Addiction: A Disease of the Soul?

February 13, 2020

Why would anyone choose to waste money, destroy relationships, and ruin their health? Addiction doesn’t make any logical sense, but we can’t seem to stop the tide. Despite the government spending more than $1 trillion on the war on drugs over the past four decades, the rates of addiction and overdose deaths in the United States are now higher than ever before. Opioids get the most attention, but in some states, meth may soon claim the highest number of addicts and overdose deaths.

Addiction used to apply primarily to substances. Today, it is found with vices such as pornography, gambling, shopping, excessive smartphone use, and countless other compulsive pleasures.

Researchers believe they may soon uncover a physical fix to our addiction epidemic. Studies are underway to develop treatments that target the chemical imbalances and faulty wiring found in the brains of addicts.

But what if our addiction problem is more complex than any solution science can conjure? According to the Rev. Sheri Heller, a New York-based psychotherapist and interfaith minister, addiction may be biochemically based, but the psychological and spiritual aspects of the disease still demand attention.

“You can’t heal emotional wounds intellectually,” she said.

Spirit is a concept that is often at odds with contemporary medicine, but it wasn’t always this way. People once looked for meaning in their suffering.

Dr. Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist famous for his descriptions of ancient archetypes residing in our collective unconscious, helped Westerners regain a sense of meaning in their suffering. Jung gave the modern world a vocabulary for the psyche once reserved for myths and legends. He was also instrumental in inspiring the 12-step paradigm found in addiction recovery programs.

“Jung said addiction is really a misguided search for God. It’s an attempt to feel the euphoria one gets from having a sense of belonging or a sense of being loved,” Heller said.

Of course, each addict has a unique backstory of trauma and pain, but Heller believes a change in society lies at the heart of our growing wave of addiction. Our sense of community, intimacy, and humanity have been replaced by a culture of technology, celebrity, and divisiveness. Isolated and overwhelmed, we reach for anything to fill the void.

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