Understanding Addiction: Zach Rhoads

ZachRhoadsBURLINGTON- For most, seeing the term addiction in media headlines has become a common occurrence. We know it exists and we know many are struggling. Yet despite our efforts to combat this "crisis", do we truly understand the meaning of addiction itself? In Human Behavior Specialist, Zach Rhoads' opinion, we don't. At least not to the full extent that we potentially could.

"Addiction I think is a really useful concept. I think it's a misused concept. And I think to make it meaningful you have to get rid of the idea that you can only be addicted to drugs. Addictions I think are experiences that someone has with a thing, or an involvement, or a person that provides rewards to the extent though that there are also negative kick-backs," he said.

According to Rhoads, there's a dichotomy in the way society addresses drug-use, and he believes it to stem from the Nixon era of the War on Drugs. In essence, society tends to believe one of two things when it comes to addiction. One being that those addicted to drugs have a disease. Or two, that there's something wrong with them morally speaking.

On the one hand, he credits the disease model for saving peoples' reputations. "They call it a chronic relapsing brain disease. Which is nice in a way because it says if you do drugs, there's something about the chemistry of your brain- or biology, that is making it that you have a sickness rather than a fail of morality," he said. Proceeding to note that on the other hand, the disease model has the disadvantage of being false.

In Rhoads' opinion, addiction is neither a disease nor a lack of character. According to him, it's when you have rewards with net-negative consequences, and despise those negative consequences you continue to pursue the reward. "Your ability to generate positive experiences in some area of your life becomes detracting more and more, but your need and desire to do this one thing, with your one tool, with the one way you know how to get this experience- you become hyper focused on that," he said.

Rhoads' outlook on addiction comes from a culmination of personal experiences as well as extensive research. In the past, he too has struggled with substance abuse, and says he knew it became an addiction when he noticed a prominent shift in his values and priorities. Academically speaking, he's recently finished writing a book, Outgrowing Addiction, in partnership with Psychologist, Stanton Peele. And he also hosts a podcast series called The Social Exchange, in which he talks with mental-health and addiction experts about the topic.

Moving forward, Rhoads hopes to educate others with honesty about drug-use. "One of the ways to prevent addiction is be honest about the fact that drugs exist and alcohol exists. Be honest about the fact that in America, with our temperance culture- saying say no to drugs and say no to alcohol, you can ask yourself, 'How are we doing with that?' And the answer is quite obvious, very poorly. Because we have people dying in frat parties, we drink less than a lot of other cultures, but we have the highest rate of fatalities and binge-drinkers than a lot of other cultures in young years."

Rhoads feels that society has a long way to go before conceptualizing addiction accurately, but is thankful for Vermont's progressive mindset.

His book, Outgrowing Addiction, will be available in May of next year.

Pt. 2 Understanding Addiction: William Liberatore

Pt. 3 Understanding Addiction: Cynthia Boyd

Pt. 4 Understanding Addiction: Mike Lucier

Pt. 5. Understanding Addiction: Tennyson Marceau