Alan Kirker


September 29th, 2022 by

According to Carl Erik Fisher in his book “The Urge: Our History of Addiction” (2022), despite evidence that North American Native populations used drugs and alcohol prior to European contact, they did not experience any apparent addictive harms until after they had suffered the schismogenetic effects of war, disease, poverty, and forced relocation. The European colonists and traders “swapped whiskey for crushing debt and mortgages on Native land” in efforts to pacify and tie Natives to the new economy (p. 34).

Psychologist Bruce K. Alexander’sDislocation Theory of Addiction” (December 2010) states that the fundamental cause of addiction is not the biological effects of a broad swath of substances and destructive behaviours themselves, nor an inherent vulnerability in particular individuals, but rather, in Fisher’s paraphrasing, “society’s wounds” (2022, p. 37). Dislocation can refer to the effects of being torn from culture and society, the loss of freedom and sustaining connections between individuals and their families, or the loss of opportunity for self-determination and expression, and wherein addiction is defined as a means of adapting to the increasingly onerous and dominant nature of modern life. Social fragmentation results from these adaptations as having become excessive in many individuals. Not surprisingly, the compulsive drug use observed and reported in research on animals, including Alexander et. al’s “Rat Park”, was itself demonstrated to be an artifact of “the radically isolated conditions of the standard experimental situation” (July 2014).

The so-called Official View of Addiction drawing from nineteenth-century moral and medical perspectives sees it as a genetically-predisposed incurable disease of “deviant individuals within otherwise well-functioning societies” (2014). The problem with this view, according to Alexander, apart from stigmatizing addiction, is its apparent unassailability due to the force of rhetorical presentations and their corresponding shaping of popular opinion, notably in the late twentieth-century War on Drugs, as well as scientific community entrenchment including the widespread identification with hi-tech neuroscience, all of which continue to largely undergird addiction criminalization, policy, and treatment.

In an essay titled “Man neither Free nor Responsible” (1958), philosopher John Hospers uses examples of criminal activity and the legal notion of a guilty mind to state that maladaptive behaviour more generally can have deeper roots in trauma, as it is often “brought about by unconscious conflicts developed in infancy” of which the individual had no control or perhaps even knowledge (1958, p. 292).

Eminent sociologist Émile Durkheim refers to alienation as “anomie”; “the social breakdown of norms and values resulting in an existential lack of connection to meaning and purpose. Both this sense of dislocation and the actions of addiction supply industries, some scholars argue, are the core drivers of today’s opioid epidemic” (2022, p. 38).

Alexander, B. K. (December 2010), “Dislocation Theory of Addiction”, Simon Fraser University, Canada, [HTML document] retrieved from

Alexander, B. K. (July 2014), “The Rise and Fall of the Official View of Addiction”, Simon Fraser University, Canada, [HTML document] retrieved from

Fisher, C. E. (2022) “The Urge: Our History of Addiction“. Canada: Allen Lane – Penguin Random House Canada

Hospers, J. (1958) “Man Neither Free Nor Responsible” in Hook, S. (Ed.), Determinism and Freedom in the Age of Modern Science (1958), reprinted in Minton, A. J. & Shipka, T. A. (Eds.), Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery Third Edition (1990), (pp. 292 – 299). New York, United States: McGraw-Hill.


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