Addiction: A Hopeful Prophecy From a Time of Despair
Bruce K. Alexander
April 17, 2017
Expanded version of a presentation to the “New Directions in the Study of Alcohol Group,” Fortieth annual meeting, Bradford, UK, April 24 2016. A video version of that presentation is available (Alexander, 2016a.) However, this written version was only completed a year after the speech was given, because I found I could not end the speech properly in Bradford and had to finish on a minor point. Most of the original speech appears within this expanded, written version, up to the point near the end where my words stuck in my throat and I could not finish as planned. The ending of this version is new.
Read more: Addiction: A Hopeful Prophecy From a Time of Despair
The City of Vancouver is promoting a major new initiative on drug addiction based on the “four pillars” of treatment, prevention, law enforcement, and harm reduction. This balanced and compassionate initiative warrants public support. Unfortunately, it does not warrant optimism. A century of intense effort has shown that no matter how well different approaches are coordinated, society cannot “prevent,” “treat,” or “harm reduce” its way out of addiction any more than it can “police” its way out of it.
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(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".
Read more: A Change of Venue for Addiction: From Medicine to Social Science
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.
Read more: A Train Trip through Methland
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.
Read more: Rise and Fall of the Official View of Addiction
Addiction as Seen from the Perspective of Karl Polanyi
Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus,
Simon Fraser University,
Burnaby BC, Canada
Global society has failed to control a rising tide of dangerous addictions to drug use and innumerable other habits. Science has not achieved a durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, and how it can be remedied. Members of the “helping professions”, including social workers and psychologists like myself, have not been able to help addicted people very much. However, there are reasons to believe that political economists can point the way to controlling the social calamity of addiction, although the way will be neither quick nor painless.
Read more: Addiction as Seen from the Perspective of Karl Polanyi
The 2008 report of Scotland’s Futures Forum[i] indicates that Scottish policy makers are prepared to move in a new direction, seeking to reduce harms associated with drugs and alcohol, rather than vainly striving to eliminate these substances from the face of the earth.
Read more: Towards Controlling the Drugs and Alcohol Problem in Scotland: Going Up the Down Staircase