recovery aims to give their students the tools and motivation they need to change their lives in a positive way.

Dr. Thomas’ hope is “those who complete these programs not only have a road to recovery and become contributing members of society, but they can also earn degrees and become leaders.”

On a macro level, S2L Recovery hopes to destroy the stigma of addiction. Through changing the way people view the process and the result, they can give those still struggling a positive example.

“The ultimate goal would be to help end this epidemic through the hope of providing resources and encouraging people,” said Pastor Comer.

The students currently coming out the other side of the curriculum are already showing an improvement in how they interact with the world around them.

“Not only are students who complete recovery programs prepared to enroll in college, they are motivated to pursue excellence. I’ve witnessed it firsthand,” said Dr. Thomas.

What’s Next?

Both Williamson College and S2L Recovery hope to be an example to other universities and recovery programs. Although their program will be the first of its kind, similar systems have operated in prisons for years. These prison education systems have been shown to reduce recidivism rates by up to 40%.

There is an undeniable link between furthering a person’s education and healthier choices. Perhaps it’s the expansion of options a diploma affords an individual. Or, perhaps it’s the hope this accomplishment can instill in the graduate. Whatever the cause, the means of achieving these results will be made easier by the partnership between Williamson College and S2L Recovery.

“This partnership speaks volumes to an organization that actually gets it. The stigma is being eradicated, and, in its place, hope and purpose are being offered. This is a huge deal for the national recovery community,” said Pastor Comer.

The complementary program between Williamson College and S2L Recovery is set to begin in 2020. The signing day for the articulation agreement is at 9 a.m. on October 1st, 2019, at 3180 Hill Creek Road, Woodbury, TN, 37190.

Keep up with the latest news by visiting Williamson College and S2L Recovery online.