It is estimated that over 40% of families are impacted by addiction, whether the addict is a parent, child, or spouse. What is the cost of this? The mental health of America is simply the sum total of the mental health of its citizens. Does it not seem odd that nearly half of our population is exposed to the insanity of addiction, and that this problem is not being addressed directly?
Homo sapiens has come a long way. We got out of the trees and learned to stand up, make fire, herd animals, and farm. We developed the wheel, and made steam engines, and sent a man to the moon. Today, our technology has transformed just about everything. We have technology that allows most cultures and tribes to communicate and share their wonders. One would think that these accomplishments would put mankind in a really good place.
Except for one very big problem. I believe the majority of Americans, to a greater or lesser degree, meet many of the criteria for addiction. I fit into this category. I am a recovering addict with over 30 years of sobriety.
Craving, loss of control, adverse consequences, and chronic, long time use (of a substance or a behavior) are the markers of addiction. We all understand that alcoholism is an addiction, and many of us understand the recovery process from addiction. But I believe that most of us have difficulty seeing that many of our common behaviors also meet the criteria for addiction, and that we would benefit from learning how to change and become healthier in these areas.
Take compulsive eating, for example. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and our culture is healthier than is the culture of some other parts of the country. As I travel outside of the Bay Area, I am amazed at the number of obese families. Whole families have somehow gone insane and burdened themselves, their children, and the rest of us, with higher medical costs. There are rare, medical exceptions that explain this condition, but the vast majority of these families have succumbed to addictive eating. They know they are fat. They know they would be happier if they were healthier. But their behavior is addictive — they crave their food, they can’t control it, it is causing adverse consequences; it has been going on for a long time, and it is getting worse. They are addicted.
Here is one way of looking at this. The drug dealer came along and said, “Hey, come over here. I’ve got something you will really like. Here, try it. It’s free!” The dealer, of course, is Big Food, and their drug is some amalgam of sugar, fat, and salt. And it might not be free, but it is cheap. It is cheap because our government and our tax dollars made it cheap by giving 14 billion dollars of our taxes to Big Farm and Big Food to produce it, below cost. (And of course, Big Food then bribes the politicians with re-election money in return for that favor.)
Members of these fat families, one in three Americans, are the victims of an addictive system, just like millions of nicotine addicts are the victims of our elected officials colluding with Big Nicotine and pushing their drug on children, in order to feed their addiction to money and power. One in three Americans has been exposed to enough chemically altered, flavor-enhanced, nutrition-depleted food — and advertisements for this kind of food — that they have become addicted.
There are many kinds of behaviors that can lead to addiction. These range from excessive TV-watching to compulsive eating, ingesting chemicals, spending money, pornography, computer gaming, and the list goes on.
The bottom line is that the times have changed, and that, for the first time in human history, we have some new problems that need our attention. A hundred years ago, most Americans were simply trying to “get by.” They needed to work hard to get food on the table and keep the house warm. While many Americans are still just trying to get by, the times have radically changed. Teens today have easy access to drugs. Fast food and Internet porn are ubiquitous, and many teenagers seem to have merged into electronic screens. We need to acknowledge that addiction is a very big problem; that it affects us all. Taxes would go down significantly if we got a handle on this public health crisis. We would not have to pay the medical costs associated with the 45,000,000 nicotine addicts. We would not have to pay the medical costs for the one third of all babies born after the year 2000 who will become diabetic. We could eliminate 70% of the expenses for police and jails and prisons — which house three times as many addicts as criminals — if addiction were seriously reduced.
It is estimated that over 40% of families are impacted by addiction, whether the addict is a parent, child, or spouse. What is the cost for this? The mental health of America is simply the sum total of the mental health of its citizens. Does it not seem odd that nearly half of our population is exposed to the insanity of addiction, and that this problem is not being addressed directly?
The reason addiction is not being talked about is clear. The addict is almost always in denial. If we have leaders who are addicted to money and power, we would expect that they would not be interested in bringing up the subject.
I like David Linden’s book: The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. In an interview aired on National Public Radio he said, in effect, that he wanted to enjoy all the pleasures of life, but in moderation! There is nothing wrong with almost any behavior that raises our dopamine level if we can do it in moderation. In fact, I believe that is one of the secrets of a well-lived life. How many different ways can we find to increase our dopamine levels? Unfortunately, many of us unknowingly have crossed over the line from pleasure to addiction and could benefit from some guidance on this issue.
But first, America needs to come out of denial. In my book, Intervention on America, I show how our leaders are addicted to money and power. We need leaders who are not addicted to lead us in a discussion about addiction and its treatment.
And we also need to challenge the drug-treatment industry to come out of denial. Current research in mental health clearly demonstrates that the unconscious codependent dynamics in family systems often enable and support addiction. However, addiction treatment has not caught up to the research, and nearly all treatment programs fail to offer one-on-one, long-term, professional treatment to these codependents, and this is the primary reason that they have such low success rates.
In many ways, addiction is simple to treat. We need to acknowledge our inability to control that which we cannot control, reach out for help, and follow treatment recommendations. With support, nearly all of us can stop our addiction just for today, and if we get support, we can probably do it again tomorrow. As they say, it’s “one day at a time.”
Typically, however, it is the enabling codependents who are the problem. Although they have the best of intentions to help the addict recover, these folks actually perpetuate the addiction. If we could ship all the codependents to the moon, many addicts would crash and reach out for help.
If I were President, I would appoint a Secretary of Recovery. This individual’s mandate would be to bring awareness to the public that addiction is treatable and recovery is possible.
I would ask him or her to look at the addiction research and treatment programs the government has developed. I would have them bring the treatment of addiction and codependency out of the closet and into the light, where we can see the magnitude of the damage that addiction has done to America, and to the children who grow up in this world.
I would ask medical schools and mental health training facilities to expand their education on addiction and codependence. And I would see that some of the money obtained from taxing the sale of legal drugs goes to pay for public-service advertising, and educating the public about the disease of addiction and codependence.
I would invite all of us to read Gabor Mate’s book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, in order to understand that addiction, codependency, and mental illness often stem from stress that children experience in early life, and that we all need to redouble our efforts to provide the optimal environment for families with young children.
And I would open up the White House to 12-Step meetings, and as a recovering person, I would go to these meetings.
But I am running for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. As a Congressman, I would work actively to propose laws to mandate education about addiction and codependency and to dedicate significant government money to the prevention and treatment of addiction.
It is time for us to understand the nature of addiction and codependency, the value of treatment, and the significance of the recovery process that allows all of us to be restored to sanity.