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Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

Price: $39.95

Paperback 488 pp.
156 mm x 234 mm



Publication date:
April 2010

Imprint: OUP UK

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The Globalization of Addiction

A Study in Poverty of the Spirit

Bruce Alexander

The Globalization of Addiction presents a radical rethink about the nature of addiction.

Scientific medicine has failed when it comes to addiction. There are no reliable methods to cure it, prevent it, or take the pain out of it. There is no durable consensus on what addiction is, what causes it, or what should be done about it. Meanwhile, it continues to increase around the world. This book argues that the cause of this failure to control addiction is that the conventional wisdom of the 19th and 20th centuries focused too single-mindedly on the afflicted individual addict. Although addiction obviously manifests itself in individual cases, its prevalence differs dramatically between societies. For example, it can be quite rare in a society for centuries, and then become common when a tribal culture is destroyed or a highly developed civilization collapses. When addiction becomes commonplace in a society, people become addicted not only to alcohol and drugs, but to a thousand other destructive pursuits: money, power, dysfunctional relationships, or video games. A social perspective on addiction does not deny individual differences in vulnerability to addiction, but it removes them from the foreground of attention, because social determinants are more powerful.

This book shows that the social circumstances that spread addiction in a conquered tribe or a falling civilisation are also built into today's globalizing free-market society. A free-market society is magnificently productive, but it subjects people to irresistible pressures towards individualism and competition, tearing rich and poor alike from the close social and spiritual ties that normally constitute human life. People adapt to their dislocation by finding the best substitutes for a sustaining social and spiritual life that they can, and addiction serves this function all too well.

The book argues that the most effective response to a growing addiction problem is a social and political one, rather than an individual one. Such a solution would not put the doctors, psychologists, social workers, policemen, and priests out of work, but it would incorporate their practices in a larger social project. The project is to reshape society with enough force and imagination to enable people to find social integration and meaning in everyday life. Then great numbers of them would not need to fill their inner void with addictions.

Readership : Suitable for psychologists, psychiatrists, and counsellors in the field of addiction, and public health practitioners.


  • "...a considerable work, highly ambitious in its scope, impressive in its multidisciplinary scholarship, clear in its structure and generous in its references...a fundamental critique of the 20th century view of addiction."
    nth position online Jan 09
  • "This fascinating and unique book explores the problem of addiction using a nontraditional approach...a refreshing look at an age-old problem."

    --Doody's Notes Dec 2008
  • "This is, without a doubt, the most intriguing and painstaking book on addiction I have read for some time...The Globalisation of Addiction is scholarly, meticulously researched, passionately critical of the free-market economy, biased, speculative, selective, and quite wonderful...highly recommended...this is one of the most remarkable addiction texts of the decade."

    --John B. Davies, Addiction Research and Theory 2008

Part I - Roots of Addiction in Free-market Society
1. Vancouver as prototype
2. Addiction1, Addiction2, Addiction3, Addiction4
3. The dislocation theory of addiction
4. Psychosocial integration is a necessity
5. Free-market society undermines psychosocial integration
6. Addiction is a way of adapting to dislocation (1) - historical evidence
7. Addiction is a way of adapting to dislocation (2) - quantitative research, clinical reports and 'spam'
8. Addiction is a way of adapting to dislocation (3) - the myth of the demon drugs
Part II - The Interaction of Addiction and Society
9. Addiction and society
10. The role of addiction in the civilised madness of the 21st century
11. Getting by
12. Spiritual treatment for addiction: the 'fifth pillar'
13. Socrates' 'Master passions' and Dikaiosune
14. From blindness and paralysis to action
15. Social actions to control addiction: question period

There are no Instructor/Student Resources available at this time.

Bruce Alexander is a psychologist and Professor Emeritus at Simon Fraser University, where he has worked since 1970. His primary research interest has been the psychology of addiction. He is best known in the UK for the "Rat Park" experiments, which helped to demonstrate the falsity of the outworn belief that simple exposure to narcotic drugs can cause addiction. In Canada, he has been well known as a critic of the War on Drugs for decades. His most recent work has been on the causes of the current worldwide proliferation of addiction, not only to drugs, but to a great variety of other habits and pursuits. Exploring this topic has required that he venture far beyond his training in psychology, particularly into the fields of history and anthropology.

Forbidden Drugs - Dr. Philip Robson
Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity - Thomas F. Babor, Raul Caetano, Sally Casswell, Griffith Edwards, Norman Giesbrecht, Kathryn Graham, and others

Special Features

  • Presents a powerful, original, and controversial argument for rethinking addiction and how we treat it.
  • Highlights the flaws in our current thinking, investigates why we persist with treatments that don't work, and calls for consideration of the social causes rather than just individual causes.