In my previous post on the roots of addiction, I discussed how adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s) to a large extent play an important role in development of addictive behavior. Given that over 80% of those who develop addictions begin adaptive behaviors to cope with ACE’s prior to the age of 15, we as a society need to place a greater emphasis on identifying at-risk kids and intervening as early as possible.
Addiction in the modern world can be best understood as a compulsive lifestyle that people adopt as a desperate substitute when they are dislocated from the myriad intimate ties between people and groups – from the family to the spiritual community – that are essential for every person in every type of society. Bruce K. Alexander The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit
But there is another insidious root to addiction that I believe goes beyond individual ACE’s and plays an even greater role in the development of addiction – free market society.
Addictive behavior research
Bruce K. Alexander spent decades as a distinguished addiction researcher in Canada before becoming so frustrated by a lack of progress in helping those who struggle, that he completely changed careers and decided to focus on teaching history instead. Despite doing everything he could to avoid topics around drugs and addiction, the more he studied history, the more he discovered insights that began to change his entire perspective on the nature of addiction. In general, when we think about addiction, we think about it as an individual problem. Individuals are exposed to a host of risk factors, including ACEs, peer group influences, and the availability of objects of addiction in communities. The more risk factors an individual is exposed to, the more likely the chances are that he or she will develop an addiction. Conventional wisdom also suggests that the antidote to addiction is intervention and treatment. But when Dr. Alexander began studying history, he discovered cultures and societies where common objects of addiction were present (drugs, alcohol, sex, food), yet addictive behavior was minimal or nonexistent.
Addiction can be rare in a society for many centuries, but can become nearly universal when circumstances change – for example, when a cohesive tribal culture is crushed or an advanced civilization collapses Bruce K. Alexander 2008
Free market society
Throughout history, the primary factor responsible for the societal change leading to pervasive addiction is the introduction of free market society. Why?
When a society introduces free markets, exchange of goods and services optimally are not encumbered by family ties, cultural traditions, religious values, or anything else that may impede free play of the laws of supply and demand. In other words, free markets create an “every man (or woman) for yourself” dynamic that puts me in competition with everyone else for jobs, insurance, a house, goods, services and Lady Ga Ga tickets. One consequence of this system is that people become dislocated, or disconnected from one another because of the time and energy necessary to keep up with the Jones. Free markets are incredibly proficient at knowing how to keep people focused on stuff over experiences. Flashy ads, mass media, and the latest gizmo from Steve Jobs keeps us always wanting more.
The American dream
In the pursuit of the American dream, what many get instead is isolation, fear, and dislocation, which ultimately leads to compulsive lifestyles where people develop addictive relationships to stuff and get further and further disconnected from nurturing human relationships. Dr. Alexander’s Dislocation Theory of Addiction is well documented in a paper titled The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society (highly recommended reading) and a more extensive read: The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit. His work is extremely important in helping us all understand many of our current societal ills beyond addiction, including: divorce, single parenthood, children in poverty, obesity, unemployment, and excessive time in front of the TV. Until we as a society place relationships and experiences over materialism, consumption and stuff, Thoreau’s observation will ring ever more true.
the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation
What is the solution to mass dislocation?
I believe part of the answer lies in making some tough societal changes including ending the senseless war on drugs (a big topic for another time). But for the individual struggling right now with addiction, the answer is much more about restructuring life in a way that emphasizes relationships over stuff. To do this, one must have the developmental capacities necessary to know how to initiate, develop, and maintain healthy human relationships.
Kevin L. says
I for one couldn’t agree more and honestly I am guilty of virtually everyone of the social crimes of which you speak. I have 3 (almost) 4 kids and I must say it is scary to say they spend way too much time in front of the TV. I had to have a flat screen TV and a PS3 in order to function. What’s ironic is that once I got those things I realized that the need to buy those things didn’t come close to fulfilling the need I thought I had. I felt a little silly having put such a large priortiy on buying those things. I constantly feel guilty for the lack of time I spend with my children (as I’m sure most parents do). I am relieved to know however that they seem to becoming more and more functional and interactive with eachother and with their peers. I find peace in the fact that I remain an influence in their lives and a source for their questions. Thank you for your insight.
Edgar Frias says
SAD=SAD: Heliodeprivation as the Primary Source of Inherited Dislocation
In my own search for an increased level of health, vitality, joy, I have come across much research done on the addictive properties of what free-market society has labeled as “food.” I would like to equate the Standard American Diet (SAD) with that of inherited Substance Abuse Disorders (SAD) that seem to be permeating every strata of our culture and those the free-market spectre chooses to dislocate in the rest of the planet. I would like to argue that the primary source of dislocation occurs when we are dislocated from our primary source of energy/power: the sun.
The sun’s energy is transformed by plant and animal life all over the planet. Through the process of photosynthesis plants are able to create highly nutritious, adaptogenic, anti-viral, detoxifying, energy-giving, etc. cells that provide all of the nutrition we would ever need. One thing that bothers me from a lot of the reading we have been doing in class is that the so-called “chronic” disorders that “have no cure” (e.g. diabetes, heart disease, hypertension) are all related to this dislocation from our primary source of power. There are MANY documented cases of individuals suffering from these “chronic conditions” and even more (e.g. Lupus, cancer, MS) who have switched over to a raw vegan diet and have cured themselves of these “chronic conditions” that “have no cure.”
Therefore, I feel that the primary source of dislocation occurs when an infant is born into this free-market reality and is given a “healthy” formula over its mother’s breast milk. This baby is then fed processed, radiated, addictive food as he/she enters into childhood, and as these “pathways of pleasure” in the mind become accustomed to being activated by gluten, sugar, caffeine, dairy, etc., by the time this child enters into adolescence “hopping over” to drugs/alcohol/sex/etc is only a continuance of these ingrained patterns. I relate this to the free-market society’s dislocating tendencies because it is no hidden fact that many corporations that market “food” to the masses use the addictive properties of their product as a means of creating more revenue. Any nutritional value that our sun could’ve imbued into the plants used to create this “food” has been destroyed as a result of free-market’s processing. Just walk into Safeway and you will see that over 80% of the food in their stores is low in nutrition but high in addictive/pleasure/comfort-giving substances.
If anybody is interested in learning more about the addictive properties of everyday “foods,” I highly recommend reading Victoria Boutenko’s 12 Steps to Raw Food: How to End Your Dependency on Cooked Food. Victoria Boutenko promotes us eating as MUCH green food as possible as green-leaf vegetables have the highest concentration of chlorophyll, vitamins, and minerals found on the planet. She has created the “green smoothie” which is a quick and easy way to “sneak” more greens into your diet.
In my own personal life, I have seen the DRAMATIC changes that have come from me consuming more greens (more solar energy). Cravings that I used to have all of the time for gluten, sugar, cheese, etc. have disappeared. I have also lost over 100lbs and as a person who constantly battled with anxiety, I now feel a sense of peace and calm that I never knew before growing up eating the SAD. My parents are also consuming green smoothies and my mother went from taking blood pressure medication and being told by her doctor that she was pre-diabetic to having no symptoms of either of these “chronic diseases.” My father also was able to stop taking medication that helped “lower his cholesterol” after ingesting more greens in his diet.
I am attaching a link to an amazing documentary about food-addiction and diabetes:
It is a preview for a documentary about how a group of individuals cures their diabetes in 30 days with the assistance of sun-based nutrition.
Therefore, I feel that I am a big proponent of getting back to this solar energy. Yes science and new drugs can help in fighting substance abuse, but we need to get to the root of addiction and the roots are of free-market society’s systemic dislocation of its captives from the sun, Spirit, psychosocial connection, and our precious inheritance of plant/animal life that are here to sustain and nurture us. We have powerful allies all around us.
I can really relate to the comments made about living a compulsive life. I have found that it has served an important function, a distraction from the deep issues that guide my life. Once I stopped and took a good look at my life, I realized that my priorities were so completely off. I was always working towards something and neglecting the important people in my life. I had no real connection to who I was and the experiences I had. It has taken many years for me to reconnect and reshape how I live my life.
One of the things I find ironic in terms of some addictions is that the behaviors associated with the addictions often involve some form of socialization. At first, you may be able to make more relationship connections through the behavior but once the behavior takes priority, those relationships start to disintegrate. This is epitomized in adolescence when so many addictions start to take root. I am still disturbed seeing teens standing in groups near the school smoking. I totally get why they are doing it but I want to knock some sense into them. I think this is another hurdle to have to overcome, the connection of addiction and the social group that can help support it. Maybe it is about knowing what makes a relationship healthy and how to find and maintain these.
I never would have thought that having a free market society could influence patterns of addiction, but it does make sense. If (like Dr. Fitzgerald says) people replace relationships with people with relationships with objects, then it only makes sense that a society that puts great emphasis on having and owning objects would have major issues with addictive behaviors. Relationships are not valued in this society as they are in others. I had a revelation recently that I have not been putting as much importance on my relationships and family life as I have been on work, school, and paying bills. I have been so stressed out about the ins and outs of daily life that I have ignored what matters most to me in life, which are my close relationships. If you think about it, it is really ridiculous. What is going to matter in the end, what will make us happy? The answer for me personally is family and people. It won’t matter when I am old what advanced degrees I have, if I kept my apartment spotless every day, or how successful I was in my job. Sure, those things may matter, and some may make life easier, but I think if you don’t have relationships, you don’t have much of anything. I am going to put more energy into the relationships that really matter to me, instead of stressing about every little thing that may come up in daily life. Having “stuff” is really not that important, but with all the images of what happiness is (i.e. – the best car, the best house, fancy clothes) it is very easy to forget what is truly valuable in life, and I can understand how that can cause unhealthy relationships to objects.
Sarah Lincoln says
Got The Globalization of Addiction out of the library and read it. Great concept – predatory capitalism leading to dislocation/dis-connection between and within people. Essentially, I agree with his historical analysis (the clearing of the Scottish Highlands, etc.) and with some of the results of our money-takes-all approach. The chapter Getting By summed up the lives of so many of us – just struggling to get by. This isn’t to negate all the incredible people in this country/world who give and do service for others–but much of this is patchwork band-aids on a gaping wound. I struggled with the book because there were so many themes that it was extremely hard to take it all in. The message was good; the delivery poor. That affected how I felt about the book in the end — a series of essays or fewer themes would have made this a better read. (And more accessible to the general public — which is the goal, no?)
Sarah Lincoln says
….continuing on with the Globalization of Addiction — the idea of a spiritual approach to addiction is invaluable — that should be an entire book. To identify people by their disease devalues them as emotional/spiritual beings – there is more to a person than “I’m an alcoholic.” I know this runs counter to some thinking, but it seems that dealing with the whole person — especially their strengths and skills – honors them more. And perhaps that helps recovery more in the long run…yes, I’m an alcoholic but I have a soul, too. Feed my soul to help me address my need to drink. Idealistic? Perhaps, but definitely less moralistic and more spiritual in the end.
The following are two posts from my blog that I wrote at various times back in 2009:
“I know that God exists. I want the proof that we exist. If you didn’t know me, if I didn’t have a phone, address, or social security #; if you couldn’t find out anything about me on the internet, do I really exist. I mean sure I am breathing, and I am a physical being, but do I exist. Do I exist for you?”
“The total retardation (and yes, I mean retardation) of the world is at hand. Our growth in humanity is broken, stifled, and retarded and we don’t even know it. We don’t even miss our humanity, because it wasn’t on t.v. or facebook, or myspace, or the internet or one of the completely biased faux news stations. What does that make us?
So, with that in mind, how do we get down to the essential, to the human? To the truth, the right, the love, the peace. How trite does that sound? Lame that love or peace should be anything more than the ultimate. Nope, they have been replaced by Louis Vuitton and Mercedes Benz…”
I copied and pasted them here, because I think that they are in keeping with Bruce K. Alexander wrote, and the your blog about the pervasive roots of addiction.
I have often wondered why when the majority of addictive substances have been available throughout history, why is that addiction has never been this prevelent in society? I do believe it is the disconnect of society, the trading of society, community, and relationships for the pursuit of goods or commercial success that have created this current society where addiction thrives. We have become so addicted to things, that we have let go of the relationships with people. Ultimately, we miss those human relationships as I believe that is what truly sustains us, and instead we fill ourselves with our addictions. I know I have done this to some extent as I went through my divorce and being totally physically disconnected from my family or friends during a time I needed them most. Sure, I spoke to them on the phone, and they were/are the greatest. However, at night when my two sweet little angels went to bed and I was alone to deal with all my thoughts and feelings rather than focusing on them, I just wanted to numb myself to everything. My means of numbness were ice cream and television. The choice of my TV shows was completely different than what I would have watched prior to my divorce – I chose fluffy shows like “Gossip Girl” that have nothing to do with my life and are completely fictitious. I would stay up each night that I wasn’t writing a paper for my graduate program, watching television until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. It was definitely a poverty of spirit on my part. I am thankful that I had such amazing people in my life (albeit in a different state), strength in my faith, and that my kids kept me so connected that my addictions were mild. Prior to reading this, I hadn’t seen my television and ice cream as part of anything bigger than myself, and certainly not as any sort of addiction. I will tell you though, that I didn’t have to have the ice cream – and certainly didn’t every night, but I did have to have the television – I could not get to sleep with out it.
Reading this blog, and the Globalization of Addiction helps me get a perspective on why so many people in our society today have become addicted. It saddens me that society is going to continue to pursue this “me first”, “get mine” to succeed attitude, and that it is going to continue to propel the cycle of addiction.
I feel that in society, people who don’t have stuff – expensive cars, houses, handbags, powerful job positions, etc., don’t seem to exist or be valued as an important piece of society. I have always felt that Paris Hiltons fame and popularity has been an indicator of the demise of society, because besides a famous name, money, a pretty face, and a sex tape, what does she do? What is she good at (sex tape not included), what does she contribute to the greater good? I don’t know that she does, but I do know that she is upheld as a role model in society, and that her life style is coveted by many. I don’t understand why, but those ideals are exactly what continues to create the society of “…isolation, fear, and dislocation, which ultimately leads to compulsive lifestyles where people develop addictive relationships to stuff and get further and further disconnected from nurturing human relationships.” We need to see that we all exist – without a social security number, a facebook account, a job, a famous name, we ALL exist at the most basic level and that is how we need to see and connect with one another – as humans. Perhaps, once we get back to existing for eachother then we can cease to exist to consume senseless “things” or feed our addictions.
We hear a lot about how capitalism is causing ecological devastations in the world but it is rarely discussed how it destroys both interpersonal relationships and our relationship with the broader world. Reading this article made my assumptions feel validated. I can equate capitalism to the majority of major corrosive social and structural flaws within the United States. I hope that one day I can see the free market crumble. As you mention, capitalism or the “free market” creates dislocation which results in a meltdown within the self and the community. Capitalism has zero incentive to help our communities or individuals achieve wholeness and healthy lifestyles. Capitalism creates a very intense competitive state with one another, thus inevitably causing social breakdowns in interpersonal relationships and our relationship with the world. Capitalism manifests itself as a disease called false class consciousness. This disease makes us desire, worship and strive to get things we don’t have the means to get. When we see a movie and the lead character is a cool millionaire businessman with everything luxury item one could imagine most will strive to achieve this. If we see a new Nike shoe we pull out our credit cards and purchase it because we believe that it will increase our social capital.
This is problematic because when we rely on capitalism to satiate our need for social capital we will inevitably fail. These failures result in a society that is impulsive, a society that feels like a constant failure because we can never achieve our need for the social capital that capitalism creates. It molds a society that can’t have functional relationships with one another because of the intense completion capitalism creates. The lack of meaningful relationships, false class consciousness and increase in impulsivity create interesting dynamics that can perhaps escalate drug addiction or any addiction. Given that the free market is so destructive and is perhaps aiding in addiction what can we do? Capitalism is the American way just like democracy. How can we dismantle the free market when it is everywhere; it’s in our schools, the media our workplace. We are surrounded.
Thanks for the great feedback! I could not agree more with your observations, and also struggle with identifying where the leverage points are for change. I believe the place to start is the family. Work at the Oregon Social Learning Centerhas provided some guidance that we need to strengthen family relationships, meet children’s development needs, and help people identify and live what is important in life. The evolving field of positive psychology also has some answers, but as you say, changing society is not easy, it will require some significant alterations in how we live. Bruce Alexander is working on a book for the general public where I hope he expands on solutions to the problem.
Jasmine Johnson says
I agree a lot with what your saying i agree that we all need to make some changes in our life. Especially with our technology today and with it being so advanced we get sucked in to the market and the promoters all around us. I think we need to start with our selves first and make a change.
Brittany Ward says
I definitely agree with what you are saying about our society creating addiction through loss of relationships. I think we often only think about ourselves and what we want that we forget about how are personal decisions effect other people. I think the United States culture is so focused on consumption that we do not think about the consequences of all we consume. When all we do is focus on getting as much as we can the fastest way possible, we forget about other people and the impact it can have on them. we definitely need to start focusing on building and maintaining relationships over consuming material things.
Parents in today’s society do spend less and less time with their children. part of that is because of our busy life styles, some having to work two jobs just to make ends meet.
A child bonding with a parent help in beginning relationships with others. they begin to learn to trust and develop a healthy relationship with friends and other family members.
i did not grow up building any bond with either parent and thanks to therapy i have learned that its a good thing to be emotional. my addictive behavior i have is to work when confronted with a problem which requires me to have an emotional reaction.
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