“It boggles the mind why anyone would consume such potentially deadly substances,” grumbles the police chief of a sprawling lower and middle class town, responding to several recent heroin overdoses. It boggled my mind when a woman stepped into traffic as she texted on her phone, causing cars to screech to a halt just in time. It boggled my mind when my smart, funny, well-employed brother was found dead with an empty vodka bottle next to him. Cause of death: alcoholism. It boggled my mind when I came upon an elderly man outside the nursing home my mother ended her days at, hooked up to an oxygen machine, but smoking a cigarette. I believe I’ve made my point. I think we all know that being rational is actually not Number One on the list of human motivations. And that competing forces with powerful emotional content like to masquerade as “rational,” further muddying the waters of our behavior. Like the other night when I was feeling…deprived and therefore ate the last third of a bag of potato chips, with the result that I felt bloated, thirsty and reinforced my chubby body image. BUT it had seemed rational AT THE TIME to dive into that fat and salt fest. And it seems rational to someone who has maybe tried a few pills, or more likely, been prescribed them because of an injury or dental procedure, and found the pills to be such a nice vacation from reality, and then BAM, needs the pills, or their more efficient cousin, heroin. Needs them not to feel like their skin is coming off. Needs them like a starving person must get food. Well, there’s plenty of the science on the web about this – I suggest Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).
NO: Addicts have an all-consuming regard for their lives, contrary to what the ill-informed police chief says. My brother did. The smoker did. The cellphone addict did. Their life-force, however, has been distorted, subverted – hijacked, to use Dr. Volkow’s term – so that the thing they must have to go on is the very thing that is deadly to them. All of their attention, whatever talent or gifts they have, is now directed to the completion of this imperative: get more of it, preferably immediately. This is why mothers abandon their children, athletes their game. And what can we do? Understand this. Accept this. And be change agents: help them access the medication and the treatment resources that can first soothe and then re-direct the brain’s hormonal production and interactions. So they can be like, well, us, again, making plenty of everyday irrational decisions that, hopefully, won’t involve walking into traffic while talking on a cellphone.