Op-Ed: “Society is collapsing” and reflections on addiction

I find this statement, from Russell Brand’s interview at BBC, quite interesting – and very relevant with the social climate of our time: “Society is collapsing, and people are starting to recognize that the reason they feel like they’re mentally ill is that they’re living in a system that’s not designed to suit the human spirit.” What does he mean that society is collapsing?

 “People are realising (sic) ‘Hold on a minute, is it natural to work 12 hours a day? Is it natural that I live in an environment that is designed for human beings from one perspective but not from a holistic perspective?’ Breathing dirty air, eating dirty food, thinking dirty thoughts. So really what this is, is a time of transition.

“Yes, the conversation is changing because the communication is becoming so much more expedient, but what’s really changing is people are starting to notice that the system is not working for them.”

Personally, it comes down to the illusion many of us suffer from. Rami Shapiro shares (Recovery: The Sacred Art) that our greatest desire in life is happiness. He also shares that our greatest addiction is control.

Working with patients, I always mention that Alcohol and Drugs are mere symptoms of an underlying problem. There are reasons people drink and use. Most of those who come through the doors of a treatment agency have more than just substance use. They have post-traumatic stress disorder. A term that originally was called “Shell Shock” from World War I (or World War II). Some people have past traumatic experiences because of the environment they grew up in. Men and women have suffered some form of physical, sexual, emotional/verbal, and even spiritual abuse.

This is, in my professional opinion, the reason that addiction/substance use is not a simple issue one overcomes. There are complex reasons underlying a person’s addiction to alcohol, drugs, and other behaviors. The addiction itself is a symptom of a person who may experience some anguish. They are miserable and inadequate to cope with life issues. They are struggling and the more progressive and chronic their substance use/addiction becomes, the greater their suffering is.

There are some Christians who may disagree. However, remember Proverbs 31 and the very first view verses share that strong drink (alcohol) is not met for people of nobility. However, give to one who is perishing so that they may forget their troubles. People drink and use to escape physical distress and pain; or, they drink and/or use to escape emotional/mental distress and pain.

It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers, to take strong drink lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted. Give strong drink to the one who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more. 

~ Proverbs 31: 4-7, ESV ~

The underlying issue is to feel at peace, to find some sense of happiness. All of us desire to experience some joy within our lives. Many people start realizing that what they are doing is no longer working and are in need of help and guidance. They start attending Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or any other sober support group. Some enter into treatment and may need to have medical intervention to help detox from their substance of choice. This is very true in the case of one who has a chronic and serious dependence on Alcohol and Benzodiazepines. The withdrawal from these two substances are quite life-threatening. They are the only two drugs where a person may die from the affect of the withdrawals.

People are starting to wake up. From my own personal observations, society (especially through social media) tend to dehumanize those suffering from substance use. Others demand unrealistic expectations through ultimatiums, utilizing shame and guilt to get someone clean and sober.

In a way, society believes the answer is (from the perspective that what a person is doing is merely a choice) the ability to make a choice. If they are able to pick up and drink, or use, then they certainly have the will and capacity to refrain from drinking and using.

It is here we end up dehumanizing people. We fail to grasp the complex issues they are dealing with.

  • Intense Cravings that influence thought processing
  • Stimulus (both external and internal) that trigger specific associations regarding substance use
  • Social and Peer influence

When we dehumanize, we are essentially detaching ourselves from seeing people for who they are: Human beings with the capacity and propensity to overcome and seek genuine happiness and peace within themselves and others.

It is good to see that people are bringing awareness to the issue of substance use and addiction. It is a serious and social issue among our society. It is also sad to see that people are so defensive and adamant about how only one cookie cutter solution works for everyone. And, if they don’t get it, then they are depraved and shame on them for making the choice to continue the suffering. These people fail to recognize the scientific evidence and medical data that has impacted and improved the ability to work with and treat those who are suffering.