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Addiction and Discourses

A Discourse is a belief or value system influenced by society and expressed in language. These belief systems are later seen as absolute truth.

Why are there so many negative socially constructed discourses about addiction? In the societies we live in, addiction is one of the most common problems which infiltrates peoples’ lives. Still, many people don’t know what addiction really is, how and why the problem with addiction begins and what the effect of addiction is on a person and the people around them. Addiction destroys relationships, family structures and careers. However, people are still too “scared” to try and understand addiction and even prefer to use the “ostrich technique”. Not only does addiction influence the mind and thoughts of the person with the problem but also the minds of society. The person with the problem would view addiction as socially accepted behaviour and part of society’s rituals during celebrations, sports functions and get-togethers with friends, family or colleagues. Society has a different point of view. Addiction is usually viewed through the lens of stigma, marginalisation and negative discourses. It is, therefore, necessary to deconstruct these discourses.

A Discourse is a belief or value system influenced by society and expressed in language. These belief systems are later seen as absolute truth.

Some of the most common discourses include:

  • Drinking alcohol is a socially accepted behaviour because many people consume alcohol at weddings, sports games and other celebrations
  • It is mostly men who struggle with addiction
  • If a man can “handle” alcohol, it is a sign of masculinity
  • Addiction is more prominent in the lives of people with a lower income and certain cultures
  • Once an addict, always an addict
  • Addiction is only the problem of the “addict.”

There are many more common discourses, but the sad truth is that addiction does not discriminate against anyone. Addiction sends invitations to all people. There are, however, a few discourses that I would like to deconstruct. This includes discourses held by society and discourses believed by the person having a problem with addiction.

The first discourse is that addiction is seen as an illness where a person doesn’t have any control over compulsive behaviour. Addiction is then seen as a chronic brain illness recognised by compulsive substance use or behaviour and multiple relapse episodes which affects a person’s physical and mental health. It influences brain functions, causes long term harm and leads to destructive behaviour. This discourse label the person as an addict and takes away their responsibility to practice acts of resistance. When a person is labelled as an addict, the person internalises the problem; it defines a person’s identity and gives more power to addiction. The person’s intimate experience of addiction, the process and emotions they went through in their journey with addiction as well as the losses they endured during their addiction timeline, are diminished or not recognised.

Addiction can also be described as an illness where a person can have control over the illness. People experiencing addiction as a problem can learn skills to overcome the problem, which will enable them to lead meaningful lives. Therefore the treatment for addictive behaviour can not only include physiological intervention. It should also include cognitive and emotional treatment.

Another discourse is that addiction is a choice. It is seen as a sin and a bad habit and can therefore be “stopped” at any time (Viljoen, 2019). Unfortunately, it is not that easy. When a person has a problem with addiction, the reward centre of the brain is hijacked by the problem. The structure of the brain changes and problem patterns of behaviour are established. This leads to compulsive thoughts and actions about the substance or behaviour. The person becomes the slave, and the substance or behaviour becomes the master. Addiction then becomes the person’s primary relationship or 1 st love (Viljoen, 2019, 5 March). The person with a problem of addiction must learn skills to create new thought processes in order to change their behaviour (Viljoen, 2019, 5 March).

There are also discourses believed by the people caught up in addiction. It is important to view the problem and its voice separate from the person. The voice of addiction manipulates, tells lies, make promises and will use many strategies to make the person believe that their life can be better. This puts the person in a situation where they will deny the negative impact of addiction and rather justify and rationalise the addiction. Many would say that they do not have a problem and that it is normal behaviour. This point of view is usually accompanied by saying that they have full control over their addiction.

Deconstructing discourses can help people in recovery to understand the problem of addiction and the strategies it uses to infiltrate their lives. It also helps the person’s support network to understand addiction better and place them in a situation where they can offer effective and caring support.

At Simcha, we invite people to rewrite the negative discourses in their lives as well their stories. We use a narrative therapy approach where people stuck in addiction can have a safe space and a support group to journey with them on their road to recovery. It is a space where people are non-judgmental, and acts of care and respect can be experienced. Simcha encourages people to take ownership of their lives and help them to move beyond their thoughts. We invite people to develop agency to overcome the problem by silencing the problem’s voice and strengthening the person’s inner voice of not practising addictive behaviour.