The Fantasy of Addiction?

An old-ish piece from First Things:

It was the triumph of the Christian religion that for many centuries it managed to become the unreasoning assumption of almost all, built into every spoken and written word, every song, and every building. It was the disaster of the Christian religion that it assumed this triumph would last forever and outlast everything, and so it was ill equipped to resist the challenge of a rival when it came, in this, the century of the self. The Christian religion had no idea that a new power, which I call selfism, would arise. And, having arisen, selfism has easily shouldered its rival aside. In free competition, how can a faith based upon self-restraint and patience compete with one that pardons, unconditionally and in advance, all the self-indulgences you can think of, and some you cannot?

That is what the “addiction” argument is most fundamentally about, and why it is especially distressing to hear Christian voices accepting and promoting it, as if it were merciful to call a man a slave, and treat him as if he had no power to resist. The mass abandonment of cigarettes by a generation of educated people demonstrates that, given responsibility for their actions and blamed for their outcomes, huge numbers of people will give up a bad habit even if it is difficult. Where we have adopted the opposite attitude, and assured abusers that they are not answerable for their actions, we have seen other bad habits grow or remain as common as before. Heroin abuse has not been defeated, the abuse of prescription drugs grows all the time, and heavy drinking is a sad and spreading problem in Britain.

Emphasis on “the abuse of prescription drugs grows all the time.” True in the US as in Britain.

From a population-wide, results-based perspective, where has the “addiction paradigm” brought us? Are we better off for it? Less “addiction” than was before it became a sort-of creed?

Tough subject. And controversial, as this author says, to insinuate anything but the prevailing “addiction” paradigm.

At the very least, what effect does this paradigm have on first-time users? Even if it’s proven helpful for, say, alcoholics to admit that their problem is bigger than their willpower alone (that it is, indeed, a chemical addiction), does that mean it’s automatically helpful also for non-addicts to view problems of drug abuse as problems of addiction? Or might it have the opposite effect? Might it promote a less sinister and less moral setting for (mostly young people) making the decision to use the first time?

Posted by Nick Freiling

Founder/Director of PeopleFish. I write on technology, market research and economics. Bylines at Startup Grind, FEE, the American Enterprise Institute and the Mises Institute.