Peg O’Connor is a professor of Philosophy, who has been teaching for 22 years, with training in moral and feminist philosophy. Her earlier work studied the relationship between oppression, privilege, responsibility, and resistance. She is also a recovering alcoholic, and uses philosophy in her own recovery. Peg enjoys spending time with her dog, Clooney, utilizing her black belt in Taekwondo, and volunteering for a dog rescue organization that restores her faith in humanity.
Your bio on Psychology Today states that you’re an alcoholic and philosophy helps you maintain sobriety. How so?
“I am a philosopher who uses philosophy to help make sense and meaning of the experiences of addiction and recovery. Addicts tend to be some of the most philosophical people whom I have met, whether they have actually ever studied it or not. Philosophy has always grappled with meaning of life questions along with questions about moral character, self-knowledge, freedom, and responsibility. As a young person struggling with addiction, I came to recognize that I was not the person I wanted to be. Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher, argued that each of us become who we are by what we do. If I wanted to be a different person, I needed to act differently.”
How has alcoholism influenced your life and career?
“I think my alcoholism has made a better person in the sense of being more compassionate toward others and grateful for what I have in the world. I realize that I could decide to act very differently and risk losing so much of what I hold dear in my life. I also think my alcoholism has made a better teacher for college students. I was a raging alcoholic in college, and I see some of the same in students.”
What is your view on the Millennial generation and use of alcohol/drugs?
“I honestly am a little frightened by the fact that so many millennials operate with the assumption that marijuana is harmless and not addictive. It can be quite harmful and is addictive. Also, I see more students mixing alcohol and marijuana while on some pretty serious drugs for anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Millennials are in many ways stressed and alcohol and drugs seem an easy escape route for some.”
In your article Why Are Senior Citizens Using More Illicit Drugs?, you explained that the Baby Boomers are one cause for the increase in drug use. Why do you think more elderly people are using illicit drugs?
“Seniors are stressed in some related ways to millenials. Financial insecurity and worry about their children and grandchildren are major stressors. I think too, that the pain medications are particularly dangerous for seniors. They can do everything right and take as prescribed and still get addicted. There’s a heavy layer of shame that may then propel misuse into abuse into addiction. Anti-anxiety medications (benzodiazepines,) and the sleep aids (sedatives,) are really powerfully addictive drugs as well. As our bodies age, we become less able to process/metabolize alcohol and drugs; addictions can develop more quickly. Geronotologists and other physicians need to be very mindful of this.”
What do you expect or hope for the future generations with regard to substance abuse and treatment?
“I hope for better preventative educational programs. There’s a lot of wisdom in the old saw that ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ Let’s stop addiction from taking root in people’s lives. There’s starting to be good evidence that if you keep teenagers busy and engaged in meaningful activities, they are less likely to be bored. A lot of young people start drinking and using because of boredom. We also need to direct efforts at more vulnerable populations of young people such as glbt folks. We also need to enlist communities. Yes, addiction is something an individual has but we’re losing large swatches of communities to addiction. For those who need treatment, we need better and more affordable treatment options. The U.S. government needs to dedicate the funds to prevention, education, and treatment options for drug addiction as opposed to doubling down on criminalization of addiction.”
In your book “Life on the Rocks: Finding Meaning in Addiction and Recovery,” what is the key philosophical question addicts must think about?”
The most basic existential dilemma is: shall I live or shall I die? If I decide to live, then the question becomes how to live. This is turn raises the issue of what it means to live well or flourish. No person can answer these questions for another, and these are questions that can’t be answered in the abstract; they must be lived.”
In your article Addiction and Self-Deception, how do addicts deceive themselves?
“There are multiple forms of self-deception and addicts (and anyone else, frankly,) can struggle with various forms of them. The best known ones are rationalization, denial, and minimization. These have gotten a lot of attention so I tend to leave them alone. I like exploring the lesser known forms of self-deception: procrastination, perfectionism, and double-think (from George Orwell.)”
If you had one word of advice for Millennials, what would it be?
“Know who you are, what you stand for, and how you want to be in the world.”