Rationally Addicted

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In light of his decision after six months of sobriety to buy a 30-pack of beer and drink until he blacked out, Sam Wilkinson considers the research of Columbia psychologist Carl Hart, who argues that addicts are capable of making reasoned decisions and that “there’s a certain rationality to keep taking a drug that will give you some temporary pleasure”:

It would be easy to describe my actions that day as being those of a man who was out of control, who despite knowing that he had a serious drinking problem still made the irrational decision to drink. … But I knew what I was doing when I stormed out of my house. I knew what I was doing when I drove straight to a convenience store. I knew what I was doing when I bought the case of beer. I knew what I was doing when I drove to a friend’s house. I knew what I was doing when I called from the road to make sure that she would let me come over. I knew what I was doing when I went inside, when I put down the beer, when I opened the first one, and when I drank my sobriety away. Everything I did was cold and calculating and based on the knowledge that the fastest and most effective way I understood to make emotional devastation go away was to be unable to feel anything at all.

The first of Alcoholic’s Anonymous’s twelve steps is the following: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol— that our lives had become unmanageable.” Although I do not intend to argue about Alcoholics Anonymous – it is a vital mechanism that has helped so many people to get sober – I do take great issue with the idea that addicts are powerless. … [T]he scales in their lives are weighted in such a way as to make having a drink more appealing than not taking a drink. Outsiders peering in often claim otherwise – “Why doesn’t he stop drinking? He’s hurting himself!” – but that is not their calculation to make. It is not irrational take a drink when taking a drink is the best of the available options.