UBI and alcoholism (or other substance addictions): exploring the argument against UBI

During discussions on UBI I have participated in, some sceptics have raised the concerns that guaranteeing income in monetary allowance will contribute to increasing addictions such as alcoholism in society. I agree that there is some true to this argument. Certainly, if the entire system of accompanying people with addictions will not change, we can expect that this problem will persist or even aggreviate. Therefore, a broader vision and a movement needs to stand behind the UBI. Guaranteeing an income should be just a beginning of and the consequence of a cultural and social change.

In what way UBI could habe an impact on alcoholism or other substance addiction?

The argument whether the poor would use the UBI allowance for drugs and alcohol has been already discussed in Gaura Rader’s blog post ( http://gaurarader.com/2014/06/27/would-the-poor-use-a-basic-income-on-drugs-and-alcohol/ ). While there is no reason to believe that people who do not have an addiction problem would start to have one once given money, there are reasons to see such consequences for alcoholics. A Polish public intellectual and lawyer who recovered from alcoholism, Wiktor Osiatynski, describes the process of healing from alcoholism. [1] In the recovery, the important turning point is the moment when an alcoholic feels the consequences of excessive drinking. Current system, with all its consequences for the lack of discipline, helps to arrive at this stage. Receiving financial aid or goods and services for free could actually contribute to maintaining alcoholic’s way of living or even increase drinking.

Is the economic pressure of the current system the reason to drink?

One cannot blame the economic conditions. This illness reveals to be much more complex. Wiktor Osiatynski describes alcoholism as a result of problems with emotional maturity and certain way of thinking. Alcoholics often have problems in inter-personal relations. Some contradiction in their life is also common. One cannot consider the economic pressure as a reason for alcoholism. However, alcoholics may blame the external conditions for their drinking compulsion. They tend to build an entire reasoning to maintain their denial. So in the mind of an alcoholic, the system indeed may appear as the reason to drink. Introducing more economic security will not automatically decrease the accurance of alcoholism. On the other hand, disciplining people to work may cause some difficulties for the addicts but many still would find ways to pursue their addictions despite the economic pressure. Icelandic expert, Stefan Johannsson, states that alcoholism’s prevention should start at the age of 2-4 years. [2] This shows that to prevent addictions from developing, the entire system of early child care would need to change, with or without an unconditional basic income.

In what (indirect) way the unconditional basic income can help in alleviating alcoholism?

A UBI may indirectly contribute to the alleviation of addictions. Literature on the topic shows that human relations are an important factor in the recovery. So being able to engage in more such relations in a society that is less stressed and pre-occupied by unnecessary jobs (Graeber’s bullshit jobs), could indirectly be beneficient for people with addictions or prevent them. Parents could limit their working time to focus on their children. The Dauphin experiment in Manitoba in the 1970’s revealed that UBI induced mothers to stay longer with their new borns at home. [3] Having a basic income, more people could engage in volunteering within therapeutic groups or youth centers. However, such programs can be put in place already now. For example, Johann Hari, pointing to the role of relationships in the recovery from drug addiction, refers to a program implemented in Portugal, which was focused on material and psychological aid. [4]

One of the UBI movement’s objectives could be to further study and elaborate on the psychological benefits of material security. UBI proposal should be seen as a broader vision of the way the freed time could be spent on social gatherings and community building. See, for example, the argument by Susan Pinker on the importance of social bonds for health. [5] On the other hand, the movement can already contribute to community building to enact an alternative lifestyle that would promote a different vision of society and economy. The monetary transfer on its own can either bring more isolation or be an opportunity to develop a different society. Much depends on the movement behind it.
[1] He is the author of many publications on this topic. I refer in this text to his book: Alkoholizm. I grzech, i choroba, i…, Published by Iskry 2009, ISBN 978-83-244-0041-6
[2] Rozmowa ze Stefanem Johannssonem, O asertywnosci, otwartym AA, prewencji i innych sprawach. ArkA, 1999, nr. 30. In Wiktor Osiatynski, Drogowskazy. Warsaw: Iskry, 2013, pp. 27-42.
[3] Roderick Benns interviewed Toni Pickard, Basic income guarantee and healthy minimum wage go hand in hand, says retired professor, July 3, 2015, http://leadersandlegacies.com/2015/07/03/basic-income-guarantee-and-healthy-minimum-wage-go-hand-in-hand-says-retired-professor/
[4] Johann Hari, The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johann-hari/the-real-cause-of-addicti_b_6506936.html
[5] Susan Pinker, The Village Effect: Why Face-to-Face Contact Matters, Atlantic Books, 2015.

About the author

Katarzyna Gajewska, PhD, is an independent writer among other occupations. She has also published other articles related to unconditional basic income:

Katarzyna Gajewska, “Universal basic income, power relations, and housing problems: the proposal of
a complementary land access,” Basic Income UK, 16 May 2014. http://basicincome.org.uk/2014/05/housing-power-land/

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “Technological Unemployment but Still a Lot of Work: Towards Prosumerist Services of General Interest,” Journal of Evolution and Technology, http://jetpress.org/v24/gajewski.htm

Gajewska, Katarzyna, “How Basic Income Will Transform Active Citizenship? A Scenario of Political Participation beyond Delegation,” Paper for 15th International Congress of the Basic Income Earth Network, June 27th to 29th, 2014, Montreal, Quebec, http://biencanada.ca/congress/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/BIEN2014_Gajewska.pdf

For updates on her publications, you can check the Facebook page :


or to receive updates on publications by e-mail write at the address: k.gajewska_comm AT zoho.com .

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