Jordan Peterson, Addiction, and the Cult of Personal Responsibility

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Remember Jordan Peterson? He’s the Canadian author who uses pseudoscience to trick men into giving him money in return for him telling them all their problems are their own fault and that they should clean their rooms. You know actually when I put it that way he doesn’t sound so bad.

He also thinks that “enforced monogamy” will fix society, that your gender identity should be up to him, and that all-meat diets will cure depression, as I talked about in this video last year. Yeah, he’s pretty bad actually.

The latest news, though, is that his love of pseudoscience may have taken him out of the “public intellectual” game, much like when one of those all-natural homeopath gurus dies of cancer that could have been treated with chemo. He’s not dead, but…well, yikes.

Peterson has fairly recently gone public with his problems with addiction. He was hooked on benzos, which, if you’re not familiar, is one of the worst fucking things to get addicted to because coming off of them can be horrific. You might be familiar with the brand name Xanax: that’s a benzo. Full disclosure, I have a prescription for it because of my anxiety, but my doctor made it very clear that I’m only to take them in an emergency, and if I run out I need to go back to see her personally. I think I’ve had one in the past three years because I get anxiety thinking of getting addicted to my anti-anxiety pills. Smoking weed occasionally is a much nicer alternative. But unlike me, with my clean room and personal responsibility, Peterson didn’t follow his doctor’s prescription, he got addicted, and then he tried to stop cold turkey, which is the worst possible decision he could make.

I didn’t mention it when this was all first revealed late last year because I’m not here to kick a guy when he’s down. Addiction fucking sucks. Yeah, sure, Peterson was out there touting the idea that it’s all just personal responsibility and making better choices, but he’s wrong, so of course he’s as vulnerable as the next person. Rehab is tough, and it takes a lot of hard work and introspection and pain to beat an addiction, or keep it in check. And hell, maybe that experience of developing an addiction and seeking outside help for it would give him a little empathy.

Well that didn’t happen. Instead, Peterson left rehab and flew to Russia, which was apparently the closest place he could go where he could pay money to do what’s known as a rapid detox.

Rapid detox is detox without, like, the work. You know that Amy Schumer skit that she lifted from Kathleen Madigan about an exercise program where you sleep through it? That’s rapid detox. It’s pretty much the polar opposite of everything Jordan Peterson has ever said about personal responsibility and treating addiction through measured, gradual adjustments. Why spend time wondering why you got addicted to benzos when instead, you can insist that it’s just a “physical addiction” and not a “psychological addiction,” fly to Russia, get put into a coma, and sleep right through your detox?

That’s basically how it works: doctors put the addict under anesthesia and then flood their brain with a drug blocker that forces the body to start detoxing. Detoxing from benzos can, like alcohol withdrawal, be incredibly dangerous due to seizures and other side effects, so it needs to be done in a controlled environment with trained medical personnel, and there really isn’t an “easy” way to do it, despite the claims of rapid detox centers. Studies show that rapid detox is both incredibly dangerous and ineffective at keeping the patient in treatment and not relapsing, which you’d think Peterson would know considering the fact that he’s a behavioral psychologist. In 2010 a Cochrane review of nine studies involving 1100 subjects found that they could not recommend this treatment due to how dangerous — literally life-threatening — it is, especially when done with “heavy” sedation like what Peterson did.

Unfortunately, facts have never trumped feelings for Peterson, so he tried to take what he surely saw as the easy way out. Sure enough, he got pneumonia, spent eight days in a coma, another month in the ICU, gave himself brain damage, and now can’t walk or type well, but the good news is that he did, after several weeks, regain his ability to speak.

His daughter explained all of that in a video in which she says Peterson “almost died from what the medical system did to him in the West,” which you gotta love. Not following a doctor’s orders, trying to go cold turkey off a benzo, and then flying to some shithole in Russia where things like “science” and “pesky ethical guidelines” have no place — none of that almost killed him. It was definitely what the medical system did to him. In the West.

Reading that was the point where I threw my hands in the air and said, “Fuck it, I’m making a video about these hypocritical pieces of garbage.” Because their fans are going to eat this all up. Those true fans will never see the irony in an addict blaming his doctor for letting him abuse his prescription, or blaming Canada’s free (single payer) healthcare system for not detoxing him in a sufficiently easy or fast manner.

Is it Jordan Peterson’s fault he got addicted to benzos? Yeah! Is it also his doctor’s fault for prescribing them in the first place without better oversight? Maybe! Do we have serious systemic problems in the US and Canada with preventing and treating addiction with science-based and compassionate methods? Absolutely! Will any of this alter the Petersons’ thinking when it comes to their mantra of personal responsibility? I’m skeptical.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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One Comment

  1. Addiction is the best refutation of all the Free Will posturing of Libertarian assholes. Ayn Rand’s denial, while chainsmoking herself to death, after watching her husband drink himself to death, and living on speed for decades, ought to put this bullshit to bed for good.
    Mikhaila’s declaration that there was no ‘psychological’ element in Peterson’s drug history is all of a piece. Tolerance, adaptation, and the unpleasantness of withdrawal, do not explain real addiction. Why would anyone relapse, once they were effectively ‘cleaned up,’ unless there were non-chemical factors involved?

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