How to Really Hurt an Addict

Addiction is predictable. You already know the life circumstances that precede addiction: trauma, parental addiction, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, lack of education… no surprises there. These compound intersectionally, so if we’re looking at a child of addicts who is abused or neglected and living in poverty, they are very likely to become addicted; it’s almost guaranteed. 

Let’s say we’re malicious devils who control every aspect of this child’s world. Our goal is not to heal or prevent addiction; it’s to exacerbate the cycle of harm as aggressively as possible. How would we set up their world so that they are most likely to become an addict and least likely to break that addiction?

The first thing we’d do is isolate our victim. All people are less resilient and more susceptible to unhealthy patterns when they’re alone. There’s a lot of ways to isolate someone, but let’s stay with the legal options. We want to make sure that they never get one-on-one support. Ideally, they’ll always be in large groups so that their wounds don’t stand out. Achieving this is pretty easy; we just make sure that schools and social services are chronically underfunded. This means that teachers are always dealing with bloated class sizes that preempt any meaningful attention to one individual. 

We will want to make quite sure that they never ask for help. They must remain silent, especially during the early stages of being traumatized and beginning to abuse substances. Again, this is surprisingly easy on a cultural level. We just aggressively stigmatize both addiction and mental health challenges. Make sure that every representation of addiction and mental health struggle in the media is not only negative but also personally judgmental of the person who is struggling. In subtle ways, every story they see should reinforce the idea that only weak people are addicts. Beyond this, we should make sure to instill in them a deeply insecure sense of independence. They should feel that anyone who can’t solve their own problems entirely on their own is pathetic; barely human at all. This is especially effective on males; we should really hammer home the idea that Real Men can do everything themselves, and if you ever need help, you’re not a Real Man. Their internal narrative should be this: “Real men take their knocks. Everybody gets hit. I’m fine.” The subconscious lesson is this: “If I was really a man I wouldn’t mind, I wouldn’t need help. Real men can handle their drink. If I can’t handle my drink, I’m just a sissy alcoholic.” 

For women, we should structure all media and public valuation of gendered labor to undermine their sense of self-worth and make sure that they constantly feel like a burden on those around them. We want them to feel that any request for support, however minor the need or subtle the request, is an unreasonable and invalid imposition. Ideally, they will feel so worthless that they will also be unable to justify any form of self-care, feeling that all their time is owed to others. This manufactured sense that a woman is never going to be enough to meet the needs that she owes others, let alone claim any time or space for herself, is very effective at preventing women from being able to ask for support or even communicate their needs. You may note that this entire narrative is also tailored to reinforce the idea that women’s value lies only in the service the provide. This is by design; the last thing we want is women to claim their unassailable innate value as human beings. That perspective is strongly conducive to escalation of healthy self-esteem and positive self-image, which can be mortally pernicious to the cycle of addiction.

Unlike the self-absorption of our tactics for men, this approach has the notable benefit that even if women can tell they are not doing well, learned worthlessness will block them from manifesting support that might help them escape from the cycle of addiction. This is a compounding pattern; as their mental health continues to suffer under addiction they will feel progressively more worthless, and therefore be less willing to ask for help. Their internal narrative should be this: “I’m just a useless junkie, nobody should waste their time on me.”

If we can create these stigmas intergenerationally, they become exponentially more effective. Children will feel ashamed at being the offspring of addicts. They will witness their parent’s shame and internalize it ten fold, creating a tidy cycle of shame and substance abuse. 

“Friends of Change” by Meike Hakkaart

Simultaneously, we must make sure that everything well-intentioned people have taught our victim about drugs is not only wrong but incredibly stupid and out of touch. Ideally, their education about drugs should be completely irreconcilable with their first experiences of drugs. The best way to accomplish this is for their education to have a zealous, 100% abstinence ethic. If they are taught that all drugs are evil, and then smoke a little weed or drink a beer and find it mild, harmless, and pleasant; they will logically draw the conclusion that their drug teachers had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. This paves the way for them to ignore everything their silly drug teacher said, and try crystal meth or fentanyl as well.  

It’s inevitable that someone will notice at some point that they are using, so we must prepare for that. The worst possible situation would be compassionate support that targets the causes. We must not allow the response to drug use to come anywhere near its roots; it must never look at trauma, structural poverty, or anything like it. Thankfully, this is probably the most easily addressed of all our challenges in hurting this person, and we can make this potential avenue towards recovery into a nail in the coffin of their addiction. If we really want to hurt someone who is disadvantaged and at risk of becoming addicted, there is one tool that we should prize above all others. There is one tool that we should encourage everyone around them to use as liberally as possible. 

This tool is excellent for several reasons. The first is that it has absolutely zero impact whatsoever on our victim’s drug use. If anything, this tool will make them more likely to use. The next is that it is very efficient at degrading self-esteem. Every time this tool is used, the person it is used against thinks that they deserve to have bad things happen to them, and that they are a fundamentally bad person. Every addict believes this either until they recover or die, and this tool teaches it better than any other, especially when used in early childhood.  

This tool has another great quality for us as malicious psychopaths, and it’s one that almost no one knows about. For the person using it, it is powerfully rewarding. The person wielding this tool gets to feel responsible. They get to feel ethical and proud of themselves. They get to feel like they’re doing the hard work that no one else will do. Beyond this, they even get to feel a little victimized; as though they’d really rather not be using it at all and the young addict is making them do something against their will. 

This secret power is the reason that this tool is still the most common response to all problematic behavior, even though the research has been crystal clear for a hundred years that it is by far the worst way to change behavior and causes so much collateral damage that it always causes more harm than good. Scientifically, we know this to be true. Despite this truth, almost every person in our society immediately jumps to it as the default response to undesirable behavior, because using it and advocating it are both so rewarding. 

This wild, powerful tool that only exacerbates addiction, is horribly ineffective at changing behavior, causes catastrophic collateral damage, and is secretly deeply rewarding to use –  is Punishment. 

If we can structure our victim’s life so that every response they encounter to their addiction and the effects of their addiction is pure punishment, they are going to be an addict until they die. Every degree away from punishment and towards compassion and holistic treatment of the root causes (which we know quite well,) is a loss for our intention of hurting this person as much as possible. Thankfully, this is easily avoided. As we know, punishment feels great for the punisher. The key here is making sure that the punishers never admit this to themselves. Punishers must feel beset, preferably victimized. They must feel that they hit or give detention or arrest or incarcerate because they have to. Their internal narrative should be: “This is for their own good. If someone doesn’t take them in hand, they’ll just keep running wild. They need a firm hand. They need to know we won’t stand for this. Someone has to make the hard choices here.” If we can keep everyone around our victim believing this, then our work is entirely done. 

We must also make sure to shape their family’s perspective on addiction quite thoroughly. Ideally, their family will be entirely ignorant to the red flags of early addiction. They should believe that their love compels them to “support” our victim by giving them financial support and unhealthy levels of privacy. They should also equate the effects of addiction with our victims character. For example, if our victim steals money from a purse to buy drugs, their family should judge and shame them, calling them a thief and making them feel as bad as possible. This is certain to irritate the unprocessed grief, unresolved trauma, sense of worthlessness and sense of hopelessness that fuel addiction. 

The family should not contact professional support at all. Ideally, they should give our victim several “chances” while enabling addiction, not addressing the causes, and openly judging and shaming them when they relapse. Then they should give up on the victim entirely, preferably kicking them out of the house. They should have no solid extended community. Preferably, they should only have access to housing that supports their cycle of addiction. Remember, environment is key. they must not have safe, supportive options. Dramatic events like being kicked out of a family home or losing a job can be turning points if they land in a compassionate, understanding environment, surrounded by peers in recovery and mentors who can help connect them with services and resources. They must only have housing options surrounded by active addiction. Beyond exacerbating their own addiction, this will dramatically increase the likelihood of their involvement in criminal enterprises, which will lead them into the judicial system. The judicial system is still, thankfully for us, almost 100% build on the principle of punishment. 

If they do have access to any forms of therapy, rehabilitation services, or restorative justice services, we must guarantee that their entire world apart from those brief sessions is built on violence and oppression. This can aid our aims, because if they spend 47 hours in a violent, oppressive, punishment-based system for every one hour in a therapy session or mediation, it can reinforce the lesson that therapy or mediation is meaningless and useless, and that the real world is violent and oppressive, so they’d better just get used to it. 

When they get out, the entire world should hate them. They should be totally unable to get work that covers their basic living expenses. They should be entirely barred from working in service fields that they might feel passionate about or offer higher pay, such as nursing. They should be forced to publicly declare their past wrongs at every opportunity, from seeking further education to employment. They should be forced to check in with law officers who openly insult them and call them junkies to their faces.

Even if they never end up incarcerated, it is of the upmost importance that our victim never be permitted to move past the harm they have caused in their past. Even if they completely change who they are, heal and shift their own patterns, there should always by a viciously judgmental effort to make them believe that they are defined by the harm they caused, even if it is decades ago. If they have actively worked to heal those harms, convince them that it is not enough and that they will, always and forever, be a bad and worthless person.

There should be almost no resources for them, and the effective resources that do exist should be wildly expensive. There should be a few free resources, but they should be spread so thin and so underfunded that they are hard to navigate and have minimal impact on our victim’s life. This will contribute to the sense that if they weren’t such a useless, bad person; then they could get their life together.

Perhaps most importantly, prevent them from developing any regular practices or perspectives that bring them peace or joy. Occasional happy moments are fine, but they should always be framed as the exception. Inadequate pay, random work hours, and shifting legal expectations are great for this. They make daily meditation practices, regular socialization, and healthy hobbies almost impossible.

Combined, this should do the trick of making it almost impossible for those at risk to escape the cycle of addiction. As malicious devils intent on harm, we can expect a success rate of at least 95% with this approach. There might be some 5% or so who still manage to break our excellent plan to hurt addicts, but we’d still earn an A+ for our work from any reasonable judge. 

Two weeks ago, one of our residents called his mother. He had been working hard for months, trying to rebuild trust with her after a decade of addiction and all that it entails. They had started talking, and gone out to dinner twice. As with many recovering addicts, almost all of his hope for his future was pinned on healing his relationship with his family. 

After this short and awkward phone call, she thought she had hung up the phone. He listened. He listened as his parents sat around insulting and degrading him. Sobbing in silence, he couldn’t hang up. What they were saying was totally different than what they had been saying to him. It was full of derision and aggressive disrespect, and had no love in it whatsoever. 

His parents have been through a lot. They have suffered. And even before this call, they caused great harm. His father was brutally abusive. Our resident had been working on seeing this and healing from it. That phone call, listening to them speak that way, was more than he could bear. 

He relapsed, hard. He’s out “runnin’ and gunnin’” again now, causing immense harm to himself, everyone around him, and our whole state. Eventually he’ll either serve serious time, or he’ll die. 

Of course his relapse is his responsibility, but know this

How you talk about people who are addicted really, really, really matters.