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A Kick in the Pants

It’s not uncommon for folks to wonder, “Does my kid really need treatment, or does he just need a good dose of discipline?”

Voyage is in the business of providing treatment to young men struggling with addiction, so we’re always going to answer yes, your son does need treatment. This question makes sense, and it speaks to an idea many of us were raised on. Using discipline and consequences simply won’t work for someone with a diagnosed substance use disorder. Understanding this begins with understanding the mechanics of what a substance use disorder or “addiction” is.

First, let’s look at where it begins: in the brain.

Most folks associate dopamine with pleasure, but actually, our brains release dopamine in response to a variety of triggers and can signal that something is important or necessary for survival, not just that it feels good. When that dopamine is released, it creates a reward circuit, a memory of a positive outcome. Once these circuits are formed, the brain is compelled to follow these paths again and again.

Addiction is a brain disorder characterized by compulsively repeating a behavior despite adverse consequences. The compulsion comes from a reward network that recognizes substance use as a rewarding stimuli. Once that circuit is created, where use of a substance is interpreted as a rewarding situation, external stimulus no longer matters. If your brain registers something as positive or pleasurable, whether it’s a substance, food, shopping, or working, it no longer matters if there are negative consequences to that behavior. For someone with a substance use disorder, detrimental outcomes simply don’t register—that’s how powerful the reward circuit is.

Now let’s examine the idea of discipline.

There are many interpretations for ‘discipline’ like hard work, self-denial, obedience to rules, punishment and consequences. Discipline is inherently isolating and without reward. In fact, it’s often quite uncomfortable and in stark contrast to how an individual would choose to get along.

Even the staunchest regimen of discipline will not erase the reward circuits created in the brain through substance use. An individual might learn to suppress those desires, but the compulsion hasn’t gone away.

Learning to abstain from drugs and alcohol isn’t a matter of force or will-power or even desire. A person must literally transform their mind, their body and their environment to achieve sustainable remission.

At Voyage, treatment addresses recovery as a gradual process in which the reward pathways in the brain must be redirected to no longer associate “success” or “rewards” with the use of a substance. That’s why our residence and our program allows for so many daily experiences that register as important and pleasurable. Whether it’s an exploratory session in group, a challenging one-on-one session, or the intensely gratifying experience landing a sailfish.

It’s not that we don’t believe in discipline, because we do. Hard work, adherence to a code of conduct, and being accountable for one’s actions are vital to instilling a sense of structure, consistency and humility in a young man. But we don’t believe in punishing a man for an illness he had no control over.

We help him find the joy in life so that his brain is no longer compelled to reach for a substance. And we help him create a sense of community so that doesn’t feel alone.

Our treatment program consists of individual and group therapy, as well as engaging experiential outings. These things take men out of their comfort zone while being closely monitored by staff, and push their minds and bodies to accomplish wonderful things and reconnect with their personal values and passions.

We’d love to tell you more about why we believe in a rich and dynamic treatment environment over go-it-alone discipline—call us anytime, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us.


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