From The Chronicle Review:
Any addict can give you a hundred reasons why he should quit, tell you dozens of stories that would make any other person quit. But the decision to quit and “what would make you stop” are two very different things for the addict.
Here’s how Clune—now an associate professor of English at Case Western Reserve University, and “clean for over a decade”—describes one of his own attempts to kick heroin: “(a) I had made a promise to myself to quit dope, (b) it was bad for your heart to quit too abruptly, (c) my rear window was all smashed in, and (d) if I was ever going to get moving with quitting, I needed to get high right now. Right this very second.”
“Blackout” is a metaphor for the alcoholic’s relationship with alcohol; “white out,” in Clune’s memorable phrase, is the junkie’s analogous space of cognitive emptiness surrounding the question of heroin. “I sing the song because I love the man / I know that some of you don’t understand,” Neil Young sang about heroin addicts. What the nonaddict doesn’t understand, perhaps cannot ever really believe, is that a sentence like “if I was ever going to get moving with quitting, I needed to get high right now” makes sense in addict-logic.
A blackout or a white out is the brain’s way of telling the drug: You win. You’ve got the wheel. Aristotle analyzed the philosophical problem of why anyone would willingly choose an action other than the good one (first posed by Plato in Protagoras) as akrasia, and we usually translate this as “weakness of will.” But what he actually argued is that akrasia is a failure in reasoning that comes from a kind of powerlessness in the brain. Clune identifies the failure more precisely: It’s a “memory disease.”