Addiction in Society

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

Three Theories of Depression, Love Addiction, and Obesity

The same thing that causes depression causes childhood obesity -- our lives

The Times presented an interesting discussion by a psychiatrist about how he disagrees with evolutionary psychologists (them again!) who seek to explain mood disorders -- specifically depression -- in terms of their adaptive benefits.  For example, depressive thinking may indicate a necessary focusing in order to solve essential problems.

But as the psychiatrist -- Richard Friedman -- points out, much depressive thinking is obsessive, and serves no function.  As one patient of Dr. Friedman's told him, “I would think the same things over and over and could never decide what to do. It’s not a creative way of thinking.”

So what does Dr. Friedman have to replace the useless EvPsych perspective on depression?  That people have deranged brain and thought processes.  And what causes those?  The recent patient of his on whom Dr. Friedman builds his thinking was "a 30-year-old woman whose husband had had an affair and left her. Within several weeks, she became despondent and socially isolated."

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Damn, why do I hear so many stories like that one? I even wrote a book, Love and Addiction, about them, back in 1975.  If there is any EvPsych here, according to PT Blogger Chris Ryan's analysis of the history of humankind, Sex at Dawn, it is that we build our worlds around unsustainable romantic, two-person relationships.  This over-investment of our moods and our social and sex lives with a single other is dysfunctional in the extreme -- because, well, they might leave you, or die, or -- we grow tired of them!

At another time (by far the longest epoch in the existence of our species) another mate -- really, other mates -- would have been readily available to a sexually productive young woman.  Moreover, she would have been imbedded in a group or community structure so that simply losing a man wouldn't cause her to be socially isolated.  The involvement with others, the activity of social interactions, the exposure to other willing sexual mates -- all would have inured her against depression.

We are not going to return to village or communal living anytime soon.  Who would want to?  Most such arrangements involved subsistence living, little recreation, and just plain boredom -- or at least what we would think of as boredom.  So the movement towards the isolated, economically protected, electronically and otherwise entertainment-enhanced existences we inhabit has been inevitable.

But it has also been emotionally dysfunctional in many cases.  And, so, we must find ways to counteract the worst elements of this world.  We must try to expand our social networks; find ways to amuse and occupy ourselves that don't involve a single other; cultivate interests, activities, friendships -- ah, I'm exhausted just thinking about it.  Because things that require individual initiative, rather than being simply dictated by our circumstances and our social milieu, are always going to be effortful and, thus, many people aren't going to do them.

Which brings us to obesity.  As more and more young people become more and more painfully obese at younger and younger ages, medical and psychological providers are trying to formulate methods for combating this modern health epidemic.  However, according to the Times, this will be difficult, since "researchers do not even fully understand the factors that contributed to the rapid rise in childhood obesity in recent years."

There are three theories of childhood obesity (doesn't this sound like a fairy tale?): these include the EvPsych one that we eat to store calories because in our historical past our survival depended on it, and the medical one that obesity is due to deranged brains.

And the third explanation?  It closely resembles the one that accounts for the dysfunctional love relationships and depression that characterize our era.  Thus, according to the Times, even as "Weight Watchers says it is working to develop a program for children and teenagers [and] [d]rug companies and medical device makers are also testing some products on children. . . .experts also say that to be successful, programs need to focus on the family as a whole, changing what everybody eats and how much time they are all active, not sitting in front of a computer screen or television."

Huh, we're back to that damn inevitable economically-dictated, boredom-fighting, electronically-enhanced, isolated nuclear family -- you know, the one that leads to love addiction and depression.

So how are we going to fight that mother of all the evil that confronts us?

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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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