What Addictions Really Do

It became apparent to me at the recent Mental Health System Survivors' Workshop how widespread an pervasive is the chemical suppression of virtually all segments of our society. The obvious use of drugs to suppress and oppress mental patients is the logical extension of an oppressive society that utilizes a wide variety of legal and illegal chemicals to control its various populations.

Addictions function to suppress and control a society's population in several ways. First of all, addiction immobilize and/or diminish the intelligences of vast segments of the population, both daily and over time. Sugar, alcohol, nicotine, narcotics tranquilizers, and various food additives inhibit and disrupt the smooth functioning of the forebrain.

Addictions also diminish our physical power. Keeping people in oppression often involves keeping the subject population in a physically dehabilitated state. A significant feature of women's oppression is to keep women physically weak. All the popular addictive substances, to varying degrees, damage the physical health of the users and render them less able or inclined to challenge their oppression. The coke machine, snack machine, and coffee pot stand as silent chemical guards in work places and factories throughout the U.S. and western Europe.

We are also separated and driven away from each other by the use of addictions. What's crucial is not just the countless marriages and family relationships that are destroyed on a mass basis each year by alcohol, but rather the fundamental turning away from each other just when we need to reach out. At this moment when we hurt the most, instead of reaching out to each other, we turn to a candy bar, a bottle of booze, a joint, or a cup of coffee. In our moment of human need we turn to a most non-human, if not inhuman, substance. We remain locked in isolation, fear, and mistrust, ready only to be launched to some destructive dramatization at our fellow humans.

Economically, addictions oppress in two ways. First of all, they drain away the financial, resources of their victims in either supporting the addiction or trying to repair the damage of the addiction, e.g. medical expenses, marriage counseling, etc. Just to review one's financial expenditures on addictive substances over, say, five years, may reveal a vast loss of financial resources. Addictions are a classical oppression because the oppressed groups purchase their own oppression.

Also, addictions waste vast societal resources in their production and use. The amount of labor and resources used to produce cigarettes, advertise them, distribute them, and then deal with their physical effects hurts all the humans on the planet and diminishes our opportunities as a species. Instead of ending Tay Sachs or cleaning up the environment, we despoil ourselves.

Addictions have attached to them ideologies and philosophies that have a destructive influence on oppressed peoples. The idea is promoted that the abandonment of reason, rational thinking, and awareness is a desirable and necessary precondition to experience happiness, elation, and relaxation. How often after a trying day, a powerful success, or a collective triumph do people decide to "get high" or "unwind" by drinking themselves senseless. This notion, which is pervasive in all segments of society, that the abandonment of intelligence leads to happiness and relaxation, confuses us about our real nature, the benign reality and reinforces powerlessness and hopelessness.

There is an inherent belief that a good viable way to deal with oppression, problems, and bad feelings is to "numb out" or suppress them by producing a chemical high. Thus the worker who is "burned out" by oppressive working conditions smokes and drinks sugar beverages to numb out the feelings during work and then goes home and unwinds by drinking alcohol or smoking pot. This philosophy of suppressed feelings or getting high leads oppressed people away from powerful collective solutions and down the road of powerlessness, dependency on chemicals, fear of feelings and hence discharge. It leads to finding ways of making oppression more bearable and away from challenging it.

A major feature of the oppression is not to see addictions as the chemical suppression of the population but rather as the preference or problem of individual "addicts" or users. Thus we view the tens of millions of people, including ourselves, who are addicted to various legal and illegal chemicals, as individuals with personal preferences or problems, without any social context or relationship to one another. Often when we rationalize an addiction to ourselves (e.g. "One candy bar won't hurt," "Once in a while a beer isn't so bad," "I enjoy pot") millions and millions of our fellow humans are also participating in this mass ritual of powerless internalized oppression.

When we publicly participate in an addiction, when we reach for that cup of wine or slice of cake, we fuel addictive patterns through a contagion of restimulation. All of us, to varying degrees of awareness, sense that the use of certain chemicals is patterned and destructive. Yet when we try to fight the restimulation to repeat the addictive pattern we see other humans, locked in pattern, hopelessly reaching for the chemicals. At the very moment we need to step out of the distress and make a brave, intelligent decision, we helplessly swallow the chemicals designed to suppress our discharge, thinking, and power.

Even when our society is forced to acknowledge that an addiction is a problem, it is addressed in a manner that focuses on the individual and away from the root causes. Thus the widespread alcohol addiction that permeates the industrial world is viewed as a "disease" based on some genetic predisposition of the individual. Never is the alcohol industry or the culture that pushes chemical addiction as a desirable and viable part of living seriously questioned.

In dealing with addictions in RC, we have taken a stronger stand against some (dope, tobacco) and winked at others (sugar). While obviously some addictive substances are objectively worse than others, this informal double standard has at best led to confusion and at worst led some Community members to believe that some addictions "aren't so bad" or "not that important."

We have sometimes attempted to deal with addictions by attacking them with another pattern. Working class people have been invalidated for not having the right kind of addictions or not being vegetarian. There have also been attempts to rigidly impose vegetarian diets and counterculture "whole earth" lifestyles on Community members. The net result of these moralistic patterns has been to push people into reactive patterns ("I'll eat my sandy bar if I damn well please") and confuse people about the real nature of the problem.

We need to take a new look at addictions and sharpen our thinking in this area. We must stop viewing them as "just" addictions and integrate a social perspective in our approaches to dealing with them. Addictions operate to stop our individual re-emergences and our collective liberations. In our attempts to change society and build a more rational social order, chemical/addictive oppression will present a major challenge. It is my hope that this article will stimulate more thinking in this area.

Dewey Bandy
San Diego, Califomia, USA

Last modified: 2015-07-21 16:40:15+00