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I recently read a passage of a book titled Does Capitalism Drive Drug Addiction by Johann Hari in which outlined the addiction debate of both the left and right wing which is this: Right wing believes addiction is caused by a moral failure as it is a choice to consume a drug the first time and the left wing's stand is a similar chemical imbalance as exists in depression.
An experiment operated by Bruce K. Alexander in the 70s disagrees with both theories.
If you put a rat in a cage with two bottles of water, one clean and the other laced with cocaine, the rat will favor the cocaine laced bottle and overdose every time within a span of two weeks.
Bruce's experiment argued that the rats were of course attracted to the cocaine bottle due to the conditions of their empty cage.
His experiment was the creation of a rat park with several rats and everything a rat could want and the two water bottles were still present. From colored balls to sex. In this scenario, the rats were not as attracted to the cocaine laced bottle. In fact every rat that partook did so in moderation with no cases of overdose.
The conclusion of the theory was that the engagement of the rats to a habitat and to other rats lessened the appeal of the cocaine laced water.
I'm not an expert, I'm just a woman with a little bit of life experience but I've lived long enough to notice that while every addict lacks connection to the world and to people, not every disconnected person is a drug addict. However, every disconnected person I have come into contact with, has an addiction of some kind.
Addiction takes a lot of forms. The only one that is ever addressed is drug and alcohol addiction. Why? Because both gradually kills a person over time and causes serious side effects that affect not only the addict but their loved ones. Yet, an abundance of anything not controlled by moderation that is accompanied by the extreme inability to quit is an addiction. There is a line from a song that states, "We're all addicted to something that takes the pain away," from the song "Me and My Medicine" by Boys Like Girls.
Smoking, for example. Highly addictive because of the nicotine laced into the cigarette that creates a habit, a need. Food. While you might find that to be silly that a person can get addicted to food, think in terms of obesity. Moderate portions of healthy foods, no. But eating an abundance and/or making poor dietary choices causes weight gain which becomes obesity if left unchecked and the next step above that is health problems, inevitably, killing it's victim gradually at a far earlier age. The internet. Television. Video games. Money, which we call greed. Gambling. Sex. Even arguing and self destruction. Some people have addictions that don't kill but are harmful to their personal lives as an over abundance of anything will eventually cause problems.
Though none of these are called out or addressed because it's considered rude or poor form to tell your friend that spends 18 hours a day watching television that she has a problem and we have support groups/rehabiliation centers for drug addiction but not for that person who spends too much time playing video games.
Like I said before, I may not be an expert but one thing in life I've noticed is a common denominator in addicts of all varieties: They're all disconnected with the world and the people in their spheres and usually have a great deal of mental and emotional pain they need to get numb. Most come from broken homes and have difficult relationships with family or trauma of some kind.
Where they lack connection in their lives they substitute with substances or objects. Anything to distract them from the pain they are in.
What drove these people to pick up that cigarette the first time. It's not an imbalance. It's an extreme level of disconnection and excessive amounts of pain.
In Hari's book she stated, "Addiction is largely an adaptation to your environment. We've created a society where significant numbers of our fellow citizens cannot bear to be present in their lives without being drugged right? We've created a hyper-consumerist, hyper-individualist, isolated word that is, for a lot of people, much more like the first cage than it is like the bonded, connected cage that we need. The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection. And our whole society, the engine of our society, is geared toward making us connect to things. If you are not a good consumer capitalist citizen, if you're spending your time bonding with the people around you and not stuff--in fact, we are trained from a very young age to focus our hopes and our dreams and our ambitions on things we can buy and consume. And drug addiction is really a subset of that."
In conclusion, it is a firm belief of mine that addiction of very type is in fact a social problem and not a mental illness of a lack of moral compass which is backed by a scientific evidence.
What does that mean for us though? It means that addicts need care and support. Talk to someone with an addiction, even if it's not a drug or alcohol addiction and you will find something anti social in their character and an inexplicable pain in their history. Be their connection to the world if you want to see them cured. They are not villains. They are troubled, misunderstood and in need of an anchor, not judgment and criticism. Demonizing them and their addiction is not a solution that will lead them to put aside their vice. Care about them enough to lead them to care about themselves in order to want to put aside the addiction.
Be the change you want to see. Be the connection they need. Be their anchor.