While we all may like to think that we have come a long way in redefining how we view addiction, there still remains a stigma that an addict is somehow inherently different than other people; that it is genes/nature that cause addicts to seek refuge in substances. In other words, addicts are unable to maintain a free will. The topic of free will is one of the main concepts discussed in Eve Sedgwick’s “Epidemics of the Will”, where she describes this distinction in how an addict relies on activities/substances for energy, beauty, confidence, etc. versus a healthy person with free will who can find these aspects within themselves or “in potentio”.
This definition sounds simple, and it’s tempting to then believe that as long as you avoid using substances to “fill a void” so to speak then you can avoid being an addict. However, one thing that Sedgwick doesn’t touch on in her essay is how much our society tries to teach us the opposite. Just one example of this can be seen in the amount of value we place in owning material possessions. As once said by writer Raymond Williams, “we are not materialistic enough”; we don’t just view our material possessions as objects, but we associate what we own or want to own with additional meaning that we think will make our life better.
To see the evidence of this, one only needs to look at today’s advertisements. For example, this Subaru commercial:
As it can be seen, this commercial isn’t even completely about the car; a large portion of the ad is spent showing the story of happy young couples starting families. One of the few words spoken the commercial describe the car as “ A car you can love no matter what road you’re on…More than a car, it’s a Subaru” and in this instance, this car is being shown as being more than just a car. The message that this ad sends is that this is the car you need to buy if you want to start a family, meshing together the material value of the car with the concept of love and kinship.
This kind of associative meaning making can be seen in countless other aspects of our lives. From the clothes we wear, the jobs we want, to the people we’re friends with, we are constantly being bombarded with messages that say “if you have this thing your life will be better”. How then, is it not logical to then seek out food or drugs on the impression that it will improve our life?
I point this out not to advocate for becoming an addict, but to show that we all exude addictive behaviors. Moreover, that these behaviors are not inherent, but learned. Once this is realized, we can begin to reevaluate just how much addiction is nature versus nurture.