Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

How the hell do you decide love is a tougher addiction than heroin?

Are there scales to decide love is more addictive than heroin?
Stanton Peele, Ph.D., J.D.
This post is a response to The 7 hardest addictions to quit - love is the worst! by Stanton Peele

Marc responded to my post "The seven hardest addictions to quit - love is the worst":

Nice post Stanton, and actually not that surprising to me are behavioural (addictions worse) and NOT substance abuse problems. I'm curious though, what are your sources? How was this measured?

Marc is right to ask for sources. First, please notice, there are links to research-based papers I have written in the cases of illicit drugs and alcohol.

Beyond this, studies have been done (based on addict responses) about which drugs are hardest to withdraw from, so there is an empirical basis for this.

One important thing to be aware of in regards to withdrawal is that measurements are anchored in addict responses. There is no - will NEVER BE - an "objective" (e.g., brain scan) measure of severity of addiction that trumps what people feel and how they behave.

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There is, however, an empirical epidemiologic measurement - how many addicts/users of any given substance continue to use. Thus you can compare current/lifetime users or addicts of any substance from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

Without summarizing all of the data, the ratios for current to lifetime users of cocaine, crack and heroin are all 10 percent or less. The ratio (indicating more continued use) is several times higher for smokers.

Of course, past use is not a measurement of addiction. And the problem here is you hardly get a bleep in heroin addiction measurements, even with a national sample - heroin addicts just do not appear in general populations in large enough numbers to draw reliable conclusions.

Thus, relying on large-scale survey data, you are often jumping from usage ever to ideas about addiction. But this is not how it works, as everyone knows in the case of alcohol, which is why I draw on NESARC for their detailed analysis of the permanence of alcoholism. (A reminder - NESARC, a massive national interview study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, found most alcoholics recovered without treatment, most without quitting drinking altogether).

Now, when we jump to comparing food and love with drugs, we are making comparisons of things which have not been measured together in national surveys. Such speculation is, of course, the prerogative of blogs. I am being suggestive - yes, perhaps even provocative.

And what I am saying is that the most feared substances are regarded as more addictive than more familiar ones - and this idea is wrong. Addiction is being used as a bludgeon to attack substances we find strange and that we fear (e.g., heroin or alcohol versus cigarettes, cocaine versus Valium).

And this goes doubly when we move from substances to other human activities. A problem the National Institute on Drug Abuse can never resolve is that their mission is to discourage drug use, not objectively confront the meaning of addiction.

But eating and weight problems are more resilient on average than substance abuse ones. Eating is a more difficult and persistent habit for people to confront - you can more readily quit the heroin lifestyle.

And I take a further leap in the case of love addiction. We have not done a national survey of relationship addictions. We do know about spousal abuse, about divorce, about murder and suicide associated with intimate relationships, etc. - nothing gets inside people's psyches and souls more than love and its imitations, as a response by an anonymous woman to my entry reminds us:

My divorce has left me completely blindsided and affected every aspect of my life. It is something that I have struggled for years to get over and to this day cannot seem to move forward. It has literally destroyed so much of me and continues to take another piece day by day. I fear what the outcome will be in the end.

Of course, this comment, as well as being terribly worrying, immediately calls to mind underlying problems - a psychologist assumes it is necessary to look fully into a person's life to discover why they are so devastated by the break-up of a marriage. This is my approach to addiction at large, and why I devised a Life Process Program to attack it.

And so we get back to why I began my study of addiction with Love and Addiction, and how I have arrived where I am.

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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