Responses to Queries and Comments about Addiction

I have received quite a few comments and queries about my two posts on addiction. These were sent to me directly. Because there are several important points which people have made, I would like to address them here.

  1. What is the relationship between drug addiction and depression? I answered this by indicating that I will have a series of posts later on depression, but that substance abuse is regularly a way of self-medicating for depression, bipolar illness or other mental illnesses.
  2. Could I elaborate on and clarify my thinking about the meaning of schizmogenesis? I will do so below.
  3. Why did I refer to the 6 principles about AA and not indicate the 12 steps? My response to this is indicated below.
  4. Why did I not discuss the “Higher Power” issue in AA? I answered this in conjunction with my answer to the 12 steps. Indicated below.
  5. How can we change an entire cultic group – not just individuals within a cult? My response to this is indicated below.
  6. What are the best ways to transform an individual who is addicted within a cult? My response is below.
  7. What are some examples of predispositional vulnerabilities? My suggestions are below.
  8. How does my theoretical framework account for non-drug, non-cultic addictions such as addictions to media screens – TV., Computers, smart phones? Lots of discussion about this among readers. My responses are indicated below.

I have used Gregory Bateson’s definition of schizmogenesis, because I have been building my theory based on his use of the term in his “Cybernetics of Self” article. I don’t believe anyone is certain about Bateson’s idea beyond his use in this article and a few other sources. I have referred to schizmogenesis in my own publications and I still find it useful in explaining an addiction process. Bateson said it meant ” progressive directional change”. Symmetrical schizmogenesis would be two parties, say alcoholics, matching each other drink for drink in a competitive progressive manner. It is symmetrical because they are matching each other with the same behavior. He also suggested that a drinker could be in a contest with a “symbolic other”, such as a bottle of alcohol. The alcoholic doing battle with the bottle. This is also symmetrical. And the bottle typically wins the contest. The drinker commits an epistemological error in assuming they can beat the bottle (or the other drinker). As the contest escalates (progressive directional split) the addictive process gets out of control. I take some license with Bateson’s notion of complementary schzmogenesis by applying it to the relationship between a cult leader (messiah, guru) and his followers, which he did not do. My thinking about this is that each “complements” the other in a progressive manner. The more the cult leader needs his followers and the more he acts like a messiah, the more they require him to be a messiah and the more they become part of the fantasy or delusion. They are each addicted to the other in a progressive split fashion. As I mentioned in my earlier posts, as Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara, and Donald Trump became more delusional, their followers also became more delusional.

I did not list the 12 steps, and instead referred to the 6 principles that Nan Robertson lists in her book, “Getting Better”, because I am developing a theory of addiction which goes beyond alcoholism or other drug addiction. The 12 Step programs are extremely effective for AA, NA, AlAnon, but may not appeal to those recovering from other addictions, such as former cult followers. Also, since God is mentioned six times in the 12 Steps, some recovering alcoholics/ drug addicts may not subscribe to a belief in God. Hence, the reference to “higher power” or “power greater than ourselves”, which opens the 12 steps to anyone , including non-religious people. The psychological potency of admitting that one does not have control of their addiction, is a willingness to break the cycle of schizmogenic dependency and epistemological error of pride or assumed ego control.

Can we somehow change an entire cultic group? Not likely, though the catastrophe of Jim Jones taking more than 100 people with him to death did end the People’s Temple as an organization. And there have been a number of other apocalyptic or millenarian cults which have dissolved once leaders have been deposed, imprisoned, or killed. In order to interrupt the symmetrical schizmogenesis, some sort of intervention needs to break the cycle of addiction between the leader and followers. It is also possible for the cult followers to continue to follow the symbol of a cult leader/ messiah/guru even after he or she is gone. The current hard-corps followers of former president Trump are still in an addictive pattern, as he is with them. The addictive process has been interrupted but not yet dissolved. Meanwhile, the best way to bring about a serious interruption with any cultic group is to work with individuals who are already questioning their attachment the the leader and group or those already disaffected. Particularly if the administrative leaders in an organization become disaffected and begin to leave, there is more likelihood of many others leaving.

This relates to the next item: what are the best ways to transform an individual who is addicted within a cult? I suggest that the individual must first be able to become aware of the epistemological error of believing that salvation or a new millennium is forthcoming if they maintain their attachment to the cult leader and the doctrines of the cult. If they are able to correct this error and retain their independent will and decision making, they will likely need to have some alternative and healthy replacement of a belief system and identity social group to the cult system and group. One of the hallmarks of AA groups is that they replace unhealthy attachments with attachments to AA members who can identify with and support those who are addicted and help them avoid relapsing. The same might be operable with the equivalent of reprogramming groups for former cultic followers. There have been some recent reports that people who had become swept up in the QAnon conspiracy cult have become disenchanted with the group because the prophesy of Trump winning his presidential bid and bringing about the changes promised by the delusional ideology, did not happen. This has also been an outcome of a number of other messianic or apocalyptic movements of the past, when prophesies have proven false.

In a recent National Public Radio interview, Audie Cornish interviewed Dannagal Young, a professor of communications at the University of Delaware, who said: ” If you think about somebody who is either addicted to heroin or you think about someone who has fallen into a cult, or you think about someone who has fallen into QAnon, they are all creating boundaries that divide them from their families. They’re all engaging in dysfunctional behaviors and holding dysfunctional attitudes that make their participation in regular life more difficult. And they all tend to need a similar kind of psychological pipeline and outreach to bring them back.” (January 15, 2021). My thinking about this is that the boundaries that Young refers to must be crossed by family members, friends, other helpers, and hands must be offered to pull the addicted members out of the addicted trap. This is easier said than done , as anyone who has been tasked with this effort can testify. Also, regarding the QAnon phenomenon, the social media platforms which likely exacerbated the growth of the conspiracies, were not interrupted soon enough to quell the addictive process. Earlier intervention – deplatforming – may have broken the cycle before the outcome of an insurrection on the Capitol.

The topic which received the most reaction was one being experienced by a number of parents with young children: possible addiction to various screens – phones, computers, television. This issue includes both time spent and types of content. The ramifications of this topic are beyond what I am covering in the post, but the potential for current and future addictions to our collective communication devices does follow the pattern of what I have suggested for addictions to various drugs, as well as the type of complementary schizmogenesis which occurs between a cult leader and cultic followers. Screen time alone for children can affect not just their mental and emotional life, but even their eye health. Some current studies are indicating that children need to be spending more time outside and away from media platforms indoors to protect their eyes from later weaknesses. The monitoring issue for parents is not just managing time spent, but types of content. This can also be a challenge for adults. During the current Covid 19 pandemic, more people are spending more time indoors and on various electronic devices, which contain content varying from relatively healthy educational material to levels of entertainment to downright harmful material. As I mentioned earlier, the QAnon conspiracy, with it’s essentially false and delusional material, gained a large following among people who were spending all their waking hours engaging with various online sties addicted to the conspiracy theory. Addiction to stimulation from electronic devices, may be somewhat similar to a gambling addiction. There is a need for stimulation, sometimes out of boredom, though not always. There is an expected reward. The reward can be positive enough to warrant seeking further reward, or it can be negative enough to want to seek a more positive reward. Either way, the addiction process may have begun. If there are any predispositional vulnerabilities, such as serious dependency needs or biopsychosocial weaknesses, the reward provided by the involved activity may become schizmogenic and interventions may become necessary. And , again, the earlier the interventions the better.

I welcome any comments or questions you might have about my responses.