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addictions - the real reasons

MOST HEALTHY cultures, especially relatively undisturbed tribal cultures, have little or no incidence of addictive behavior. Even the acquisition of property among some native american tribes was considered something of a danger, so "potlatch" ceremonies were held, usually once a year, to give away accumulations of property and thus eliminate the source of possible jealousy or discontent. Some of these cultures even use drugs of the hallucinogenic variety-- but always under the umbrella of religious experience or socialization. Speaking from my own experience of recovery from addiction, I believe most addicts become habitual users in a misguided search for love, recognition, belonging-- or maybe nothing more than the "comfort" of oblivion in a society which they perceive as too competitively difficult, or which simply doesn't value them.

ALMOST ALL of this can be explained via the connection, or lack of it, between childhood and the adult members of any culture. If the way to adulthood is clear, inclusive, and supportive of individual diversity (usually, at least to this point in human development, accompanied by various rituals to mark the "rites of passage"), few will be tempted to step outside the "system". The more the adult culture is status-graded, however, and the more competitive and exclusive each status-level is, and the more impersonal the testing or "merit" systems are which lead to the successful "passing" of each "gate" to adulthood, the more the system starts to produce casualties. And the fewer adults involved in the transformation process, the higher the casualty rate. In modern American culture, the ratio at best is about 15-20 children to one adult-- and that assumes that every child has one fully-committed parent and one equally committed teacher in his or her life and who is at least available all the time-- rather an optimistic assumption, I think.
WITHOUT THE adult involvement in the process of passage, for whatever reason, children, adolescents and young adults will seek attention and recognition and still want the status of adulthood, with the power it seemingly bestows (and of which they are deprived). Without adult involvement, these young adults compete among themselves, using ill- or half-formed notions of adulthood and society as their "guides" to recognition and power, resulting often in misguided behavior and at worst, very destructive and antisocial activity. They will set their own often disfunctional rites of passage, and sometimes will identify the adult society which powerfully ignores them as the enemy. With fame or wealth the only marks of distinction, antisocial behavior can seem to be a badge to wear more proudly than a paper MacDonald's hat or mechanics' overalls.
IT MIGHT sound like I'm making an argument to "save" us from anti-social juvenile delinquents-- I'm not singling them out. We have a "culture" here in the USA which values success above anything else, and every day the morality of achieving success, wealth, and therefore power, falls lower and lower on any list of priorities. We talk about values but rarely define them anymore-- we reward the powerful and successful, whatever their means of getting there-- and the almost obscene levels of wealth attainable in the USA enables the very rich to literally bury their financially "challenged" adversaries, regardless of motives and values.
IN A SOCIETY as fragmented as the United States, with its values as superficial and seemingly arbitrary and exclusive (as they must seem to many adolescents)-- the obvious ignorance or hypocracy of the establishment is the real enemy. Chemical intervention in the human body-- to "fix" us-- as sanctioned and prescribed by the medical establishment, is big business-- as is the multi-billion-dollar mind-altering "legal" drug business. But damage to the patient seems to be a lesser consideration than either insuring that the patient causes no trouble to others, or, of course, allows him or her to get to that (boring) job every day, and be "productive"-- to the system, not to themselves. It appears that mind-altering drugs are not just "okay" but necessary-- as along as they make the rich richer and are used to control you.
OUR LEGAL drugs are the real killers, not just because the drugs may be more deadly than others-- but because they are legal and because a society which meets few deep and genuinely human needs spawns drug use. Studies in Australia which included the whole range of legal and illicit drugs concluded that nearly half of all deaths were related to tobacco smoking ("the largest number") and alcohol use/abuse (20%, which includes vehicular accidents and homicides where alcohol levels were 0.05% or higher), and only 3% with all other drugs. The University of Wisconsin's Medical School doesn't even list alcohol as a "drug of abuse"-- though it puts tobacco smoking at the top of the list, attributing 20% of all deaths to it (a number which agrees with the Australian study).
OUR CHILDREN and young people inherently know this. Studies also show that daily marijuana use among American high-schoolers is higher than daily alcohol use-- most likely because they see the destructive effects of alcohol use/abuse in their own families and in the death-rate on the roads.
AS A BOY, locked under the control of my parents and schoolteachers, the image of my father driving a car anywhere he wanted or with his friends and a drink in his hand represented all I really knew about the exclusive adult "club" of freedom. I mostly waited until I was of legal age before I began other than experimental alcohol consumption, and a little later before I started smoking tobacco, but that was largely because I was confident of passing the academic hurdles of admittance to the highest echelons of adult society-- and also as a teenager I was a hard-training athelete, and sports in high school were a more visible and acceptable way of gaining recognition and "honor" on my way to adulthood. As soon as it became apparent at university that I simply wasn't going to be good enough to gain further recognition in sports, those hours when I used to be training seemed more "valuably" spent doing something else-- and smoking and drinking no longer a threat to my athletic progress.
THIS PAGE is not going to be a re-hash of my addiction to alcohol and later recovery-- and I'm not going to delve into the complexities of body/brain chemistry and all the substances which come to bear on behavior, consciousness, and its alteration-- but bear with me a moment or two longer. I'll speak for myself because I cannot speak for anyone else's experience.
I FOUND a world, in a few special bars, saloons, pubs, and faculty clubs, where the pressures of work were suspended, where relaxation and conversation were the goals, where diminished inhibitiions promoted connections between people which "outside" didn't seem to happen, and where people had more time for each other. There is a word for what goes on in such places (with or without drugs): conviviality. Indeed, the dictionary usually defines it as associated with feasting or drinking, but it is really a quality of friendliness and affable life-- a commodity (I prefer the word ambience) far too rare in modern western culture. It shouldn't be.
WHEN I could afford it (and most of my life I have been able to), this is where I spent at least an hour or two each day. When I couldn't afford it, I settled for cheap beer at home-- and the feeling which evoked the illusion of conviviality-- and a day wasn't done until I'd had a couple of drinks to commemorate its end. Later, when high stress became a part of my job-- and when I'd rejected the mind-dulling tranquilizers prescribed by my "expert" doctor-- I used alcohol consciously as medication-- relaxant and stress-reliever. At some point, this habitual use of alcohol crossed over to dependence-- though I never thought I was physically addicted until less than a full day's abstinence provoked a seizure which kept me near death in intensive care for five days.
IT'S POSSIBLE that I had a genetic predisposition for addicition to alcohol-- but I am not prepared to dismiss other studied opinions. I AM prepared, however, to dismiss the opinion that drugs are such a danger to us as human beings-- they may be a great danger to this culture, and apparently they are. But if our culture met more of our true human needs instead of being totally focused on brain-washing us to meet the needs of the ultra-wealth-producing military-industrial economy, their "value" would diminish to near zero-- and maybe we should be looking at human and caring ways to expand our consciousness-- like learning to live in true harmony with all the wonderful landscapes, creations, spirits and energies of this brilliant but short life-existence.
THIS CULTURE wants to addict us to mindless materialism and an equally mindless subserviance to the huge multinational coporate economic machine which manipulates our governments and mines us and the earth to profit the vastly rich minority who already own most of the planet. They fail to see that the planet "owns" us-- though ownership is a myth of the truly stupid-- and persist in attempting to expand their control to the very strings of DNA in plants, seeds, animals-- and maybe not so far away-- even you and I. The REAL way to expand our consciousness is to re-establish a culture which is predicated on the concept of an equitable society which truly values the gifts of individual diversity, and the interdepence of all within this universe.
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