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Bruce Alexander

Financial turmoil spurs addiction

October 16, 2008

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By Carol Thorbes

Hypercapitalism is generating a rising tide of addiction to compulsive shopping, gambling, sexuality and video gaming, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. That’s the premise of Bruce Alexander’s latest book, The Globalization of Addiction: a study in poverty of the spirit.

A professor emeritus of psychology, Alexander  says unregulated capitalism spurs the globalization of addiction in financially turbulent times. Stressors such as market crashes, unaffordable housing and unemployment exacerbate the relentless competition and self-seeking that already stress people in less troubled times.

"We think of these as economic problems, and they are," says Alexander, "but think of the psychological impact that economic volatility has on families, marriages, young people’s hopes for the future. This dislocating impact makes people who live in free-market societies even more vulnerable to addiction."

Drug and alcohol addictions, he says, now account for just 20 percent of serious addiction problems. He argues that the primary cause of rising addiction is the loss of long-standing cultural traditions and values. This in turn, he says, causes whole societies to lose their identity and suffer a psychosocial dislocation that makes people vulnerable to addiction.

Alexander, the 2007 winner of the SFU Nora and Ted Sterling Prize in support of controversy, draws historical examples from diverse cultures in Canada, Europe, and China.

In The Globalization of Addiction, Alexander criticizes electioneering politicians in Canada and the United States for promoting tougher drug laws and the abolition of safe needle injection sites. He maintains that such harsh measures never have, and never can, halt the globalization of addiction.

"Controlling addiction requires structural changes in society," says Alexander. "There are straightforward initiatives that can gradually bring addiction under control, as we get wiser about its causes." Examples of the initiatives are: Better regulation of the housing market and less emphasis on teaching children to be competitive and self-centered. He notes there are hundreds more.
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