02/12/11-by Bridgette P. LaVictoire
“We’re all familiar with the obvious addictions: drugs and alcohol. . .Increasingly, almost everything being presented to us as a ‘free choice’ is being packaged and sold in a way that’s designed to get us hooked in order to guarantee that we keep coming back for more.” In Addict Nation, Jane Velez-Mitchell and co-author Sandra Mohr lay out the role that addiction plays in American society. Going through a list that often reads like a modern day Seven Deadly Sins, the two highlight the various problems that society from obesity to sex addiction to pharmacological addiction and beyond.
Addict Nation straddles a line between well documented research and memoir. Through reading this book, the reader is definitely learning a great deal about Velez-Mitchell’s life and her own struggles with addiction. Some of the stories can be a bit funny, including her scarfing down a healthy desert only to realize that she is addicted to sweets.
The complexity of the addiction issue can be summed up with regards to the addiction to consumerism. “When does our consumption of material goods cross a line into addiction? The answer is: when we are consuming for the wrong reasons, not because we really need those items but because we’re scrambling to fill a void.” The first example given after that sentence is of a woman in an unhappy marriage who spends her days constantly buying things that she does not need in order to try and alleviate that pain.
Some issues straddle two or even three different areas of addiction. For instance, in the chapter “The Breeders”, the addiction to rampant procreation is discussed, but that also feeds into the addiction in America to celebrity as many of those who have large families such as the Goslins, etc, tend to have large broods and then get on television.
Velez-Mitchell and Mohr do not just lay out what is wrong, but they do offer some solutions. With regards to two of the addictions laid out, the solution is sort of the same, and that is matriarchal values. “We need to bring matriarchal values to our national debate on crime, teaching nonviolence and conflict resolution in schools and developing early interventions and therapeutic techniques that break the cycle of violence being handed down to the next generation.” At the end of the chapter on “The Breeders”, the statistics about overpopulation are brought up nicely and that brings up the discussion of how empowering women through education reduces the number of children being born in a society.
Velez-Mitchell, who is openly lesbian, does address briefly the addictions that the denial of one’s own sexuality can lead to. “It took me decades to come to terms with my own homosexuality in order to conform to a society that told me there was something wrong with those innate desires. So I went into denial about my feelings towards members of the same sex and proceeded to become an alcoholic to drown the sadness and confusion that wouldn’t go away.” For many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexuals, the temptation is towards addiction of one sort or another be it drugs, alcohol, food, overconsumption, etc. Velez-Mitchell’s solution to this is, very simply, acceptance of one’s self.
Addict Nation is well researched. In academia, the first thing that should always be taught to students is to check the research that has been done for a given book. Many of the points made are backed up by scientific studies, and a variety of interviews that were conducted specifically for the book.
There are a few things wrong with Addict Nation. For instance there is a certain simplicity to Velez-Mitchell’s argument regarding the obesity epidemic in the United States, and this is something of a problem. One issue that is ignored, unfortunately, with regards to the obesity epidemic is the fact that there are a host of food allergies and sensitivities which also fuels the tendency towards obesity. Typically, due to the medical situation in the United States coupled with the subsidies that make certain foods almost omnipresent in the food supply, food sensitivities such as celiacs, lactose intolerance, and peanut sensitivities can lead a person’s body to overreact and end up with that individual heading towards being well overweight.
To a certain degree, the biggest problem with Addict Nation is that addiction plays a large part in many of these social ills, but it is not the only cause of them. Conversely, this is also what makes Addict Nation such a strong read is the fact that the underlying addiction driving society is almost never addressed, and to focus simply upon that makes it easier to focus upon the problems caused by addiction. Addiction is something that society is reluctant to even address unless it can be pushed into the realm of things like crime and punishment, but the springing up of all sorts of twelve step programs certainly shows that there is a need to reign in the problems caused by addiction.
Addict Nation adds a great part to the discussion of what is wrong within American society, or it will once Americans can actually have a discussion about what is wrong with society since most of the time the discussion amounts to one side trying to actually talk about what’s wrong and others just screaming that there’s nothing wrong.
Addict Nation by Jane Velez-Mitchell and Sandra Mohr is on the bookshelves now. Velez-Mitchell is the host of Issues on HLN.