Often, people with addiction usually end up addressing the consequences of their illness rather than the illness itself. For those who feel like their environment is the cause of their problems, they literally pick up and move.
The flaw with this “geographic cure,” however, is that it only offers an external answer to an internal problem. Addiction isn’t a string of consequences — it’s an illness, and the millions of Americans who suffer from it take it with them, no matter how far they move.
What Is the Geographic Cure?
Humans are nomads, and when we can’t control our environment, we instinctually just want to move elsewhere. As a method for dealing with addiction, the geographic cure can also entail cutting ties with the family, jobs, relationships and obligations that make up our lives.
Of course, it’s easy to want to run away from the consequences of addiction, especially when it makes sense. If my brain tells me that drinking is the only way I can feel normal, but my wife tells me that drinking is killing our marriage, then it isn’t a huge leap to believe that marriage is the real source of my problems. In that scenario, the best solution would seem to be leaving.
Even in our hospital, we see examples of geographic cures in almost every patient history we take. I remember one patient who’d left the military because of stress, only to find that civilian life is also stressful. Without the military watching, he had no difficulty adding several substances to his illness to help him cope — until one day when none of his coping methods worked any longer.
For patients with addiction, a geographic cure may seem like a good answer. But it fails time and time again because, in reality, it’s no cure at all. People can run from consequences, but without facing the causes, they’ll pack their addiction next to their clean socks and simply bring it along for the ride.
Finding a Better Way
Patients and families seeking treatment options for addiction should beware the lure of a geographic cure and remember a few important principles:
- Understand it’s not real. The only way to stop the cycle of seeking a geographic cure is to understand that it’s not a real solution. Real change means realizing how our illness has contributed to the situations we’re in and understanding that we’ll continue to create those situations until we address it.
- Be real in your love. As children become adults, parents still want to take care of them. However, helping a child with addiction requires a measure of honesty and independence. There is never a place for abandoning someone you love, but it isn’t love to defend a child’s addiction or pretend it plays no role in his or her situation.
- Avoid judging and judgmental programs. No one should feel judged, especially while trying to get better. We treat illness based on science, which revolves around our quest for truth — not subjective opinions. There’s no right or wrong; there is only what is. Families can best help by not judging loved ones and by finding programs that stay objective, too.
The temptation for a geographic cure is strong, but the truth is that there’s almost always something we have added to a situation to make it the way it is. If, instead, we’re willing to look internally at ourselves and our illness, we will see that changing the self rather than the location is a better solution and an important step toward recovery. If you or someone you know is seeking help with addiction, please visit our directory of treatment centers or call 866-606-0182 to start the path to recovery today.
Dr. Howard Wetsman is an addiction medicine physician and psychiatrist living in New Orleans. He is the chief medical officer of Townsend Treatment Center in Louisiana and is a member of the board of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.