About a year ago I was contacted by a well known men’s magazine such as GQ asking to interview me about my views on addiction. This deeply perplexed me as I haven’t published on addiction, nor have I worked heavily with addicts in my clinical practice. As it turns out, the journalist had contacted me because of this and dozens of other webpages similar to this that have proliferated throughout the net over the years.

Criticism

Levi Bryant has criticized the term and concept of addiction as counterproductive in psychotherapy as it defines a patient’s identity and makes it harder to become a non-addict. “The signifier ‘addict’ doesn’t simply describe what I am, but initiates a way of relating to myself that informs how I relate to others.”

A stronger form or criticism comes from Thomas Szasz, who denies that addiction is a psychiatric problem. In many of his works, he argues that addiction is a choice, and that a drug addict is one who simply prefers a socially taboo substance rather than, say, a low risk lifestyle. In ‘Our Right to Drugs’, Szasz cites the biography of Malcolm X to corroborate his economic views towards addiction: Malcolm claimed that quitting cigarettes was harder than shaking his heroin addiction. Szasz postulates that humans always have a choice, and it is foolish to call someone an ‘addict’ just because they prefer a drug induced euphoria to a more popular and socially welcome lifestyle.

A similar conclusion to that of Thomas Szasz may also be reached through very different reasoning. This is the somewhat extreme, yet tenable, view that humans do not have free will. From this perspective, being ‘addicted’ to a substance is no different from being ‘addicted’ to a job that you work everyday. Without the assumption of free will, every human action is the result of the naturally occurring reactions of particle matter in the physical brain, and so there is no longer room for the concept of ‘addiction’, since, in this view, choice is an illusion of the human experience.

How, you might ask, did I come to be ranked alongside the illustrious Thomas Szasz and to be credited with a cogent criticism of contemporary treatments of addiction? All of this came from this post on the Lacan list on yahoogroups back in 2003, coupled with my article The Absent Third and Social Sciences and Apres Coup. I referred the journalist to Rik Loose, who is a Lacanian analyst that’s actually worked with addicts and published on these matters. It’s a brave new world.

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