Newest Articles & Speeches

Creating Healing Communities in a Toxic Society: Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson

Alexander, B. (2020). [Special issue]. International Journal of Existential Positive Psychology, 9(1), 1-8. Retrieved from https://www.meaning.ca/ijepp/special-issue-2018-proceedings-of-the-meaning-conference/

Creating Healing Communities in a Toxic Society: Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson

Bruce Alexander, Ph.D.

Existential therapy can be a wonderful gift to addicted people and will help some to improve their lives in tangible ways. However, no combination of existential treatment, other psychological and medical treatments, personal courage, harm reduction, and recovery groups can stem the rising tide of addiction in Canada or in the world. As Victor Frankl and many others have shown, the psychological environment of late modernity is too toxic for most people to handle without an intolerably high risk of psychological disasters. Nothing short of epochal social change will restore us to a reasonable level of psychological health. To face that daunting truth, as Frankl did, opens the way towards a new level of psychological realism. Perhaps realism is the greatest gift we have to offer at this point.

Read more: Creating Healing Communities in a Toxic Society: Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson

Treatment for Addiction: Why Aren’t We Doing Better? 

Presentation to Leeds and York Partnership, NHS Foundation Trust, March 23 2018

Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University

Latest revision May 28 2018

     We are meeting today amidst a crisis of opioid overdose deaths in the US and Canada. We are all doing our best to end this crisis, but the death toll keeps rising. Historically, the current opioid crisis is not an isolated event, but only the latest tsunami to blow in across a rising global tide of addiction to many drugs and other habits. We are not doing well with the larger problem either.  

     I believe that I know why we are not doing better. Almost all of our interventions are based, at least partially, on a very old narrative about drugs that has outlived its usefulness, but stubbornly refuses to release its hold on our thinking. I will propose a paradigm shift from this played-out “old story” to a “new story.” I will show at the end of this presentation how the new story can help us to respond better to the current crisis and to the rising tide of addiction to which it belongs. Along the way, I will show why the old story is so very hard to leave behind.

Read more: Treatment for Addiction: Why Aren’t We Doing Better? 

What Shakespeare Knew About Addiction, But We Have Forgotten:

A Review of Addiction and Devotion in Early Modern England 

by Rebecca Lemon, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018.

Bruce Alexander

Early modern literary scholar Rebecca Lemon calls the word “addiction” a “semantic palimpsest.” I had to look it up. A “palimpsest” is either an erased parchment or a stone surface from which carved writing has been effaced. Although it has been written over, traces of the earlier writing show through. This metaphor works beautifully because the meanings of the English word “addiction” have been both diverse and changeable from the age of Shakespeare to the present. Can addiction professionals, like myself, fully understand the “addict” who appears before us in our office if we overlook the barely erased cultural meanings that are still legible beneath that label?

Read more: What Shakespeare Knew About Addiction, But We Have Forgotten:

How to Regulate a Demon Drug

Expanded version of a Presentation to the Rational Drug Regulation Conference, Brno, Czech Republic, Oct 4-6 2017

Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada

We are here today because of a global drug addiction problem. We are failing to solve this problem everywhere. No matter what we do, it seems, more people are becoming dependent or addicted. I hope to show you today why we are not doing better. The primary reason is that almost all of our interventions are based on a very old and very popular narrative about drugs that has outlived its usefulness. I will propose a paradigm shift from this “old story” to a “new story.” I will concentrate on showing how the new story can help us to envision a productive future for Rational Drug Regulation, which is the topic of this conference. 

Read more: How to Regulate a Demon Drug

Addiction: Hopeful Prophecy From a Time of Despair

Bruce K. Alexander
April 19, 2017
Revised September 9, 2017
Expanded version of a presentation to the “New Directions in the Study of Alcohol Group,” Fortieth annual meeting, Bradford, UK, April 24 2016. However, this written version was not completed until a year after the speech was given because, as I neared the end of delivering the speech, I realized I could not fully believe what I was planning to say! I had to end the speech on a minor point (Alexander, 2016a). The new ending is a more fully developed and considered version of what I wanted to say out loud in Bradford, but couldn’t. 

Read more: Addiction: Hopeful Prophecy From a Time of Despair

Healing Addiction Through Community: A Much Longer Road Than it Seems?

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”.

Read more: Healing Addiction Through Community: A Much Longer Road Than it Seems?

Addiction, Environmental Crisis, and Global Capitalism

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.

Read more: Addiction, Environmental Crisis, and Global Capitalism

Rat Park versus The New York Times

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.

Read more: Rat Park versus The New York Times

Rise and Fall of the Official View of Addiction

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

A Train Trip through Methland

 

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

A Change of Venue for Addiction: From Medicine to Social Science

 

(Revised 26 December 2010)

Bruce K. Alexander, Professor Emeritus, Psychology Department, Simon Fraser University

Abstract

Global society has failed to control a devastating flood of addiction[1] 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,[2] 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".[3]

Read more: A Change of Venue for Addiction: From Medicine to Social Science

Recovery from Addiction: The Role of Spirituality and the Planet Earth

Bruce Alexander

Presented (In shortened form) to A Community Aware, 

Longhouse Church

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).

Read more: Recovery from Addiction: The Role of Spirituality and the Planet Earth

 Newest Article:

"Creating Healing Communities in a Toxic Society: Viktor Frankl and Jordan Peterson"

 
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 Newest Article:

“Problem Gambling” is Now a Recognized Addiction: Why it Matters!"

 
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"Treatment for Addiction: Why Aren’t We Doing Better?"
 
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Addiction: A Hopeful Prophecy From a Time of Despair

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 "What Shakespeare Knew About Addiction, But We Have Forgotten"
 
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Healing Addiction Through Community: A Much Longer Road Than it Seems?

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Rat Park vs. The NY Times

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New Revision of "The Rise and Fall of the Official View of Addiction"

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Addiction, Environmental Crisis, and Global Capitalism

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Listen to Bruce Alexander
speak with David Crowe on
"The Infectious Myth" 

Dealing with Addiction