• Laura Simon-Sulzer

ADDICTION is a DISEASE: Why We Need Professional Help.

By Laura Simon-Sulzer, M.A. CRC.



By Laura Simon-Sulzer. Certified Addiction Recovery Coach.

The word addiction comes from medieval Latin and means slavery. It is an addiction to a substance (alcohol, drugs, sugar, nicotine), and/or behavioural compulsion (Internet, sex, gambling, etc.)

"If only she wanted to stop taking opiates, she has it all, but she's ruining everything." "If you lived with the woman I have, you would drink as much as I do." "Eat everything in moderation, you'll see, your life will change."

These claims - and you know many others- are simply wrong. Whether they come from a loved one, an alcoholic or worse, a doctor, they are based on ignorance of science. One can only judge on this evidence and besides, not judging would help the patient would already help him a lot. If he hides, if he lies, it is out of shame, and to protect his addiction which still seems to him to be the only solution to his indefinable existential problem.

As early as 1956, The American Medical Association admitted that excessive alcohol consumption was caused by brain dysfunction.

Today, neuroscience places evil in the nucleus accumbens (popularly called the center of pleasure, or the gland of euphoria). The human brain records pleasures in the same way, whether it's a psychoactive drug, a financial gain, a sexual encounter, or a good meal. In those three cases, dopamine spreads into the nucleus accumbens, a set of nerve cells located under the cerebral cortex. Addiction comes into play when the reward system associated with pleasure remains insatiable.

The addict does not have the button that the others have. The addict cannot switch from "on" to "off" his reward system. The patient does not have the ability to turn off the switch. Therefore, the scientists and addiction professionals talk about a biological and mental dependence. To tell an alcoholic that he lacks character or willpower is to ask someone who has had his legs cut off to run the marathon. It is just cruel.

Addiction is a progressive and deadly disease. For example, if an alcoholic stops drinking in 2010 and relapses in 2020, he will find himself in a worse situation than ten years ago, and all the pleasure he got earlier in life in the bottle will have definitively vanished. As he will have built more physical tolerance in ten years, he will not be able to stop by himself: he is biologically and mentally compelled to drink, he is constitutionally obliged to consume more, and even more, and will never be satisfied. Addiction is an incurable disease. The death of an addict is grim, sordid, extremely painful physically, and mentally.

Incurable but treatable. I want to die sober, clean and abstinent.

Finally, addiction is a genetic disease in the vast majority of cases, aggravated by trauma. However, not everyone who has suffered trauma is a victim of addiction.


Having the information in mind, the role of the addiction coach becomes ultra-important. The clinical facts, when exposed to the addict, is a huge relief. The recovery coach’s first mission is to make his client aware (his relatives, sometimes even some psychiatrists!), that he or she is not responsible for his/her illness, but that he or she is indeed responsible for his/her recovery and the quality of his or her future.

If a recovery coach has personally experienced the agonies of addiction, identification it is almost immediate, and the recovery is made infinitely easier. Between addicts, we speak the same language, we suffered from the same irrepressible impulse, the same permanent obsession, lack, anguish, and despair. Even terrible or humiliating anecdotes can make us laugh together, when a “normy” won’t.

If addiction is an incurable evil, it can be stopped, and even stopped for life.

After the detoxification period, the problem is not resolved. In order to strengthen sobriety or abstinence, one must work on a radical change in the behaviours and mental process acquired during years of intoxication, or even from birth. Most addicts and alcoholics have never felt "integrated," accepted or interested in the world around them. Before they even start abusing their drugs, they felt different and they were already unknowingly, living in their cravings. Thus, when the patient consumes for the first time the substance or substances that suit him, he feels delivered, free, strong.

It is not surprising that 75% of addicts have a double diagnosis: addiction and another mental problem such as depression (often bipolar), personality disorders, insomnia, deep anxiety, etc. Post-traumatic disorder only gives more fuel for the explosion of addiction.


The addiction coach, or recovery coach (because he works with his client as a duo for his recovery), must know how the disease works, how and why the client "dysfunctions", and master the tools to make him born or reborn to a new life, a life he did not think or more to be able to lead.

The first step in recovery is to focus on detecting the emotions they feel. Like his traumas, they were buried under hectoliters of alcohol, tons of powder or cannabis, sweets, or uncontrollable impulses like gambling. Feeling, re--feeling life without substance or compulsive behavior that alters mood can be terrifying.

When I stopped drinking in 1999, I saw "detestable" emotions emerging in me: panic, anger, the desire for isolation, emotions that were so many devils out of the box when you find yourself physically sober, but not yet mentally abstinent, not yet freed from your obsession. We're basically naked. This is where relapses are most common. We swear we won't be taken back, but the brain continues to function in the same way as when we drank and didn't know what day it was.

The main gate is the body. Hence the importance at the beginning, of relaxation, the awareness of his emotions through guided visualizations, tailored (which the coach can record in MP3 format so that the addict can use them alone). It is in the state of relaxation that emotions rise without causing panic. The spinal bulb, located at the base of the brain between the upper spine and skull, regulates breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. It also helps to transmit sensory information to the cerebral cortex, to the central nervous system.

Awareness of the present moment is essential. The addict still lives in the regrets of the past and the projections into a murky future. He will find a new space of calm reflection and serenity, and he will realize that he gains time and efficiency by staying in the present as it presents itself.

Look to this day:

For it is life, the very life of life.

In its brief course

Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.

The bliss of growth,

The glory of action,

The splendor of achievement

Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream

And tomorrow is only a vision;

And today well-lived, makes

Yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well therefore to this day;

Such is the salutation to the ever-new dawn!

Kalidasa. Indian poet, fourth Century A.D.

I found it customary and highly effective to make the new client write two emotions a day. It allows us, once identified, to know how to manage them. Acknowledging emotions, accepting them, leaning how to go through feelings, how to overcome them, refusing to no longer give them more power, more fuel, more of our own energy. They are still here, but they are not amplified, they're not governing us anymore.

It is crucial to replace the "bad feelings" that made us slaves by exploring and implementing the fundamental and personal strengths of each addict. We transform the process of counterproductive thoughts and behaviours into healthy reactions and actions.

It is up to me to give my partner/client strong tools, and to experiment with the ones that work best for him. Gradually, he will be fulfilled by a sense of satisfaction, the sense of victory and the control he had lost. It is also up to the coach to remind him sometimes to use the right tool at the right time. I can suggest to him, as an exercise, to attend 7 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or Overeaters Anonymous. We will see how he felt, if he chose to continue or not. We must explore, keep an open mind, which is an indispensable change from the negative judgments that the addict carries about everything and everyone, about himself in particular in order to cover his weaknesses and fears.

The role of a recovery coach is to discover in him the resources, skills and talents he wants to implement.

The recovery coach is also a hub. The connection between the actors of the client's life. When he decides that it is the right time, we can include the legal system (divorces, prison, etc.), relatives, spiritual advisers or a religious authority, the employer, and health specialists, psychiatrists and/or therapists. It's up to the coach to build a team that will support the client. The negative dynamic in which the addict was stuck is transformed into a and positive one.

The role of the recovery coach does not end there. After a period of stabilization, months rather than weeks, the client and I often choose to space the sessions and to set enter a plan for his maintenance phase. Then, his long-term recovery.

Everything is an opportunity for progress. When life brings him, as to all of us, bad news (death of a loved one, divorce, disputes, problems at work, etc.) it is worth confronting him sober, clean and finally well armed. And victorious.

“What matters is not the event, but our reactions to it.”

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