I am and addict. Please excuse me for saying this, but probably you are an addict too. In fact, compulsive engagement in rewards stimuli, despite adverse consequences is the “new” normal by looking at how we are constantly being exposed to and suckers of falling into all kind of intentional dirty tricks, taking advantage of the fact that evolution of mankind has not been able to keep up with time. Be it sugar, alcohol, coffee, endorphin, gambling, sex, or just attention, there are plenty of good masters to be a slave for.
For a long time, I used to be ashamed of someone really close to me becoming work life drop out of an alcoholic. Just like people with weight problems, alcoholics are implicitly considered as weak, losers and failures that simply lack discipline to limit themselves from excess. All in all, I admit personally falling to this mental trap sometimes too. However, having spent hand full of my most recent years sober and observing the relation of my surroundings to alcohol, I don’t think it’s a question of simply weakness or lack of will power.
Moreover, on a typical social event with a bunch of friends –guys especially and when there is alcohol involved, it’s not hard to see that alcohol has a totally different effect on different people. While some sip their beers so that they get warm and flat, others pound in pints one after another with two hands. Some just cannot seem to get enough, no matter how obvious their intoxication gets (please notice the the word “toxic”). I think I used to be the latter one especially among my team mates, mostly because of my self-image –the one that could always do one more and push the limits a bit further. Not a good idea for a max 75kg bloke, size of a mosquito among ballers twice my size.
Indeed, the signature addiction of our Finnish nation expresses itself with unhealthy relation to alcohol. While I am not considering myself exactly Einstein pointing this out, but even with pretty holistic coverage on for example culture, sociological, psychological and even genetic aspects, I think we are still missing something essential in the discussion – something that would give us a more balanced explanation.
With my kitchen anthropologist hat on, it seems somewhat logical to think that having to survive in tough or even hostile environment, the ones that survived best in our neck of woods, had to be able to use every single opportunity to stock up fast on resources. This basically meant that the ones having the strongest response to reward thrived, as they were most inclined for that little bit of extra, just in case. With our good ol’ Finnish winters back in the day that “in case” scenario probably took place more often than desired and evolution took care of the rest. Bearing this in mind, if you have stronger tendency to build addiction to sugar and alcohol (both contain a lot of energy) doesn’t mean nature made a mistake with you, but in fact you represent something what used to be fittest of the fittest – before the world flipped it’s course, that is. -but also, don’t use this as a “boys will always be boys” excuse. Please try to understand that the world has changed and we hardly going back to what it was.
On the other hand, some of the recent discoveries in treatment of serious addiction with for example muscle relaxants give a whole new insight to addiction. You know, it’s been said that heroin is basically a pain killer. Hence, no pain, no reward – and no addiction either for that matter. What is this pain then, that makes people addicted to something that sooths it? Is there a mental switch we could flip to another mode by manipulating the neurons of the brain and thereby stop the addiction?
On the other hand, I have personally always played with this idea, that what if alcoholics or narcotics are simply geniuses we others just cannot connect with? What if they just somehow feel profoundly misunderstood and alone in this world? What if that addictive substance might help them understand their surroundings and act in a way that rewards them – take positive social interaction as an example. The flip side of the coin is that people are also unintentionally cruel with their reactions to a change around them. A person trying to quit a bad habit becomes easily uninteresting and boring -maybe even a threat and gets pushed aside. We all want to be loved and feel a sense of belonging. The fear of being rejected might be a whole lot worse deal than coping with addiction and the strain that comes with it. Believe me, I know something about this.
With a bit of good in everything, addiction might also lead into something extraordinary and original. Thinking about it, passion, dedication, obsession, and addiction are basically the proceeding evolutionary steps of one another (not unconditional though) – the life-cycle of striving for the extraordinary. If you want to be the best in today’s world, you have to work hard for it. Addiction might help to keep you pushing just that little bit further than anyone else is willing to go. The problem however is that what are you going to do with your addiction when you have to downgrade and you have a totally blown out reward stimuli scale? This is a story we see with former top athletes time and again.
What is my addiction then? When it comes to substances, probably sugar, but that something I think I can control. The beast of addiction, I really need to watch out for, appears to be state of flow – you know, the state when you lose perception of time and self-awareness. In order to conquer this beast, I personally need to come to terms with not doing anything and encounter boredom. Other option is to keep dancing with it until the end. Only time will tell which one it is going to be. The fact that I want to live a long life but at the same time desperately seek ways to “worm hole” my time perception, is one of the biggest paradoxes of life.