If you put anything to do with addiction into a search engine, the results will focus on the individual and their presumed disorder. However, you did not see statistics about how many people are addicted to cabbage or water at all. Therefore, where are the articles talking about what is addictive and why?
In his excellent TED Talk, Johann Hari says that the opposite of addiction is connection. He gives an example of a rat put in an empty cage with a bottle laced with drugs and another bottle containing plain water. When there is nothing else for the rat to do except drink, it would choose the one with drugs until it kills itself. Then he says the same rat could be put in a rat park, with a playground, friends and good cheese and it will not touch the drugs at all.
Johann Hari attributes the pleasure seeking principle as a desire to bond. He says if we are lonely and isolated, or traumatised, we are less likely to connect with others in a healthy way. That disconnection would lead to gratification from an addictive substance.
There must be evidence that certain substances are addictive. Anything that starts out giving someone pleasure or relief from pain can be addictive. However, blaming the substance alone gives your power away and makes you a victim. As a victim, we have no agency. As with mental health in the UK present and past, addiction is treated entirely like an incurable and shameful disease rather than a treatable and understandably human condition, which is so common as to be endemic.This report discusses the stigmatization of addiction.
Therefore, the clarity of knowledge to attribute some responsibility to the substance but to determine that it alone will not guarantee an addiction, gives you the portion of responsibility that you can have power over. Responsibility means power not blame
Power Rather Than Blame
The film The Insider is based on the true story of a scientist who was fired from a big tobacco company, that an American investigative TV program persuades to expose the addictive nature of nicotine. 60 Minutes takes the risky route of exposing tobacco chiefs for lying about whether nicotine is addictive. It is finally proven that cigarettes are deliberate vehicles for nicotine, which is addictive. However, as Allen Carr says in his book The Only Way to Stop Smoking Permanently, nicotine is nothing like as powerful over us as the NHS is funded to tell us it is.
Carr shows how much vested interest the NHS has in its Stop Smoking campaigns. This secret agenda drives the advertising angle that we need help to stop smoking. We don’t. If someone has the agency to stop and not smoke again, the actual effect of nicotine will dwindle to a halt after a few days.
Make Your Own Fortune
Have you noticed how people who feel hard done by seem to continually have, what they call, misfortune? This must show that we make our fortune. However disadvantaged someone is to start with does not determine their fate. They determine their fate.
Unfortunately society does not take responsibility for its failures. Homelessness or drug addiction is entirely seen as the fault of the individual. This creates the kind of hopelessness over a situation that the NHS relies on to get people into their stop smoking programs. Making people feel alone and hopeless is never going to help them. Give them agency and see what they can do for themselves.
The conservative party is known for the ideology “help someone to help themselves”. However, they don’t seem to have any idea how to put this into action. People without jobs are blamed, even when there are no jobs. They seek alternative pleasure and they are blamed.
In an article on the New Economics Foundation website, Annie Quick quotes the NEF podcast host Ayeisha, saying:
“It isn’t necessarily broken, it’s very much serving the purpose it was designed to, right? Things like debt and… precarity are not accidents of the economic system, they’re things that hold it up and make it function.”
Hence, the economic system relies on people who are outside of employment. Unemployment could be seen as a vital deterrent to keep people in their jobs when they think about leaving.
What about when people want to leave their addiction? Focusing on not being addicted to something works like any form of resistance. It is like that saying: “What you resist persists”.
Therefore, how would taking responsibility help someone overcome an addiction?Why Substitute a Substitute?
As Hari says in his TED Talk above, the addictive substance or activity is a substitute for something real. This ought to raise a red flag over any form of substitute. Why substitute a substitute? Why would you stop smoking only to vape? Why would you knock heroin on the head to take the more chemical substitute methadone?
Find what it is you are missing?
Are you missing love? Acceptance? Health? Freedom from pain? Confidence? As Hari says, connection?
If you know what you want, think about that for a moment. Does a sex addiction disappear as soon as you find a romantic partner?
How do you respond to other people’s addictions? What do you think someone with an addiction to exercise might be missing? Admiration, possibly? If your loved one had an addiction to weight lifting, say, would you berate them on the way out of the door with how unhealthy their obsession with the gym is?
Do people with addictions ever not know when they become unhealthy? On top of the social stigma, do addicted people not beat themselves up with their addictions. Have you heard the way smokers talk about their habit? The more we are told that smoking is unhealthy and anti-social, the more we beat ourselves up for doing it.
That makes no difference
Therefore, if someone who exercises obsessively is missing confidence or admiration, could paying them a compliment help? Instead of berating them for going to the gym again, what about saying how healthy they look?
In his excellent The Shy Person’s Guide, Michael Thomson says that people do change and that a good way to connect with a new person you like is to acknowledge their growth.
Loving the Alien
Have you ever noticed how, when given unconditional love, people adapt? Acceptance is the root of love, but how many people really accept themselves? Women’s magazines, particularly, seem to be driven by telling people to improve themselves. According to statistics here, there were 28,315 plastic surgery procedures operated in the United Kingdom in 2017. In her Channel 4 documentary, Kathy Burke asks a young lady, who plans on a breast enlargement, what happens if you have the operation but you still feel the same inside?
In Thomson’s Shy Person’s Guide, linked above, there is a section on seeing people. Thomson says it is rare for someone to listen properly and understand what has been said.
Therefore, now we know how we could potentially support someone we love with an addiction, but there might still be some missing stages to helping ourselves.
There has been much written about being our own best friends, stopping our own internal dialogues from giving us a hard time and to stop criticizing and bullying ourselves in our own heads. You may find you keep accepting and loving someone who it doesn’t make any difference to. This may leave you feeling rejected, invisible or helpless to make a difference to someone you can see suffering right in front of you.
However, there is one thing only we can do for ourselves. This is the subject of the next blog.
How to Learn to Let Yourself Be Loved.