Addiction As Particularized Process, Not Isolated Condition

In The Addiction Experience, Stanton Peele writes:

Addiction is not caused by a drug or its chemical properties. Addiction has to do with the effect a drug produces for a given person in given circumstances—a welcomed effect which relieves anxiety and which (paradoxically) decreases capability so that those things in life which cause anxiety grow more severe. We are addicted to the experience the drug creates for us.

Addiction is clearly a process rather than a condition….it cannot be viewed as an all-or-nothing state of being, one that is unambiguously present or absent….Addiction is an extension of ordinary behavior—a pathological habit, dependence, or compulsion. Just how pathological or addictive that behavior is depends on its impact on a person’s life.

We cannot say that a given drug is addictive, because addiction is not a peculiar characteristic of drugs. It is…a characteristic of the involvement that a person forms with a drug….addiction is not limited to drugs….any activity that can absorb a person in such a way as to detract from the ability to carry through other involvements is….addictive. [As cited in ‘Seven Things We Must Understand About Addiction to Undo the Mistakes of the Past 40 Years‘]

Addiction is the name given to a complex set of behaviors understood as pathological in context. The relevant context is the overall economy of the patient/user/agent’s life: what are their goals and ends in life? What is their scale of values? Does the behavior in question threaten these? These questions answered, the characterization can begin.

Put this way, addiction is not, for instance, an isolated, abstract, relationship between a ‘user’ and a drug; put the drug and the user together, and it pops into view. Rather, it is highly particularized. This user, when using this drug, in this circumstances and environment, given his or her expressed desires, ends, and values, is engaging in addictive behavior because those same desires, ends, and values have been compromised by these behaviors. The user does not have ‘an addictive personality’; the drug is not ‘addictive’. Change the circumstances and environment, you might obtain a different set of behaviors; freely–this is crucial–change your desires, ends, and values in such a way that these new ones are not compromised, and that same set of behaviors is not ‘addictive.’

As Peele notes, many activities and substances can be addictive–as the notions of ‘workaholic’ and ‘sex addict’ and the increasingly frantic calls to ‘unplug, disconnect, and get off the grid’ seem to confirm. Certainly the rise of social-media-blocking programs–the modern version of the addict locking himself into a room to prevent another visit to the dealer down the street–is ample confirmation that we find our world-denying relationships to social media pathological in at least one dimension. Perhaps our modern culture’s greatest sleight of hand in this regard has been to relegate the partaking of recreational drugs to the bin of addictive behavior while valorizing other forms of addiction–like working eighty-hour weeks.

In the meantime, we can continue to congratulate ourselves for having made ‘addictive’ drugs illegal and for locking up their users, all the while blithely ignoring circumstance and context. Pathology should be unsurprising.

Marijuana Legalization: States Lead, the Center Follows, and Obama Stops Giggling?

Jacob Sullum at Reason.com looks at the marijuana legalization initiatives under way in Colorado, Washington and Oregon, and notes that there might be parallels with the repeal of alcohol prohibition, where the lead was taken by state initiatives:

By the time the 21st Amendment ended national alcohol prohibition in December 1933, more than a dozen states had already opted out. Maryland never passed its own version of the Volstead Act, while New York repealed its alcohol prohibition law in 1923. Eleven other states eliminated their statutes by referendum in November 1932.

We could see the beginning of a similar rebellion against marijuana prohibition this year as voters in three states—Washington, Colorado, and Oregon—decide whether to legalize the drug’s production and sale for recreational use. If any of these ballot initiatives pass, it might be the most consequential election result this fall, forcing both major parties to confront an unjust, irrational policy that Americans increasingly oppose. [link in original]

The figures in Sullum’s article seem to indicate that while Oregon’s voters currently seem disinclined to approve their state’s legalization initiative, those in Colorado and Washington appear far more in favor of finally bringing an end to the catastrophic insanity of the continuing illegality of marijuana.

But if Oregon does not make marijuana legal this year, I suspect its position as a neighboring state to Washington will complicate its position in the years to come.  Perhaps trans-border ‘marijuana tourism’ will pick up, infuriating Oregon’s law-enforcement officers and creating more headaches for them. This could lead to pressure on Washington, from Oregon, to increase the regulation on sales of marijuana (much as coffee-shops in the Netherlands sometimes do, to make sure that Belgian and German kids aren’t jumping on a train heading across the border to pick up a stash.) Conversely, the loss of such revenue to a neighboring state could perhaps aid the drive to legalization in Oregon. (‘Why lose all that cash to Washington?’)

The most significant effect of such state legalization initiatives will be the empirical data they will provide for national designers of drug policy: What are its effects on patterns of drug usage, on the so-called ‘gateway effect’, on crime statistics? Perhaps the presence of such data will indicate to other states that their worst fears about legalization are not being realized in states bold enough to just say ‘no’ to the war on drugs. And perhaps it will induce some seriousness into our president whose ‘leadership’ in drug policy thus far has consisted of a passable imitation of an ostrich. (One that snickers; see below.)

Sullum goes on to note:

As The Seattle Times observed in a recent editorial endorsing Initiative 502, “The question for voters is not whether marijuana is good. It is whether prohibition is good.” The voices rejecting prohibition in Washington and Colorado include city council members, state legislators, former U.S. attorneys, clergymen, retired cops, and two national police organizations—a hard group to dismiss as a bunch of silly potheads, which is President Obama’s usual approach to the issue. [links in original]

Do chase down the link to the video of Obama, and his faithfully acolytic audience, giggling–like a bunch of silly potheads–at the mere raising of the question. I had never imagined that an expensive, racist, deadly policy could be so funny.