‘ADDICTION TO WEALTH AND POWER’ AND OTHER NOT YET RECOGNIZED, VERY PROBLEMATIC PSYCHOLOGICAL-BEHAVIORAL ADDICTIONS
(Addictions to the pursuit of wealth and power, addiction to conspiracy theory – theorizing, addictive consumerism)
Open Letter to the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association
It appears extremely urgent that our professions – researchers and professional organizations – analyze the world’s foremost problems from the perspective of observed dangers of apparent psychiatric disorders, and the lack of their treatment*.
Having worked with addiction-multiple diagnosis and general psychiatric patients for many decades and having studied a broad range of research related to human nature, ethology, anthropology, sociology, psychology and the neurosciences, as well as history and economics, we came to the conclusions that:
- Abuse and addiction must be defined more broadly.
- Abuse-addiction behaviors, like other psychiatric symptoms, have contagious qualities. Contagion is a serious problem; it leads to epidemics of abuse-addiction disorders that are extremely destructive, and containing them, mainly by treating patients as feasible, should always be a first priority.
Hardly recognized and underappreciated are the dangerous disorders of
- Addiction to wealth and power, or abusive pursuit of wealth and power, and
- Addiction to conspiracy theory – theorizing, or abusive pursuit of conspiracy theorizing.
Abuse should be defined as behaviors that lead to some good feelings and/or positive excitement while the person has knowledge that the behavior is not ‘good,’ harming others and/or eventually oneself – that knowledge may at the time be suppressed and/or ‘forgotten.’ Abuse behaviors feel like instincts, drug-taking feels like stilling thirst, etc.
Addiction should be defined as an abuse behavior pattern that has become a first priority, competing with everything else that is most valuable to the person. The abuse behavior started to feel like an uncontrollable instinct. There hardly is a smooth continuum between abuse and addiction pattern**. Still, when there is a powerful motivating emotion, people often ‘downgrade’ a serious addiction pattern to an abuse pattern that hey completely avoid or are able to control.
Addiction to wealth and power:
The apparently by far most dangerous, broadly under-recognized disorder is addiction to wealth and power, which often involves paranoia and addiction to conspiracy – conspiracy theorizing. It is obvious that CEOs, wealthy people in general, and particularly autocratic or highly partisan politicians do not gain happiness thanks to their achievements. Often they reach a point in which their successes do not further meaningful, much less ethical, goals, and they are no longer able to enjoy what they achieved. Mentally healthy very successful people then may go into a semiretired state, maybe pursuing arts, write, or start philanthropies. Others continue to work hard to further increase their wealth and power in highly pathological, compulsive, unethical and often illegal ways. Rationalizations for the continued pursuits are hardly logical, maybe ideological or religiously influenced, but the pursuits rarely are for ‘the common good’ or ‘general welfare,’ that politicians and other influential people should strive for, nor are they helping their families. Their addiction severely damages emotional growth and family relationships, and the relentless pursuits distract from any other meaningful activities.
Abuse-addiction disorders, as other psychiatric disorders and syndromes, are very dangerous to societies because of contagion: people rarely invent them; they learn them from untreated patients. Complex multiple personality disorder, anorexia nervosa, and specific forms of conversion disorders spread as epidemics. Normally people do not experiment with prescription medications, but they often learn from others that opioid pain medications can be used for anxiety and to fight loneliness or boredom, etc. Hardly anybody re-invents preparing and self-injecting heroin.
Persons with specific vulnerabilities and histories of traumas do not invent disorders like bulimia, anorexia nervosa, and other eating disorders; self-injecting opioids or psychostimulants; or methods of pursuing wealth or power in every conceivable way. Obviously, it is normal to have some conflicts with wishing more pleasures from eating than is healthy and wanting to rise in status by earning more or reaching a social position of power; however, people usually find a healthy balance between eating and fasting and between seeking some wealth and status versus staying ethical and valuing family and other valuable aspects of life.
Addiction to conspiracy theory – theorizing:
compare Post on QAnon
Conspiracy theory – theorizing often becomes an addiction; pursuing information about conspiracies leads to frequent reward feelings, a positive sense of learning and knowing something exciting that most others do not know. People get particularly excited about participating in creating “the larger picture” out of many people’s “insights” and possibly adding something themselves. That many “insights” are opportunistic inventions that reinforce others’ pseudo-scientific and quasi-religious views has become irrelevant. While conspiracy theorizing about historical events is addicting, it is often a waste of time that is harmless for society; however, like other addictions, conspiracy theorizing damages bonds within families and distracts from emotional growth and constructive or artistic endeavors; it also may lead people to connect ‘harmless’ old with dangerous present-day conspiracy theories.
Additional pathology results form patients becoming accustomed to living in multiple realities. People have to integrate a layer of pseudo-scientific and/or quasi-religious, delusional beliefs into their complex perception of the world. They already must deal with frequent conflicts between the usually opportunistic-selfish culture of one’s family, group and profession, the realities and conclusions of sciences, and the moral mandates and declarations of their religion. Conspiracy theorizing which addresses the present and future is much more ominous. Quasi-religious conspiracy theories that become cult-like do not respect reality and science and usually involve delusional and criminal thinking. If theorizing involves promoting a political group, ideology, or a party with autocratic tendencies, participants gain rewarding feelings by becoming part of something that appears extremely powerful and meaningful.
- Other new addictions have to be researched and addressed: widespread, by cultures reinforced consumption addiction, a frequent or continuous restlessness, wanting to buy or order something (widespread consumerism is relevant because it makes combating climate change difficult, and it often leads to severe indebtedness, which causes impaired functioning, depression, discounting one’s future with propensity to criminal thinking and substance abuse, and suicides), and computer-related addictions, particularly by tech companies developed games, games that include gambling and/or advertisements.
- Some abuse-addiction related patterns, which stem from powerful instincts, must be studied; the most dangerous are habitual us-versus-them thinking that leads to consistently seeking differences in people, wanting to justify disapproval, hostile feelings, and biases; and fascination with suffering, cruelties, and sadism, These are primarily mental pursuits, people spending much time fantasizing, as is common in pornography addiction. However abuse fantasies, particularly when involving fascination with cruelties, are sometime acted on, when people are intoxicated with alcohol, and when individuals are in extraneous states and/or circumstances (such as severely sleep deprived, being temporarily in essentially lawless rural area, and during wars), and in poorly supervised law enforcement professions (mostly in less developed countries).
* Mental health may be defined as a mental state of accepting reality, accepting past including abuses and injustices, and conflicting realities in present and in anticipated future, without paranoid and delusional thoughts, conspiracy theory – theorizing, superstitions, and maladaptive responses, such as abuse-addiction behavior.
Psychological abuse-addiction patterns, though not yet recognized by the DSM committees, have always been extremely serious problems and led to the victimization of most people. While secondary problems are much more kept in check – people addicted to power have done les harm than earlier emperors, dictators and disturbed officials of “defense departments,” and people who are addicted to wealth are less able to cruelly disenfranchise and exploit the majority of the population, more and more people become victims of new forms of abuse-addiction-like disorders. Why should we consider the perpetrators, people starting unwinnable wars or cruelly abusing slaves and workers, as mentally ill? Their activities hurt them – they are not much different from gang and organized crime group leaders; they are hardly happy even if shortly enjoying their ‘successes’, their activities have powerful compulsive characteristics and they can hardly resist opportunities to advance pathological goals, they usually have many enemies, their lives are full of conflicts and dangers, and the quality of their family lives are far from what their status should allow; if at all religious, they have good reasons to fear punishments after death.
Efforts to define addictions as neurolobiological or even by genetics explainable disorders appears spurious – all behavior patterns have neurobiological underpinnings, and are influenced by genetic factors; finding neurobilogical changes and/or associated genes in studies is hardly relevant for defining abuse-addiction behaviors – it may be important for researchers who work on treating these disorders with medications.
“Prototypes” of addiction have the appearance of “the brain having been high-jacked”; however all addictions are readily overcome when there are countering emotions that are more potent than what drives the addiction (Baruch Spinoza already recognized this fact in essence, and, observing people, we often see severely addicted patients suddenly stop severe substance use and other destructive behavior patterns, often tolerating severe withdrawal symptoms, e.g. when a desired pregnancy occurs or when insights associated with maturing and positive influences make the abuse-addiction behavior ego-dystonic.
The internet publication states:
Many problematic behaviors such as Internet use, compulsive shopping, sex, stealing, and eating all lack persuasive data regarding their neurobiological (including genetic) underpinnings. A fundamental limitation exists in regard to exploring neurobiological underpinnings of candidate behavioral addictions: whereas substance addiction can readily be observed and modelled in experimental animals, it is difficult to see how this could be the case for the behavioral addictions.
(In Expanding the Definition of Addiction: DSM-5 vs. ICD-11 / Published in final edited form as: CNS Spectr. 2016 Aug; 21(4): 300–303. – Published online 2016 May 6.doi: 10.1017/S1092852916000183 – Jon E. Grant, J.D., M.D., M.P.H.1 and Samuel R. Chamberlain, M.D., Ph.D.2)
** Naturally humans do not see things as continuums but see things in bands; as the rainbow is seen as bands of colors, we think about priorities in bands of first (may include immediate family and its needs, a job that is needed for one’s and the family’s support and for meaning in life, and basic morality), second (may include cherished hobbies and artistic work, friends and relatives – these must not interfere with the pursuit of first priorities), and low priorities (may include filling in free time doing puzzles). Similarly people think in terms of misuse which may include well-intended inappropriate use, abuse which includes enjoying something ethically-socially questionable while having a sense of still being in control and not letting it interfere with first priorities, addiction, abuse patterns that are perceived as “needed” and which continuously compete with other first priorities, and maybe bad addiction, and addiction pattern that became the first priority, moving all previous first priorities into second rank.
Heinz Aeschbach, MD, Austin, TX and Walter Aeschbach, MD, El Paso, TX
We are Swiss-American psychiatrists and cofounders of Humane Civilization Worldwide