Outgrowing Addiction: With Common Sense Instead of “Disease” Therapy

Zach Rhoads, who works with school age children and their parents and teachers to address childhood “behavior problems,” has collaborated with addiction specialist Stanton Peele to write Outgrowing Addiction based on what they call “The Developmental Model of Addiction.”

A Shared View of Problem Behaviors in Childhood, and Adult Addiction
Zach Rhoads works with children with behavior challenges. Their negative behavior cycles stem from their difficulty in adapting to demands placed on them in school, at home, and by society.

Zach places the child’s concerns at the center of his discussions whenever there is a problem to be solved. He asks them what they want to achieve;  why they are having difficulty achieving it; and what, if anything, will need to change in order to correct-course. Then he helps the participants in a child’s life (teachers, administrators, family members) to reach collaborative solutions which are reasonable for all involved. These solutions are self-maintaining—they put the child on a positive, reinforcing life path.

In the absence of such collaborative solutions, people’s tendency is to confront challenging behavior by children either through punitive measures, or via the more benign-seeming but equally self-denying diagnosis of childhood disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD).

Neither of these options creates a productive, self-sustaining channel of communication with the child. Neither attempts to understand or address the problems that lead to the unwanted behaviors. And neither of these approaches acknowledges and respects the child’s normal developmental pattern of growth and maturity.

Addiction as Blocked Personal Development
This same critical framework applies to addictive problems—which have become a preoccupying problem in Western societies, beginning with the United States. Although childhood disorders and addiction are not the same thing, we may ask whether the shocking increases in both are related.  Do both represent failures for humans to achieve reasonable, sustainable ways to fulfill their needs, while also reflecting larger social dislocations that affect growing numbers of Americans? Are we witnessing a disconnect between what people require to live worthwhile lives and the options life offers them?

Stanton Peele, working since the 1970s and the appearance of his book, Love and Addiction (written with Archie Brodsky), has formulated a model of addiction predicated on the idea that the addictive effects of drugs are just one example of addictive experiences, which include love and sex. This view of addiction as a disorder that transcends drugs is now broadly accepted, including by the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual DSM-5, and the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-11.

Stanton’s view of addiction, like Zach’s experience with children, is built of the insight that people generally outgrow their addictive needs and establish sounder ways of gaining gratification as they mature. Natural recovery accounts for the recovery even of people who undergo treatment. Maia Szalavitz describes this process in reviewing her own life story: “Most people with addiction simply grow out of it: why is this widely denied?” Szalavitz continues, “The idea that addiction is typically a chronic, progressive disease that requires treatment is false, the evidence shows.”

Zach brings personal insight to this issue. Now in his mid-thirties, married, and with a newborn baby, Zach almost died from a heroin addiction he acquired during his itinerant career as a musician. Since then, Zach has tuned into a different section of his spectrum of abilities—his theoretical and practical interest in the sources of human behavior and his gift for communicating with children. He avoids drugs now, although he continues to drink.

Challenging the Status Quo—Collaboration and Self-Agency in the Change Process
In line with the U.S.-rooted recovery movement, people who previously had addictive habits refer to themselves as being “in recovery,” and are encouraged—indeed, admonished—to make that the permanent basis for their identity.

We have an entirely different vision of the relationship among drugs, people, and addiction. Our view, as we put it forward in Outgrowing Addiction: With Common Sense Instead of “Disease” Therapy, doesn’t revolve around drugs and their effects on people or on treatment. Instead, we focus on American society’s—along with people’s individual and family experiences’—impact on people’s ability to function and fulfill their needs.

This community-based, collaborative approach is not in conflict with the self-efficacy and agency that people– both children and adults– require in order to change.  Both dealing with children’s developmental problems, and responding to adult addiction, demand that we involve the person in all decision-making that concerns them. Only in this way can the change process engage the person’s own agency—whether child or adult.

Thus the individual’s agency and purpose are the reciprocal elements to community development in remedying our national addiction and emotional disorder catastrophe, just as both are central to fostering individual change.

From childhood problems to adult addictions, involving people in their own life solutions is the ultimate answer.  Encouraging and supporting this fundamentally self-curative process is the blueprint that Outgrowing Addiction presents as the essential element in the paradigm shift in addiction treatment that the Center for Optimal Living is now spearheading.

-Zach Rhoads & Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D.


Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D., is an addiction expert who has investigated, written about, and treated addiction over five decades. He was recognized in The Atlantic as one of “10 people who are revolutionizing how we study addiction and recovery.” Stanton has identified that addiction isn’t limited to drugs, and was among the first to describe natural recovery. Along with his 12 previous books and 250 academic and popular articles, he has created the Life Process Program, an online coaching recovery program used around the world.


Zach Rhoads is a consultant for school children who encounter life problems—along with families and teachers who are stymied by their failures to reach these children. Zach developed this empathy as a child who wasn’t successful at school. Moreover, in his 20s he developed a heroin addiction, which—after several years and a near-death experience—he left behind.Zach is a Life Process Program coach and family systems developer.

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