Friday, July 29, 2022

Addiction Epidemic--Just a Symptom? by Juliet Waldron

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Everyone knows we are in the midst of an opioid epidemic. Recent figures (necessarily an estimate) show 16 million people are addicted to opiates world-wide; 3 million of those are here in the U.S. 500,000 in the U.S are addicted to heroin.

"Opioids are prescribed to treat pain. With prolonged use, pain-relieving effects may lessen and pain can become worse. In addition, the body can develop dependence. Opioid dependence causes withdrawal symptoms, which makes it difficult to stop taking them. Addiction occurs when dependence interferes with daily life. Taking more than the prescribed amount of licit drugs or using illegal opioids like heroin may result in death." 

"Symptoms of addiction include uncontrollable cravings and inability to control opioid use even though it's having negative effects on personal relationships or finances..."

You may also become addicted to pharmaceuticals which are commonly used to treat mood disorders, such as anxiety. Valium and Xanax are two treatments doctors have become ever more wary of over-prescribing. These drugs can interfere with the workings of the autonomic system of the abuser to the point of the stopping the heart.

In western cultures, alcohol is the traditional mood-altering substance, but this, too, when abused, can have deadly consequences for users as well as for anyone who gets in the way of, say, a drunk driver, or someone's alcohol-fueled rage.

"Excessive alcohol use was responsible for more than 140,000 deaths in the United States each year during 2015–2019, or more than 380 deaths per day."  

Medical experts, however, now realize that substance addictions are not the only shape the  dysfunction takes. Addictions to cell phones, to video games or to social media are a few of the categories that are currently recognized. All of these behaviors are on display inside any shopping mall or grocery store--or inside your own home.

Increasingly, too, it appears that societies  too can suffer from addictions, and that these "macro-addictions" are might be the gravest of all. Exactly as in substance abuse, these societal addictions can cause many members of those societies  to suffer great emotional and physical damage. 

There is also another addiction, one to control, which appears to be an integral part of western civilization. Control, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing in a world of 8 billion people (now straining our planet's resources to the breaking point), but that too is another subject too large for this small blog. 

 "Those who do not understand their past are doomed to repeat it" An apocryphal quote by now, but having a lifelong fascination with history/society, I have spent much of my life studying it . Although raised with a Euro-centric view, I have remained to open to changing my mind, to learning and expanding my understanding.

 When European colonists came to America, they met people who lived in completely unfamiliar social systems. Certainly, in the context of history, there was no way for Europeans to see those new people other than as "savages."  They did not share our traditions or our religious beliefs. Arriving on these shores having been born and raised within rigidly hierarchical systems of class--with Kings whose powers were still assumed to be God-given--and still carrying on brutal, atrocity filled wars of religion among Christian groups, Europeans could not see Indigenous people any other way. 

Fly Away Snow Goose, set among nomadic hunter-gatherers, was my attempt--alongside my co-author, John Wisdomkeeper--to address this brutal cultural collision between colonizers and colonized. The various religious groups who arrived in The Northeast Territory- what was then one of the last frontiers in North America--may have believed that they were bringing "the blessings of civilization" to their small pupils in those reservation schools, but that is not the story we hear from ever so many of those who were removed from their families and marooned in places with inadequate food and none of the familial warmth and affection into which they had been born. Siblings were separated, and the children all kept away from their famiy's home for most of the year, further disrupting family bonds and separating them from their culture.

If they were taught anything beyond religious formula, it was to perform tasks such as scrubbing, ironing, sewing, manual labor. They were taught that only European ways,--and people-- had value, that they belonged to a "lesser race" doomed to be always inferior, no matter what they learned or achieved. Their stories, myths, and especially their languages, were forbidden. The cold strange religion (with rites conducted in a foreign language) they were forced to accept offered little  solace. Unsurprising that in a few generations their heritage, their language and their stories vanished, leaving only broken souls behind. Alcoholism, domestic abuse, and violence plague today's reservations, and these are all symptoms of a vast cultural trauma and individual pain. 

And this pain seems to have become endemic in our modern world, and, as we know, this pain doesn't spare rich countries. We have more material comforts than we ever had, but we appear to be ever-more dissatisfied and greedy. 

Consider the words of the Wendat Philosopher and Statesman Kandiaronk, as related to future historians by an impoverished French aristocrat named Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce, known to posterity as Lahontan who published several popular accounts of his many years in New France. Lahontan, who had become fluent in Algonkian, Wendat and other tribes 1703 book,titled:  Curious Dialogues with a Savage of Good Sense Who has Traveled) would become foundational to the later works of Rosseau and other Enlightenment and revolutinary thinkers. 

In the late 17th Century, Kandiaronk was a famous negotiator among the tribes--Mik'maq, Haudesaunee, Algonkian, and others, as well as with the French. He was frequently at the Governor of New France--the Comte de Frontenac-- table and attempted through reasonable discourse, oratory, and persistent negotiation to save his people and their way of life from the ever-encroaching, insatiable Europeans. His thoughts provoked revolutions and inspired political philosophers for the next 200 years. 

"For my part, I find it hard to imagine how you could be much more miserable than you already are....
I have spent six years reflecting on the state of European society and I still can't think of a single way they act that's not inhuman, and I genuinely think this can only be the case, as long as you stick to your distinction of "mine and thine"...
I affirm that what you call money is the devil of devils; the tyrant of the French, the source of all evils....
Can you seriously imagine that I would be happy to live like one of the inhabitants of Paris, to take two hours to put on my shirt and make-up, to bow and scrape before every obnoxious fool I meet on the streets who just happened to born with an inheiritance? Do you really imagine I could carry a purse full of coins and not immediately hand them over to people who are hungry; that I would carry a sword but not immediately draw it on the first band of thugs I see rounding up the destitute to press them into naval service?"

~~Juliet Waldron


  1. Great post, Juliet. We do not know enough about what really happened in those troubled times, since official history is written by the conquerors. Having traveled extensively myself, I often noticed that poor societies who did not worship money and possessions often had an abundance of love for each other, a kinder philosophy and superior wisdom. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Yes--I hear you and have shared your experience of generosity from the people in other lands, who, judged by our standards, don't have a pot to p***s in. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Thoughtful post. Addictions are hard to cure. I think the latest one os the phone. Visited with daughter, and grandchildren last week. Only one and possible two didn't spend most of the time on the phone doing something.

    1. I know. These darn phones--people are not PRESENT much these days.


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