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…

4 thoughts on “Is Addiction A Social Disease?

  1. This entire post is so, so good, Charlie. I've been having some confusing thoughts surrounding my addict the past few weeks, and this post has really clarified some things for me. Your blog is always such a blessing to me. I hope that even if you decide to stop writing, it will always be here to help us find the truth in a sea of BS.

    By the way, I really hope you are able to share your thoughts about that TED Talk here on your blog. I trust your opinion about addiction more than anyone. Why? Because the stuff you say not only makes sense, but matches my experiences living with an addict exactly, down to every detail.

  2. Thanks Charlie. No hurry on the response, and feel free to respond in your blog, so that others can read it too.

    Sorry to add to your email burden. I understand: you can't respond to everyone and everything. I should have guessed you had addressed this topic already, and did a search of your site before asking my questions.

    I read your current post and the old one, and it makes sense. Thank you for sharing so much of your wisdom and experience.

  3. It's no burden at all. I love getting emails and I'm grateful you wrote me. I wanted to post this and get something out to you right away because I don't like to write people back who email me personally unless I can really focus and write back thoughtfully and thoroughly:) I look forward to that TED talk sometime this week and send you my thoughts… and also post the response for others.
    Thanks again, Yvonne.

  4. Charlotte, THANK YOU… and I will post the response about the TED talk, which I hope to get to this week. Busy trying to wrap up the book and get it out to everybody, which I expect to be soon, probably within the next 2-3 weeks – tops 😉

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