Is addiction a disease or is it a choice? (Tweet This!)
In most conservative circles, addiction is viewed on a moral axis of increasingly bad decisions, as if we only need to stop being so stubborn and just choose our way out, while in most liberal circles, addiction is viewed as a biological propensity of wiring, as if we cannot help ourselves.
Of course, these binary categories presume we can tag one another with simple labels, but in reality, addiction doesn’t work that way. It’s a complex mess of factors that requires our attention in every direction. It’s an unpredictable monster that refuses to yield to our generalizations, and as long as it remains in a box, so will we. Addiction is complicated because we are complicated. (Tweet This!)
But the “secret” to understanding addiction is not a middle way between disease and choice. It’s not cherry-picking from two sides. There’s a much bigger picture involved.
Johann Hari, author of Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, concludes in a recent article that addiction defies our current categorical molds. The article, a fascinating read which I highly recommend, brings up three insightful studies, the first being a twist on a classic psychology experiment:
1) In the 1980s, caged rats were given two bottles of water, one normal and one laced with cocaine. Nine out of ten rats would drink the cocaine-infused water until they died. But Professor Bruce Alexander in Vancouver challenged these findings by building “Rat Park,” a luxurious cage with plenty of comfort and amusement and contact with other rat friends. The rats who lived alone in the isolated cage would mostly die from addiction or become users, but the rats who lived in Rat Park consumed less than a quarter of the drugged water that the lone rats consumed, and none of them died.
2) In the Vietnam War, an estimated 20% of American soldiers became addicted to heroin to cope with the brutality of war. When they returned, about 95% of those addicts kicked the addiction.
3) In hospitals, patients in need of diamorphine (the medical name for heroin) will receive the most pure, potent kind. But most patients stop even after months of use in the hospital.
Hari’s believes that our “cage” will determine the likelihood of quitting addiction. He writes:
“This isn’t only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love … But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live – constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.”
Hari is not dismissive of “choice” or “disease,” but he also does not endorse a mixing of both sides. He attempts to move us beyond this dichotomy. It’s instead about asking, What’s next?
It’s very possible that porn addiction is more of a choice and heroin addiction is more of a disease. We can argue endlessly about the strength of the addiction, about whether our neurology controls us or we control it – but ultimately, we still have to turn the page.
So the question remains: What comes next?
We’ll answer that in part two.
Are you coping with addiction in isolation or do you have a supportive community around you? Don’t let the shame or porn use or sex addiction keep you trapped in a cage. Join an X3group today and get the community and connection you need. Sign Up Now
Unlocking Addiction: A Secret Hidden in Plain Sight (Pt. 1) by J.S. Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at https://www.xxxchurch.com.
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