The Addictive Personality
We’ve all heard of people referring to themselves as having an “addictive personality”, but is there any scientific merit behind this disorder? Is it an individual’s personality, or the addictive substance/behaviour, that is responsible as the predominant cause of addiction?
The claim that an addictive substance/behaviour is completely responsible for addiction is preposterous, and an insult to an individual’s intelligence. This however, used to be considered a reasonable explanation for drug prevention education. In 1938 an educational film entitled “Reefer Madness” (Watch it! It’s so bad it’s good: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-6696582420128930236#) was made in order to educate Americans about the harms of marijuana use. In this film a respectable man smokes a “reefer” for the first time and instantly fiends for more. His health begins to deteriorate immediately and he ruins his life by becoming a sex-crazed murderer. Such propaganda is laughed at today for its inaccuracies and heavy handed agenda that treat viewers as mindless sheep that are incapable of processing data into informed life choices. There are many negative health risks involved in marijuana use, but to claim that everyone that has ever tried it once becomes an addict is outlandish.
Assuming that the individual’s personality is entirely responsible for an addiction can be a dangerously ineffective diagnosis of causation. It is also stigmatizing and accomplishes nothing more than blaming the victim for their disposition. This may lead to the addict’s acceptance of addiction as their fate. Acceptance prevents treatment and rehabilitation and takes the responsibility off of the addict and places it on their genetic predisposition. The National Academy of Sciences claims that there are many significant personality factors that enable our addictions. These factors are impulsive behaviours, difficulty delaying gratification, an antisocial/anti-conformist disposition, social alienation, and stress. The truth is that there are many sociological factors that affect our personalities in flux throughout the course of our lives. According to Dr. Charles P. O’Brien, physicians have the highest rate of addiction to opiates, not because physicians are more likely to have addictive personalities, but because physicians have greater access to opiates. Growing up in a culture or community where drugs are ever present produces an opportunity for addiction, but does not demand it.
Only through informed decisions and autonomy can we responsibly choose what direction our lives can go. Drug addiction in Canadian culture does not need to be as great a problem if educational programs do not lie and talk down to students - insulting their intelligence. Drug education should provide them with actual facts and assume that students are smart enough to make informed decisions for themselves instead of blindly following others. Addiction should also be treated in a non-judgmental manner, and access to rehabilitation should be as prevalent as access to drugs. The fact remains that addiction is not solely a result of genetic/metabolic predisposition, the substance itself, and sociological factors, but a combination of all three. Placing blame on any singular cause stifles understanding and prevents appropriate treatment worsening addiction.
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