Healing Addiction Through Community: A Much Longer Road Than it Seems?
Bruce K. Alexander
Revised Version of Keynote Address at the “Creating Caring Communities” Conference
Selkirk College, May 14, 2015
The winds of change are blowing in the field of addiction. I sense the change in the discourse of the most stimulating scholars and the discussions of the audiences when I give public presentations. Both the moralistic view of addiction as wilful evil and the disease/medical model of addiction have lost much of the impregnable power they once had (Pickard, 2012; Ahmed, Lenoir, & Guillem, 2013; Levy, 2013; Satel & Lilienfeld, 2013; Hall, Carter, & Forlini, 2014). A new understanding is gradually emerging in their place: Addiction is a way that needy people respond to what is missing or traumatic in their own lives and communities (Maté, 2008; Hart, 2013; Peele & Thompson, 2014, esp. pp. 197-200; Lewis, 2015). Along with this understanding comes a much greater emphasis on attempting to establish addicted people in a welcoming community, thereby reducing their need for addictive compensations. This expanding trend is associated with googleable phrases like “building community”, “restoring community”, “recovery houses”, and “support groups”.
Addiction, Environmental Crisis, and Global Capitalism
Bruce K. Alexander
Presented at the College of Sustainability, Dalhousie University
February 26 and 27, 2015
On good days, I can still feel optimistic about the future of Planet Earth. On such days, I rejoice in the amazing worldwide environmental and social justice movements whose members I encounter everywhere I go. Tonight, I am pretty sure that many active members of the environmental movement are in the audience. I am truly honoured to be able to speak with you as well as to those whose connections to the environmental movement have been more limited, as mine were for most of my professional life.
I devoted the major portion of my professional lifetime to studying the psychology of addiction. However, over the decades, I gradually came to see addiction not only as an agonizing psychological problem that certain individuals must deal with, but also as a kind of a window onto modern society. I have come to believe that looking through this addiction-window can provide useful insights into social problems of all kinds. Tonight I hope you will look with me through this window at the current environmental crisis, as it relates to global capitalism.
I believe that this unique viewpoint will help us to understand more fully not only why there is an ecological crisis at this time in history, but also what we can do about it.
Rat Park versus The New York Times
Bruce K. Alexander
Rat Park closed forever more than 30 years ago. In its heyday, it was a very large plywood box on the floor of my addiction laboratory at Simon Fraser University. The box was fitted out to serve as a happy home and playground for groups of rats. My colleagues and I found that rats that lived together in this approximation of a natural environment had much less appetite for morphine than rats housed in solitary confinement in the tiny metal cages that were standard in those days.
Who could be surprised by this finding? The only people who acted surprised at the time – and a bit offended – were those addiction researchers who believed that the great appetite for morphine, heroin, and cocaine that earlier experiments had demonstrated in rats housed in the tiny solitary confinement cages proved that these drugs were irresistible to all mammals, including human beings. I call this idea the “Myth of the Demon Drug.” This myth was the backbone of mainstream theories of addiction in those days.
The Rise and Fall of the Official View of Addiction
Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus
Simon Fraser University
Revised July 3 2014
Confession and Plea to the High Court in the Field of Addiction:
Herewith, I confess to the charge of attempted murder. My intended victim was – and still is – the Official View of Addiction, sometimes known in the field by its aliases including, “the brain disease model of addiction” or “The NIDA model”. The presentation below contains irrefutable evidence of my guilt. However, it also expresses my plea to the High Court that ridding the world of the Official View of Addiction is justifiable and that its useful aspects can be preserved within a different paradigm.
2 February 2011
Nick Reding’s book, Methland, is a fascinating, new study of addiction. It focuses on the town of Olewein, Iowa, which has been stricken by methamphetamine addiction in the past few decades. Methamphetamine is an infamous stimulant drug with many aliases. It is also known as “meth” “crank” “crystal,” and, most ominously, “ice.”
Beyond Olewein, the book tells the story of a huge area of the rural United States, which Reding christens “Methland”. As Nick Reding defines it, “Methland,” is the rural center of the US -- the 28 landlocked American states. Obviously, Methland has more familiar names too, such as “Middle America,” but Reding renames it Methland because at the end of the 20th century it became notorious for its rampant meth use, meth addiction, and amateur meth manufacturing or “cooking”. Reding was determined to figure out why.
(Revised 26 December 2010)
Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Psychology Department, Simon Fraser University
Global society has failed to control a devastating flood of addiction to drug use and innumerable other habits. A century of scientific research has not produced a durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, and how it can be remedied. Physicians, addiction counselors, social workers, and psychologists only succeed with a minority of addicted clients. Police and soldiers find themselves drafted into a cruel and futile "war on drugs". Hi-tech neuroscience, education, harm reduction, and spirituality cannot control today's flood of addiction either.
The only real hope of controlling the flood of addiction comes from the social sciences, which are uniquely suited to replace society's worn-out formulas with a more productive paradigm. Although many social scientists have analysed the cause of addiction in specific historical circumstances, this short article will focus on more general analyses by Karl Polanyi and a few more recent scholars. This overview shows that society's cardinal error in confronting addiction has been ignoring what Polanyi called "dislocation".
|Figure 1 - White Rats
…you certainly wouldn’t want to live in a psychology laboratory.
Presented (In shortened form) to A Community Aware,
Vancouver, September 10 2013
Late in the 19th century, a young Harvard scholar named William James, dreamed that brain science could cure the psychological pain and suffering that he saw all around him, including his own (Richardson, 2007). More broadly, he envisioned brain science as the basis of a new, scientific approach to the entire field of psychology (James, 1890/1950). William James was not alone in these dreams, but was one of a scattered fraternity of brilliant European and American researchers who pursued similar visons (Boring, 1950; E. Taylor, 2011).
William James was much more than a physiological psychologist, however. He was also a member of a brilliantly intellectual, but conflicted family; an encompassing, classical scholar who read the great philosophers in Latin, German, and French; a modern, pragmatic philosopher; and a man of deep personal friendships and universal compassion. His whole family was fervently opposed to slavery and two of his brothers risked their lives to fight it in the American Civil War (Richardson, 2007).