Who is Vulnerable to Dependency?

The Spiritually Starved

Whom are we at war with here?

From the perspective of a healthy person, who is well integrated in society, this is a peripheral theme – something that does not concern decent people. How can anyone destroy themselves, and then expect to be nursed back to health at everybody else’s expense? Such conduct is irresponsible and reprehensible – therefore, the person concerned must be lacking virtue and morality.

In fact, the aberrations of the human soul are impossible to comprehend without some crucial information, and thus one is quickly tempted to consider the misery of addicts as the consequence to follow as sure as night follows day – the punishment for their own stupidity. As is often the case, reality is somewhat more complicated, and the view of it is obscured by taboos and conflicts of interest.

Rarely has a drug addict dropped out of a previously promising life, just because stupid curiosity got the better of them. In fact, physical dependence only develops with continued use – with some substances never. A healthy, balanced and happy person could and would simply hit the emergency brake in time, provided they even felt tempted to experiment with drugs in the first place.

In reality, addictive drugs, if they lead to dependence in a person, merely add to an existing problem. They fill a shrieking emptiness, which cannot be silenced by anything else, and thus quickly take centre stage of a person’s life.

Who is vulnerable to dependency?

Perhaps it is easiest to understand the mechanism when it occurs in victims of physical violence, sexual abuse, or complete neglect, in war orphans, or in the traumatized and disturbed wardens of youth services, in short, in all those who have experienced terrible horrors and are forever uprooted and hurdled out of any normality.

The fact that such experiences lead to complete chaos in the minds of children is easy enough to comprehend. Thus, not only is there great temptation to look for means to escape reality; the inhibition to try out something prohibited or risky is much lower when someone’s whole life is already akin to a permanent state of emergency with the worst conceivable things having already happened. How hollow must all warnings and admonitions sound for one who already knows the deepest abysses of human existence, especially coming from grown-up outsiders who, themselves, had a sheltered childhood?

But extended suffering of a more subtle nature can just as easily ruin even the life of an adult. There are situations that are simply more than even the most robust psyche can bear. How much less that of a small child, who has no mechanisms for defense, and whose whole world consists of terror, if he is not to be loved by his parents.

The greatest taboo

To the great misfortune of the children concerned, the inviolability of parents in our society is a particularly deeply rooted and passionatley defended commandment. As parents are never to blame, we blame the “behaviorally disordered”, “difficult”, “rebellious” children for their bumpy start into life. We simply do not want to be reminded that the flowered cloak of civilization is paper thin in places, we do not want to think of our own repressed feelings, and above all, we want to believe that parents always love their children automatically and without exception.

Thus we dismiss the misery of those who are spiritually starving in the midst of us, trivializing or negating their sorrows, and accuse them of attention grabbing and exaggeration when they cry for help.

The Crux

Anyone who experiences nothing but emptiness, loneliness and frustration in their everyday life feels the chemically produced joy and carefreeness of an altered state as a blessed moment of peace thus valuing the experience much more than someone who does just fine without drugs. Of course, psychoactive substances merely act as a sort of loan: the energy, fascination, vitality, and good humor during the effect are paid back afterwards by feeling doubly tired and depressed – which is something that a healthy person can endure, while someone already unhappy in the basic state and bereft of any power reserves cannot. The only solution, therefore, is a refreshing of the buzz, and already the downward spiral starts.

The way out

You have probably heard of the famous experiments on rats who were given a choice between clean and drugged water, and inevitably consumed increasing amounts of drugs until they finally died of an overdose? This experiment was repeated in a new setting and yielded entirely different results: instead of isolating an animal without retreat and in a barren environment, a group of rats were given enough space, toys, niches and social interaction – everything that is needed for a fulfilled rat life.

They, too, were offered a choice between pure and drugged water, but most of them showed little interest. Some sipped occasionally, but not a single animal suffered an overdose, and not a single one showed symptoms of dependency. So the living conditions of the lonely and bored-to-death rats were what led to the addiction behavior in the first experiment – the addiction was in fact only a coping strategy, the problem was a different one.

The majortiy of survivors of suicide attempts (incidentally, a very closely related subject) will express very similar notions: they had not had enough of life as such, but only of the one they were leading and from which they could not see no other escape.

The antidote is, therefore, quite clear: community, help, healing, understanding, love, relaxation, joy of life and security. All the things that addicts have missed for a lifetime – and for many of them the way back to a full spectrum of emotions is not easy, after having trained themselves to refrain from all emotional investment for years until they’d all but forgotten how to even access it any more.

It is an immense task to reconcile their interrupted development into self-reliant and adult people, even with therapeutic help and above all in the arms of a community of like-minded people, but those of them who are willing to do so must receive every help and all our understanding.

I do not mean to say that people who have gone through hardships will automatically turn out comfortable to be around, modest, and enlightened – quite the opposite. They are lacking in independence or unneccessarily rugged, either whiny or aggressive, defiant and selfish. Nevertheless, they did not freely choose the way they are. The result of long-term neglect may be discomforting and exhausting – but to confuse the effect with the cause and to believe that the disorder came before the mistreatment is highly unjust.

It’s bad enough that we, as a society, have overlooked how many children have to live with huge emotional deficits or even go through hell every day at home. To punish and despise them for the inevitable consequences is almost cynical, and, as a rule, absolutely ineffective in dealing with the problem.

After more than a quarter of a century, we must finally draw the conclusion from the unmistakable statistics: no one is ever held back by threats. To criminalize drug addicts as an addition to their suffering and thus to block every way back is expensive, pointless and conceited.


Image Title Author License
The Spiritually Starved The Spiritually Starved Patryk Kopaczynski CC BY-SA 4.0