'Dependency syndrome' is all around us


Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Gambling. Gaming. Working. Eating. Buying. Stealing. Anything we do is a potential addiction. Pain is as addictive as pleasure, hunger no less than satiety. In Japan, says Shukan Josei (Jan 28), 20 million people, one-sixth the population, are actually or potentially dangerously “dependent” on something – a thing, a pursuit, a state of mind.

 Dependency itself, says psychiatrist Toshihiko Matsumoto, is not necessarily bad. We depend on food, clothing, shelter and air. If a thing gives us pleasure – sex, a drink, a cup of coffee – its temporary absence may cause us more frustration than our reason tells us it’s worth. That’s nothing. Where it becomes a problem is when, in Matsumoto’s words, it “hijacks the brain” – makes normal life impossible. Then we may be in trouble.

When it leads to crime, we’re in even more trouble. Then the question arises: to punish or to treat? Japan lags some distance behind the West in evolving away from punishment towards more clinical solutions. Slowly but surely, however, it’s getting there, Shukan Josei finds – too late, unfortunately, for some people.

 “Sakura” (a pseudonym) has spent 22 of her 57 years in prison. She’s there now. The reader’s first thought is that she must have done terrible things. Beyond question she is a chronic offender. Her crime? Compulsive shoplifting – kleptomania. It’s more common than most people know. The Justice Ministry counts 48,800 convicted criminals aged 65 and over. Seventy percent of them are thieves, 90 percent of the thieves women. That’s just a partial total. The number of younger thieves is not given.

Sakura began young. Her father had committed suicide, her mother lived on welfare. Stealing was all the poor girl knew. She stole, was caught, stole again, was caught again. The third time she was classified as a “habitual offender” and imprisoned. Released, she stole again. Her second jail term was longer, her third longer still. She’s now serving her eighth imprisonment. Some public agency or private NPO should have taken hold – and care – of her at some point, but she is one of more than a few who seem to slip through the cracks in the nation’s far-from-airtight social safety network.

The harsh online reaction to the arrests on drug charges last November of three show business personalities, most famously actress Erika Sawajiri, was that it basically served them right. Addicts are “weak-willed,” “spiritless.” It’s not that simple, Shukan Josei shows.

 There’s a lot of pain gnawing beneath Japan’s business-as-usual surface. Some people are dealt very bad hands at birth. Others take a wrong turn somewhere, or something happens to them, or they do something to themselves unmindful of future costs. There is “Reiko,” for instance – a 40-year-old woman whose soft feminine charm the magazine’s reporter finds hard to reconcile with addiction, but her addictions are multiple: alcohol, pachinko, sex, even hunger.

She grew up in a home with a father weighed down by debt. He was a loving family man, however, and did his best. He loved his daughter. She loved him. She was 13 when her parents separated. The light went out of her life. Life with a single mother was rough. It was worse when the mother remarried: “I felt betrayed.” She graduated from junior college and got a job in a medical office. She sought love on the streets, but found only sex. She dieted to slim down to please – and discovered hunger pangs as a kind of stimulant.

Eager to settle down, she married a man old enough to be her father. He was a drug addict who promised to quit. When she reminded him of his promise, he beat her. She fled, finding solace in pachinko. She won, got hooked; lost, got more hooked, drank to forget – and was lucky: someone steered her to a group therapy clinic before her life’s savings ran out altogether. It’s doing her good. The struggle goes on. “The sadness deep inside me isn’t gone,” she says, “but I’m learning to live with it.”

© Japan Today

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

If it gets that bad I would suggest trying religion.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

This 'Dependency Syndrome' is not something new. It's been around since the beginning of time.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It seems most of these stories have one thing in common: perpetual lack of financial security from childhood onward.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

IMO, dependency is not a strictly Japanese phenomenon. Plenty of people in The States are more dependent on one thing or another than is healthy for them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

If it gets that bad I would suggest trying religion.

Alas, religion is another dependency which can become a full on addiction which often deeply damages people and at its most extreme can trigger genocides and "holy" wars.

On the plus side, for many folks it can temper their negative tendencies and prompt good works on behalf of others while giving them a community of like-minded individuals for social, psychological and spiritual support.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Almost finished reading Dr. Gabor Maté's 'In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts' dealing with drug addicts and the homeless in Vancouver. He goes into great detail about two ends of a spectrum of expertise ... from recounting his anecdotal experience working the streets and treatment centers as a physician, to the neurochemistry and expanded meaning of addiction that corporate / consumer cultures would rather hide under the carpet, for example, although not cited in his book, it is estimated that about 30 percent of U.S corporate CEOs have dark triad personality traits (narcissism, machiavellian opportunism, and true psychopathy) ... and I would guess an even higher percentage of politicians have share those traits. Although true psychopathy has a morphological component (mostly genetic, but some trauma related), the other two dysfunctional traits could be a form of addiction similar to the craving for money or consumer goods that drives both blind ambition and the economy.

In addition, Maté makes a compelling argument that it is not lack of money in youth that correlates highly with addictive behavior .... it is the lack of unconditional love and / or traumatic experiences in childhood ... which ironically, the government has a much harder time, opportunity, and sometimes right to help with until long after the addictive behavior has begun manifesting itself in dysfunctional ways.

As pointed out by other commenters, addiction and its roots is nothing new under the sun. The lack of progress in identifying the problems and correcting it at its roots seems to indicate little progress in the civilizing forces of large scale society.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

she sounds like a bit of a hussy and is trying to pass the blame to her father, as most of these types do. a fluf piece at best

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


If it gets that bad I would suggest trying religion.

Not sure why you're getting disliked. Religion does help, especially when a person needs a... "safe haven", something to feel comfortable with.

Anyway, back to what I wanted to say:

I feel that, as modern, civilized (read: potentially suppressed emotionally) humans, with a faster-than-light lifestyle, work that, most of the times, drains what's left of us, we're bound to start obsessing and even depending on a superficial something that makes us escape reality just a bit. That can be drinking, gambling, a mobile game app, even sex. The human mind is a... "problem-solving computer", after all.

With the immediate lack of need to care about your survival (for obvious reasons), a problem of constant solving for ancient people, the brain desperately looks for something to cling on to. I think that's why, at least partially, mental illnesses such as OCD (pure O... sufferer here) started exploding in recent years/decades.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

On the subject of religion, I am of the belief that a little religion can be a good thing, but too much religion can make a problem worse. Religion can act as a salve to one's pain, but too often it causes problems to flame up worse than they were before the application of religion.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How sad these ever growing first world problems. It shows that living in an advanced country with comparatively high living standards doesn't grant immunity from depression and dependacy, but rather seems to produce more of it.

No matter how much we have materially, our inner needs for love, peace and understanding must also be met. In my opinion these are met by having strong relationships with family and community. Religion, not the self righteous 'I'm better than you' kind, but rather humble faith that serves the needs and interests of others kind, also helps a lot.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites