Addiction: The elephant in the road; a lonely battle for connection in a disconnected world.

When we think of addiction, often we picture the stereotypical scenarios depicted on television, movies, and books: a broken down zombie-like person existing only for their next fix, or perhaps the brilliant but tortured artist/rock star/writer who manages to create a masterpiece, despite their personal life being in shambles.

A more accurate and informed picture of addiction is that it affects most of us, either directly through our own personal struggles or via the struggle of colleagues, friends and/or family. Approximately 1 out of 10 Americans have an addiction to either drugs or alcohol.

“According to an article printed in the New York Times, the average American knows around 600 people. This means every person in America knows 60 people who have a drug or alcohol disorder.

That same article estimates that most Americans know between 10 and 25 people well enough to be counted as trusted “real friends”. This means in your personal circle of friends – people you know, trust, and maybe even love – “you might be close to as many as three people who are addicted to illegal drugs, alcohol, or prescription medications.” – Northpointrecovery.com

So, it’s time to discuss the “elephant in the room” or “in the road” as it is relevant to those of us who tour.

Addiction

noun ad· dic· tion | \ ə-ˈdik-shən , a-\  

1: the quality or state of being addicted  //addiction to reading. 

2: compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (such as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal. 

broadly: persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful.

There is a lot of debate on what exactly causes or drives addiction. Some professionals term it a chronic disease to explain the often unfathomable nature of addictive self-destructive behavior –  a total loss of control in the grip of great temptation. The National Institute on Drug Abuse and Addiction (NIDA), defines addiction in this way:

“Addiction is defined as a chronic relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.  It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain – they change it’s structure and how it works.  These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.”

Before we go any further let us be clear on a few things…

Using illicit substances does not automatically make one an addict. Many of us function in society but may be concerned about our current use of substances and how it affects our well-being, mentally and physically. Parts of your life can be in working order and at the same time, OTHER PARTS are falling apart. Sometimes this may not have any outward signs, it may be a darker battle that only you are aware of.

This is not an attempt to underplay the complicated nature of addiction in society. Nor to completely exonerate the physical and/or genetic factors that can play a role in addiction. Instead, hopefully, create an opportunity for a new meaningful discussion on what may be a larger “determining factor” with touring people and high rates of addiction.

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

-Oscar Wilde

We have all heard, or said jokingly (or perhaps not so jokingly), “I got into touring for the free booze!” or the classic “for sex, drugs and rock n’ roll!”- And all of us like to have a good time in one way or another, maybe even in all ways! The adventure of the road and the social camaraderie of your fellow touring crew can, at times, mimic the conditions of a frat house or college dorm. This can be loads of fun and we by no means want to be party poopers, unwinding after a long and most likely stressful day is important… but as we all know and may have experienced personally, when the party doesn’t end for us it can create some devastating problems in our personal and professional lives.

That being said, we can be addicted to just about anything. Behavioral and process addictions (ones that do not involve drugs) like online gambling, social media, pornography, video games,  wealth, consumerism, religious fanaticism, overeating, shopping, hoarding, dieting,  social media, narcissistic self-promotion,  pets, and anorexia are some examples. The idea that addiction is only related to substances that create a chemical dependence (or “hooks”) is, to say the least, disingenuous. The only difference among these would be the level of destruction they may cause to your quality of life and ability to function in society.

There have been many experiments and theories that have shaped our collective consciousness about addiction and substance abuse. A few decades ago it was thought that one would be instantly hooked upon taking heroin, crack or cocaine and this was reinforced in the ’80s by the use of the “rat experiments” explored by the author Johann Hari – in his book “Chasing the Scream”.

 “This theory was first established, in part, through rat experiments—ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advertisement by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.” – Johann Hari

These “rat experiments” Hari discovered had been challenged by a professor of psychology, Bruce Alexander, who saw one inherent flaw in the experiment – The rats were alone in isolation with nothing to do and no social interactions. He recreated the experiment in an environment he called “rat park” where every need of companionship, food, and activity was available alongside the drugged water. The rats mostly shunned the drugged water and none of them died!

This, as Hari points out, was echoed by one of the largest human experiments in history- the Vietnam war.

“It was reported in Time magazine that “using heroin was as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up. Some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.” But in fact, some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers—according to the same studysimply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug anymore.”

At present, much of the general public believes that addiction either entails a loss of control over one’s actions and thus a loss of agency/free will or is simply a moral failing. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research says “A report on the findings, which appears in the October issue of the journal Psychiatric Services, suggests that society seems not to know whether to regard substance abuse as a treatable medical condition akin to diabetes or heart disease, or as a personal failing to be overcome.” Among researchers, opinion is more widely divided as to whether addicts lose some control, lose all control, or retain control.

 We are hoping to help inform a different story. A story not about moral, genetic or medical deficiencies, but one that relates directly to the people that tour and their situations specifically. One that takes a broader perspective on the problems of the addicted person. This, we believe is essential to understanding the high rates of addiction among touring people.

At first, the initial allure and the seemingly endless adventurous qualities of touring can cause an immediate surplus of experiences and fulfillment in one’s professional life. Over time the reality and demanding nature of touring can quickly create significant deficits in many other aspects of one’s personal life. Being on the road, often in close quarters to your fellow crew, we can still experience a feeling of profound loneliness. Perhaps this has to do with what we leave behind: the comfort of our familiar surroundings, the place we call home, close friends and family. We may take on our new environments with a subliminal level of unease. One that at first may be unbeknownst to us.

We Seek To Be Whole

 We all have physical needs like food, water, shelter, and sleep but we also have psychological needs according to Abraham Maslow’s 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” Maslow used the terms “physiological”, “safety”, “belonging and love”, “social needs or esteem”, and “self-actualization” to describe the pattern through which human motivations generally move. In other words, a hierarchy of needs. Once a person has met his primitive or basic needs, the focus of their anxiety eventually shifts to the ego.

Maslow’s theories reveal a great need to be socially connected in order to feel whole. We consistently seek our natural unmet needs. When unfulfilled, this ‘ hierarchy of needs’ can leaded to anxiety, distress, and disconnection causing some to look to substances for uncomplicated relief.

 As a species, we evolved in tribes to increase our chances of survival. Despite our highly adaptable nature to new environments and situations, we thrive in a social network. We would understandably become anxious if ever we were cut off from the protective nature of the tribe.

In a touring lifestyle, we are continuously separating ourselves from one family (tribe) to join another tribe and then yet another tribe… we are constantly acclimatizing to our new environments and our “other tribe”. In fact, you likely go through this cycle several times a month, year after year. This cycle can create persistent low-level feelings of anxiety which have been shown to lead to a higher potential for depression and addictive behavior. It is now well-known that extensive business travel is associated with poorer behavioral and mental health like smoking, sedentary behavior, trouble sleeping, alcohol dependence, depression, and anxiety.

 Addictions can take on a dangerous habit of creating a false but stable connection for many who tour.  Filling a desperate need for what’s missing with a substitute. We may develop a part of us that does not want to be entirely present for all aspects of our lives. For some who tour there may be feelings of guilt, stemming from things like not always being present for those we love and left at home. Conversely, some may feel more fulfillment on the road. Being home may create a feeling of disconnection from purpose, meaning and regular contact with their”tribe” of people.

For some, perhaps over time, touring alone may no longer be fulfilling the need for a meaningful and purposeful work life. It would be safe to presume that most touring people pride themselves on being dedicated to the success of the tour that they are on. Perhaps at times to their own detriment. In service to such a revered idea or person(s), they may forego their own individual needs with “misplaced” dedication or devotion. In almost all cases and situations touring people often have feelings of disconnection.

It’s not you, it’s your cage.

The idea that the circumstances of our present situation affect our behavior is referred to by Bruce Alexander as your “cage” in his “rat park experiments”. Whether you are more or less likely to be consumed by addiction may be in direct correlation to your current circumstance. The soldiers in Vietnam who used substances to cope with their environment left the habit behind once they returned to a better situation. We are wired to avoid pain and discomfort when they become a large part of our current situation we are more likely to seek relief. Perhaps something to numb us. Often times we end up medicating our sadness and/or pain without truly understanding it.

The “rat park” and “Vietnam study” concluded that we need to live connected lives to truly thrive. No amount of thrills, adventures, substances or material wealth can replace deep human connection it seems. Healthy relationships and bonds along with meaning and purpose make life bearable according to all the science. They make us want to be present in our lives.

The Side Effects of Fragmentation and Dislocation

The inherent side effects of touring need to be further analyzed with a closer focus on the individuals’ experiences. In the studies mentioned we see what a life of “scattered communities” and “dislocation” can do. They can expose us to a higher risk of feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. For some addiction can enhance identity and self-esteem by symbolically linking their misery with the fantasy of a more interesting life. The fragmentation of our reality in this way is ultimately unsustainable. Supported more definitively by the numerous famous people who’s lives have been cut short by such a lifestyle.

“…Moreover, when people’s addictions last too long or become too overwhelming, their adaptive functions go awry. Health consequences of severe addictions further burden and fragment the addicted persons’ families, communities, and societies. In all these ways, addiction perpetuates social fragmentation, and the cycle roles on through the generations.
Addiction is not only a downstream response to societal fragmentation but also ultimately an upstream cause of it. With each new turn of the cycle the flood of addiction rises to new heights and the costs to society increase.” -Bruce Alexander

Prolonged, radical dislocation extracts a high price because it ultimately generates misery in the form of anxiety, depression, disorientation, hopelessness, and resentful behavior. Such a lifestyle creates a failure to satisfy the innate social needs of all involved. This echos the increasingly fragmented world we exist in. One could argue that addiction is built into the touring culture and structure itself historically.

 

The road to recovery[resilience]: A plan for tour life.

Self-care is important to a sustained better quality of life

Practice mindfulness – Learn ways to be in the present moment like meditation, yoga, exercise.

Notice signs – Like prolonged irritability, fatigue, short temper, constant high-risk behaviors, withdrawing from socialization.

Seek help  – From doctors, psychologists, specialized councilors, groups, friends, relatives or mentors.

Explore why you may be vulnerable to a particular addiction.

Understanding the pitfalls of the nature of touring can help with avoiding them.

Learn to create better habits

Participate in exercise programs- find classes in town or online for your days off, Use the hotel gyms, pools and spas.

Create routines – that can be maintained at home as well as on the road, make them adaptable.

Practice better eating and sleep techniques. 

Seek to develop skills and routines for your well-being and continued successes in the industry.

Look out for each other, Don’t be ignorant to the potential of quiet suffering of those around you on tour.

Be an advocate for change – Strive to change the overall culture of what is acceptable in a professional atmosphere.

Learn to be compassionate – Be a better listener if you want to help others.

Be a part of building communities in the industry and in the cities you live in to help combat dislocation and isolation for touring people.

 

A Call to Action and Responsibility: A better response to a crisis.

Study after study shows that for an organization to thrive you need to put people first. Full consideration should be given to the quality of life for those on the road. It should be the top priority in any touring budget. Not the first thing cut, as is often the case. More lights, gear, video or production elements should not be prioritized over basic fundamental human needs.

When a tour claims it “can’t afford” all reasonable needs of the crew. That tour can’t afford its crew!

In a ‘high risk’ industry where even the artists are vulnerable to the “cage” of “dislocation,” ZERO accountability is blatantly irresponsible. There should be an intensive responsibility on tour to help people manage stress, maintain their health, and have access to capable, informed human resources. This is vital not just for the artists but for their CREWS as well. It is the crew who usually can’t afford to take a much-needed break. It is the crew who typically are not provided health insurance. It is the crew who often lack the support and resources that can lead them to the therapy or treatment they may desperately need.

To indeed have a thriving touring industry, there needs to be a focus on the quality of life, robust connections, and human resources. These solutions should become standard for being on the road.

“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”

Johann Hari 

Help support Our Community by looking fresh

 Every sale of our “Flag” design merch donates $5 to touring based charities in hopes of doing our continued part in supporting the mental and physical health of our music touring community.

Help support Our Community by looking fresh

 every sale of our “Flag” design merch donates $5 to touring based charities in hopes of doing our continued part in supporting the mental and physical health of our music touring community.

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