Addiction … and the pills that just might set free those who suffer from it.
Source: The Fix – Radiolab
I make the 400-mile roundtrip from Portland to Canyonville, Oregon and back frequently, and when I’m on the road I catch up on podcasts, including Radiolab. Here’s one I just listened to from December that ties into a discussion we had in my environmental theory class last week about science and religion.
The podcast more or less focused on this question: what are the causes and cures of alcoholism? As a general answer, in the U.S. we still treat alcoholism as something you have to think—or pray—your way out of. Being an alcoholic is not like, for instance, having a broken bone, where one looks to the skills of medical science for healing. No, science seems good for the obvious stuff, but when your malady goes deeper, perhaps down to your very soul, then it’s of little use…hence therapeutically inclined detox centers, and religiously inspired organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, step in.
But the Radiolab podcast—and stories like this one from The Atlantic last year—suggest that there’s a problem in thinking of alcoholism as an affliction utterly incurable via medical science. The story is a bit of a convoluted one, but it’s fascinating…give it a listen if you can. Let’s just say that there are indeed drugs that could help alcoholics quit—and yet they are very rarely prescribed in the U.S., even though some have been FDA approved for decades.
What’s the larger lesson here? Our discussion last week of science and religion referred, in part, back to stuff I’ve written some time ago, for instance here or here. The Cliff Notes version: it’s common to count to one or two in thinking about how science and religion relate, but let’s try to find more subtle understandings, what I call “counting beyond two.” Counting to one means that the truths revealed by science and religion are ultimately the same; counting to two suggests distinct domains (what Stephen Jay Gould called non-overlapping magisteria).
Suffice it to say that both positions are, well, simplistic, in part because science and religion are assumed to be settled, homogeneous supercategories (we call that “essentialism” in the class) that in fact subsume unruly assortments of our ideas and practices. This counting beyond two position makes no general commitment to Science or Religion, nor how they ideally relate, but remains open to particular ways they may relate. I bet most of us would agree, for instance, that there can be many ways to have a healthy relationship with your partner, and in the case of alcoholism, there may be many ways that particular drugs and particular therapeutic treatments may successfully combine to provide alcoholics hope for true healing…”many ways” suggesting counting beyond two.
Ultimately, then, theory suggests that we are trapped in simplistic theories (!)—whereas the point is to remain open. So, here’s to embracing the strange admixtures that may help us live well on this earth.