On Addiction

Illustration by John Holcroft

The word 'Addiction' upon utterance is accompanied with an imagery like someone smoking a cigarette on an Alcohol Anonymous meeting. Even more vivid: a heroin house littered with bodies sprawled across the floor, tubes tied to arms; needles here and there. By such, a number of us can raise our hands with pride that we are certainly not addicts in any sense of the word. But then, our phones could as well be glued to our hands. We spend countless hours watching cat videos and reading endless cat listicles.

Contrary to the predominantly projected image, we are addicted not only by being " physically and mentally dependent on a substance" but also being " enthusiastically devoted to a particular thing or activity." When these habits don’t affect our overall integration with society, it is harder to notice because we are at the very least functional members of our eco-system. We only realise how dependent we are on these habits when we try to break out of them; we realise that our actions haven’t always been a matter of complete free will.  Just ask people that have battled with porn addiction or even masturbation, they swear there is a phantom hand that directs their own hands through the course of action.

As our societies develop to isolated structures, with individualism destroying older communal structures, it is only expected that we devise new habits to deal with the pain of the inevitable loneliness and boredom we will face. There is also the issue of feeling ostracised or in some other way unaccepted that push us towards all sorts of habits that eventually become addictions. 

For example, our isolation might make us desire human touch and this might manifest in courting people just for the physical affection. It progresses to a sex addiction where irritable feelings creep up when a certain amount of times passes without sex. Some people rely on food to drown feelings of emptiness. Some binge-watch TV shows to be distracted from their reality; some possibly partake in the social media conversation in search of kinship and a feeling of belonging. Even the intellectual gets addicted to learning.

Illustration by John Holcroft

Any way you visualise it, we are creatures of habits and hence, to a degree, addictions are inevitable. How we manage these addictions to minimise their control over us is what really matters. Often times, these habits stop us from living the lives we want. 
When we transition from moving through the cycle of addiction—Trigger-Craving-Ritual-Reward-Guilt— to just trying to get the reward without even needing a trigger, we have now moved to dependency. At this point, the habit in itself becomes a need. When we have no need to break an addictive habit, or we don’t even recognise a habit to be a matter of addiction, there is no guilt associated with completing the cycle.

For so many people, destructive habits that become addictions like procrastination are major factors hindering their progress in many aspects of their lives. For example, a person might be addicted to emotional attention from multiple people because they need it to feel confident in themselves. They get into an emotional exclusive relationship, find getting attention from only one person difficult to manage and end up sabotaging their relationship over what might be considered harmless flirtation.

When it comes to breaking addictions, it needs to be pointed out that some addictions are harmless and even necessary for certain situations. Addictions also vary in their ease to form and break. Stopping a smoking habit isn’t exactly the same thing as getting off crack cocaine. For one thing no one has ever broken a car window to steal a radio for some cigarettes; you'd like to hope so anyway. 

Illustration by John Holcroft

Addictions also exist with a varied rate of intensity to satisfy triggers. For cases where addictions have become detrimental to our health or livelihood, accepting that we have a problem is often the first step. Depending on the nature of the addiction, we may require the help of an expert or try to help ourselves. It is also crucial to identify triggers like social situations that kick-start or reinforce our cravings.

The difficulty in breaking any one addictive habit is that often, these habits are embedded in our lifestyle, to break away from it would mean a whole reorientation of the way we live. It is important that we accept that we would falter from time to time with bouts of relapses. This doesn't mean we are weak willed or failures. It should also not be resigned as defeat that deters us from trying again.
The real work and victory lie in consistent effort.
This might involve distracting ourselves to prevent the triggers, starving ourselves of the stimulus we are battling or replacing it with a favoured alternative. Addiction can be considered a normal part of life, albeit, choose wisely what you get addicted to.  

SELFSoul SyrupHabit, Addiction