Diseases of Despair

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The diseases of despair are three classes of behavior-related medical conditions that increase in groups of people who experience despair due to a sense that their long-term social and economic outlook is bleak. The three disease types are drug overdose (including alcohol overdose), suicide, and alcoholic liver disease.

Diseases of despair, and the resulting deaths of despair, are high in the Appalachia region of the United States. The prevalence increased markedly during the first decades of the 21st century, especially among middle-aged and older working-class white Americans. It gained media attention because of its connection to the opioid epidemic.

Risk Factors

Although addiction and depression affect people of every age, every race, and every demographic group, the excess mortality and morbidity from diseases of despair affects a smaller group. In the US, the group most affected by these diseases of despair are non-Hispanic white men and women who have not attended university. Compared to previous generations, this group is less likely to be married, less likely to be working, less likely to be able to provide for their families, and more likely to report physical pain, overall poor health, and mental health problems, such as depression.

Causes

The factors that seem to exacerbate diseases of despair are not fully known, but they are generally recognized as including a worsening of economic inequality and feeling of hopelessness about personal financial success. This can take many forms and appear in different situations. For example, people feel inadequate and disadvantaged when products are marketed to them as being important, but these products repeatedly prove to be unaffordable for them. The overall loss of employment in affected geographic regions and the worsening of pay and working conditions along with the decline of labor unions is a widely hypothesized factor.

The changes in the labor market also affect social connections that might otherwise provide protection, as people at risk for this problem are less likely to get married, more likely to get divorced, and more likely to experience social isolation. Economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton argue that the ultimate cause is the sense that life is meaningless, unsatisfying, or unfulfilling, rather than strictly the basic economic security that makes these higher-order feelings more likely.

Diseases of despair differ from diseases of poverty because poverty itself is not the central factor. Groups of impoverished people with a sense that their lives or their children’s lives will improve are not affected as much by diseases of despair. Instead, this affects people who have little reason to believe that the future will be better. As a result, this problem is distributed unevenly. For example, affecting working-class people in the United States more than working-class people in Europe, even when the European economy was weaker. It also affects white people more than racially disadvantaged groups, possibly because working-class white people are more likely to believe that they are not doing better than their parents did, while non-white people in similar economic situations are more likely to believe that they are better off than their parents.

Effects

Starting in 1998, a rise in deaths of despair has resulted in an unexpected increase in the number of middle-aged white Americans dying (the age-specific mortality rate). By 2014, the increasing number of deaths of despair had resulted in a drop in overall life expectancy. Anne Case and Angus Deaton propose that the increase in mid-life mortality is the result of cumulative disadvantages that occurred over decades and that solving it will require patience and perseverance for many years, rather than a quick fix that produces immediate results.

Terminology

The name disease of despair has been criticized for being unfair to the people who are adversely affected by social and economic forces beyond their control, and for underplaying the role of specific drugs, such as OxyContin, in increasing deaths.


References

Cunningham, Paige Winfield (30 October 2017). “Appalachian death from drug overdoses far outpace nation’s”The Washington Post.

Danny, Dorling (2015-06-03). Injustice (revised edition): Why social inequality still persists. Policy Press. ISBN 9781447320777. “Part of the mechanism behind the worldwide rise in diseases of despair is suggested, with evidence provided below, to be the anxiety caused when particular forms of competition are enhanced… The effects of the advertising industry in making both adults, and especially children, feel inadequate, are also documented here.”

McGreal, Chris. American overdose: The opioid tragedy in three acts (First ed.). New York, NY. pp. 109–112. ISBN 9781610398619. OCLC 1039238075.

Case, Anne; Deaton, Angus (Spring 2017). “Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century”Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Further Reading

Michael Meit, Megan Heffernan, Erin Tanenbaum, and Topher Hoffmann (August 2017) Appalachian Diseases of Despair (PDF). The Walsh Center for Rural Health Analysis at the University of Chicago.

Chris McGreal (12 November 2015) “Abandonded by coal, swallowed by drugs” The Guardian

Skin

Sixx:A.M. – Skin

Paint yourself a picture
Of what you wish you looked like
Maybe then they just might
Feel an ounce of your pain

Come into focus
Step out of the shadows
It’s a losing battle
There’s no need to be ashamed

‘Cause they don’t even know you
All they see is scars
They don’t see the angel
Living in your heart

Let them find the real you
Buried deep within
Let them know with all you’ve got
That you are not your skin

Oh [2x]

When they start to judge you
Show them your true colors
And do unto others
As you’d have done to you

Just rise above this
Kill them with your kindness
Ignorance is blindness
They’re the ones that stand to lose

‘Cause they don’t even know you
All they see is scars
They don’t see the angel
Living in your heart

Let them find the real you
Buried deep within
Let them know with all you’ve got
That you are not your skin

Oh

Well, they don’t even know you
All they see is scars
And they don’t see the angels
Living in your heart

So, let them find the real you
Buried deep within
Let them know with all you’ve got
That you are not
You are not your skin

Oh [2x]

Heroin Diaries

Sixx:A.M. – Life is Beautiful

You can’t quit until you try
You can’t live until you die
You can’t learn to tell the truth
Until you learn to lie

You can’t breathe until you choke
You gotta laugh when you’re the joke
There’s nothing like a funeral to make you feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

I know some things that you don’t
I’ve done things that you won’t
There’s nothing like a trail of blood to find your way back home

I was waiting for my hearse
What came next was so much worse
It took a funeral to make me feel alive

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Alive…
Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Just open your eyes
Just open your eyes
And see that life is beautiful.
Will you swear on your life,
That no one will cry at my funeral?

Girl with Golden Eyes

Sixx:A.M. – Girl with Golden Eyes

She speaks to me in Persian
Tells me that she loves me
The girl with golden eyes
And though I hardly know her
I let her in my veins
And trust her with my life

I wish I had never kissed her
‘Cause I just can’t resist her
The girl with golden eyes
Every time she whispers
‘Take me in your arms
The way you did last night.’

Everything will be okay
Everything will be alright
If I can get away from her
And save my worthless life.

I wake up every morning
Jonesing for her love
The girl with golden eyes
I won’t have to wait long
‘Til she buries me with roses
‘Cause she’s always by my side

Everything will be okay
Everything will be alright
If I can get away from her
And save my worthless life.

Day one. Dope free. I went to the clinic today and got the first dose of methadone.
I’m out of dope so I threw away all my rigs.
Day two. I can’t believe it’s been two days without junk.
Fucking smack, it just ruins peoples’ lives.
At first it seems so sweet, then you wake up next to a monster.
Day three. I haven’t had anything for three days now.
This withdrawal is killing me. It’s like shock therapy to my guts.
Day four. Last visit to the clinic. My whole body feels like it’s cracking into pieces.
Fragile doesn’t even come close to describing how I feel.
Day five– I’m sick as a dog, but this handful of painkillers
and a lotta whiskey’s gonna get me through.
Day six– When I’m left to my own devices I go fucking insane.
I’ll never use heroin again.
Day seven– I can’t believe I’m clean!
Day eight– Everyone says I look better–
Day nine– The parasites are panicking–
Day ten– They seem amazed that I’m alive!

Everything will be okay
Everything will be alright
If I can get away from her
And save my worthless life.
Everything will be okay
Everything will be alright
If I can get away from her
And save my worthless life.

Existential Escapism

Video game addiction is a known issue around the world, with the advent of broadband technology in the 2000s it has evolved into a different level of addiction which involves the creation of an avatar and living a ‘second life’ through MMORPGs massive multiplayer online role playing games. World of Warcraft has the largest MMO gaming community on-line and there have been a number of studies about the addictive qualities of the game. Addicts of the game range from children to mature adults such as University professor Ryan van Cleave who almost lost everything as his life became consumed by on-line gaming.

B.F. Skinner’s theory of operant conditioning claims that the frequency of a given behaviour is directly linked to whether it is rewarded or punished. If a behaviour is rewarded, it is more likely to be repeated. If it is punished, it becomes suppressed. Orzack says variable ratio reinforcement is the idea that the best way to optimize the desired behaviour in the subject is to hand out rewards for correct behaviour, and then adjust the number of times the subject is required to exhibit that behaviour before a reward is handed out. For instance, if a rat must press a bar to receive food, then it will press faster and more often if it doesn’t know how many times it needs to press the bar. An equivalent in World of Warcraft would be purple (epic) loot drops. Players in World of Warcraft will often spend weeks hunting for a special item which is based on a chance system, sometimes with only a 0.001% chance of it being dropped by a killed monster. The rarity of the item and difficulty of acquiring the item, gives the player a status amongst their peers once they obtain the item.

Orzack, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital in Massachusetts claims 40 percent of World of Warcraft (WoW) players are addicted.

Globally, there have been deaths caused directly by exhaustion from playing games for excessive periods of time. There have also been deaths of gamers and/or others related to playing of video games.

China

In 2007, it was reported that Xu Yan died in Jinzhou after playing online games persistently for over 2 weeks during the Lunar New Year holiday. Later 2007 reports indicated that a 30-year-old man died in Guangzhou after playing video games continuously for three days.

The suicide of a young Chinese boy in the Tianjin municipality has highlighted once more the growing dangers of game addiction, when those responsible do not understand or notice the risks of unhealthy play. Xiao Yi was thirteen when he threw himself from the top of a twenty-four story tower block in his home town, leaving notes that spoke of his addiction and his hope of being reunited with fellow cyber-players in heaven. The suicide notes were written through the eyes of a gaming character, so reports the China Daily, and stated that he hoped to meet three gaming friends in the after life. His parents, who had noticed with growing concern his affliction, weren’t mentioned in the letters.

In March 2005, the BBC reported a murder in Shanghai, when Qiu Chengwei fatally stabbed fellow player Zhu Caoyuan, who had sold on eBay a dragon saber sword he had been lent in a Legend of Mir 3 game, and was given a suspended death sentence.

Taiwan

In February 2012, a man in New Taipei, Taiwan, was found dead facing a computer after gaming for 23 hours. In July 2012, an 18-year-old man identified by surname Chuang died after playing 40 hours of Diablo III in an internet cafe in Tainan, Taiwan. Both cases were reported as death by cardiac arrest.

South Korea

In 2005, Seungseob Lee (Hangul: 이승섭) visited an Internet cafe in the city of Taegu and played StarCraft almost continuously for fifty hours. He went into cardiac arrest, and died at a local hospital. A friend reported: “…he was a game addict. We all knew about it. He couldn’t stop himself.” About six weeks before his death, his girlfriend, also an avid gamer, broke up with him, in addition to his being fired from his job.

In 2009, Kim Sa-rang, a 3-month-old Korean child, died from malnutrition after both her parents spent hours each day in an internet cafe raising a virtual child on an online game, Prius Online.

Vietnam

An Earthtimes.org article reported in 2007 that police arrested a 13-year-old boy accused of murdering and robbing an 81-year-old woman. A local policeman was quoted as saying that the boy “…confessed that he needed money to play online games and decided to kill and rob…” the victim. The article further related a police report that the murder by strangling netted the thief 100,000 Vietnamese dong (US$6.20).

United States

In February 2002, a Louisiana woman sued Nintendo because her son died after suffering seizures caused by playing Nintendo 64 for eight hours a day, six days a week. Nintendo denied any responsibility.

Press reports in November 2005 state that Gregg J. Kleinmark, 24, pleaded “guilty to two counts of involuntary manslaughter”. He “left fraternal twins Drew and Bryn Kleinmark unattended in a bathtub for 30 minutes, in order to go three rooms away and play on his Game Boy Advance” while “in the mean time, the two ten-months old kids drowned”.

A New Mexico woman named Rebecca Colleen Christie was convicted of second degree murder and child abandonment, and sentenced to 25 years in prison, for allowing her 3 and a half-year-old daughter to die of malnutrition and dehydration while occupied with chatting and playing World of Warcraft online.

In November 2001 Shawn Woolley committed suicide due to the popular computer game Everquest. Shawn’s mother said the suicide was due to a rejection or betrayal in the game from a character Shawn called “iluvyou”.

Ohio teen Daniel Petric shot his parents, killing his mother, after they took away his copy ofHalo 3 in October 2007. In a sentencing hearing after the teen was found guilty of aggravated murder, the judge said, “I firmly believe that Daniel Petric had no idea at the time he hatched this plot that if he killed his parents they would be dead forever.” On 16 June 2009, Petric was sentenced to 23 years to life in prison.

In Jacksonville, Florida, Alexandra Tobias pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for shaking her baby to death. She told investigators that the baby boy’s crying had interrupted her while she was playing a Facebook game called FarmVille. She was sentenced in December 2010.

In November 2010 in South Philadelphia, Kendall Anderson, 16, killed his mother for taking away his PlayStation by hitting her 20 times with a claw hammer while she slept.

Video Game Addiction

Internet Addiction

Dead Man’s Ballet

Sixx:A.M. – Dead Man’s Ballet

Oh no, how could this happen to
Such an amazing young boy
I had my whole life ahead of me

Oh God, how could you have let this
Happen to such a lovely young child
I was their only son and I tried,
Tried, tried

Come on,
Come on get out of the way
Get out of the way man
You’re going to have to let go of his arm
You have to let go sir
We’ve got about two minutes here
We’ve got about two minutes and we’re going to lose him

Yeah, you, you miserable father
The one who ignored me for half of my life
Now I, I can’t even look at you
Why? Why? Why?

Don’t abandon me now
I don’t want to die!

You can lead him to the ambulance
But you cannot make him live
No, you cannot make me live!
You can lead him to the ambulance
Lead me home!
But you cannot make him live

What could I have done differently
You never said there was anything wrong
Now the drugs, they give me encouragement
Why? Why? Why?

Oh God, tell me I’ll make it
I’ll give you my blood if that’s all you need
Just don’t tell me that I’m gonna die,
Die, die!

Don’t abandon me now
I don’t want to die
Alone…

You can lead him to the ambulance
But you cannot make him live
No you cannot make me live!
You can lead him to the ambulance
Why can’t we celebrate? Lead me home!
But you cannot make him live

A Buddhist View of Addiction

A BUDDHIST VIEW OF ADDICTION

by Peter Morrell

‘…it is said that as long as one is in cyclic existence, one is in the grip of some form of suffering.’ [1]

In this essay, I refer to drugs – meaning drugs of all kinds, anything we might become habituated to and that we enjoy to the degree of dependency. It seems that drugs are widely misunderstood. They have a very long history. People of all kinds, and in all times, need something to make their lives meaningful and that seems always to have been the purpose of drugs, food and sex, as well as religion. As religion has declined, so drugs of all types seem to have been turned to increasingly, to try and make life more exciting and meaningful. Thus, drugs can be seen as a challenge to our ordinary life, adult perception of the world as being somewhat dull and predictable. To have meaning, life must come to contain some excitement – into each life a little love must fall. It is in these contexts in this essay that I refer to ‘drugs’.

Apart from concepts like Karma and Merit, the 5 skandhas and rebirth – which are alien concepts to most westerners, and therefore require deep thought – Buddhism views human psychology as being mostly driven by two innate impulses: desire, or attraction [craving] and repulsion or aversion [hatred]. They probably represent the pleasure-pain principle in western psychology. In Buddhism, virtually all aspects of psychology and human behaviour, are explained in these terms. Deriving from this, Buddhism asserts that its teachings are based on how man actually is – the condition he is in – and that its ideas are largely observation-driven, rather than being dogmas handed down to us. Buddha encouraged people to test his ideas out for themselves. The impulses of attraction and aversion also reflect a basic form of selfishness and that we are generally driven by a desire to experience and seek out pleasure and to avoid pain.

‘By the power of the two, desire and hatred, intimate or alien, they wander in cyclic existence and thereby undergo suffering.’ [2]

The teachings of Buddhism are entirely designed to help us to become happier and more contented people, by reducing those things in our lives, which cause us suffering [or cause suffering to others], by helping us to reflect more deeply upon the consequences of our actions, and by increasing those things that bring us happiness. There is not really any ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in Buddhism; there are just actions that bring us greater happiness and those that bring us greater pain. To live skilfully, therefore, is to live in harmony with these principles. In general, it means to reduce our selfishness, to give more to others, to increase our happiness and to stop those things that harm self or others – to adopt a life of non-harming. Non-harming to self and all beings.

‘…the afflictive emotions, such as desire, hatred, enmity, jealousy, and belligerence, that bind beings in a round of uncontrolled birth, aging, sickness, and death, are founded on misperception of the nature of persons and other phenomena.’ [3]

In the case of addiction, it is clear from a Buddhist viewpoint that it can be seen as an overactive desire sense, that has gone way beyond normal limits, and which is harmful to self. It is also important to acknowledge that we are all in some ways addicted to something, be it only money, shopping, success, promotion, food or sex. People who are addicted to something have become too solidly locked into a love of pleasure and are reaping the consequences of that lifestyle. It also means that their sense of identity is rewarded only when they indulge whatever they crave, and this has thus become dependent upon their  addiction. A firm sense of self-identity is based solely upon their habit, and without it, they feel invisible and non-existent. This is often termed an ‘addictive personality’ – they believe that life without ‘their fix’ is unfaceable, not worth living and sad and boring. Such people have identified so strongly or solidly with the source of their pleasure that they believe life without it is not possible or is unthinkable. To at least some degree, they have lost control of their life.

‘When the self is alone [without the nine qualities – desire, hatred, effort, pleasure, pain, consciousness, virtue, non-virtue, and activity] – this is said to be the attainment of liberation.’ [4]

While there may well be deeper reasons for this behaviour and also a deeper basis of unhappiness that lies at the root of it [such as in unresolved childhood unhappinesses, or mixing with the ‘wrong people’], Buddhism, in typically pragmatic style, seeks merely to deal with the problem as-is and to reduce the extent and power of one’s current addiction. All other factors can be addressed through meditation, self-restraint and discussion.

‘…the mental factor of desire…accompanies the perception of an attractive object…’ [5]

However, addiction also contains a further element, which is a loss of control and surrender of the will to a craving. It is a situation in which the general balance of the will against whatever in the world is enjoyed, has been progressively weakened or collapsed, and the total craving for that one thing has largely overpowered it. Thus, any treatment of addiction must approach both aspects for success to be achieved. The sense of control, of independent existence and balance that we call willpower must be restored, just as much as any reduction in the craving for whatever one ‘enjoys’. This fact inevitably brings in the need to resuscitate a sense of self and a self-image, which have largely been destroyed in extreme cases of addiction. A coherent sense of self must be rebuilt, and it must be a sense of self that lies independent of any external form.

‘Illustrations of afflictive ignorance are a consciousness conceiving a self of persons and the three poisons [desire, hatred, and ignroance] which arise on account of this conception, as well as their seeds.’ [6]

The idea of self-image also brings with it a sense of self-respect and a sense of responsibility for one’s own actions and whatever state one has ended up in. The addicted person has to gain a new sense of self independent of their habit, and begin to see that the state they are in is predominantly a result of their own actions and therefore they are personally responsible for that state and any recovery from it. No change, therefore, is possible for those who are unwilling or unable to move in the direction of accepting these facts. Addicts often justify their craving by saying they only feel or act ‘normal’ when indulging their particular craving. In such examples, their ‘normal social conduct’ becomes entirely dependent upon their ‘drug’. For others, it is an escape from loneliness [e.g. ‘shopaholics’], sad facts of their existence they would rather not confront, or desire to impress/gain attention. In some cases, it reflects a desire to enter a fantasy realm for ‘artistic purposes’. The first step has to be acceptance of one’s own position, recognition of a problem and a desire to change. Without these as minimum requirements, no change is ever likely to occur.

‘…the three afflictive emotions [are]… desire, hatred and ignorance…’ [7]

Though varying shades of addiction occur, addicts of all types, when questioned, tend to blame some previous event they were not responsible for, or some other factor external to them, for their behaviour. This very conveniently absolves them from any blame for the position they are in. It is thus a crutch they lean on to get through their life. They portray it as normal or harmless – or both. They claim to be the victim of something and are in denial about their own motives and their own responsibility for what they do. They hide, and hide from, their true motivations, past experiences and the real basis for their behaviour. They also play down the harmfulness [to self and others] of what they do. They convince themselves that it is harmless and not serious – but something they can control – and when challenged, they try to convince others of the same viewpoint.

Buddhism can help addicts of all kinds in various ways. Firstly, it encourages moderation, abstention and self-control. That can lead to a degree of self-control. Secondly, it encourages a sense of self-identity not based upon desires, but upon self-fulfilment and self-respect. A self-respect that seeks to do no harm to oneself. It also encourages a harmless lifestyle, love, compassion and equanimity, which in turn encourage reflection and self-analysis.

‘The six root afflictions are desire, anger, pride, ignorance, doubt, and afflictive view…’ [8]

In certain Zen monasteries, one has heard about in the media, addiction is treated solely with enforced abstention [withdrawal or denial] and meditation. It is hard to see how this harsh, extreme and un-compassionate approach can be very successful, as it fails to address the central element of personal responsibility for the state a person is in. It is left for the person to figure everything out for themselves; a position of ‘you got yourself in there, so you can get yourself out’ approach. Such a problem might be approached by teaching a person that, though others can help and encourage, they are entirely responsible for their own actions, that there is nothing special [i.e. different] about the state they are in, that life as-is is good, to restore their sense of self-worth, and to gradually lead them away from that which they crave – that life without that ‘thing’ they crave is both possible and can be sweet. This has to include their realisation that the path they are on is for sure a path of self-destruction, a path of pain. It is a central tenet of Buddhism that excess pleasure is painful, and addiction illustrates this theme very well.

Addiction, through desire and aversion, also relates to power and powerlessness, cause and effect, and to the nature of mind and sensations. These are all related topics. It is easy to apprehend a link to power and powerlessness, because to obtain pleasure often also gives pleasure to another [for example, in sexual addiction]. However, it can also give rise to a ‘victim consciousness’ as one adopts a more subordinate role to the other. One also becomes jealously protective of another, primarily, not out of pure compassion for them, but because they are the chief source of one’s own pleasure. That is a form of selfishness. We seek to extend and exert control over, and ownership of, the partner one possesses. One sees this in many relationships where the power balance has become distorted, heavily favouring the more dominant partner. This is ‘bad’ as it brings suffering and restricts the freedom of the one ‘possessed’. It also means their ‘love’ is subject to continuous payment of the pleasure that is being extracted from them. It is thus un-genuine, fake and based upon their continued dominance. Challenge that dominance of their role, and see how much true ‘love’ there is left! Precious little. Causing suffering to another creates bad karma; such relationships are harmful and not as benign as they might appear.

In all addictions, the person has an ambivalent or blurred grasp of cause and effect, power and powerlessness. They exert power over their habit [as a cause] but also let and ultimately crave for it to have power over them [as an effect]. Thus, they never seem to know where they want to be in a ‘power seesaw’, constantly flipping between cause and effect, exerting and then receiving domination; craving power over others and then letting power be exerted over them. All this inevitably gives a person an unclear sense of who they are, what they really want and where the power really lies. They end up having a confused sense of self-identity. Other kinds of addictive behaviour concerning power over others, such as rape, sado-masochism, office bullying, racism, sexual harassment at work and child abuse, do not seem to contain a pleasure element except for the person in control. Such forms of addiction are mainly about power over others – other elements being secondary. The similarity is still present, however, in relation to the craving or need such people manifest in repeating their addictive behaviour. In that sense, they certainly need their ‘victim’ as much as a drug.

In relation to sensation and the nature of mind [Buddhist hermeneutics], this vast topic is far too complex to go into in sufficient detail here. But suffice it to say that ‘objects of sensation’ in the mind can be painful, neutral or pleasant. We desire to give and receive pleasant sensations, in such exchanges, we find pleasure, and to which we can become addicted. We then end up ‘loving’ those with whom we exchange these pleasant sensations. Particles of pleasant sensations in the mind can also be recalled to mind [consciousness] on request and so ‘in fantasy’ can be re-lived as real images. This acts as a pleasant stimulus to renewed pleasure and forms the basis of masturbation, daydreaming, erotic art, and pornography. Seen solely from the viewpoint of Buddhist hermeneutics, it is clear that addiction is primarily the exclusive enjoyment of particles of sensation, which are pleasant to the consciousness. In this sense, it could be said, that it is only ‘further down the same street’ of what all people engage in every day – gazing at attractive forms, delighting in attractive tastes, scents and touches, etc. However, it does also involve a loss of control and a pervasive belief that enjoyment of these sensations is vital to one’s existence and the only way to live out one’s life.

However, any pleasant sensation, in time and through overuse, wears out its own ‘pathway’ in consciousness, treading deeper ruts, such that more and more ‘drug’ is craved to reach the same ‘high’. By contrast, abstinence and self-control or moderation, re-empower the basic pleasure and increase it, while overuse dulls the enjoyment. This broadly applies to all forms of addiction, including food, chocolate, nicotine, sex, alcohol, shopping, promotion, power, etc. Non-attachment cultivates a looser and more nonchalant indifference to pleasure, which must be exhaustively cultivated in order to nullify addictions. This also enhances one’s sense of control over the pleasant sensations to which one has become addicted. And it gradually leads to a new sense of self based just on being who you are.

Cure of addiction necessarily involves unspinning – putting into reverse – the habit as it was formed. It means regaining control over one’s life, denying oneself the sensations to which one has become helplessly addicted, and generally negating the path one has followed. It means the re-establishment by gentle means, of control over the habit, being able to switch it on or off at will, just like a tap. This means stopping gazing at pleasant forms, stopping the internal fantasy element and stopping all the habits associated [attendant rituals of habit] with what is a pattern of addictive behaviour. Inevitably, a very long slow process can take as many years to un-learn as it took to establish in the first place. It means learning how to live day by day on nothing, on a sensory diet of nothing in particular and this will eventually stop the cravings. That is the basis of the Zen approach mentioned above. It means being able to ‘enjoy’ ordinary life as it is. Additionally, it means being able to discover and enjoy oneself just as we are. In these senses, it might be seen as a very joyful and refreshing path to follow. To the addict, this may sound like a very boring form of sense deprivation – which is exactly what it is!

‘Non-attachment…views desire as faulty, thereby deliberately restraining desire…’ [9]

Although addiction is harmful in certain respects [both to self and to others], in other ways, some positive things can come from it and it can be seen as a form of spiritual path. In this respect, it can lead one to make many useful realisations. There are at least three ways in which it can be useful. Firstly, it can lead to a realisation of the need for non-attachment, a greater indifference to the world and greater moderation in one’s habits. It can therefore lead one to a deeper realisation of the fleeting, transient [impermanent] nature of the world and of the mind, and their twin engagement. This is an important Buddhist realisation to make and which addicts of all types can apprehend. Likewise, it leads to an understanding of the way desire leads only to pain.

In another sense, addiction can also lead to a realisation of the fragmentation of corpuscular forms in space and time, which again is a profound realisation of Buddhist emptiness [Shunyata]. There seems little doubt that some addicts can apprehend this important Buddhist realisation with ease. It arises from the fragmentary sense of self many addicts become subject to. It also arises to some degree from the sense that their world is collapsing or disintegrating [‘cold turkey’] even when others reassure them that it is not. It especially arises from many drug-induced experiences in which life, self, the world, other people appear to be vacuous, diaphanous, empty forms, unreal or disintegrating. Such a sensation can persist for a lifetime, many years after the drugs have first been used. Such a sensation can be intensely real. Clearly, from a Buddhist perspective, this is like a direct experience of emptiness based upon an apprehension of the corpuscular nature of reality and the disintegrating nature of ‘unreal forms’. Persistent sensations of this type are illustrative of deep Buddhist concepts normally very hard for ‘normal’ people to comprehend or experience for oneself. Thus, in a sense, the addict has broken a fundamental illusion in our conception of reality that might pre-dispose them towards Buddhist ideas.

Thirdly, we can mention the contemplation of suffering and its causes. With a little guidance, the nature of suffering and its causes can be realised by addicts, without too much difficulty. This in itself can lead one to adopt a more sober, measured and moderate approach to life, and to realise the need for an abstention from indulgence and excesses. The safer and more serene beauty of ordinary life can also be apprehended from the standpoint of the addict. Abstinence alone can lead one to appreciate a Zen-like form of tranquillity as compared to the chaotic frenzy of indulgence in pleasure. It can also lead one to a realisation of the value of creating an inner world of vision, vivid memories recalled in perfect clarity impressed deeply upon the consciousness – this can be used in Buddhist practice to create vivid images of a pure realm of Buddhas.

‘…when you have attachment to, for instance, material things, it is best to desist from that activity. It is taught that one should have few desires and have satisfaction – detachment – with respect to material things…’ [10]

Finally, addiction can lead one towards a deeper interest in the Buddhist view on the nature of mind. Even the idea of karma and rebirth can lead addicts to temper their bad habits and gain some hope for a calmer future. Most of all, addicts should seriously consider the harmfulness of their addiction, both to self and others. In yet another sense, addicts are people who have failed to transform ordinary life into something acceptable or special for them and through which they can then experience life with some joy and fulfilment. The drug or addiction replaces this sense of fulfilment and thus they can only access that sense of life’s joy and meaning, via the drug itself.

To sum up is not easy, as there are many threads. To an extent, Buddhists and addicts seem to share some similar perspectives on the world. They both tend to see the transient and fleeting nature of self and phenomena as being an experience central to their worldview – a view almost utterly obscured to ordinary people. Both are also familiar with non-identity or selflessness, an egoless state in which forms appear diaphanous and unreal, in which self dissolves into nothingness and in which the world is consumed by emptiness. These are profound similarities. By contrast, the addict is not grounded in deep love and compassion for self and the world and is not on a path of self-improvement. Their vision is an essentially pessimistic one, while the Buddhist’s view is predominantly peaceful, hopeful and optimistic. The addict’s view is also harmful to self and others, while a Buddhist’s view is based upon respect and non-harming, love of everything. Though the addict – like a Buddhist – has apprehended the empty and dissolving nature of reality, they do not use that profound insight to construct an inner world of pure forms founded in love and compassion. The addict is essentially leaning on the crutches of their illusions, while the Buddhist leans on nothing, accepts self and the world just as they are and gets on along a path of continuous self-improvement.

‘…the sense of an object as being attractive, unattractive, or neutral…feelings of pleasure, pain, or neutrality arise. Due to such feelings, attachment develops, this being the attachment of not wanting to separate from pleasure and the attachment of wanting to separate from suffering…’ [11]

Other features stand out. The addict seems to have rejected the values of the ordinary person, which the Buddhist has also rejected, such as the permanent nature of reality and the idea that pleasure should be cosy, quiet and decent. The Buddhist aspires to entirely destroy desire and aversion as the root causes of all suffering, and sees both in turn as products of our deluded apprehension of the world as solid and real. The addict has also experienced the emptiness, but has failed to realise that the cause of suffering is aversion and desire – in which they continue to indulge. Thus, the addict appears to sit mid-way between the ordinary person and the Buddhist, and is moving in some ways ‘along the way towards’ Buddhism – chiefly in apprehending the emptiness and in realising that desire and hatred have some problems and price-tags attached. I would therefore conclude that the addict’s is a form of spiritual path – a development away from the ordinary life position – and that involves experiences, which can be more fully understood from a deeper study of Buddhism. These relate to cause and effect, the nature of mind, desire and aversion and finally impermanence and emptiness.

‘…the mental factor of desire…accompanies the perception of an attractive object…’ [12]

Sources

[1] The Dalai Lama at Harvard, 1988, Snow Lion USA, p.48

[2] Geshe Lhundup Sopa & Jeffrey Hopkins, Cutting through Appearances: Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism, 1989, Snow Lion, USA, pp.49-50

[3] ibid., p.111

[4] ibid., p.158

[5] ibid., p.188

[6] ibid., p.205

[7] ibid., p.216

[8] ibid., p.272

[9] Dalai Lama at Harvard, p.76

[10] ibid., p.153

[11] ibid., pp.86-7

[12] Sopa & Hopkins, op cit, p.188


Source: http://www.homeoint.org/morrell/buddhism/addict.htm