Posted by on 5 June 2007 at 8:13 am  Uncategorized
Jun 052007

For many years, I’ve been annoyed by the extension of the term “addiction” from physical dependencies on chemical substances (e.g. heroin, alcohol) to include psychological dependence on self-destructive behaviors (e.g. gambling, sex). The two are very different phenomena. A person with a physical addiction will suffer from well-defined symptoms with the withdrawal of the drug, such as tremors, sweating, headache, nausea, and hallucinations. A person with a psychological addiction finds the experience of life unpleasant (perhaps very painfully so) without engaging in the destructive behavior, whether in the form of drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, or whatnot.

My general view is that, as currently used, the concept “addiction” is a package-deal designed to absolve the psychological addict of responsibility for his voluntary actions. Contrary to the dogma of recovery cults like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, alcoholism and drug addiction are not diseases like cancer, trapping poor helpless victims in their downward spiral. Rather, people automatize such behaviors by repeated voluntary choice as a means of insulating themselves from the harsh facts of reality. They continue to act voluntarily, even when the self-destructive habits are well-entrenched. Their emotional responses do not force them to act as they do. (This understanding of the choice involved in “addictions” is supported by the personal stories of most alcoholics and drug addicts, as well as by the psychological studies discussed in Heavy Drinking: The Myth of Alcoholism as a Disease.) In short, these “addictions” are self-destructive habits, usually used to facilitate evasion of unpleasant facts. To describe them as diseases, as the recovery movements do, merely adds another layer of self-excusing evasion to the phenomena.


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