PSH, addiction and the myth of free will

There has been a lot of internet discussion following the great Philip Seymour-Hoffman’s death, on whether addiction is a disease, and how ‘responsible’ he was for his death.

People talk about spoiled celebs and free will and life choices and all that. Though part of this is automatic bollocks, our determination to believe that celebrities are somehow ‘other’ and that fame and money are total salvation. But  yes, from the outside, it always looks like these Bad Things the famous or unfamous addict chooses (alcohol, coke, heroin, sex, money spent on a roulette wheel, whatever) are consciously chosen.

It’s a tricky issue. One that probably involves far more understanding of neurological networks and processes than I have at my disposal, as I don’t have a PhD in neuroscience.

The thing is, whether or not addiction is a ‘disease’ or not, depression and anxiety undoubtedly ARE. And they are deadly and unbearable at times. People actually jump under trains to end the pain of these diseases. They don’t want to die, anymore than the person in a burning building wants to jump. They HAVE to.

Short of suicide, the only way sometimes to numb pain is through unhealthy comforts.

It’s a gamble.

Sometimes I have binge drank to fight off anxiety and it has actually worked and broke a cycle. I didn’t wake up the next day needing more alcohol, either. In the long term, it makes you worse, but pain ignores the long term. What I am saying is, do not judge someone until you have been where they are, until you have felt the fierce intensity of the mind. It is nice to believe in free will. It is itself an addictive comfort. But neuroscientists (like David Eagleman) and philosophers (like Julian Baggini) alike are wondering if it is yet another arrogant human delusion.

Never judge. (‘If you’re a human walking the earth,’ said PSH, ‘you’re weird, you’re strange, you’re psychologically challenged.’)

Personally, I believe addiction is a disease. One that causes involuntary dis-ease. ‘Ah, but people choose to have their first drink/line/shot of heroin’ people say. That is a choice. Yes, well pretty much everyone made a choice to drink alcohol at some time. You might have felt it relaxing your mind. You might never have needed that sense of relaxation, and so for you it remains a choice. But what if you felt the full stormy ferocity of the human mind at its bleakest and knew you could find shelter under the shade of a substance. If your leg is on fire, you pour water on it.

Whatever, some things are certain:

We are what we need to be. We do what we need to do. We are not all in the same reality.