Abstinence Cures Addiction. Sorry.

The following post will be somewhat revealing, so I apologize for causing any discomfort.

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Last year I was assigned “Alcoholism” as the topic of my research paper for Human Neuropsychology, and I learned that alcohol is the most awful drug on this planet. This semester I’m enrolled in an abnormal psychology class, and our first assignment was to weigh in on the “Are mental disorders diseases?” debate. To warm up for this debate, we tackled the issue of addictions; specifically, should addictions be considered brain diseases? My position on that topic is “No,” but that’s for another day. Simultaneously, I’m being asked to immerse myself in the world of gambling addictions for the Honours seminar. The result of all this has been an awful bout with cognitive dissonance. Let me explain.

For as long as I could hold an opinion, I have approached addictive substances and activities with a high degree of caution. I hadn’t touched alcohol or “street” drugs until I was 20, and I quit both when I was 23 – I’m currently 28. Admittedly, I was a chain smoker from the age of 15, but I kicked that habit at 23 as well. The only gambling I’ve ever been involved with was a few weeks of Pro-Line during High School, and I’ve only been in a casino once (didn’t play). Also, in my late teens and early twenties I participated in a number of illegal activities that didn’t hurt anyone, but could probably put me away for a few years, so let’s not go there. The point is that relative to many of my peers I’ve lived a rather viceless life, but I have lived. Now that you know who I am, let us move on to my inner conflict with addictions.

Whenever I dip into the addictions literature, I find myself asking the same question over and over again: why are we doing this to ourselves? And as I read the gambling addiction articles assigned to our Honours seminar, I can’t help but wonder the same question. From what I understand, even with the existence of predispositions, addictions cannot exist without the object of the addiction triggering the disorder. I’m not necessarily endorsing a prohibition. Getting together with a few friends and family members and playing a low-stakes game of poker is probably harmless. First of all, you’re playing with friends and family who care about you and will most likely intervene if they sense a problem. However, I do take issue with businesses and governments representing the “house” because my well-being is not their concern – profit is.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful to see all the research and interest in treating gambling addictions, and I’m sure there are hundreds and thousands of loved ones out there who are benefiting from such research. Nevertheless, and in my humble opinion, in the cost/benefit analysis of making gambling accessible to the public there are only costs.  Shaffer and Kidman’s (date?) argument that gambling can encourage social integration, adult play, and coping strategies seems rather ridiculous to me.  The benefits of gambling are not unique to gambling alone, i.e., we can socially integrate, engage in adult play, and enhance coping skills through methods that are less costly. With gambling there are only costs. If there is any benefit it is an economical one for the “house” because the house always wins.

I suffer from cognitive dissonance because I believe that if a thing is not contributing to the betterment of humankind by creating opportunities for our collective advancement, unity, and well being, than it is unnecessary and should be done away with. The dissonance comes from the fact that most of my peers and the institutions of my society scoff at my naive sense of idealism. Well, regardless, the scientific community can continue looking for new treatment models and diagnostic criteria, it can even alter and adapt its jargon to better reflect the more prevalent paradigms. Come what may, the only difference to me between hydrotherapy and Paxil is level of intrusiveness. Otherwise, both are treating symptoms alone.  The root cause of addiction is the object of the addiction, and the only sure cure is abstinence. If, as a society, we’re not willing to go there than the combination of a systematic grassroots awareness campaign and public policies that markedly reduce the availability of addictive substances and activities will have to do. A prohibition fails when the public fails to see its usefulness. Perhaps when the public recognizes the terrible costs of institutionalized gambling they will be more willing to do away with it. Perhaps.

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3 thoughts on “Abstinence Cures Addiction. Sorry.

  1. You’re great, this series is great, and the greatly philosophical questions of “what ought to be done?” are not the strong point of many academics. Especially in Psychology. Psych research is, generally, a study of what man is – not what he should be, or what can be done to make him attain his optimal condition (and if the authors claim it is, then it is just their guess, which is as good as yours).

  2. Laws only drive the “crime” underground where those afflicted won’t seek help. Furthermore jail and prison does more harm than good. I was a really good kid tell I got caught dumpster diving by the police. Afterwards I served community service with other “bad kids” and guess who taught me how to do drugs at the age of twelve? The kids I met from being in trouble with the law. Addiction is a civil problem, so let’s be civil with our fellow man in finding the solution.

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