Addictions treatment requires broad perspective

When I was a child, I knew that, when I grew up, I wanted to be an addict. I found the lifestyle glamorous and I could see that it would get me places in life. And I had a wide array of choices of future lifestyles from which to pick.

  • Sep. 16, 2014 8:03 p.m.

When I was a child, I knew that, when I grew up, I wanted to be an addict. I found the lifestyle glamorous and I could see that it would get me places in life. And I had a wide array of choices of future lifestyles from which to pick.

It sounds ridiculous — and it is. No one chooses to be an addict.

Chris Salomons’ well-intentioned commentary on drug culture (Advocate, Saturday, Page A7) concludes by stating that it “will require all of society, and every facet of it, doing everything its power to make a change.”

This is a tall order, with its use of categorical statements like “all,” “every” and “everything.” It is also misdirected.

Drug culture is a part of the larger problems of substance abuse and addiction. Essentially, Salomons make no specific or concrete recommendations about approaching the problems of addiction. Space limits me here, but I will point out several clarifications for his discussion.

First, there is a significant difference between the act of starting to use a substance and the chronic, continued use of a substance. We must ask why people begin to engage in habit-forming activities when they are previously not addicted to something. Physical addiction from chronic use is a different set of personal variables from a person who has no initial physical addiction. Beginning use is a question of prevention; chronic use is a question of treatment. They require different approaches.

Second, Salomons focuses almost exclusively on substance addiction. Yet, it is clear that behaviours are also addictive. Gambling is the usual example. It’s not a substance, although it may create physiological chemical responses in the gambler. Other examples can include sex, gaming and computers, shopping, food (either its ingestion or refusal). In fact, almost anything can become addictive. Some people are dismissive of this argument.

Third, we need to be clear on the definition of addiction. It is not simply about substances. It is any behaviour that negatively affects a person’s life to the point of losing other things that matter to them like family, job, friends, money, etc. And, it is a condition that becomes self-perpetuating. This definition is clearly related to the distinction between starting and continuing an addictive behaviour. Using a substance once does not make one an addict, nor does it necessarily lead to addiction.

Fourth, if we choose to use an illness model for addiction (there are other models), the addict is not so much the sickness as the symptom. The addict is not the problem, and it does little good to blame the addict as someone who is abnormal, who is sick, who has made bad life choices, who has no willpower. Rather, we must ask what kind of conditions would make a person want or need to engage in a behaviour (drug use, for example) that is clearly destructive. Addicts are generally not happy when they are not in the altered state of their addiction; they know it is destructive and unhealthy.

Fifth, there is no consensus among addiction experts on the causes or the cures for addiction. Perhaps the closest thing to consensus is a belief that addiction begins in suffering, be it emotional, physical, political, or spiritual. The addictive behaviour is an escape from pain, a temporary relief of suffering. Suffering need not lead to addiction; often it does not. But, it appears to be a common denominator among addicts.

Addiction does not discriminate. It cuts across almost all demographics of age, race, religion, country. The value of Salomons’ piece is his focus on the need for increased social change of our society, not singularly personal change of the addict. Addiction is a social problem that manifests itself most visibly in individuals.

Most people can probably point to that one person who “turned his or her life around,” but, if we continue to see addiction as a personal failing of a weak individual who must be saved, we will make very little headway on the large scale problems of addiction.

Roger Davis

Red Deer

Just Posted

Vandal strikes downtown business

Window with PRIDE poster broken

No new RNs hired to Red Deer hospital emergency department in a month: United Nurses of Alberta

UNA filed a grievance in June in response to what they say is a staffing crisis

Traffic pattern to change for summer near interchange

Southbound Hwy 2 traffic to be shifted

Red Deer couple win $100,000 in lottery

Couple won their money on June 1 LOTTO MAX with EXTRA draw

‘Walking survey’ of Red Deer’s green carts starts this week

Gold stars or pointers on correct use will be left on inspected carts

Updated: SUV smashes through fences and deck in Anders

Driver taken to hospital after SUV veered off 30th Avenue into Anders

Cull hasn’t been able to solve bunny burden in Alberta mountain town of Canmore

CANMORE, Alta. — Problems persist in an Alberta mountain town overrun with… Continue reading

Canada should help Holocaust denier on trial in Germany: civil liberties group

OTTAWA — A civil liberties group is urging the Canadian government to… Continue reading

Westerner Days: Send us your photos

Your reader photo may just make the pages of the Adovcate.

Adam Henrique signs $29.1M, 5-year extension with Ducks

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Centre Adam Henrique has signed a $29.1 million, five-year… Continue reading

Fashion firms upend design routine to focus on speed, trends

NEW YORK — Prototypes? Passe. Fashion company Betabrand saw that knitwear was… Continue reading

Trimming and tidying: Perennials need care too

The great attraction in growing perennial flowers is that you never have… Continue reading

Johnny Depp settles lawsuits involving former managers

LOS ANGELES — Johnny Depp has settled lawsuits with his former business… Continue reading

Cubs’ Kyle Schwarber falls to Bryce Harper in Home Run Derby final

WASHINGTON — Nationals Park was eerily quiet late Monday when Kyle Schwarber… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month