New York, NY, USA: Palgrave Macmillan (2016)

Candice Shelby
University of Colorado at Denver
Addiction: A Philosophical Approach CHAPTER ABSTRACTS “Introduction: Dismantling the Catchphrase” by Candice Shelby Shelby dismantles the catchphrase “disease of addiction.” The characterization of addiction as a disease permeates both research and treatment, but that understanding fails to get at the complexity involved in human addiction. Shelby introduces another way of thinking about addiction, one that implies that is properly understood neither as a disease nor merely as a choice, or set of choices. Addiction is a phenomenon emergent from a complex dynamic system that is at once physical, psychological, social, and more. “A Philosophical Analysis of Addiction” by Candice Shelby Shelby brings much-needed clarity to the discourse surrounding the topic of addiction. Arguing that addiction can neither properly be understood as a disease nor as merely a set of choices, Shelby exposes the weaknesses of both approaches. She shows that addicted persons do not exhibit the elements characteristic of compulsion, nor does an account of addiction in terms of weakness of will, or irrational choosing, provide a satisfying explanation. Instead, by replacing traditional substance ontology with process ontology, and accepting the reality of emergent entities, a coherent account of persons, minds, and addiction can be provided. A fundamental philosophical shift is necessary to see that bodies, minds, values, and addictions are all part of the natural world. “Addiction at the Individual Level” by Candice Shelby Shelby discusses the most influential accounts of addiction as it is understood at the purely individual level. From hedonic theories to incentive sensitization, to habit theories of addiction, to behavioral theories and the ego depletion theory, Shelby considers a variety of approaches to understanding addiction in individuals, as framed in both psychological and in neuroscientific terms. She notes some important caveats that should be considered before accepting the research regarding addiction at the individual level, namely that the scanning studies that are so popularly used to characterize addiction in neurobiological terms are ambiguous, and rely on numerous assumptions that may be false, and that certainly mislead. Shelby provides much-needed critique of both disease and choices models as they characterize addiction at the individual level. “Addiction and the Local Environment” by Candice Shelby Shelby argues that human addiction cannot be understood without serious consideration of the individual’s local environment, her home and family. From the gestational environment to interactions with caregivers during post-natal development to the adult environment in which people become addicted, Shelby shows that no one becomes an addict in a vacuum. Stress is a major influence in the environment throughout life, and has serious consequences for addictive vulnerability. Genetic influences as well are important to addictive vulnerability, but genes always express in interaction with their environment. Social acceptance or rejection is another particularly important factor in the local environment with respect to both coming to be addicted and transitioning out of it. “The Relation Between Addiction and Culture” by Candice Shelby Shelby provides a groundbreaking analysis of the relation between addicts and the cultures that breed them. In this cultural critique, Shelby shows that addictions to certain substances have historically been both the solution to the problem of how to grow economies and control people, and a problem for economic productivity and controlling citizens. Not all cultures have even the concept of addiction, while others, such as the contemporary Western world, and the U.S. in particular, seem to foster it. Shelby shows that addiction is both a cultural construct and, from another way of thinking about it, the result of conditions created by particular cultures. Social inequities, alienation, driving capitalism, and in particular the power of pharmaceutical companies, all contribute to the spiraling endemic of addiction. “Addiction and Meaning” by Candice Shelby Shelby provides a unique argument that understanding how meanings work is essential to a complete analysis of addiction. Individuals experiencing addiction and those who care about and for them often utterly fail to communicate. This is because their respective systems of meanings come to be significantly different. Meanings are not, Shelby argues, best understood in the symbolic terms that characterized the theory of language in the 20th century, but are better apprehended as emotion-rich prototypes carved from repeated interaction with the world. Becoming addicted essentially changes one’s entire system of meanings. Requisite to transitioning out of addiction is a Gestalt-type shift in one’s system of meanings. This holistic way of understanding meanings also provides one level of explanation of what happens when an addict relapses. “The Phenomenology of Addiction and its Implications” by Candice Shelby One way of judging theories of addiction is by how well they capture the phenomenal descriptions that addicts give of their own experiences. Shelby considers variations on 5 basic patterns of addictive experience through the eyes of particular individuals who lived through addictive periods, and shows how even the most influential theories of addiction fail to capture all of them. She argues that an important implication of taking the details of individuals’ addictive stories seriously is that addiction must be understood as a personal phenomenon emergent from a particular complex dynamic system. As her theory of addiction would lead one to expect, no two addicts are the same, and no single-focus theory can explain why not. “Possibilities for Transitioning Out of Addiction” by Candice Shelby Shelby provides numerous strategies for transitioning out of addiction. Given that the vast majority of addiction treatment programs currently available are 12-step based and only successful about 5-8% of the time, it is essential that other approaches be undertaken. Shelby canvasses a variety of options for helping addicted individuals to make the transition out of their troubled pattern of thinking and behaving. From direct brain interventions to drugs to trauma therapy to exercise and nutrition to habit reformation to use of narrative and changing one’s social context as ways of redefining the self, Shelby shows that the possibilities for transitioning out of addiction are legion. Perhaps the best approach is to understand addiction treatment in terms of providing physical, psychological, and social tool kits. “Addiction Emerges from a Complex Dynamic System” by Candice Shelby Shelby considers whether there truly exists such a thing as “an addict” or “addictive thinking” in the universal sense. She concludes that within the context of disruptive substance use or repetitive engagement in certain activities, ordinary human cognitive biases and behavior patterns are categorized as addictive. Addiction, she argues, is best understood as an irreducible human reality, emergent from a sufficiently complex dynamic system (an organism with self-awareness, within a particular cultural milieu) that is both shaped by and contributes to the shaping of its environment. Attempts to simplify addiction into one or a few dimensions may create a solvable problem, but by doing so they fail to solve the real one.
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