by Andrew Weil

I recently ran across an article that appeared in "Science" back in 1961.
The senior author was a man named Heinz von
Forster, who's an electrical engineer at MIT. The title of the article was
"Doomsday, Friday the 13th, 2026." Von Forster,
who was not a population biologist, and as a result of that the article
outraged population biologists, did an analysis of the
increase in world population and developed a new mathematical model to
account for and predict the way the population
was increasing. His conclusion was that the population curve was following
what he called "super exponential growth," that
the expansion of population was proportional to the square of the growth
rate. He was concerned with the doubling time of
the human population. In other words, the time it took for the human
population to go from small numbers to one billion was
a very, very long time. From one billion to two billion was a tiny fraction
of that time, but still long. When I was growing up,
the population of the world was two billion. From two billion to four
billion has occurred within my lifetime; it took about
thirty years. Von Forster's prediction is that from four billion to eight
billion will be about fifteen years, from eight billion to
sixteen billion around seven and a half years, and so forth. On the basis
of this, he drew a curve that described this
expansion and concluded that somewhere around the year 2026, plus or minus
five years, the population of the world would
reach infinity-that is all the mass of the earth would have been converted
to people. Therefore, the end of the world would
be by squeezing to death. Obviously, long before the population of the
world got near infinity, there would be disasters of
one sort or another -epidemics, wars, famines, or whatever.

When the article appeared in 1961 it was roundly denounced in subsequent
issues of "Science" by mathematicians and
population biologists. The theme of population biologists at that time was
that the rate of increase of population was
slowing, and therefore population biologists were putting out an optimistic
message. However, a long letter appeared in
"Science" in April of last year by a population biologist who urged readers
to remember von Forster and the doomsday
curve, and pointed out that the actual increase in world population since
1961 has not only conformed to von Forster's
prediction, but in fact is slightly ahead of it. That means that the end of
the world, or at least the end of civilization as we
know it, is really not far off. I would assume that the disasters that will
come in the wake of this population increase will
happen much before 2026. It could happen within twenty years - well within
our lifetimes.

The reasons for the global catastrophes that are coming have a lot to do
with addictive behavior. The world population
increase has a lot to do with addiction to sex, for example. The
destruction of rainforests and the pollution of oceans and
atmospheres has a lot to do with addiction to power and to money. The
subject of addiction cannot be taken out of the context
of the imminence of the end of life as we know it.

Roger Walsh has said that he thinks that addiction is the fundamental
problem. I could not agree with that more. It's
fundamental in every sense of the word. It is a deep core problem. It is at
the core of being human. It's also at the core of all
of the specific problems that we have in the world today. I can think of no
area in which it is more important to try to get
help for ourselves and for everyone.

I also feel very strongly that addiction is a universal problem. All of us
are taken up in addictive behavior. Hopefully, we
are in a process of change now where we are beginning to see the
universality of addiction. But still there is a tendency to
focus on some kinds of addictions as the ones that are serious and to
ignore others either because they are socially
acceptable or because they don't fit our conceptual model of what addiction

I watched a movie the other night that was made in 1934 in black and white.
All of the characters in the movie smoked. No
wonder that generations of Americans were fascinated by smoking!

We are living at a time when that social consensus is changing. Smoking is
becoming unfashionable. If you talk to any
smoker you will hear how irritated they are about how unfashionable it is
becoming. It's a very different situation from the
1930s. But that legacy of the 1930s and the years before conditioned our
thinking about tobacco addiction.

In World War II soldiers were issued cigarettes in their rations. There was
a tendency in the 1920s and 1930s to encourage
people to smoke in the belief that smoking facilitated concentration. You
only have to look back to the 1950s to Life
magazine to find doctors selling cigarettes. You will find full page ads of
doctors in white coats with mirrors on their heads,
holding out packages of Old Golds saying, "I recommend these to all my
patients because they're soothing to the throat."
Imagine. That was forty years ago. It was only within the past ten years
that the American Medical Association was forced to
divest itself of tobacco stock by voices of protest from its constituents.

When I was a student in Harvard Medical School between 1964 and 1968, I was
taught that tobacco was not addictive. I
was taught that it was a health problem in that it led to emphysema and
lung cancer, but there was not a word about it being
addictive. It was a psychological habit and therefore unimportant. So it
was not discussed. We didn't hear much about what
they considered real addictions, either. Basically we heard a little bit
about heroin addiction, which was the model or
prototype of addiction. Tobacco did not fit that model so it wasn't taken
seriously. Nobody paid any attention to it, and that
consensus was so strong and it so affected American science that no one
even did research to find out why that substance had
such a powerful control over people's behavior.

For years I have urged people to look at smoking for what it is. Heroin
addicts only have to get a fix once, twice, or three
times a day. Tobacco addicts have to fix up every twenty minutes. Every
twenty minutes the brain demands a discrete pulse
of a high dose of nicotine coming through the arterial system. Why didn't
anyone do research on that? Why didn't anyone look
to see how nicotine caused such a profound influence on brain physiology?
They didn't do it because it didn't fit the
conceptual model and because it was a socially acceptable addiction. Well,
there are many other socially acceptable
addictions today that we don't take very seriously. It's awfully difficult
in mainstream America to talk about sexual addiction
as a concept. We live in a culture that tells us that it is desirable to
have as many orgasms as possible all the time. When I
ask people, as part of my medical history taking, if they have any sexual
difficulties, the most common answer I get is that
they aren't getting enough. In the cultural context in which we live,
sexual addiction is invisible. Or take addiction to work or
addiction to making money. These are both things that our culture tells us
are good. So it is not seen in the same way that
addiction to an unpopular drug is seen.

I think that many of our theories of addiction and our ways of looking at
addiction are limited because they don't take into
account the full spectrum of addictive behavior. As an example, let me read
you a definition of addiction from this
conference. After talking about how addiction extends far beyond the realm
of chemical dependence, it then says, "In the
broadest sense, addiction can be defined as an attitude that sees various
aspects of the material world as exclusive sources
of satisfaction. Addiction, understood in this way, represents a prominent
feature of the entire Western civilization, which
has lost the connection with its inner resources."

That, to my mind, is far from being a broad conception of addiction. And it
surely does not involve just the Western world.
That's a very limited view. First of all, if it's the attitude that various
aspects of the material world make us feel all right,
what about sexual addiction? Is that a material addiction? I mean it may
involve physical organs and other people, but what
we're really talking about is an addiction to an inner experience. What
about addiction to thought? That's something hardly
ever discussed in the Western world. It is discussed in Buddhism. In
Buddhist psychology, addiction to thought is seen as a
serious impediment to enlightenment. That's one of the reasons you meditate
-to try and get some freedom from thought. So
you could look at universities as monuments to thought addiction where you
are rewarded for the beauty or complexity or
novelty of the thoughts that you produce. Given that social context, with
those social rewards, why would you ever even
think that thought could be addictive. And if your conception is that
addiction involves something material and external, then
that doesn't fit, so you don't pay attention to it.

I maintain that the essence of addiction is craving for an experience or
object to make yourself feel all right. It's the craving
for something other than the self, even if that's within the realm of the
mind. I also feel that addiction is something that's
fundamentally human; it affects everybody.

It's very easy to feel special about our addictions. That's an attitude
that I run into a lot. One of the things that in the past has
put me off about some of the twelve step programs is that they tend to
regard certain addictions as more important than
others, that alcohol addiction is somehow fundamentally worse, more
difficult, than coffee addiction. I love to talk about
coffee addiction. My new book has an entire section on coffee addiction. To
me, that's the most interesting drug at the
moment, because it's a hidden addiction in our culture. So I don't agree
that alcoholism is somehow more important than
coffee addiction. On the level that I'm talking about, on the level that we
have to look at addiction, it is the same thing. It's the
same process. It's the same craving for something apart from yourself to
make you feel okay. What I'm most interested in is
that process. What is the origin of craving? And what is the solution to
the craving?

I had a patient come to me about four or five years ago who was shooting
five to six grams of cocaine a day intravenously. I
had never encountered cocaine use on that scale. She had been doing that
for six months and had gotten into it after several
years of snorting vast amounts of cocaine. When she moved in with a man who
was dealing cocaine, he introduced her to
using it intravenously and her usage quickly escalated. Remarkably, given
the nature of that drug and the nature of her usage,
she was in good health. She actually held a job. She was a single mother,
and at the moment she was doing a fantastic
juggling act of keeping her life together despite her drug usage. I didn't
know how much longer she would be able to do that.

I learned a number of things just in listening to her talk about her
addiction. First of all, in describing the experience that she
had from using cocaine in this way, she said that the first few minutes
after the first injection of the day, she felt an
overwhelming pleasure and rush. But that was it for pleasure. The rest of
the time - five or six hours - was filled with
paranoia, violent shaking, insomnia, and palpitations. I find this
interesting because many people think that people get
involved with addictions because they're sources of pleasure, but when you
look at people caught up in extreme forms of
addiction, especially with substances and food, the percentage of pleasure
relative to the percentage of distress is minimal.
There's not that much pleasure there, so the pleasure is certainly not the
thing that keeps the addiction going. So after going
on very articulately about how awful her life had become being a slave to
this compulsion, she looked off and said
something that was just a beautiful expression of the plight of the addict.
She said, "I want not to want it."

If you want not to want things, how do you achieve that? What is this
problem of craving? Where does it come from? What is
the origin?

It seems to me that the Eastern spiritual philosophies, especially
Buddhism, have the most to say on the subject. The first
noble truth of Buddha is that life is somehow incomplete and unfulfilled,
so that in anything you do there is something
missing. There's a sense that there should be more and it's not supplied by
the things of this world and the things of life. It's
often translated as life is suffering - and I suppose there is certainly a
suffering that comes out of that - but suffering is very
easily misunderstood by speakers of English. That's not the sense of it;
it's that life is incomplete; it's unfulfilled. The second
noble truth is that the cause of this incompleteness is craving and
attachment. But the Buddha has nothing to say about where
craving comes from. That's the question that has always interested me. Why
do we crave? Why does everyone crave? Why
aren't we content to just be as we are? If, in fact, our core essence of
being is pure self-luminous consciousness, why do we
have to go outside of that? That's not an easy question to answer.

The prevailing view in psychiatry and medicine and science today is that
consciousness is an epiphenomenon that happens to
arise out of the chance circuitry of the brain or biochemical interactions
in the brain. In other words, consciousness is
incidental. It's a product of matter arranged in certain ways. There is,
however, a minority opinion - call it the mystical view
- that consciousness precedes matter. In other words, consciousness is
what's primary, and consciousness initiated the
evolution of energy and matter into more and more complex forms, seemingly
with the purpose of knowing itself better. At
the moment, human consciousness is the form where that process has reached
its highest expression. But why does
consciousness need to know itself in this roundabout way? Why can't it just
sit in its own being's awareness of bliss and
self-knowledge? The whole paradox of existence is tied up with that question.

The most frustrating and interesting aspect of quantum physics and the
quantum view of reality is the paradoxes that are
revealed by it. If you push knowledge inquiry in any direction, you run
into the limit of paradox. And the essence of paradox
is self reference. The reason you get into paradox is because you're trying
somehow to refer to the thing that you're part of.
So the old view that we are passive observers of a mechanistic universe
doesn't work anymore. We're connected; we're part
of the universe that is trying to understand itself. So you get into that
endless loop of paradox like a dog chasing its tail. And
all of that was initiated by consciousness attempting to know itself and in
the process initiating a cycle of manifested
existence. So the big bang was not the initiating event. The big bang was
an effect of what I'd call the little itch.

What is that little itch? What is it that disturbed consciousness that led
to all this? It was the primal craving. To me, if you try
to trace the root of craving, you literally get tied up with the origins of
the universe and the evolution of human
consciousness. It's that fundamental. It's that much a part of our
humanness. Not only is addiction universal not only are all of
us in it but it's the essence of our being as humans. It's not something to
be disowned. You can't do that, because addiction is
part of our core being. It's part of who we are. Given that, what can we do
about addictive behavior? I can think of only two
things to do about it. The first is to try to move it, to try and shift it
so that the forms of its expression are less harmful rather
than more harmful. lt is better to be addicted to a twelve-step program
than to be addicted to alcohol. It is better to be
addicted to exercise than it is to be ad- dicted to smoking. You can make
those value judgments about addictive behavior.
And that approach to addiction should not be discounted because, in fact,
maybe that's the only thing that most of us can do.

The only other strategy is to try and get at the root of craving. The
Oriental religions would have us believe that this is
possible through intense introspection and meditation and practice. I'm not
so sure of that. I think maybe you can go a long
way - you can get way down there - but if the origin of craving is indeed
tied up with the origin of the universe, then I'm not
so sure that it can be uprooted. I think all you can do is do the best you
can. I mean, go after it; try and contain it and
understand it. The biggest mistake we can make is trying to disown it.

I don't think addiction is curable until the expansion of the universe
reverses and we begin going back to a single point. But
that should not be a source of despair. That's part of who we are. What we
need to do is to accept that aspect of our
humanness and work with it so that it's not destructive to ourselves or to
other people. We also need to celebrate it for what
it is. Because it connects us with all other people, it's a source of great
compassion and great empathy. It's a motivation to
work with others to try to halt the kinds of destructive behavior that are
happening today. I can think of nothing more
important than that.

So don't let your perspective about addiction be limited by one group's
definition of it. It is the broadest and most important
problem we face. It's something that all of us share, and it's what
connects us to everybody and to the higher power. That's
how it is.

Andrew Weil is a botanist, physician, and author. He is an expert on
alternative medicine and an advocate of
multidisciplinary health care and preventive education. Dr. Weil holds an
M.D. from Harvard Medical School and is
associate director of the Division of Social Perspectives in Medicine at
the University of Arizona College of Medicine. He
is the author of five books about consciousness, drugs, and health and
healing: The Natural Mind: A New Way of Looking at
Drugs and Higher Consciousness; The Marriage of the Sun and Moon: A Quest
for Unity in Consciousness; From Chocolate
to Morphine: Understanding Mind Active Drugs; Health and Healing:
Understanding Conventional and Alternative
Medicine;and, Natural Health, Natural Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide to
Wellness and Self Care. The preceding is an
edited version of a talk Dr.Weil gave at the International Transpersonal
Conference in Eugene, Oregon.