It is a felt truth that one of our world’s most urgent sources of pain and suffering, especially here in the United States, is addiction, the most obvious evidence of which is the opioid crisis and the ubiquitousness of alcoholism. But substance abuse is only one manifestation of addictive behavior: therapies for technology and video game addiction are popping up as we create gadgets that are intentionally designed to be alluring and escapist. Sex, love, food, gambling, shopping, and hoarding all precariously sit on the edge of addiction, each with their own 12-step programs. Even more nuanced are the behaviors that can be difficult to categorize as addictions because they can be viewed as strengths, like over-productivity, workaholism and perfectionism. Developing a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of addiction is where we want to start with the topic, because it will show us that we can all participate in the conversation.
Defining the nature of addiction is one of the problems we face when addressing the issue. Socially, addiction has been viewed as a problem of willpower or moral deficiency, placing the blame on the individual. We are only just now beginning to wake up to the fact that there are many different enablers of addiction, such as neurochemistry, genetics, and circumstance. Researchers are also beginning to see addiction as a symptom of a deeper problem that is most often systematic in a familial or societal context, expanding the scope of responsibility beyond the individual alone. Many practitioners will tell you that addicts are highly sensitive people who have encountered trauma, creating the need to self-medicate or fill a void where something once was. By failing to view addiction like this in the past, shame and blame have cloaked the issue, making it all the more difficult and painful to discuss and view the problem clearly and with compassion. This results in addicts and those affected by addiction hiding their stories in shame, preventing many from getting the help that they need. This furthers the problem of isolation and perpetuates the root cause, as isolation is thought to be one of the leading causes of addiction. It’s a vicious and unsustainable cycle.
As a society, we are coming to terms with the insufficiency of the solutions at hand, realizing that we need to expand our toolbox, redefine addiction and sobriety with more nuance, and incorporate alternative and innovative methods into the way we approach treatment. No one method or modality will work for everyone, and most likely what will generate positive results is a combination of many methods after a process of trial and error.