THE BLOG

Who is the Addict? Part Two

06/07/2013 14:58 BST | Updated 03/09/2013 10:12 BST

A few days back, I published a piece right here titled: What's in a Word, and Who is the Addict? I really only dealt with the first part of the question: semantic pros and cons pertaining to word usage.

This time, I wish the address the second question - a far more difficult question than the first.

Still, I will begin with a semantic issue. Some say that everyone has been hooked on something, and that hence it makes little sense to single out crack and heroin addicts with a special designation.

Alright, so it's not about one's substance (or activity) of choice. There is, however, a world of difference between an unhealthy or cumbersome habit, even if it is compulsive, and the continuation of a behavior that is, in no uncertain terms, destroying one's life.

I don't mean to suggest that everyone with a crack or heroin habit fits that mold. What I am suggesting is that if the person in question believes that the activity is destroying his or her life, then we have a different kind of specimen. It matters little whether the habit is booze, gambling, sex or crystal meth. What matters is that the person in question - without prodding from peers or authority figures - believes that the behavior is having devastating consequences and yet, somehow, seems unable to cease the behavior.

That, in a nutshell, is the paradox that every hardcore addict must confront. There may be other ways to define "addict", but for the purpose of this article I limit myself to this one phenomenon - one that I, and many kindred spirits, have experienced.

Please, don't tell me that I'm no different because you, too, have been stuck on love or this or that. Unless you kept it up to the point where it destroyed your world along with your pocket book and took away almost all of your self-respect, then in one sense you and I are not from the same planet. A friend of mine even refers to people - normal people who've never been where we've been - as "earthlings".

Still, this statement requires qualification. In many ways, hardcore addicts really are like everyone else. Above all, they really can change. Over time, they start to resemble earthlings. One thing that makes the addict such an enigma is how, one the one hand, he or she is totally different from others and yet, on the other, not that different at all.

Here is my story, as an addict, and in a nutshell. Something's missing, and maybe that's endemic to the human condition. We're all lonely because we've been thrown into a strange world. But the addict feels it like a burn. I recall a movie where a junkie explains how a junkie can't deal with the hassle of having to tie his shoes. Maybe that's something his mom should still be doing for him ... No, not all substance addicts are infantile. Some are, some aren't. But we do infantilize ourselves when putting something into our mouths, or into our veins: like bloody 2 year olds - and nothing matters except for the crack pipe or bottle I'm gonna put in my mouth, or possibly that needle ...

I don't know in full how we are different from earthlings, but I've touched on it right here. And again, the qualifier: I once felt it "like a burn" on a regular basis, but now only on occasion. So we grow, we change.

Oh, and we serve an important function in the modern west. Full blown addicts, out of control and supposedly a danger to everyone, are often less important than their ability to function as a negative standard by which other misbehaviors - lesser excesses - are measured. So the addict provides a standard for what everyone does not want to be.

Difficult to unravel with respect to insanity, the process - of just plain being different from the norm - is arguably at its murkiest when addiction is the issue. Addicts, as such, are neither insane, criminal nor even neurotic. They may be understood as a mixture of all three, though neither of the three is necessary for addiction to be present. Along a continuum of "gray" transgressions, the modern addict provides shades of gray within each shade: the addict is perennially dubious.

Being out of control is anathema to modern-industrial-bourgeois-capitalist reality. Products of broken homes, children of rape, the wretched, the forgotten - addicts represent what they carry: every mistake, every injustice, and every horror conceivable. When Western man confronts the drug addict, he must face up to an enigma - a rebuttal to all his beliefs.

Yes, we are special, aren't we?