Problems America Won’t Solve in Our Lifetimes, #2 – Addiction

Writing in 1977, Richard Restak – who is still a major voice in neuropsychiatry –wrote excitedly calling the endorphins, “a group of substances that hold out the promise of alleviating, or even eliminating, such age-old medical bugaboos as pain, drug addiction, and, among other mental illnesses, schizophrenia.”

It may be too soon to judge, but how do you think we’re doing so far in eliminating addiction? Do you believe addiction will increase, decrease, or remain constant over the next 10-20 years? Or, put another way, do you think the children being raised today are more or less likely to be addicted than their parents, or than you and your cohorts were?  (Hint: currently, 25% of 21-year-olds in America measure as dependent on, or abusers of, alcohol or drugs.)

I ask this because a substantial number of people – including those who are raising the next generation – sometimes remark that children today seem more stressed, dependent, and negative in their outlooks than they themselves were. And remember, previous generations of parents weren’t so psychologically sophisticated as parents today are. Yet, despite all the great advances in neuroscience, addiction research, and the Betty Ford Center, kids are more often diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses and drug dependence than ever in history.

And, have you heard, their fastest growing drugs of choice are painkillers? Ah, for the old days, when people smoked marijuana and made stupid jokes; I’m even nostalgic for those madcap Ecstasy parties (none of which I ever attended). You see, the drugs most often associated with overdose are prescription narcotics. Even assuming kids avoid the worst outcomes with these drugs, where’s it at to party with serious analgesics?

Yet the NIDA (not to mention some of our fellow PT bloggers) insist we are taking giant steps in developing medications to treat and even to inoculate against addiction. Take that concept, inoculations against addiction. How would they work? Let’s see, you could give people meds that would make them unable to even take – what, a specific drug or family of drugs? What about all other types of drugs, and alcohol? Or would they be able to take drugs, but avoid becoming addicted to them?

What will it be like when Americans routinely vaccinate their kids against drug addictions? Are you looking forward to that day? And, more importantly, do you think the youths thus vaccinated will really be able to function, carefree, in the world that’s unfolding around us? Or will they be constantly on guard against their vulnerability to addictions – you know, the stuff they weren’t vaccinated against.

What this breaks down to is your view of addiction, and of society (see the title of my blog). If you think of addiction as a purely medical malady, then you will expect it to decline, even disappear (like Dr. Restak did) in line with the great strides we’re making in medicine. If you think of addiction as a way people relate to their worlds, and that people are having greater trouble in that relationship as time goes by – well, then, you’re in the addiction-will-always-be-with-us – and in fact increase – category.

Get back to me in 10-20 years and let me know how we’re doing.

Stanton Peele

Dr. Stanton Peele, recognized as one of the world's leading addiction experts by The Fix, developed the Life Process Program after decades of research, writing, and treatment about and for people with addictions. Dr. Peele is the author of 14 books. His work has been published in leading professional journals and popular publications around the globe.

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