Tuesday, January 1, 2013

#7 Theory of Dislocation

Dislocation is a term developed by Dr. Bruce Alexander in the single, most important book I know on addiction, The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit.  He has become a personal friend and colleague and this post will rely heavily on his written work, workshop, and our conversations. His theory of dislocation gives me a way to include and integrate all the other things I believe about addiction including the spiritual issues.

My last two posts introducing the theory of Proxemics developed the spaces where “Psychosocial Integration” develops. It is a profound inter-dependence between an individual and society that normally grows and develops throughout each person’s lifespan.  Psychosocial integration reconciles people’s need for social belonging with their equally vital needs for individual autonomy and achievement.  Psychosocial integration is as much an inward experience of identity and meaning as a set of outward social relationships.  Establishing the delicate interpenetration of person and society enables each person to satisfy simultaneously both individualistic needs and needs for community -- to be free and still belong.  An enduring lack of psychosocial integration, which is called "Dislocation” is both individually painful and socially destructive.
It denotes psychological and social separation from one’s society which can befall people who never leave home, as well as those who have been geographically displaced.  People can endure dislocation for a time. However severe, prolonged dislocation eventually leads to unbearable despair, shame, emotional anguish, boredom, and bewilderment.
Psychosocial integration is experienced as a sense of identity, because stable social relationships provide people with a set of duties and privileges that define who they are in their own minds. Psychosocial integration makes human life bearable and even joyful at its peaks.
Conventional wisdom is that drug and alcohol abuse are the prototypical addictions. The historical perspective views addiction as a societal problem. It is seen as a symptom of dislocation. This is the breakdown of the cultural integrity of every segment of its population and the lack of a rebuilding of a new replacement culture.
Material poverty frequently accompanies dislocation, but they are definitely not the same thing. Although material poverty can crush the spirit of isolated individuals and families, it can be borne with dignity by people who face it together as an integrated society.  On the other hand, people who have lost their psychosocial integration are demoralized and degraded even if they are not materially poor. They have lost their sense of dignity and experience toxic shame about who they are and where they belong.  Neither food, nor shelter, nor the attainment of wealth can restore them to well-being.  In contrast to material poverty, Dr. Alexander calls dislocation “poverty of the spirit”.
1.    “The first principle of the dislocation theory of addiction is that psychosocial integration is an essential part of human well-being,  and that dislocation – the sustained  absence of psychosocial integration – is excruciatingly painful.”
2.     “The second principle of the dislocation theory of addiction is that the globalization of free-market society produces a general breakdown of psycho-social integration, spreading dislocation everywhere. “
3.     “The third principle of the dislocation theory of addiction is that addiction is a  way of adapting to sustained dislocation “   
Bruce maintains we have over individualized addiction and ignored the social / cultural dislocation issues that are creating it. For example the country with the highest rate of addiction today is China. With the mass dislocation from primarily an agricultural system to the mass manufacturing in large and congested cities, addiction is epidemic. It is interesting to note that China has capital punishment for selling or manufacturing drugs but this has not had any major impact on addiction nor the War on Drugs here in North America.
Dr. Alexander documents culture after culture that had few problems with addiction until they went through dislocation. For example the Native American (First Nations in Canada) problems with alcohol and drugs are well known and documented.  The fur traders brought rum with them to try and influence the natives, but it had no impact. It was not until the natives lost their land, language, culture and traditions that it became the problem it is today. 
In the DTES where I serve, if a native there is over 40 they generally were a product of the residential school system that took children from their homes to assimilate them. They were punished for even speaking their native languages among other numerous abuses of their culture. 
Dr. Alexander's book is researched thoroughly and is a must read for students of addiction. In my next post we will explore his research and findings from his experiment known as “Rat Park.”

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