By: Dr. Harris Stratyner, Ph.D.

Dr. Harris Stratyner, Ph.D., vice president of Caron Treatment Center and clinical director of the New York region, is internationally known for developing and implementing the groundbreaking clinical model of "Carefrontation," a treatment approach that doesn't shame or blame the patient. It recognizes addiction as a disease and stresses each individual's responsibility to work with healthcare providers to reach the goal of complete abstinence.  

"Existential Angst and Addiction"

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Nov 12, 2014

First, we must understand that "existentialism" involves a philosophy that defines the meaning of life by what people do in life and the consequences of their actions - this lays a great responsibility at the feat of humanity and causes "angst" certainly in those who are moral.

My readers know that I more than believe addiction is a brain disease, this has been proven over and over again, in numerous scientific studies. However, acting on one's disease either by taking responsibility for it or ignoring it with denial is part of the great existential dilemma.

Faced with free will, as Kierkegaard would have said, places the burden of action squarely at the feet of the addicted individual. The discipline of recovery is a choice. It involves much time and effort, and ultimately is up to the individual. 

I often relate to my patients that as a doctor of psychology who specializes in co-occurring disorders, I am there to offer the tools they need to stop the active use of substances - since it is a "biopsychosocial" disease, I offer "biopsychosocial" prescriptions, but ultimately it is their choice to accept what I have to offer. This often is in the form of outpatient or inpatient treatment, and is made up of medical detox, rehab, individual and/or group psychotherapy, connection to 12-step recovery, mindfulness meditation, etc., where each step of treatment being an informed decision consisting of further and further refinements.

The patient learns about what is out there in the form of treatment, and then often with friends and family decides what is best for him or her.

The existential angst is ever present as the individual realizes that his or her decision involves commitment and effort - and regardless of support, will ultimately be their undertaking. This is particularly difficult for developing adolescents who often see getting high as much simpler.

Standing at the ledge of a tall building and knowing you can jump is where the angst comes into play - the sudden realization that we and we alone decide our destiny (as the great existential philosophers have taught through the centuries) - but we can also walk away and live another day!

One begins to see just how interwoven addiction and existentialism truly are - and the accompanying angst that goes with the clarity that we and alone, help to shape the meaning of life, which impacts all of reality. Remember as Donne, Hemingway, and even Metallica discovered: "For whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." In this realization we come at once to understand we decide our fate and as part of humanity, the fate of every man and woman.

Other articles you might be interested in... 

‘Carefrontation’: Preaching Responsibility 

Four questions for making hard decisions 

The divinity within 


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