Diehl's 'Wasted' book is personal

Addiction. The term is often aligned with waste. Dr. Heath Diehl, a lecturer in English and Honors, takes that wasted metaphor to task in his first published book, “Wasted: Performing Addiction in America.

As a self-described addict, having smoked for 12 years, Diehl is fascinated with the rhetoric associated with addiction: “Addicts are a waste. Addicts are thrown away in jail. And ‘wasted’ often is used to describe the life of a person impacted by alcohol or drugs,” he said.

And yet, people with addictions are not defined simply by their “habits,” Diehl said.

Though the idea to write about addiction in today’s culture had been in the back of his mind for a long time, the 2011 and 2012 deaths of Amy Winehouse and Whitney Houston propelled the idea to book status for Diehl.

The Chillicothe, Ohio, native grew up a fan of Houston. He remembers seeing her perform “Saving All My Love for You” during a children’s show when he was 8 years old, and being immediately struck by the beauty of her voice and the meaning of her music.

“Even then I was aware that she was a talented, high-achieving woman of color.”

Since her death, Diehl said, he spent three years researching and one year thinking about where the misinformation about addiction comes from in American culture.

The purpose of the book and his research are to understand the “wasted” metaphor and where it comes from, along with the effects of this mindset.

He admits that Houston’s story is the “alpha and the omega of the book,” yet he uses a multitude of other resources to substantiate his ideas. He analyzes novels and films, scholarly and medical models of addiction, reality television, and public health and anti-addiction campaigns to analyze the popular culture and social perceptions of addiction. According to the book’s preface, “Wasted” is  “squarely rooted within the discipline of performance studies, rather than cultural studies.”

“I am deeply invested in understanding addiction through an interdisciplinary lens … I see addiction as a complex cultural production that exists at the intersections of myriad social institutions, power relations, historical forces, and discursive formations,” Diehl said.

He wants readers to realize “how terribly misinformed we are about addictions or how we misrepresent them.” And he hopes others who have struggled with addiction can read some or all of the book and find meaning in their lives.

 “For me, this book felt like I was coming home.”

The book, published by a United Kingdom-based independent press dedicated to publishing academic research in the social sciences and humanities, is available on the publisher’s website.