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Updated: Jul 5, 2023


Addiction doesn’t exist—it’s a non-concept. To point this out is not novel—many people, usually on the right, such as Theodore Dalrymple, have made a similar point. Nevertheless, it’s worth a restatement, with my own twist on it.

“Cigarette addiction”. It doesn’t sound right, does it? Now, today, hardly anyone smokes anymore—but, nonetheless, it still doesn’t sound right, does it? “He’s addicted to cigarettes.” I’ve never heard anybody say that. People say “I’ve given up cigarettes”, but they never say “I’m fighting my addiction (to cigarettes)”. If they did, you’d think it was melodramatic and unreal.

Yet the process is the same as heroin, if we accept the “addiction model”—a chemical dependency to nicotine has been formed and that chemical dependency has demonstrable negative biological effects on the body (reduced lung capacity, lung cancer).

So why doesn’t it seem right to speak about “cigarette addiction”, whereas “heroin addiction” and “alcoholism” both seem correct? It’s because cigarettes have almost no negative impact on other people (whether or not “second-hand” smoke is real I cannot say, but if it’s real it’s a marginal negative effect).

Someone who smokes might be anti-social, might smell unpleasant, might, in a very theoretical way (if you live with them), increase your risk of dying of cancer—yet you don’t see cigarette-smokers charging down the street screaming their heads off and out of control like someone on meth. You can happily smoke 100 cigarettes in a day—150—and you will not “snap” and become a public nuisance. You might feel very unwell, if you’re not a habitual smoker—but you’re not a risk to anyone, not even yourself (in the immediate sense).

So “addiction” is only applied to those means of intoxication that have a negative impact on other people—drunkenness, heroin addiction, people spaced out on LSD. These are all addictions. For a while it was popular to claim “pornography addiction”—yet, as with cigarettes, that never stuck. Why? Because pornography is a private vice, its negative effects impinge on the private sphere—heroin and alcohol, by contrast, often cause problems in the public sphere (and hence are classed as addictions).


The term “addiction” finds its advent in the 1920s—although it is related to a much older Latin term “accidere” which dates to the 1500s; back then, it referred to a bad habit that was connected to lassitude—the concept is itself Christian, in that it suggests backsliding from a joyous state of communion with Christ.

Accidere was suffered primarily by monks—perhaps dulled by a Spartan routine and life in the cell into a kind of lassitude found in prisoner-of-war camps. The ancients wouldn’t understand the idea of “accidere” or “addiction”, not really having an Anchorite tradition.

The heroin addict is, in fact, rather like a bored monk in his cell or a prisoner-of-war or a survivor from a plane crash in the Andes, in that he is characterised by his lassitude. The notorious heroin addict William S. Burroughs once related that he would spend days, high on heroin in Algiers, staring at his big toe. So to be “addicted” in this sense is to be becalmed.

“Addiction” in the modern sense derives from “alcoholism”—a term coined in the 1880s to mean “the disease of excessive and compulsive alcohol consumption”—before “alcoholism” the term was “habitual drunk”. Thomas de Quincey, whose Confessions of an English Opium-Eater appeared in the 1820s, describes all the “symptoms” of opium (heroin) addiction—and yet without any sense it was “an addiction”. It was a bad habit that one fell into, like picking your nose or breaking the Sabbath.

The transposition from habit to disease has never been complete, opium-eaters still speak about “their habit”—and Burroughs often referred to “the habit” (we can draw a linguistic parallel to the monk’s habit, perhaps). However, while the user might see himself as “habitual”, society deems him to be “diseased”. In short, “addiction” and “alcoholism” arrive as the medical model—positivism—becomes the dominant way to understand everything, “the will” is irrelevant now; and conditions once thought to be moral in nature are diseases to be “understood” and fought—with the tools of modern science!

Hence the opium-eater becomes the addict—his condition is now more like someone who has cancer. Now, I think that the psyche can influence the development of illnesses like cancer (or anticipate them—from a young age I always thought something would go wrong with my appendix; eventually it was removed and found to have a cancerous tumour on it). However, even if the psyche influences all illnesses, there is a difference between the person with a tumour in them and the person who puts a glass of drink into themselves—one has more immediate control over their circumstances than the other.

Yet for modern science there is no such distinction—alcoholism, heroin addiction, and cancer are all different types of disease; and should be treated in the same way. Hence, you are “helpless before your addiction” just as you would be “helpless” before the progression of a cancer.

Further, “the addict” finds his advent at a time when the West had entered decadence—at a time when it became high-status to be “the victim”. The black man, the homosexual, the addict, the alcoholic, the child, the proletarian, the Jew, the mad man, the woman (ultimate victim)—all these became high-status things to be as decadence encroached.

It originates in feminisation—when women are exulted, anything that is weak and dependent is also exulted (hence the heroin addict depends on heroin like a woman depends on her husband—and so becomes high-status, being like a woman; and even becomes emotional like a woman when he talks about the pain caused when he tries to “kick the habit”). Indeed, Burroughs described the face of the heroin addict as being “the face of total need”—total dependency. Contrast that to the image of man—who is self-sufficient, just as God is self-sufficient.

Further, it becomes important to demonstrate that the dependence is absolute—just as a woman has no choice but to depend “on the kindness of strangers” (or her family), so the heroin addict has a “chemical dependency” that is difficult to break. It is immutable, in the blood-chemistry—a chain of cause and effect. “He can’t help himself,” as we might say of Hunter Biden—a vulnerable dependent, in every sense of the term.

So the concept “addiction” is only applied to drug users and alcoholics—to people who become a public menace and so enter the criminal justice system and encroach on ideas around justice, so becoming a subject for the left-right divide (politics being about justice).

Hence the left deploys the concept “addiction” to defend “the victim”—he can’t help himself, like the cancer patient can’t help himself, hence he cannot be punished (he deserves our sympathy instead—and will be given a chance to indulge in a narcissistic performance about his “agony”). However, when it comes to cigarettes, even though the same “chemical dependency” explanation is in effect, nobody considers it an “addiction”—because you don’t end up in the criminal justice system because you smoked too many cigarettes.

Indeed, the divide becomes even more stark with regards to vapes. The vape works in the exact same way as a cigarette to create “addiction”—it delivers nicotine into your system. Yet it produces water vapour, not carcinogenic smoke—and it smells pleasant. Hence “vape addiction” seems even more ridiculous than “cigarette addiction”—second-hand cigarettes can be unpleasant to smell and inhale, but a vape is not discernible as a misty substance and smells like strawberry bubblegum.

Innocuous vapes are only banned like cigarettes on public transport because nicotine is not a drug of relaxation and passivity—it remains masculine in the way it induces activeness, and so must be stigmatised as cigarettes were stigmatised (even though it has almost no negative points to it, not even a link to cancer).

The same can be applied to cannabis—this drug is offensive to smell, but, again, it is not associated with brushes with the criminal justice system, because the stoned man tends not to be a threat to anyone or anything except the cookies in the fridge (unless a psychotic episode is induced—which is not the general experience). So it is hard to see him as “an addict”—there is little need to special plead for him at court (he is rarely in court); the heroin addict, by contrast, feels like “a hero” on the drug (the brand name “heroin” is derived from the word “hero”)—heroic people are liable to do extreme things.

I was given the medical equivalent to heroin at hospital when I had a major operation—and it was among the most delicious sensations I have ever felt. I remember the dream I had, just before waking, even over 15 years later—this great sign, like the Hollywood sign, lit up with individual lightbulbs; and there were dancers in spangles and top hats in proper Busby Berkeley fashion; it was a total illumination, but better than that was this sensation that was cold-comfort; it was like I was wrapped in a blanket that constituted total safety and bliss, but it was a cold blanket—even though it could never make me shiver.

The satisfaction was total, as was the sensation I floated at one remove from life, detached and utterly safe—being enveloped in a cold that could never chill me. So I see the attraction of heroin—and how if you were on it you could feel “invulnerable” or, if you lacked it, how you would do *anything* to get back to that place.

Nonetheless, we see that “addiction” is a non-concept—its explanatory power seems to lessen for cigarettes and become stronger for heroin and booze. It only becomes stronger because the latter means of intoxication draw people into the criminal justice system quite often—where the political divide applies, where “the victim” has a special status and so must become “the addict” (not responsible for their actions).


Dalrymple points out that when Mao came to power he started to execute heroin addicts and, in short order, China’s decades-long opium-heroin problem cleared up almost overnight. He uses this to exemplify the common right-wing point that people just need to take responsibility for their bad habits and, if faced with a suitable incentives—such as execution by a Red Guard with an automatic pistol—“magically” find that the “agony” of detoxification was really nothing at all and it is simple to exercise authority over your body.

I think that is basically correct—and, if you extend it, “the will” can do more than just break a bad habit (it might be able to reverse a tumour—and here we enter a directly metaphysical realm where prayer works and magic works; that’s somewhat more than just the assertion “we have free will”, that we can choose what we put into our bodies—it’s a refutation of the entire scientific worldview).

However, I am cautious about Dalrymple and his example because I don’t want to take Mao as a model. I’d quote Marx: “Religion is the opium of the people…the heart of a heartless world.” Marx didn’t like opium-eating, precisely because he considered it akin to “religious intoxication”—with the right incentives, a gun to the head, you can give up opium and Confucianism (so Mao discovered). This is the scientific mode of thought in another direction, somewhat Nietzschean: religion and opium are for weak people—I work with concrete incentives, the gun to the head (the weak to the wall).

I would flip Marx round—religion is the opium of the people, it is the heart of a heartless world. So why get rid of it? Because, for Marx, for religion to be “the heart of a heartless world” is just an expression—that’s what religion pretends to be, a false comfort (a crutch); so let’s kick all the crutches out and “get strong” (no opium, no religion). It doesn’t occur to him that people might turn to opium as a substitute for religion. And I think Dalrymple is more in agreement with Marx than not—better for the heroin user to get a bullet in the head than to become religious; and I think that’s suspect too. And here’s why…

What is the only demonstrated “treatment” for alcoholism? Alcoholics Anonymous. What is AA? A religion—if you look at its charter it’s all about submission to the view “I am powerless” and “I accept a higher power” (of my choice); and AA amounts to being a weekly religious service—complete with a confession delivered in a circle of trust.

AA was founded by a man who was inspired by CG Jung’s observation that alcoholics drink spirits as a substitute for “the spirit” (a pun—so, the Holy Grail) and Jung’s further observation that the only remissions he saw were people who had a religious conversion and swapped spirits for “the spirit” (because that was what they really thirsted for—they were religious seekers who made a wrong turn in the quest and ended up with the bottle).

Doesn’t that show that Marx had it the wrong way round? And, in a slight contradiction to usual conservative thought about “responsibility”, AA asks not for people to say “I am responsible for my actions” but rather “I am helpless” (which is, as the Muslims would say, “submission”—to the will of Allah, to become a slave of Allah).

I mention slavery because, contra “responsible conservatives”, I am sympathetic to the view that heroin users and alcoholics “can’t help themselves”, not in the sense that they are at the mercy of ineluctable chemical processes but in the sense that some men must be enslaved for their own good (as the ancients always held). In other words, the conservative thinks “everyone could be responsible, if they tried hard enough; and these people just aren’t trying”—whereas I think only a few are responsible and must enslave others for their own good.

As a final note on this topic, a few years ago I read a long Guardian article about someone who had been in AA, said it helped them—but his whole article was about how “oppressive” and “irrational” the religious aspect to the organisation is. Of course, it’s the religious aspect—expressed in the most anodyne and universal form possible, “just believe in a higher power”—that makes it work.

The article existed because what offends the progressive liberal is the spiritual aspect—“the opium of the people”; and so even if it works, even if it is the only thing shown to work by science itself, it must be replaced by “a pill” (the pill to cure alcoholism, to cure heroin addiction is always promised but never arrives) or by a secular therapy. This is the crux of the issue—what works is not “rational”; and it is better to be a high-status “rational” victim than to get better in any way—because the way to get better contradicts materialism.


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Unknown member
Jul 06, 2023

An atheist I know said he was fascinated by fundamentalism, that a civilization like the Aztecs was somehow scarier than the Nazis or Soviets because the latter still followed science while the former harnessed the raw spiritual power of religion.


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Jul 05, 2023

As a disgusting selfish alcoholic I enjoyed this

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