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Tue Feb 4, 2014, 06:44 AM


Globalization of Addiction

I've always found it interesting how conquered societies tend to suddenly have addiction problems after conquest: e.g. Native Americans and First Nations in North America (alcohol), Australian aboriginals (alcohol), Irish (alcohol), China after the Opium Wars (opium) etc. Also that the highest rates of opiate dependence in the US occurred roughly coincident with the Gilded Age. I also think the pursuit of profit introduces a "push" factor as well as a "pull" factor into drug consumption, as drugs are no longer used in socially ritualized ways as in pre-capitalist societies, but *marketed* wholesale to as wide a public as can be imagined (Tobacco, alcohol, legal pharmaceuticals, and illegal ones as well).

One of the things I've noticed is that when the economic floor falls out of a community, illegal drugs seem to flood in. I've often wondered if that were by design, if economically suffering communities were targeted.

This website speaks to that.

Global society is drowning in addiction to drug use and a thousand other habits. This is because people around the world, rich and poor alike, are being torn from the close ties to family, culture, and traditional spirituality that constituted the normal fabric of life in pre-modern times. This kind of global society subjects people to unrelenting pressures towards individualism and competition, dislocating them from social life.

People adapt to this dislocation by concocting the best substitutes that they can for a sustaining social, cultural and spiritual wholeness, and addiction provides this substitute for more and more of us.

History shows that addiction can be rare in a society for many centuries, but can become nearly universal when circumstances change – for example, when a cohesive tribal culture is crushed or an advanced civilisation collapses. Of course, this historical perspective does not deny that differences in vulnerability are built into each individual's genes, individual experience, and personal character, but it removes individual differences from the foreground of attention, because societal determinants are so much more powerful. Addiction is much more a social problem than an individual disorder.

This site is about the relationship between addiction on the one hand, and global economic and political realities on the other.


Fortunately, Nick Reding took a detailed look at the causes of methamphetamine addiction in Middle America...

Reding shows that a major cause of meth addiction was the hollowing out of the rural American society by the rapid expansion of agribusiness.[3] In the last few decades, farms that have run as family operations for generations have been bought up by larger farmers and by agribusiness corporations, which operate them as high tech food factories, rather than family farms. The large farmers sell corn and other crops for less than the cost of production. Their losses are converted to a razor thin profit by government farm subsidies.

At the same time, local packing houses, grain elevators, and other agricultural industries have been bought up by the same agribusiness corporations and run in a much more exploitive manner than before, in order to provide food commodities to the global food export market. Although the local packing plant in Olewein had historically required backbreaking labour of its employees, it had nonetheless rewarded them with good wages, medical insurance, workman’s compensation insurance, and a degree of job security through union membership.

The new owners, a multination al corporation, lowered the wages from $18 an hour to $6.20 an hour as soon as they took over, and eliminated insurance and the union. Other packing plants have deliberatel y encouraged large-scale illegal immigration from Mexico, and paid even lower wages to undocumented immigrant workers despite public knowledge of their illegal practices and attempted court actions against them.[5]

The onslaught of agribusiness has brought about the destruction of families and rural communities and has degraded once-respected working people in the factories of Middle America. Dislocated from the integrated society in which they grew up, people have turned to methamphetamine addiction, alcoholism, and other addictive habits to fill the voids in their lives. Methamphetamine was standing at the ready to become a major addictive compensation because some people were already using it as a stimulant to help endure long hours of work in a country where hard work is a cardinal virtue, and because it can be cheaply manufactured when it cannot be purchased legally.

Meth “cooking” in kitchens and basements was able to provide a source of income for people who no longer could find a respectable job
in the shrinking society of independent farmers or fairly paid industrial labourers, and could no longer find meaning in the law-abiding optimism of their ancestors. At the same time, efforts to reduce the availability of the ingredients used to cook meth illegally by regulating imports of certain precursor chemicals were stymied by the lobbyists of pharmaceutical companies and chain stores that make profits selling the ingredients that are used in the meth labs.[6] The final element in the story is the admission of millions of illegal immigrants to the US to work in the underpaid mid-American agricultural factories. Some of these exploited workers were willing to carry meth and other products from Mexican drug cartels across the border to sell wherever they wound up.[7]

The story of Methland is an extension of the destruction of rural society by agribusiness that began centuries ago in England and has proceeded globally since then, in various forms.[8]


The Globalization of Addiction presents a radical rethink about the nature of addiction. Scientific medicine has failed when it comes to addiction. There are no reliable methods to cure it, prevent it, or take the pain out of it. There is no durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, or what should be done about it. Meanwhile, it continues to increase around the world.

This book argues that the cause of this failure to control addiction is that the conventional wisdom ofthe 19th and 20th centuries focused too single-mindedly on the afflicted individual addict. Although addiction obviously manifests itself in individual cases, its prevalence differs dramatically between societies. For example, it can be quite rare in a society for centuries, and then become common when a tribal culture is destroyed or a highly developed civilization collapses.

When addiction becomes commonplace in a society, people become addicted not only to alcohol and drugs, but to a thousand other destructive pursuits: money, power, dysfunctional relationships, or video games.

A social perspective on addiction does not deny individual differences in vulnerability to addiction, but it removes them from the foreground of attention, because social determinants are more powerful.

This book shows that the social circumstances that spread addiction in a conquered tribe or a falling civilisation are also built into today's globalizing free-market society. A free-market society is magnificently productive, but it subjects people to irresistible pressures towards individualism and competition, tearing rich and poor alike from the close social and spiritual ties that normally constitute human life. People adapt to their dislocation by finding the best substitutes for a sustaining social and spiritual life that they can, and addiction serves this function all too well.

The book argues that the most effective response to a growing addiction problem is a social and political one, rather than an individual one. Such a solution would not put the doctors, psychologists, social workers, policemen, and priests out of work, but it would incorporate their practices in a larger social project. The project is to reshape society with enough force and imagination to enable people to find social integration and meaning in everyday life. Then great numbers of them would not need to fill their inner void with addictions.


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