The Problem of Addiction in Western Society


So, I haven’t been able to post here as much as I’d like (especially on the monster Ego thread I created–who knew the can of worms I was opening?). However, the topic of addiction has been on my mind lately, especially given I live in Chicago.

Anyone who takes the train / bus or just walks down a sidewalk downtown will notice that at least 50% of people are staring at their phones. In fact, it actually creates problems on the train when you’re getting off at busy stops because the phone-starers are “zombie walking” out the train and not really watching where they are going (I’ll own my massive frustration with that particular behavior!).

If this isn’t addictive behavior, I’m not really sure what is. Does Western society have an addiction problem? I think we do, and not just with our phones. I used to live in Wisconsin, and–sadly–alcoholism seems to be a badge of honor (I even had friends who would brag about how well they could drive under the influence, or about the strength of their hangover after a particularly boozy night). Everywhere I turn, it seems as though people are trying to disconnect from reality in some sort of unhealthy, addictive way. I even see this in the spiritual sense–check out some of the work by John Bradshaw and Robert Augustus, where they cover people who use religion to escape reality. I have met people who use their spirituality to escape reality, and it’s very sad to witness.

Now, escaping reality isn’t necessarily a bad thing; sometimes we need to collect ourselves away from the general messiness of the world. But our current Western society seems to be designed to make us escape reality. In The Hacking of the American Mind, Robert Lustig talks about how corporations create “dopamine experiences” because they want us to be addicted to their product (he’s especially harsh on Facebook for this). The challenge is these addictions do not lead to happiness, and actually make it harder to experience happiness because excess dopamine shuts down our serotonin receptors, which are directly responsible for happiness.

I normally would ask at this point what we feel the Integral approach would be to the addiction situation, but part of the problem is that I think the addiction situation is blocking the further evolution of society toward Integral. How do we heal addictive tendencies occurring for such a large population of people? I see at least 50% or more folks zombie walking off the train with their heads buried in their phones; heck, I even see Chicago tourists on my walks downtown staring at their phones rather than the amazing parks and architecture. And I haven’t even started on the Netflix & binge phenomenon (of which I have also indulged, if I’m being transparent).

I have seen 12 step provide positive results in some cases, but in many instances it replaces one addiction for another (the latter being spiritual addiction). A lot of people get stuck in 12 step, and while it’s good that they’re not drinking any longer, I don’t see them progressing past the Blue/Amber level of their 12 step group. They become obsessed with the Big Book and their community.

Anyway, I certainly don’t see solutions at this time (even Integral ones), which is why I’m posting now. Thoughts?


@russ.legear Hey Russ-always thoughtful stuff. I’ve done addiction counseling pretty much straight out of school (this is a whole conversation onto itself). In this role, I have to be very mindful of my own addictions. I love how Ken calls addictions “fixations” I have enough fixations to write a novel. I think the key with fixations is not to be fixated on them in an unhealthy way (lengths of time, family problems, work problems, law problems). It’s the yin-yang of things. Let’s take Netflix for example. I have it. I watch it. It’s a good balance for me. I play fantasy football, watch sports, look at it at work (almost religiously) to break up my day-some might say it is an addiction. I have to make sure I am “integrally transforming”,to keep my attention on my awareness and do regular developmental practices. Anything can be an addiction if you let it get out of control and truly get “fixated” on it. And I would argue what you are diverting your attention from in addiction are things like awareness and your shadow, amongst other things. But starting with those two will keep you busy for a very long time.
My point is to always start with ourselves. I have my own issues that I have to keep in balance.
To answer your question, I would agree we have an addiction problem! I would say Ken points to the problem of Western spirituality being stuck in the mythic realm. We are very close to forgetting the miracle. People are trying to control the narrative all the time. we are more socially isolated. The young are supposedly less empathetic.
I will write back after I finish my drink…


Grace and peace! This is my first post, so I will keep it short. As someone who has been in recovery from addiction of several sorts for many years I have to watch what I say sometimes. I can get way too emotional about this topic. But, I will type from my Higher Self and try to stay on point.
I am currently involved in starting a new community “Friendship Room” in our small town in WV. Our community is just “ate up” with various addictions! We are literally at a tipping point. We do not attract the media attention that the larger locations do so we struggle for any help we can get. Small towns like ours tend to get forgotten when the funds to help get passed out from various government agencies. But that is a separate rant. Anyway…back to the point…
This new “Friendship Room” is a place ran entirely by peer recovery coaches with minimal training, but lots of experience. We offer an art room, a TV room, a kitchen, rooms for meetings, and someone always available to talk to. This model is the most effective means of helping with the addiction problem I have found in the last 3 decades. It offers the personal touch of close communication one on one, while also offering group settings and activities to help build community. It costs us practically nothing to run, and we always have plenty of eager volunteers available to help out. And this could easily be scaled up for larger locations.
Anyway…that is a solution I have found for the problem. I hope that helps. Pace E Bene.


Awesome post @breck101! Thank you for being a light for your community. Keep it up.


Connecting to another thread (ego and integralism) on here, a big thing in addiction treatment I focus on is altered states. It is interesting that Ken talks about the need for a soul culture and how the West’s center of gravity is still stuck at gross/egoic. I think this comes into play with addiction. Every mammal seeks altered states of consciousness. It should not come as a shock that the West has a problem with addiction when we think we can relieve whatever ails us by continuing to feed the wants of the ego.
I have youth score themselves on body, mind, spirit (amongst other things) but consistently the spirit domain is the lowest. And speaking of Integral Semiotics-there just isn’t a language for why there is a need for soul/spirit (or what this even means). It kind of reminds of a story in which someone tries to explain snow to someone who has never experienced it before. The problem I am faced with is how to translate spirit into the structure they are at. Usually I phrase it as “What do you value most?”. Even then the answer usually is something like money.
In the addiction literature, people talk about hitting bottom (feeding their addiction, experiencing suffering and doing it over and over again despite the consequences) and calling their addiction their greatest curse but also their greatest blessing because it’s how they realized there were higher states of transformation available that were not found in a pipe, needle, bottle, etc. Valiant also mentions that there is more spirituality in recovery groups then there is often in Sunday churches. I think there is some insight here.


Thanks for the positive feedback! I also currently conduct a Saturday night Contemplative 12 Step Recovery meeting in the basement of our church, and your closing comment was right on…the spiritual growth and transcendence we experience on Saturday nights greatly exceeds what occurs there in the main church on Sunday mornings.