Does Amnesia end Addiction?

by the definition given by dictionary.com

a disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of genetic or developmental errors, infection, poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavorable environmental factors; illness; sickness; ailment.

Disease doesn’t seem to be a good definition. Bacteria? Poisons? maybe… maybe unfavorable genetics…

An alcoholic saying he’s got a disease is like a cigarette smoker saying he’s got a disease… Most people would laugh at that.

Look up what Addiction means and not one of the several dictionaries cited even mention the word “disease”.

Internut, not sure if you were responding to me or not… but… I’m wondering about “character” and essentially whether people who study these things say that there is something entirely separate from the sum of one’s experiences/ memories which might be defined as character. Not for the sake of argument; I’m just curious.

brujaja, IANAP, but let’s say that character is the sum of one’s experience and memories (and forget about any genetic parts of it).

The boyfriend of a friend had a motorbike accident where he lost the memories of the last six months. They were joined, not at the hip given their religious proclivities, but definitely elsewhere. They were already talking marriage and a ton of kids; they talked on the phone at least twice a day.

After the accident, he remembered my friend vaguely as “that nice cousin of my sister’s friend,” but nothing else. His upper brain functions were fine; physically he was also well after some rehab (the doctors would have been bouncing up and down the halls if that hadn’t been inappropiate behaviour for a traumatologist).

His general character was the same - in order to lose it, he would have had to lose many years, not six months. The “psychological addiction” to being with this girl was gone, though, as it had been acquired in the lost months. He still liked her, but their relationship was shattered because she wasn’t able to say “ok, start back at square one, it worked previously therefore it can work now, so long as I don’t hurry things.” I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he ended up with a very similar girl.

Wow… how tragic. How sad and tragic. Much as I despise Depeche Mode, they did a song called “Blasphemous Rumours” which does seem to apply sometimes.

I guess what I was thinking was that, if a person has total amnesia, no idea who they are or where they’ve been… what’s left? They still know how to eat, I guess; perhaps read and etc.

So, are “learned skills” and “behaviors” technically different from “memories”? Would someone still, say, be left-handed, or mispronounce “coupon”? Would they still love opera or wink at girls?

Depends. Some of the examples you give aren’t exactly learned behaviors; which is a learned behavior and which isn’t is one of the things studies with twins who’ve grown up separated try to figure out.

I’m a lefty but was trained as righty - with proper training, I might have ended up ambidexterous. If I lost my memories up to when I was 3yo and since nowadays nobody claims that “the left hand belongs to the Devil!” when you use it, I’d probably learn to work as a leftie this time around.

On the other hand (pun unintentional), my friend’s daughter with the “wooden left arm” wouldn’t ever, ever, become a leftie. Not unless she lost the right arm.

Two anecdotes, no hard facts:

A “friend” from high school (okay, I couldn’t stand him, but he was in my social circle) was a total wastoid. After high school, I lost track of him, as he became a doing every drug he could get his hands on, crashing on couches or under the train tracks type addict. Went through rehab a couple of times, but it never took. Severe and uncontested addiction, in other words.

He got hit by a car in one of his stupors, spent several weeks unconscious in the hospital and woke up with classic Soap Opera Type Amnesia. No idea who he was, who anyone in his family or “friends” were, couldn’t name the year or the president, etc. He also didn’t remember being an addict. His family decided to seize the moment, invented a new past for him in which, among other things, he had supposedly worked with teen groups preventing drug abuse ( :eek: ) and never told him the truth of his past. It’s been 10 years now, and he’s living a happy healthy normal suburban life with a 9-5 and a literal white picket fence.

Now, if he were to try heroin this weekend, would he re-addict? Possibly. Maybe even probably, I don’t know. But as long as he remains convinced that he’s not the type to ever try it, he’s a free man.
Second anecdote, for brujaja:

My grandmother was, by all reports, a most unpleasant woman. Harsh and judgmental and just an all around bitch. Then in her 40’s, she took a tumble down a long flight of stairs to the basement and she woke up a different person. She still had all her memories, but she was charming and pleasant and sweet and generous. She’s stayed that way for 40 years, and thank og, that’s the grandma I grew up with. Some of the family stories of her “before the accident” are nearly unbelievable to me, but I’ve heard them from multiple sources now and they don’t change, so I’ve just come to accept that the woman my mother has such internal struggles with is not really the woman I know as her mother. So no, I don’t think that personality or character is tied to memory at all. She has the same exact memories that she had then, she’s just a completely different person.

Damn! puts down frying pan

picks up frying pan again

[i keed, i keed. I don’t want to dent my good fry pan]

It seems to me that amnesia might actually hinder an addict’s recovery. The twelve steps can potentially call for a lot of self-examination and digging into one’s past, which someone with amnesia would be unable to do.

Very interesting question.
I am currently teaching a course in Developmental Psychology and in the section on substance abuse, it mentions that although the physical side effects of withdrawal are difficult (and in some cases, deadly - depending upon the drug), it is the psychological dependence that is most difficult to beat.

For example, you might be able to physically get off certain substance abuse, but going back to the old neighborhood, seeing your friends who did the drug(s) with you and being at the old location under familiar circumstances - and you are right back where you started from. That psychological dependence is really hard to overcome.

I would think that the loss of memory would greatly help addicts forget a lot of the circumstances that made their addiction so pleasurable, and thus easier to break the cycle of habit.

This is a very interesting question that I will now bring up in classes when we discuss this next time. Thanks!

Most people might be wrong. The American Medical Association began using the word “illness” to describe alcoholism in 1956, and termed it a “disease” in 1966, as it was felt that alcoholism met the criteria for a disease- it had a distinct pattern of symptoms, it was both an acute and a chronic condition, it was a progressive condition, it was subject to relapse, and it appeared to be treatable. That conclusion has been challenged, but I don’t think the AMA designation has changed.

But of course, YMMV and my opinion isn’t really anyone else’s business but my own.

WhyNot: Those were two amazing anecdotes. That second one is particularly fascinating to me! Wow, I wonder what exactly determines or governs one’s nature, character or disposition? I wonder if it’s established entirely apart from one’s experiences? And to what extent modified by same?

nava, I’m a lefty too. My mother tried to switch me, but gave up when she encountered heavy resistance. Heh, heh. Sinister laugh.

Wow. Talk about living in the moment. Better start keeping her away from mirrors in a few years.

For many addicts, the anticipation is a big part of the experience. While I have the worst self control and try to abuse anything I can, circumstances have always rationed my access to most drugs and my indulgent binges are few and far between. Still I think that for someone going through his ritual of cutting up blow or setting up a rig or whatever for the thousandth time, the body knows whats coming and is busy making happy Pavlovian associations with the whole thing. So while we know that the physical aspect of addiction–actually needing the stuff in your system just to baseline–won’t go away, erasing those mental associations certainly would make a difference imo. Unless the physical dependence was of the type and severity to kill, I’d guess the amnesiac would feel like absolute shit for however long and then be as well physically as they were going to get–they would certainly be spared the psychological battle. Once people are “purged,” it’s only the memories and associations with pleasure that keep them coming back, and the right (wrong?) kind of amnesia would erase those.

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Not only that, but those friends often will refuse to let you stay clean.

A cousin of mine used to have serious developmental-style problems, not anything genetic but because of the childhood he had. At one point for example, he was offered a job as a shelf-filler in a supermarket, but when they gave him a sheet of paper to fill in with his personal information he said “I don’t write” and walked away.

At one point, he got caught selling funny pills. Since it was a first offense, the judge agreed to give him a one-month sentence with a regime which had him sleeping at his Mom’s but going to prison every day, followed by six months probation. The idea was to scare the bejesus out of him and it worked.

So, he ends his time and starts the probation.

And his girlfriend refused to accept that he wasn’t going to sell drugs any more. “But why? It’s good money!” “No it’s not, it’s shit money!” He broke up with her, got his ass in gear and has been getting steadily better jobs. He’ll never be CEO of Cocacola but IMO it’s a lot better to be shift manager of a gas station than reincident in jail. His ex’s mileage, obviously, varies.
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