The precursor to addiction is dislocation. — Bruce Alexander Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Simon Fraser University.
In the quote above, dislocation is taken to mean the loss of psychological, social, and economic integration into family and culture — a sense of exclusion, isolation and powerlessness. In the much quoted book on addiction, “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” by Gabor Maté MD, it is argued that the historical correlation between severe dislocation and addiction is strong.
According to Simon Fraser, the chronically and severely dislocated people are the most vulnerable to addiction. If you need an example, look at the Native American population and its struggles with addiction post colonization.
Alcohol in the right context
In the 1500s, people drank during festive occasions but only a few drank until seriously inebriated. Alcoholism was not a problem. People had communities and families to help them manage their drinking and their lives.
This reminds me of the way I’ve seen drinking handled in European countries. It is part of daily meals and celebrations but very few people get drunk. Communities and families seem more connected there. Perhaps they protect each other from isolation and over-consumption of alcohol.
During the 1800s and the mass industrialization of the world, alcoholism and other addictions ramped up. People moved away from their families, traditions and childhood homes to seek employment in bigger cities. The loss of communities, tribes and family connections left people with an emptiness they filled with drugs and alcohol.
The disruptions in everyday contact with loved ones, leads to dysfunction. Adrift from our family values and familiar routines/traditions, we seek comfort in external pleasures like drugs and alcohol. Food, gambling, sex, shopping and internet surfing are other ways we cope with the missing connections.
I feel the United States is the biggest loser in this race. We have economic abundance but a dearth when it comes to long-standing family connections. Obviously, not everyone resides far away from family and community, but it is very common in the U.S. for people to move away from their hometowns to take a job in another state.
Searching to fill the emptiness
How many of you live near your parents or your grandparents? I don’t. I’ve lived in a different state from my parents for 27 years. We did live near my ex-husband’s parents for about three years. During that time, I also had a nice circle of friends in the neighborhood. I did not appreciate the support until we moved.
Once we moved to Minnesota, I was alone with my husband who worked until 6PM most days and three children all aged five and under. We did not attend a spiritual center regularly. We did not have a neighborhood playgroup. All of our family lived out of state. Finding a babysitter was difficult. The kids around here did not need to work for money. We hired a part-time nanny. I realize now I needed her around for childcare support and camaraderie. She became like family to us. We all needed her.
I am certain the dislocation and isolation did not help our marriage. We relied on each other for so much. We did not resort to drugs or alcohol but I did go on a search for fulfillment. I had to fill the emptiness. I used exercise, reading and community programs to fill me up. My ex-husband focused on money-making. Our kids were left a little adrift. I had them in sports and other camp-like programs. They made friends. We all lived with some dislocation and loneliness.
Bringing everyone together
My ex-husband and I re-focused on the kids after our divorce. I am fortunate because I was able to stay in the family home. I learned more about attachment and its importance. My ex-husband learned more about showing emotions. Both helped create more closeness. We hope our current and past efforts to create connections with our children keep them secure enough to abstain from addictive substances and habits.
Change is inevitable, disconnection is not
We all face changes and even moves from our family homes and traditions. I am forcing change on my kids right now by bringing my fiancé and his two sons into our home. Everyone is going through dislocation and powerlessness. It is not easy. We are working to keep healthy routines and stability in place. We want to live more like the people in the 1500s.
What are you using to fill the void of family or community connection? Do you know any addicts/alcoholics? From what does their addiction stem?
If you are looking for more connection in your life, check out my online course: How to Strengthen Connection Within a Relationship.