Is Addiction A Social Disease?

  A while back, in response to several requests, I wrote the below post about an article by Johann Hari about the cause of addiction being more social; that is to say, a lack of connection. I certainly agree that spiritual maladies such as addiction, and much the same with stuff like ADD and Depression (as well as the sort of general apathy you see so much of today), are social diseases and are more reflective of a culture in decline and a familial construction that is more and more cut off from self and therefore others.

     Remember that many cultures don’t even have this sort of language, the language of the DSM, and when you remove the whole psychiatric disorder/victim-obsession and work 70-80 hours a week, you just don’t have time to be depressed, have attention deficit, or whine about micro-aggressions and other fabricated causes designed by the elite. Take ADD, which in my view is the natural result of some combination of a lack of spiritual life, too much screen time/video games, and of course, mindless public school classes. Put a guitar, paintbrush or basketball in the kid’s hands, or send him on an Outward Bound rock-climbing trip or something, and the attention deficit mysteriously goes away.

     But while I agree with this premise in general, and certainly on a macro-level, we must not excuse the individual mindset of an addict, and with that in mind, I wrote the post. Granted, the post may be somewhat over-simplified, but when it comes to addiction, simple is what we need. Ockham’s Razor, the scientific credo itself, asserts that ‘among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected’, so there is no need to try to find reasons where none exist, or to peddle the lunacy that the sweet little addict is just innocently trying to treat themselves for a constitutional deficiency of endogenous opioids. I also write many of these posts reactively and in a matter of minutes (which I probably shouldn’t), and there are many relevant points that can be made and issues that can be brought up, so don’t just listen to me. This is simply food for thought, and I am no authority on anything. I am nobody.

     The first thing I ever wrote when I created the blog was that “this blog is simply my experience and is not intended to be case-specific advice. We must all find our own answers.” I have answers for myself. I know the truth of my own experience. I understand the nature and the dynamics of my own addiction. I know what has worked and what has failed. Sure it is reasonable to assume that those with whom I share a similar problem may also share a similar experience in a variety of others ways, and that is essentially why I write. 

     The point is to listen to no one. You will know what feels right and what makes sense to you – in your heart and in your gut. Always keep your eyes and ears open, and be willing to be wrong. I’ve changed my mind several times, but when it comes to my experience as an addict, I feel as though I understand myself pretty well. Finally, Yvonne, if you are reading this, thank you so much for reaching out to me. I will absolutely respond personally with more detail and more specifically to your points regarding Johann Hari’s TED Talk when I get a chance to listen to it and write back. Unfortunately, time is scant and I have a stack of emails to get to, which I suppose we can blame on the Holidays…? 😉
April 2nd, 2015 

     Several people have now asked me to comment on this article from the Huffington Post – you’ll have to excuse the source, of course, which poses as a news site. My apologies. 

     Certainly connection to self and others is part of any equation, as we are social creatures by nature and need human connection, but the fact is that people will use and become addicted if they want to use and become addicted, regardless of external circumstances. Strong connections and supportive environments will neither prevent nor vanquish addiction. Moreover, once we become addicted, we have to contend with the fact that we have gone insane and have the lost of the power of choice.

     To regain power of choice, something quite powerful must occur. As well, lasting change usually occurs as a direct result of rigorous work and a sincere desire to change as opposed to the environment in which we find ourselves. I had a very loving and supportive familial environment, as well as many close friends and bonds, and I could not have cared any less. I wanted to get jammed out of my skull, 24/7. That said, I certainly believe that lack of connection to self, others, Mother Earth and God is a macro-cultural condition, and varies in degree depending on the individual.

     The article asserts that the true cause of addiction is a lack of human connection, which is certainly a bit more accurate than any nonsense emanating from the pharmaceutical model. The idea is that if we are part of a loving environment with many strong human connections, we may not become addicts. As well, if we secure a loving environment with many strong human connections after becoming addicts, our addiction will vanish or cease to reappear. Unfortunately, the latter would imply that our environment has not only restored us to sanity, but is capable of maintaining it, which is false. 

     The problem with this premise is that it really has nothing to do with addiction. I know this will be very hard for people and clinicians to understand, but for many addicts there is often no reason why we use. Many of us just picked up one day and boom, what do you know, we love drugs. Sure life isn’t perfect and we suffer, but nobody’s life is perfect and everybody suffers.

     One day, long ago, a friend gave me an Oxycontin before playing a round of golf, and when it kicked in and saturated my entire nervous system, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I fell madly in love with Oxycontin, that is, until I met heroin. But the thing is, there was nothing particularly wrong in my life. I was content, going to college, had tons of friends, was dating, working hard, etc.

     Guess what my problem was?

     I loved drugs. In fact, I was a walking dumpster. Using was not at all an extension of my environment or my degree of connection to others. Using was an extension of my selfishness and my preoccupation with comfort and feeling good 24/7, and I believe that is the case for most, if not all of us. 

     Let me tell you, human connection is wonderful, but if all an addict does is return from treatment to a loving environment, he or she is still 100% an addict and is subject to relapse at any time and for no apparent reason. To be an addict is to have gone insane. The bottom line is that environment and connections can neither prevent us from becoming addicts, nor fix us once we get there. I agree that opening ourselves up and cultivating strong connections with others, Earth and God are certainly crucial in the totality of our recovery, but without moral action, we will ultimately fail.

     Regardless of what you think about the ‘disease’ part of our addiction – the physical part – nobody can deny that the character and the moral compass of an active addict takes a beating over the years, and like our connections, must also be repaired. If we have done the wrong thing, common sense and logic dictate that doing the right thing will help to repair the inner damage that was done by doing the wrong thing. We still have to change the kind of people we have become. We still have to do some work. We still have to give back, and thus, environmental and social change is only part of the equation.

     Furthermore, having the immense support I did after becoming addicted had zero effect in reducing the severity of my addiction. On the contrary, my addiction grew worse as I was showered with love and friendship. Look, addicts love drugs and want to use. I read stuff all of the time by non-addicts who claim that no addict wants to be an addict, but sorry, that is just not true. We will use as long as we want and we will stop for no one. We will stop if and when we want to for we are purely selfish beings. Yes we should stop because what we are doing is wrong, and despite what anybody says, it is immoral, but even that won’t stop us.

     By the way, saying that addiction has to do with morals doesn’t conflict with this article’s assessment. If we become disconnected from God, from others, from ourselves or from the ground we stand on, addict or not, we will also begin to lose our moral compass. The two are related. That much seems obvious.   
     Finally, the lack of human connection is a human condition. The author is correct that we are social beings and need each other to thrive and feel whole.  However, all of us are disconnected. You could argue that our entire culture has become more and more disconnected, disinterested and without purpose. We seem to care about nothing, as ambitions instead revolve around acquiring the latest phone or app, or ingesting the latest gossip or criticism. Social media, for example, is numbing our minds, removing our passion, and plying us to such a degree that we just robotically accept what we are told and whatever is happening.

     The point is that all of us may be disconnected in some way but we don’t all become addicted. And there are millions of us who come from loving, strong environments and still easily mutate into pathetic junkies. Why? Because we are not like everybody else. Whereas normal people hate the feeling of being out of control, addicts love it. The truth is that most addicts who return to wonderful environments absolutely cannot wait to relapse. And I suspect we feel a much greater ease to do so in such an environment vs the alternative. Do you see?

     I realize that none of this may make any sense to normal, or rather, non-addicted people out there, but just try to tweak your mind a bit and consider that what is backward to you is forward to the addict. We want to be the way we are… until we don’t.

God, help us…

Recovery = Dealing with Your Shit

“Escaping consequence is no privilege or blessing.”

“Sorry Mom, sorry Dad, I have a disease!”
     To go from a physically sober nightmare to a recovered person, an addict must absolutely deal with their shit and give back a bit, or perhaps alot. The last ten years have necessarily been non-stop WORK. It was imperative that I try to repair relationships and broken hearts, get out of debt, finish school, work my ass off, take other addicts through the Big Book, run groups, write, educate, etc.

     Recovery = Dealing with my shit.

     Trust me, the worst thing you could possibly tell an addict is that his addiction has nothing to do with the selfishness ingrained in his personality or his willingness to do the wrong thing to others (and subsequent indifference). This MUST be considered a real part of the problem. 
     If all we do is tell addicts they have an innate, involuntary disease and that all associated behaviors are but symptoms, they will happily excuse themselves of any and all accountability when it comes to the wrongs they have committed, and if we do this, we are perpetuating the very sickness which haunts them and causes pain to so many. 
     By explaining (excusing) all aspects of addiction to brain chemistry (a brain which, by the way, we destroyed ourselves, as the process of losing choice is very much a choice) we are simply biding time until the next relapse, allowing addicts to immaturely glorify the SELF while continuing to hurt people. I truly doubt you are looking forward to more of the same.
     Clearly, the progressive and morally relative implications and assumptions made by the modern disease model are ruining treatment in America and it is pushing addicts to repel all sense of moral responsibility and any connection to God as radical and inappropriate. Sorry, folks, but that’s what you get when you allow the pendulum to swing this far towards collectivism and away from freedom and personal responsibility. Just sayin’…
     “I don’t need no 12-Step, do-the-right-thing bullshit, Ma! I just need my freakin’ suboxone and seroquel, biotch… and have someone pay for it, son! Now gimme that shit, bake me some cookies, and shut the fuck up, dukes! Oh, and please don’t say Merry Christmas or none of that shit to me ’cause that’s a really offensive micro-aggression yo.”

     Bye-bye free speech, hello tyranny… under the guise of tolerance and intellectual consciousness, of course. Welcome to 2016 and beyond.

P.S. Merry Christmas.

Your Reality vs the Addict’s Reality

     Making an addict feel happy and normal via pharmaceutical intervention is not actually what they need… at all. In fact, it is detrimental to their long-term recovery. Why? Well, for one, it is absolutely crucial for an addict to understand that the reality of human life includes suffering and discomfort, that his or her pain, boredom and dissatisfaction is not unique, and that he or she sits next to 7 billion of the same human beings. 
     The truth is that addicts (and others who have lost power) often suffer from a lack of purpose, which is more of a spiritual malady, to say the least. Sure it may manifest into some bio-chemical rearrangement, but that is just a symptom, as opposed to the underlying cause, and which would you rather treat, the symptom or the actual cause? As well, the happiness and normalcy may not even be real. You can decide for yourself if that makes any sense, but if you’re a non-addict, remember that a solution that may make sense for you does not necessarily make sense for the addict.

     The best is when a non-addict who has never had any experience with addiction, whether personal or by extension, tells me the truth about my addiction and my brain. I know it’s tempting to think you can know more about addiction from a class or academic journal than the addict himself, but with this particular malady, that is not always the case. Sorry. And yes, even when we’re talking about an inbred meth addict with a 65 IQ. Actually… that may be a bit of a stretch.

     I should confess that I consistently find myself at least moderately disgusted by the human race, regardless of the endearing warmth of human love and compassion or, say, a beautiful song being sung that sends shivers down your spine. My wife gets totally annoyed at me when I utter some variation of this general theme. She says, ‘Well that includes you too!‘ I guess she thinks the way I say it is arrogant and unbecoming – a turn-off, as it were. I’m sure she’s right, but I have no problem including myself in the conversation. I’m completely disgusted by myself as well, and perhaps my human disgust is simply a projection of my self-disgust…    …but, you see, sometimes the “truth” doesn’t matter because how I feel and what is actually happening vs the intellectual truth is closer to reality, and therefore to a solution. In other words, knowing that it is just me projecting doesn’t change the way I feel about other human beings, so who gives a shit what the precise psychological mechanism is? Does it matter? Nope. And this is why academics, while sure they have changed the world and advanced the human race in ways that are difficult to even fathom, are truly at a loss when it comes to addiction. But wait, why is that?

     Again, because the science of it doesn’t matter (plus they fail to grasp that physical powerlessness is permanent whereas mental powerlessness is temporary). But the neurochemical changes occurring in the brain, the physiology of withdrawal, the psychological hoax that is the phenomenon of “triggers”… well, none of it matters. Again, why? Because remedies resulting from this knowledge will not cure the addict from what ails him or her. Look, I actually find the study of drug action on the dopaminergic reward system of my brain rather interesting, and I studied it at length back in college, but as far as my actual addiction is concerned, it doesn’t matter.

     The addict/alcoholic needs a simple formula of action that he can follow and believe in, and one that changes him fundamentally. As well, addiction is deeper than just, ‘Well golly gee Mr. & Mrs. so and so, your son’s serotonin levels appear to be quite low I tell ya’. Someone without a purpose in life is going to suffer on a deeper, more profound spiritual level, and will most likely need to be restored by something much greater than himself.

     The science of addiction will perhaps tell you something about the addict’s body, but it won’t provide a solution. In 1939, the Big Book noted that science has yet to turn an addict back into a non-addict, let alone remove his mental obsession, and here we are in 2015, in the most drug and disorder obsessed nation on the planet, with all of our designer psychotropics and substitution drugs, and we still can’t do it. Yup, there is a reason for that.

     The new book will be out soon. Just finalizing the cover design and resubmitting an updated manuscript to the Library of Congress.


September 10th, 2014

     True knowledge is gained through the experiment of living life. I have gained truth about myself and my life from the results of my experience, through the tools that I have acquired and been given, and through the actual consequences of my words, thoughts, and most importantly, my actions. I know what has failed me and what has brought me success. And I can reasonably assume that anyone who shares a similar experience may also experience similar results.

     This is precisely why the Big Book prophetically states that you can rely on anything a [recovered] alcoholic may say about himself. A recovered addict who has gained clarity and success knows himself completely. The reason my experience makes so much sense to me is because I understand who I am, and the more we understand ourselves, the more we understand everything. As I’ve suggested before, I don’t think we are really that complicated. We are essentially just human creatures on earth, sometimes doing good stuff, sometimes doing bad stuff, and sometimes just hangin’ out. And given the existential law of cause and effect, you probably wanna try to do more good stuff than bad stuff.    

     In my book, I described the sort of behavior that saved my life as ‘spiritual action’. We can’t get too bent about word choice because the solution and the knowledge gained through experiential success is very practical, grounded, fact-based (in its purest sense) and time-tested. So when I say spiritual action, I’m not talking about fluff. Spiritual action means moral action, as well as many other practical actions such as prayer, meditation, exercise, work, art, music, creativity and outdoor activities that benefit ourselves, others, and the greater world around us.

     In my previous post, I wrote that our core problem is spiritual. To note, I refer to the totality of my being as spiritual, and thus any disconnection from self, others or God is malady of my spirit (that is, my entire being). At any rate, for those of us who need the fluff taken out, we can easily break down our core problem more practically. Thanks to our friend, Jim, who commented on the nature of our malady as being rooted in deep emotional stuff, some of which lies below the level of our consciousness, as opposed to spiritual. I completely agree, but I simply choose to contemplate my emotional life as my spiritual life. At any rate, he kindly reminds us what our core problem really is, and this is perhaps the most accurate thing I’ve heard from anyone in years.

     So what is our core problem in simple, layman’s terms?


     Human shame [and perhaps sadness] is a universal epidemic. Addicts and alcoholics have no monopoly on shame.

     What are we ashamed of, you may ask?

     Why being human, of course. We are ashamed of our human bodies, for one. We are ashamed of our minds, our thoughts and our feelings, especially our feelings of self-consciousness, insecurity, depression, anger, jealousy, envy, weakness and stupidity. We are ashamed of our feelings of powerlessness, meaninglessness and purposelessness. We are ashamed of our size, our mortality, our past, our future, our frailties, our failures and our insignificance. We are ashamed of our greed, our lust, our gluttony, our cowardice, and the list goes on and on. You get the picture, I’m sure. Being human by definition is a vulnerable condition both internally, externally, and most importantly, spiritually.

     The Big Book says the knowledge of God is in our make-up as human beings. I believe we all know that God Is on some level, even the atheists and the silly agnostics out there. To deny God is really to deny your human being, your existence. And forget about addiction and alcoholism because that, my friends, may be the most precarious position of all.

God, teach me how to better love and accept myself that I may better love and accept others and do Your work well…

Come to Believe…

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Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
     “Many who contemplate this process or embark on the Twelve Steps take issue with this particular Step. One, they don’t believe in God or Divine Intelligence. Two, even if they do believe in something greater than themselves, how do they know it will restore them when they don’t yet feelrestored? Admittedly, it’s difficult for us to believe something unless it has already happened. People collectively believed that man would never fly and the next day Orville Wright flew over the beach at Kitty Hawk. To make matters worse, we don’t like believing things that we can’t see, hear or touch right in front of us. Show me it works, and thenI’ll believe. Third, we’re not so sure that we really need to be restored to sanity. Just because we are powerless, does that mean we are actually insane? Isn’t insane someone in a nightgown and hospital slippers, locked up in an asylum getting shock treatments twice a week?
     The 2ndStep also means that we have to talk about God and spiritual concepts, which can easily rub people the wrong way, but it doesn’t have to. For our purpose of personal growth and healing, there is no need for it to get too rigid or fundamental. It doesn’t have to be so hard and absolute. It also doesn’t have to be someone else’s conception or belief system. It is personal, and each of us is left to establish our own understanding and relationship with God and the greater powers that be. Truth be told, I really don’t believe our limited and largely untapped human minds can even fathom the totality of God. I’ll be the first to admit that I cannot fully understand this mind-bending power, nor do I especially care to try to bottle it up neatly in my own man-made conception. Who are we to know the secrets of the Universe? So I wouldn’t worry about it too much.
     In my personal memoir about addiction, I wrote that anybody who has taken a 1st Step has already taken a 2nd Step by extension. By taking a 1stStep, we acknowledge there are forces more powerful than ourselves – the compulsion to drink, the temptation of sex, the lure of money, the need to control… anger, depression, grief, food, violence… the list goes on and on. If we’ve already admitted that certain things have power over us, why is it so hard to believe there is also something more powerful that can get us better?
     Let’s face it, many things exist that are more powerful than we are. Anyone who denies this is surely suffering from some sort of delusion of grandeur, but we can simply call it denial. Many of us who want to ignore the fact that we’ve lost control will instead fill the gap with self-worship and grandiosity, with the false belief that we can do anything, that we know everything, that we are all-powerful. That’s interesting. I would simply question this frame of mind and beg of you to answer but one simple question I had to ask myself years ago: Why, if you have the power to do anything, are you currently powerless?
     It reminds me of a relative who called me while he was in detox to ask me why he needed treatment afterwards. He said it wasn’t necessary because he had power over drugs and alcohol. So I asked him, “Then what are you doing in detox if you have power over drugs and alcohol? If you look around find yourself locked up at an inpatient detox facility, chances are you don’t you drink and use drugs normally, wouldn’t you say?” My relative was so convinced he knew the truth about himself and then a single question turned his entire world upside down. In a moment of clarity, he responded, “Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess I don’t use in a normal way, especially considering I’m here in detox. Okay, I’ll go to treatment.” The question helped him to step back, open his eyes and see things from a higher perch. In doing so, he saw the greater reality of life. This process is asking us peel back the layers of a lifetime of preconceived beliefs, notions and attitudes. Sure we may have always thought of life and the world in a certain way, but does that mean it is always so? Are we open to the idea that we may have been wrong all of these years? Are we even willing to be wrong? These are important questions to ask ourselves from time to time.
     The fact is there are many things far greater and more powerful than we humans. Exhibit A = Mother Nature. No one can deny we stand at the mercy of the forces of nature. Our very existence lies in the delicate balance of our solar system and atmospheric conditions. We think and believe we are safe because we have always been, but nobody really knows what might happen. Are not our very lives at the mercy of nature and her powerful storms, tornados, tsunamis, wildfires or sudden lightening strikes? Or how about the simple yet inescapable cycles of nature, such as night and day, life and death, or the fluctuating output of the sun’s energy? The point is that it is really not so hard to admit a host of forces and phenomena that are more powerful than we are, so why is God so difficult?
     One reason is because science has been able to explain the workings or dynamics of many such physical forces, but not so much with God. But are there not several tangible things that we cannot fully explain as well? I know, for instance, that our Universe exists but certainly cannot explain why it exists, how it came to be, what existed before, what lies beyond, or how dark matter can literally bend time and space. People say that nothing existed before the Universe but what is nothing and what are nothing’s boundaries? I also know that cells divide and that our physical bodies involuntarily heal themselves upon injury, just as nature rebuilds itself, but I can’t explain how or why that happens, at least not without Divine Intelligence. I know that we humans are more than the sum of our parts but who can explain or even describe with any justice this intangible part of ourselves that makes us who we are, that drives us to create, and that allows us to glow with love and spirit. Think for a moment about the miracle of life and the sheer beauty of the natural world, let alone the mind-blowing immensity of the Universe. Sure science has been able to explain some of this, but isn’t science really just explaining an endless pile of miracles? Doesn’t science only prove the existence of God by showing us how amazing it all is?” – Anybody Can Take Steps, pp.29-32