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Three Stunning Psychological Truths

Stating obvious truths about addiction is a revolutionary activity.

1. Love Is Lethally Addictive

We have had drummed into us that opioids are the sine qua non of addiction—that opioids are inexorably addictive, and that nothing matches their addictive power. This isn’t true.

In fact, love is the most compelling and destructive addiction. Love drives people to the greatest lengths in pursuing it, and in a surprising number of cases to the depths of hell and addiction thereafter.

Intimate relationships are the greatest source of murder and suicide: “Homicides by intimate partners are increasing. . . to 2,237 in 2017, a 19 percent increase from the 1,875 killed in 2014, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist and professor of criminal justice at Northeastern University. . . . The majority of the victims in 2017 were women, a total of 1,527.”

Intimate murders typically involve male perpetrators around break-ups: “Within these relationships, disputes about possessiveness, jealousy, and separation are particularly dangerous, and some men change their goal from attempting to keep the woman within the relationship to one of destroying her for leaving it.”

But male initiators and women victims are not always the case. Here a woman is charged with homicide in her boyfriend’s suicide:

A student from South Korea has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after prosecutors allege her abusive behavior pushed her boyfriend toward suicide on the day of his Boston College graduation. . . .

Urtula killed himself on May 20, just hours before his family expected to watch him graduate from Boston College with a degree in biology. You. . . was present at the time of his death, according to the prosecutors who say You was tracking Urtula’s location on an iPhone, something she frequently did during their relationship.

In the two months prior to Urtula’s death, prosecutors say he and You exchanged more than 75,000 text messages . . . . The messages became “more frequent, and more powerful and more demeaning in the days and hours leading up to Mr. Urtula’s untimely death” (in the final days of his life, these messages occurred minute-by-minute).

Can you visualize the intensity of this maelstrom? What drug does this?

2. We Have No Idea of How America Lives

We believe that opioids addict everyone when we see rising drug-related death rates. Yet we have no idea about the lives of people living in addiction- and death-prone America. A majority of Americans live without some basic services and thus feel hopeless. For them, susceptibility to addiction is a life trope. Although men are by far the more typical drug-death victims, women are also experiencing rising death rates:

In the last five years, the death rate among women ages 15 to 54 has steadily risen. An American woman today is 50% more likely to die in childbirth than her mother. Half of all U.S. counties lack a single obstetrician-gynecologist, and more than 19 million women live in areas that do not have the full range of contraceptive (and thus health) services. (My italics)

Blaming such deaths on opioid addiction rather than life circumstances is our way of separating ourselves from the realities of life in America and addiction both.

3. The Trauma Explanation for Addiction is Destructive

For some time I have been explaining that focusing on trauma as the source of addiction is destructive. This recognition of the dysfunction of the excessive focus on trauma psychology is now becoming apparent and being acknowledged:

A growing body of research suggests sustained, positive relationships with caring adults can help mitigate the harmful effects of childhood trauma. And specialists say pediatricians, social workers, and others who work with kids should take steps to monitor and encourage those healthy relationships — just as they’re careful to screen for abuse and neglect. . . .

This thinking is catching on, said Dr. Andrew Garner, a pediatrician at University Hospitals of Cleveland. In 2012, Garner cowrote a seminal American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement that recommended doctors pay closer attention to early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Now, based on mounting evidence of long-term health benefits from supportive relationships, he is working on an update, recommending that pediatricians also seek information about nurturing relationships in a child’s life.

This is focusing on what’s useful, helpful and hopeful, and not on what is self-defeating and that drags us down as individuals, a society, and helpers.