Do we need to rethink addiction? | BBC Ideas


My mantra on addiction is, “Not why
the addiction, but why the pain.” If you want to look at what causes
addiction, you have to look at the benefit of addiction… People say, typically, “it gave me
pain relief”, “escape from stress”, “it gave me a sense of connection”,
“a sense of belonging.” The addiction met some essential
human need that otherwise wasn’t met in that person’s life. So all of these states of lacking
connection or being isolated of having pain or having
too much stress in your life, these are states of emotional pain. And when you look populations
of addicts, what you find is that the more adversity in childhood,
exponentially the greater the risk of addiction. Which doesn’t mean that every person
traumatised will become an addict, but it does mean that
every addict was traumatised. In my opinion addiction is manifested
in any behaviour that a person finds temporary pleasure or relief in,
but suffers negative consequences as a result of, and does not give up
or cannot give up, despite those negative consequences. Tobacco, alcohol,
substances of all kinds. It could also be related to sex,
gambling, shopping, eating, work. Virtually any area of human activity
can become addictive depending on the person’s
relationship to it. I had two major addictions
in my life. One was to work, and I also
had an addiction to shopping, in my case for classical music CDs. One day I spent $8,000
on compact discs. It doesn’t matter how many sets of
a particular composer’s symphonies you already have, you have to get
the next one and the next one. In the grip of this shopping fever,
I once left a patient in labour and actually went downtown to get
the disc and I missed the delivery. That’s how impactful it was. Now you may think that’s laughable,
“How could you compare your addiction to those of your
heroin-addicted patients?” My own addicted patients,
when I told them about my addictions they didn’t laugh or they shook their
heads and they said, “Yeah Doc, we get it.
You’re just like the rest of us.” Well the point is that
we’re all just like the rest of us. The greatest myths on addiction,
number one, is that it’s genetic. It does run in families,
but why does it run in families? If I’m an alcoholic, and if I yell
and scream at my kids and then they grew up to soothe
themselves with alcohol, did I pass it on to them genetically?
Or is that a behaviour they developed because I recreated the
same conditions that I grew up in. Now there might be genetic
predispositions, but a predisposition is not the same
as a predetermination. The other myth around addiction is
that it’s a choice that people make. And the whole legal system is based
on the idea that people are choosing to be addicts, lets punish them
for it so as to deter others. Addiction is not a choice
anybody makes, it’s a response to emotional pain. The other myth is that addiction is
restricted to the substance user or to a few losers in our society. It’s rife and rampant
through our culture. You would think that, with the utter
failure of most treatment modalities when it comes to addiction, we would
wake up and ask ourselves, “Do we really understand
this condition?” But that doesn’t seem to happen.
We’re not looking at its real nature as a response to human suffering
because we’re not helping people work through and resolve
their traumas. So we keep saying,
“What’s wrong with you?” Instead of asking,
“What happened to you?” Thanks for watching. Don’t forget to subscribe and click the bell to receive notifications for new videos. See you again soon!

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