U.S.A.: Ununited States of Addiction
Yes, “ununited.” Doesn’t even show up as a real word in my spell check.
But that’s not the point. The point is that we are drowning in a typhoon of addiction.
The saddest part is that we don’t even know it.
When I write “we” I mean us as a people, a culture and a society; so please try not to personalize it if you’re more aware than the average bear. And I acknowledge you if you are more conscious about this very painful problem.
Of course being an addictionologist (which also doesn’t show up as a real word in spell check) for 30 years, AND being a person of recovery myself, I have a different opinion, perspective and collective experience than most other “normal” people.
I “see” what most people are apparently blind to. I “hear” what most people choose, through selective listening, to be deaf to. I “feel” what most people have detached themselves from.
It’s time to bring this into the spotlight and for us (yes, us) to do something about it.
Here are my thoughts, ideas and questions to answer (and I’d love to hear yours):
1.) What IS addiction? From my experience, most people are clueless. We are very undereducated about addiction and the media only seems to sensationalize it when there is some person of notoriety affected by addiction. Here’s an example of some of the definitions of addiction:
- “The continued compulsive engagement of addictive behavior in spite of adverse health or social consequences.”
- “A state of heavy dependence on the addiction; sometimes defined as physical dependence but usually also including emotional dependence, i.e., compulsive or pathological use.”
- “It is often used synonymously with dependence.”
- “Compulsive use of the addictive behavior, to the point where the user has no effective choice but to continue use.”
- “A behavior disorder characterized by extreme addiction-seeking behavior and the interaction with the addictive behavior for other than medical indications.”
2.) We’re ALL addicts. I know this sounds extreme and I have often been on the receiving end of much criticism and sarcasm when I’ve used this phrase (It’s also the title of many workshops I’ve presented over the years). The point is that we all have the potential to be engaged in addictive behavior and many of us are. However, since we have a lack of insight and education, we don’t see and, therefore, don’t do anything about it.
3.) The obvious addiction. Most people, when they’re asked about addiction, automatically go to drugs and alcohol. And even though we’ve become more aware of the issues surrounding drug and alcohol addiction, that hasn’t changed the outcomes. We now have MORE people addicted to drugs and alcohol than ever.
4.) The not-so obvious addictions. This is the part where people get confused and defensive and downright oppositional (so, you’ve been warned). Drugs and alcohol are NOT even the primary addictive behaviors today. More likely, food, sex, and spending would be the leading culprits, with work, Internet, video games and TV all close behind. Of course, gambling is right up there in the mix as well, but hard to evaluate (as most addictive behaviors are) due to it’s hidden nature. We live in an addictive environment and an addictive culture. But because the word “addiction” is not understood nor used with these excessive behaviors, they are conveniently categorized otherwise. Usually people say something like it’s just a “lack of will power” which somehow trumps it being addictive.
5.) The completely invisible addiction. If the last one (#4) didn’t blow you away or upset you, this one will for sure. Are you ready? Are you sure? We are addicted to ourselves. Yes, we are completely consumed with that person in the mirror, and that’s the cause of all these other addictive behaviors. We live in a culture that supports either a.) being completely entitled to do whatever you want, whenever you want and however much you want, and/or, b.) being completely immersed in how God-Awful bad your life is and how obsessing about this is a normal way of being in our obsessive-impulsive-compulsive culture. Either way, this invites us into any addictive behavior we choose, either as a way to escape bad feelings, or a way to celebrate. In both cases, “we” justify it because “we” can or “we” deserve it.
6.) How our culture completely enables all this. We live in the “bigger, better, faster, more, now” times, and this magnetic machine of marketing, comparisonism and consumptionism, among other dynamics, drives our addictive culture. We are brought up in an education system (more on that later…much more) that provokes competitiveness and achievement in a one-dimensional path. And if a student doesn’t fit this path (which many don’t…just look at the dropout rates, suspension numbers and grade-point averages), then too bad for you as there just must be something wrong with you. Great message for kids, and no wonder we have such a problem with so many people struggling with their low self-esteem. The world of advertising compels us to spend more, get more and have more, in order to be more. (NOT!!) And then there’s the wonderful world of distorted, dysfunctional and unreliable media. So, here’s the question: Where exactly can somebody get a reliable reality check?? (I’m SO glad you asked!!)
7.) What to do about it. It starts with you, me and all of us. Our education system is probably the place where the most positive impact can take place. The antiquated core 3 Rs (Reading, writing and arithmetic) of education can no longer be the focal point, nor can ACT, SAT or GPA. None of these scores or numbers prevents addiction. If we are not educating our children to, first and foremost, learn to be emotionally intelligent (the most important precursor to addiction prevention), and second, to understand and know how to avoid addictive behaviors, then what value is education? We have more addiction, domestic violence and dysfunctional behaviors than ever, and our current education system has done nothing to change or stop these trends. Of course, the primary institutions of family, community and religion must all be willing to be in alignment with what’s being taught with this new and improved suggested curriculum, or else it all goes for naught.
8.) It’s not the war on drugs, it’s the war within ourselves. “We don’t have a drug problem; we have a people problem.” I don’t know who the originator was of this quote, but it’s spot-on and fits for the entire realm of addiction. When we, as a united people, are all on the same page helping to inspire and motivate each other through education, prevention and empowerment, we can then begin to work on the core issue: Ourselves. People never plan to or want to become addicted; they do so because it becomes a very maladaptive coping mechanism, and the primary dynamic that drives people to indulge in addictive behavior is pain. Emotional pain, relational pain, spiritual pain, mental pain and physical pain. We don’t know how to adequately deal with pain, so the many different colors and flavors of addiction gladly open the door to a world of anesthetizing any and all of our collective pain. However, this is only temporary relief and the consequences are the quick downward spiral of addiction, depression and death.
9.) Start with school; make it cool. As stated above, our best and most effective point of leverage is through our education system. Many people may argue that it has to start at home first, but think about this for a moment: Isn’t that where some of the problem is? How would a family with an active addiction embrace teaching their children about addiction prevention? I know this could create a lot of chaos and crisis, but we already have chaos and crisis, so maybe this could help offset things. The bottomline is that there are no easy answers and the education system, because of its prevalence in young people’s lives (they go for 5 days every week and approximately 9 months of the year, and [hopefully] for at least 13 years of their lives), has the most ample opportunity to do something to turn this tide of dysfunction and destruction around.
10.) What happens if we do nothing. We’ve already been doing way too little for way too long. There are very high, long and thick walls of denial that have allowed addiction to grow into the destructive monster and destroyer of families, communities and lives already. We have a chasm of misunderstanding and miseducation that grows wider and deeper every day. Like any other disease, illness or plague, if nothing is done, then the exponential consequences will awaken us abruptly one day with the sudden impact of reality that could send all of us into an uncontrollable and deadly crash and burn.
11.) U.S.A.: Unified System of Action. I’d like to claim that I have all the answers, but I don’t. I’m only one person with a lifetime of only my own personal experiences and perspectives. However, with complete humility and gratitude, I’ve seen the difference that I’ve been able to have on people’s lives. I know that when educated people help people seeped in addictive behavior, there’s a possibility of positive and lasting change. If we could simply (but maybe not so “easily”) get on the same page, with the same united goals, we could then become a Unified System of Action.
There you have it; my thoughts, ideas and opinions about what addiction is, why something needs to be done and what we might be able to do. If nothing changes, as the simple truth goes, then nothing changes. But if we each do something to combat addiction, then we, as a people, a culture and a society, can make the necessary changes to become a clean and sober nation.
Thanks for listening. Now, what action step are you going to take?
Marry YourSelf First! …today.