Search Words

Monday, November 28, 2011

Alcoholism versus Other Addictions

I’ve gotten some interesting feedback which I would like to share, some of which I will be integrating into the blog very soon.
One of the things I have noticed is that as alcohol addiction in the US has fallen into disfavor, other diseases have cropped up.  Think about it: we no longer see public drunkenness in the US the way you see in other parts of the world. 
These are just a few examples I pulled from the BBC having to do with Anglophonic nations and their alcohol-abuse woes:
Sure, the US has its places where being stumble-in-the-streets drunk is OK (colleges for instance), but unless you at Marti Gras in New Orleans, the average town fair isn’t going to result in dozens of passed-out citizens piled up outside the venue.  In other places in the world, that’s just the beginning of the evening.
When I lived in the UK, it was very common to encounter employees in shops well-early in the morning stinking of a fresh drink to nip off the hangover, whereas in most places in America showing up with the same odor will likely get you fired in short order.
This does not mean that the US has gotten any healthier, however.  The crack epidemic in the 1980s changed attitudes to public intoxication, but it did not do much to address the underlying dysfunction of the average citizen.  With a rise in technology, more Americans are running into other, less obvious addictions.  Computers have become a major problem:
Yes, video game addiction can develop and affect the brain in a way close to other diseases.
Pornography, made easily available through the ‘clean’ internet rather than embarrassing shops, is spreading:
Once these addictions set in and the brain begins to change, it takes a lot of painful work to heal the mind and body of the addict and bring about sobriety and freedom from the addiction.  It is just as much work as repairing the stumble-in-the-streets drunk.  The difficulty is that the public drunk is obvious, but the gaming addict, the gambler, or the sex addict can hide much more easily.
This makes it much more challenging to confront the addict.  A substance-abuser can be ‘caught’ intoxicated and not snap out of it instantly, unlike the other addictions which do not have long-lasting effects.  It takes hours to sober up, but a problemed gambler can step away from his online poker addiction and be ready to 'function' in a matter of moments.  He may go into debt and bankruptcy, but those problems are often not associated with a gambling addiction, unlike the alcoholic who's cirrhosis is hard to explain as being anything other than a symptom of his disease.
The gamer may stay locked away from real relationships for hours, even days, but remain employed and thus ‘respectable.’  We occasionally crack jokes about the game nerd who lives in his parents’ house, isn’t married and spends hours on the computer.  Is this addiction, or just a choice?
What about the porn addict, who will generally contend that his habit hurts no-one, especially if the ‘stars’ of his chosen media are well-paid and looked after with his money?
We know that banning porn or video games will only drive it underground.  Prohibition of easily-produced items never works (you can more easily ban enriched uranium or heroin because they are in limited quantities produced only in certain places, whereas alcohol or a clumsily produced video can be made in anyone’s bathroom with a few simple ingredients).  But, what are the costs?
How much of America’s addictive cravings have simply moved from alcohol to something else?  While we may pat ourselves on the back to think that we do not have the public intoxication problems of, let’s say, Romania, the question remains as a society whether we are all that much better off?
My opinion is that we are just as sick, but our addictions are simply less obvious and thus easier to rationalize.  The Ukraine may have an extremely high level of alcoholism, but if you compile the unhealthy addictions of Americans, there will only be a small difference in terms of ratios.
Alcoholism treatment is a good start, but it is also the easiest because its symptoms are harder to hide: intoxication, odor, organ failure, etc.  As a Church, we need to look beyond alcoholism to all the various addictions, and beyond them as well to get at the root of the problem.

No comments:

Post a Comment