Well, hi there! Welcome back! I’m finally able to write a little, so I want to tell you about what I’ve learned while I’ve been gone. Y’all, I don’t exaggerate when I say that what I’ve learned in my time off the air has entirely changed my understanding of identity and embodiment. When people say something like that, I find it usually means one of three things:
- they Got Religion,
- they got some really good hallucinogens, or
- they met someone who knows where the G-spot is.
However, I already got religion like 3 times, and while the other two are entirely worthwhile endeavors, I assure you, none of these are the case this time around. Rather, I want to introduce you to the chemistry of addiction.
This may sound iffy and boring and self-indulgent to you. Maybe you’re not an addict, or you don’t know an addict, or you’re disgusted by anything that might make lame excuses for the repugnant behavior of addicts, or maybe you’re afraid I’ll tell True Confessions about my life (I won’t; not here). Give it a minute, though. I offer you a reason for taking up an interest in this issue:
The problem of addiction, given careful thought, will force you to confront your bad metaphysics, your terrible moral reasoning, and your stupid ideas about social norms. Well, that’s what it did for me, anyway. You’re probably thinking your ideas about these things aren’t as bad as mine, as evidenced by the fact that you haven’t been in rehab… YET. But challenging my assumptions about addiction has given me a completely different perspective on the nature of the self generally, not just in terms of addiction.
What kind of person becomes an addict? I always thought of addiction as some sort of moral weakness on a par with a weak constitution, like not being a good runner, or being sickly. Something you’re physically susceptible to, but with sufficient willpower, could be counteracted. I noted that it runs in families, and therefore it came to be, in my mind, a sort of hybrid genetic/moral curse, something with mystical undertones of sins of the fathers and an Amanda Palmer soundtrack.
“They” say addiction is a disease. I’ve seen people do horrible things and seem to get away with it, ostensibly because it’s a disease. I hate this. Mainly because it seems like the part of addiction wherein a person shoves a bunch of Substance into his or her Substance-Hole(s), seemingly freely, is pretty hard to ignore.
The ceaseless pouring of All the Drinks into one’s facehole in the first place, I agree, certainly has something to do with alcoholism. Oh, yes. But not in the way you think it does. This is what I’d like to challenge you to reconsider. I will show you the best arguments I know for concluding that addiction is, in fact a disease. I’ll describe at least five levels of physical disorder involved with addiction: genes, reward/pleasure mechanisms, memory/learning systems, stress responses, and then, much later, at the level of actual choice. And I’ll explain why I think looking at addiction this way could make us better off overall.
So, over the next few posts, what we’ll be looking into is this: Is addiction a disease, and does it matter? If it’s not a disease, then we have to tackle it in terms of education, restriction of access, and general moral browbeating. If it is a disease, that changes everything about how we tackle it.
[By way of citation, the guiding text and the basis of research I’ve done about addiction since is Pleasure Unwoven, by Kevin McCauley; book and film both.]