We always welcome new approaches when it comes to analyzing addictions. And sometimes the ones that initially sound the most unconventional end up making the most sense. Case in point: a recent viral article on the subject, which compares the experience to happenings within the animal kingdom.
The paper in question was written by advocate Jerome Wakefield and actually ties dependencies to behaviors stemming from a baby goose. Reading almost like a fairy tale, the story begins with a hatchling just emerging from her egg. As with all of us, its emotions are immediately tied to the first thing it sees. In this scenario, that vision (or “imprint” as Wakefield calls it) is of a dangerous fox.
After hatching from its egg, the first thing this particular goose sees is a fox walking past the nest. From that point forward, that animal is its imprint. In this example, the rest of babies missed that moment and only saw their mother as the first initial imprint.
As time plays on, the rest of the geese lead stable lives and turn to their mother for nurturing. The other goose, though, is constantly seeking out that fox and will continue to leave the nest until she finds it.
This, of course, leads into the common nurture vs. nature argument. Which means, are we born to behave a certain way or do outside circumstances factor in? Wakefield believes the goose in this story has a mental disorder stemming from its environment, but not necessarily a brain disorder.
“In this view, the fox-imprinted goose does have a mental disorder, because once imprinted on a fox, its behavior will continue to be abnormal even if the environment is perfectly normal after that,” Wakefield concludes. “Even if the fox-imprinted gosling never saw another fox, she would still fail to follow her mother (and probably starve). The fox-fixation is internal to the gosling, even though it originated in the environment. The gosling, however does not have a brain disorder. There was nothing wrong with her brain at any stage. In fact, if a newborn goose saw a fox and did not imprint on it, that would be evidence of a brain disorder. Imprinting is part of the goose brain’s function.”
Bringing it back to the dependency conversation, it is theorized that addicts are simply people who get imprinted on the wrong thing. In his final conclusion, Wakefield emphasizes that people with substance abuse issues should not blamed for their actions. As he puts it, the “mental disorder” can be internal to an addict, but the origination always occurs on the outside.