Democratization of Addiction: Is it truly a reality?

As I read the article about the drinking habits of the Camba in Bolivia I was particularly intrigued by the argument which focuses on the ‘selective’ ways in which alcohol affects individuals. In the case of this specific article, the argument is made in light of the differential response to the effects of alcohol as displayed by this culture. In response to the idea posited in this piece, that as a disinhibitor alcohol should have indiscriminate and universal effects on everyone, I began thinking of addictive substance in general and how they more often than not have a disparate effect on different people.

Ironically, as I thought about this and started reading up on addiction I encountered an article in the NY times that spoke about the discriminating role addiction plays in our world today. Are phrases such as “Drug abuse is an equal opportunity destroyer.” “Drug addiction is a bipartisan illness” or “Addiction does not discriminate; it doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, famous or unknown, a man or woman, or even a child” in fact true? This article claims that a teenager who develops drug problems is not like a teenager who never develops any drug abuse problems. There is in fact a fundamental difference between the two. Addiction selected one teenager over the other. Much like the effects of the alcohol as spoken about in the article we read for class, it does not act indiscriminately. The idea in the NY times article was that addiction “selects” for people who are “bad at delaying gratification and gauging consequences, who are impulsive, who think they have little to lose, have few competing interests, or are willing to lie to a spouse” and spares those who have the ‘right’ attitudes, values and behaviors. This irresolute effect of addiction is also seen in the trends of relapse with some people being more susceptible to it than others.

This absence of ‘addiction democracy’ confers some with a status of superiority and leaves others under the yolk of toxicity. Now the question is: if in fact we cannot democratically control the power of addiction, then who are we slaves to? Yes, this brings us back to the ever pervasive nature-nurture debate; but in light of everything we’re reading for class, how can one avoid being ‘selected’ by the evil of addiction as it indiscriminately dictates some and spares those such as the heavy drinking Camba of Bolivia?

4 thoughts on “Democratization of Addiction: Is it truly a reality?

  1. In response to the statement: “addiction “selects” for people who are “bad at delaying gratification and gauging consequences, who are impulsive, who think they have little to lose, have few competing interests, or are willing to lie to a spouse” and spares those who have the ‘right’ attitudes, values and behaviors.”

    Aren’t most of these traits learned behaviors? I don’t think it is addiction that selects people who exhibit these personality characteristics, but the socioeconomic and cultural beliefs and values that allow addiction to select its victim.

    I’d be interested to read the studies that these conclusions are based upon.

    You also bring up a good point about how addiction spares some, like the Camba of Bolivia, and overwhelms some, like native populations of Alaska and Greenland.


  2. I think that addiction is strongly culturally defined. The Camba in Bolivia come from a culture where drinking heavily from Friday night to Monday morning is normal. However, this type of behavior in a country like the U.S. would be labelled something like an alcohol-dependent behavior or an addiction. Someone in the U.S. who drinks heavily and often may do better in a culture like the Camba because they are not surrounded by people who look down on them for their non-normal patterns of behavior. I guess what I am trying to say is that culture may perpetuate these behaviors by marginalizing individuals which in turn cause these behaviors in these individuals to persist, which remains a vicious cycle.


  3. This entry made me think: is addiction a double whammy? I started to think about addicts and maybe that the personality traits that lead addicts to become addicts are also manifested in other ways such as laziness, lack of motivation, drive, avoiding problems, and so on. Not all addicts are characterized in this way but I feel that many are stereotyped as a leech to society.


  4. Maybe addiction is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, such that if excessive alcohol/drug use is interpreted as maladaptive, it will become so. Some of the PTSD research I’ve been doing mentions this maladaptive perspective, saying that people with thought intrusions who feel that the intrusions are signs that they are very mentally off-kilter show increased PTSD symptoms, as opposed to those who accept their thought intrusions without judgment.


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