Are Addicts Truly Powerless? If their habits don’t reflect their desires, we might do better to recognise an addict’s powerlessness

Daniel Morgan at IAI News:

SetWidth592-addictionAddiction is often connected with the idea of powerlessness, compulsion, or having one’s agency ‘hijacked’. That idea shows up, for example, in the first of Alcoholics Anonymous’s 12 steps:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

AA is an incredibly popular organization. Organizations that take the same approach to addiction, but focus on different objects of addiction – e.g. narcotics, food, sex – are also globally successful. So, the idea that addiction involves powerlessness has resonated with a vast number of people who have first-hand experience of addiction. It deserves to be taken seriously. Should we also take it literally? Well, that depends on working out what it would mean to take it literally. And that turns out not to be obvious.

It might help to focus on this question to have an example in view. Susan is an alcoholic who is having some early success in being abstinent and is slowly putting her life back together. She has constructed a daily routine designed to minimize stressors and triggers for her drinking. Now along comes something to trip her up, the delayed fall-out of her unmanageable past – e.g. a debt or an affair that has just been discovered. The thought of drinking, which has perhaps been a regular unwelcome but fleeting visitor, now impresses itself on her with incredible tenacity. She runs through the script she has developed for this kind of scenario. She takes some deep breaths. She rehearses her reasons not to drink. She contemplates ringing her sponsor, knowing that they will likely offer to come round and escort her to a meeting. At a certain point, she nevertheless succumbs. She drinks. In what sense, if any, was she powerless over alcohol?

More here.