Why QAnon followers are like opioid addicts, and why it matters
A few years ago, QAnon had an obscure internet network organized around a baseless conspiracy theory. It is now ubiquitous, with regular and disturbing news reminding us of its reach.
One way to understand the incomprehensible is to recognize the parallels between QAnon and addictive drugs like opioids.
Last week we learned of the existence of a QAnon Data Leak connections to Colorado voting machines. The week before, people across the country struggled to understand a gruesome homicide allegedly committed by a father who officials said told the FBI he killed his two young children because he believed that they had inherited DNA from their lizard mother that would turn them into monsters. Last spring, a mother admitted killing her three children, saying she wanted to prevent them from becoming victims of a sadistic pedophile cabal whose existence is widely accepted among QAnon adherents.
Why would such wacky conspiracy theories have a hold over these parents and others across the country? One way to understand the incomprehensible is to recognize the parallels between QAnon and addictive drugs like opioids – which are also manipulated by malicious actors to trap vulnerable people into increasingly unhealthy spirals that ultimately result in the destruction of families and even death. Recognizing these similarities is useful both in accurately diagnosing the QAnon phenomenon and in trying to treat it.
For starters, QAnon, like the painkiller abuse epidemic brought on by the drug oxycodone, engulfs those most vulnerable to its contents. A overwhelming proportion of QAnon subscribers arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 uprising, for example, suffer from mental health issues including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to one University of Maryland Analysis. If you think the world is here for you, you’re probably more likely to embrace the QAnon stories that explain exactly How? ‘Or’ What the world is there for you.
Their psychological pain can make these people particularly vulnerable to the content of QAnon, which often evokes fears, anxieties and anger. People who worry about contamination, for example, are probably more susceptible to lies about the Covid-19 vaccine carrying a contaminant agent who makes their children homosexual or transgender.
It’s also likely that prolonged exposure to QAnon’s content will exacerbate or even trigger mental illness, as watching video after video of gruesome devastation can have a negative impact. detrimental effect on anyone’s mental health. This then increases the appeal of remedies prescribed by QAnon, such as refusing Covid vaccines, protesting mask warrants, or even storming the Capitol in Washington. Of course, most people with mental health issues don’t believe in QAnon conspiracy theories, just like a significant proportion of QAnon followers are not mentally ill.
In addition, the internet platforms through which most QAnon subscribers consume content are deliberately structured to maintain user engagement and fostering a kind of addiction. In fact, these online QAnon experiments seem to engage the same brain structures responsible for addiction, because solving the “puzzles” revealed by conspiracy theories can prompt dopamine shots for fun.
After the start of consumer platforms many followers of QAnon, other even more addictive platforms have filled the void. These channels are echo chambers, so that addicted people only see information that confirms what they already believe, dragging them deeper into the proverbial hole of conspiracy theories.
Basically, just like the drug hits, QAnon offers a quick “fix” for the feelings of loneliness, fear and anger that those in pain want to alleviate. People who search for online communities often do so because they feel isolated and lonely. It is not surprising that The number of QAnon subscribers has grown tremendously during Covid-19 lockdowns, when people limited themselves to socializing online, and QAnon chat rooms in particular offered a chance to express their frustration and outrage. Yet research shows that the more time people spend on social media, the more more isolated and alone they feel, repeating an endless loop of trying – and failing – to meet social needs.
Because, like an addictive drug, QAnon content does not actually suppress the underlying pain, higher “highs” are needed to distract from the root causes of despair. Consumers of QAnon content thus crave new and exciting plots, such as the prophesied return of former President Donald Trump to the White House.
QAnon shares one final parallel with addictive drugs: There is a small but powerful group of individuals who benefit financially and politically from the amplification, dissemination and legitimization of QAnon’s conspiracy theories. In the case of drugs, there are also powerful groups with special interests – the big pharmaceutical companies that have chaired a overwhelming opioid epidemic among some of the same communities addicted to QAnon now and the dealers pushing illicit drugs on the streets.
It’s crucial that we reduce the damage from QAnon before it reaches the staggering proportions of the opioid crisis, and to do that, we need a variety of tools to attack the infodemic. These include increased transparency and accountability of social media platforms, access to mental health assessment and treatment for vulnerable people, as well as critical thinking and advocacy. media education in our schools.
While it’s easy to see QAnon followers as crazy or evil, the example of the opioid epidemic offers a broader perspective that indicates that pain, vulnerability, and helplessness are part of what makes them feel. brought to their way of thinking. The best approach to helping people get out of QAnon is to do so with kindness and empathy. As with opioid users, QAnon followers suffer and in some ways may feel helpless in the face of their addiction.