The myth of addiction

Davies, John Booth (2001) The myth of addiction. Journal of Cognitive Liberties, 2 (2). pp. 39-44. ISSN 1527-3946

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One of the difficulties with putting across messages about drug use is that the problem is more complicated than many of us would like to believe. The drug issue usually attracts our attention through media presentations which seek to reduce the issue to a single, instantly comprehensible message but in the process an inaccurate and largely false impression is created. Even amongst many drug workers and researchers, there is an avoidance of anything that smacks of theory, and a preference for action, even if that action is based on nothing more than personal prejudice and guesswork. Furthermore, stereotyped and inaccurate views of addiction are not uncommon even within the ranks of those who work intimately with drug problems, where there is all too frequently a lack of coherence in terms of the work carried out, and an unwillingness to consider alternative interpretations. Perhaps most of all, there is the belief that the 'truth' about the nature and causes of addiction can be revealed by methods which rely principally on asking people to answer questions or express opinions about their own or other people's drug use. However, answering questions and stating opinions are behaviours in their own right, which have dynamics all of their own. For these reasons, it is important to consider existing knowledge on the way people answer questions and explain their actions, since understanding these processes may yield fresh perspectives on the issue under investigation. The Myth of Addiction attempts to provide such an alternative perspective in the area of drug use and misuse. Whilst the ideas contained are not new, they represent a species of argument which is neglected, primarily because it is slightly more complicated than the more popular theories of drug use. The argument presented in The Myth of Addiction is basically that people take drugs because they want to, and because it makes sense for them to do so given the choices available, rather than because they are compelled to by the pharmacology of the drugs they take. Nonetheless, we generally prefer to conceptualise our drug abusers in terms which imply that their behaviour is not their own to control. This picture arises because it is the picture we want to have, and the view is supported by a body of data consisting largely of people's self reports, opinions and statements of belief. This body of data, whilst potentially of great value in certain respects, is frequently put to uses for which it is ill suited; it does not always mean what we think it means. When asked questions by members of the research establishment, it is functional for drug users to report that they are addicted, forced into theft, harassed by stressful life events, and driven into drug use by forces beyond their capacity to control. The central argument of this book is that such self reports have their own internal functional logic which is independent of reality, and that other research methods and forms of analysis would consequently produce a different picture. Furthermore, the fact that the explanations people provide for their behaviour make some reference to their own motives and intentions is hardly new; it is a central feature of social interaction, and not specific to drug users.