The following post is part of a special series emerging from Contemporary Issues in Neuroethics, a graduate-level course out of Emory University’s Center for Ethics. Katie Givens Kime is a doctoral student in Religion, with foci in practical theology, psychoanalysis, and neuroethics, and her research investigates the religious and spiritual aspects of addiction recovery methods.
A few years ago, a highly respected and accomplished philosopher at Duke University, Owen Flanagan, surprised everyone when he stood up to speak at Society for Philosophy and Psychology. A garden-variety academic presentation it was not. In “What Is It Like to Be An Addict?” Flanagan revealed to 150 of his esteemed colleagues that he had been addicted to various narcotics and to alcohol for many, many years. Not so long ago, every gruesome morning looked like this:
I would come to around 6:15 a.m., swearing that yesterday was the very last time...I’d pace, drink a cup of coffee, and try to hold to my terrified resolve. But by 6:56—every time, failsafe, I’d be in my car, arriving at the BP station...at 7 a.m. sharp I’d gather my four or five 16-ounce bottles of Heineken, hold their cold wet balm to my breast, put them down on the counter only long enough to be scanned....I guzzled one beer in the car. Car cranking, BP, a beer can’s gaseous earnestness—like Pavlov’s dogs, when these co-occur, Owen is off, juiced...the second beer was usually finished by the time I pulled back up to the house, the house on whose concrete porch I now spent most conscious, awake, time drinking, wanting to die. But afraid to die. When you’re dead you can’t use. The desire to live was not winning the battle over death. The overwhelming need – the pathological, unstoppable – need to use, was. (Flanagan, 2011, p. 77)
Research on addiction is no small niche of medical science. It’s an enormous enterprise. This seems appropriate, since addiction (including all types of substance abuse) is among the top public health crises in the industrialized West. The human suffering and the public (and private) expense wrought by addiction is immense. (See data here, here, and here.)
To that end, two accomplished researchers recently guest lectured here in Atlanta, representing a few dynamic edges of such research. Dr. Mark Gold lectured for Emory University’s Psychiatry Grand Rounds on "Evolution of Addiction Neurobiology and Treatment Over the Past 40 Years,” and Dr. Chandra Sripada lectured for the Neurophilosophy Forum at Georgia State University on "Addiction, Fallibility, and Responsibility.”