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On Culture and Addiction

On Culture and Addiction

Friday, August 30, 2013 Author: Allen Berger, Ph.D. Categories: Addiction Medicine
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In this article I want to discuss how our culture sets us up for becoming an addict. Before I do it’s important to realize we are all in a trance. We are hypnotized by our culture. This is not necessarily a bad thing, it just is the way things are. It happens in every culture. It has to.

Culture is transmitted through the family. Parents teach children their culture’s world view. This world view is like a filter, it defines what is real and what isn’t, it proscribes what is appropriate behavior and what isn’t, it dictates how we should be and what we should feel. It defines what is and what isn’t. It creates a world view that defines everything about our existence. The way this is taught in a family is unique because it is woven into the fabric of our parent’s history.

The most important thing to realize about our culture is that it is excessively focused on “having.” Our culture is based on capitalism. Capitalism needs consumers. Therefore we are hypnotized into believing that our self-worth is determined by what we have, rather than on who we are. We measure success by the quality and quantity of the material things we possess like money, homes, cars, and adult toys — but not our character. I’m sure you heard that quote, “He who finishes with the most toys wins.”

This obsession with “having” infects how we interact with our self and others too. We end up treating ourselves and others as objects and/or possessions. We become obsessed with how marketable we are. Women are typically treated and treat themselves like sex objects. While men are usually treated and treat themselves like success objects. What makes a man successful in his job makes it nearly impossible for him to have a warm and loving intimate relationship. A woman who treats herself as an object cannot be intimate because she is concerned about her image.

More is better isn’t it. That’s what we learn in our culture. I remember the moment I realized that I was in fact addicted to more. It was one of those moments of clarity, an epiphany. It didn’t matter what it was – I wanted more. Addiction is the experience of “one being too much and a thousand not enough.” That fits, doesn’t it. Unfortunately, this applies to nearly everything in our lives. We are rarely satisfied with what we have and even more dissatisfied with who we are.

We are obsessed with becoming something we are not. True self-esteem is rare, we just don’t feel good enough which is crazy because we aren’t even certain of what it means to be good enough. Our idealized image of who we should be is corrupted by these ideals. It becomes all about more, more and more and more. We spend millions of dollars on the latest exercise equipment so we can become more attractive and have a better body. (Unfortunately, most of it is gathering dust underneath our beds, closets or garages.) We pursue schemes to get rich so we can have more money which in some magical way will make us feel more secure. Women spend billions of dollars on plastic surgery to have the “perfect body.” Men are also visiting the plastic surgeon more than ever before. Men become workaholics because they are devoted to having a successful career in order to have a better life. We turn into humans, doing and performing, rather than humans, being (sic).  What a tragedy!

Another nonsense in our culture is that life should be easy and gratification instantaneous. We become obsessed with finding the easier, softer way and then we want instant results. We have lost the ability to wait, to have patience. Well, life isn’t easy and most worthwhile things don’t come easily. But nobody tells us that. Instead we are bombarded with messages that tell us to take a magical pill and your headache will immediately disappear. There is no need to figure out a better way to handle your stress. If you are depressed, take an antidepressant it will make you feel better. No need to figure out what you are doing that makes you depressed. We buy weight loss medication on TV that promises to help us lose weight while we sleep, so there is no need to spend hours in the gym. It’s easy.

When we finally turn to drugs, they really work. I mean really work; instantaneously we feel better. We are sexier, more fun, more comfortable, more relaxed, more spontaneous. We are free from fears and concerns. We are free from the false-self that develops in this insane culture. I had a friend say that he didn’t know if he was born an alcoholic, but the moment he took his first drink he knew that an alcoholic was born. We are set up by this nonsense to become addicted. We become addicted to drugs including alcohol, to sex, to gambling, to compulsive overeating or restricting. We become addicted to dramas, to spending money. We become addicted to more.

I may sound paranoid but I believe that there is a cultural conspiracy that undermines the development of our true, spiritual self. We are encouraged to abandon our true-self and become an idealized version of it self-riddled with our culture’s proscription of who we should be. We sell out, but deep down inside we know something is wrong.

The fact that we aren’t satisfied with our false, self-solution, that we become “dis-eased,” means that something is “right” about us not that something is wrong with us. Jung described the alcoholic as having a “spiritual thirst.” It is our spiritual self or our real self that is reaching out to find itself, to be actualized. It is like an alarm clock that will continue to ring despite the number of times we hit snooze. So it’s what is right about us that doesn’t allow us to completely abandon ourselves to the nonsense in our culture.
Recovery helps us find our lost, true self. It helps us reconnect with who we really are. Recovery is about “being,” not “having.” It’s an incredible journey that begins with shattering our false self. This opens the door to discovering our true spirit.

Every spiritual discipline is concerned with “being” not “having.” That’s why the 12 Steps work. They facilitate a spiritual experience based on a pedestal of hopelessness as Bill Wilson noted.

In recovery we experience a 180 degree shift in our attitude and perceptions.  This is a remarkable personal transformation. Recovery is paradoxical, which means that it is beyond belief. We shift from an obsession with “having more” to a focus on “being,” and living a life guided by spiritual principles. This breaks the trance and cures our cultural sickness. We become like Alice in Wonderland, realizing that what is isn’t and what isn’t is. What an amazing journey.

For the purpose of the online CE Course, the article objectives are:

  • To understand our cultures influence of personal development and the role it plays in the etiology of addiction.
  • To understand the effects of a culture focused on Having vs. Being.
  • To explore how we have become a society that is addicted to more.

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