© William Pryor
Most addicts are outsiders, in that they don’t fit in, they disdain how insiders deal with pain and pleasure, life and work, purpose and ambition, private and public. An outsider is alienated, as both Albert Camus and Colin Wilson made clear, not part of the social glue that sticks ‘ordinary’ people together, someone whose worldview is at odds with any consensus. The outsider finds the social community of the world around him uncomfortable and threatening, and, in his addiction, creates his own, safer, more knowable and predictable reality.

The medical, addiction treatment and criminal justice establishments seek to annexe these realities, to bring addicts in from their outsider status by fitting them into their illness story, locking them up when their behaviour is unacceptable and prohibiting their sacramental substances. We have to have standards, the mythologies of addiction tell us, and addicts are either sick or crooks or both; definitely a danger to society. We must cast out their devilish practices.

Confronted by the obvious suffering, chaos and criminality that imbues and surrounds addicts, the various establishments are compassionately and politically driven to react, to wring their hands, to do something, anything. Anything but understand that addiction is, in part, an expression of the dysfunctions of families, communities and whole societies. Indeed addiction is a dramatic way of saying you don’t fit in, and is fast becoming the route of choice to becoming an outsider. Societies and families will accommodate your needs – they will despise, misunderstand, patronise, criminalise and medicalise you to your hearts content – all you have to do is adopt the addict position. The big problem is that the micro-climate the addict creates for himself is even less sustainable than is the world humans have, more generally, built for themselves; they both contain the seeds of their own destruction.

The big question is why would anyone want to adopt such an uncomfortable outsider status; why would they want to be criminalised, patronised and medicalised? It doesn’t make sense – they must be ill, poor things; can’t know what they’re doing. But it is a symbiotic relationship: to maintain a coherent idea that it works, that its goals are worthwhile, its morals worth fighting for, society has to have a clear example of what it is not. So the mass of insiders need the odd outsider to confirm it is a good thing being on the inside, that it is worth overlooking the moral ambiguities and contradictions of society. Anyway it’s not a question of the outsider wanting to cast himself out, but that he feels himself to have no choice: he condemns society around him for its shortcomings.

Take the psychiatric, medical and addiction treatment professions: they find it useful to describe addiction as an illness. They also find it useful to ‘discover’ 57 different varieties of depression, all of which require medication. To remain insiders they must overlook the fact that this medication is what they would otherwise call addictive, in fact more devastatingly so than many banned substances. It’s enough to drive one to become an outsider!

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