Sooner or later most serious
addictions converge upon a final common pathway of cat-and-mouse (or Elmer Fudd
and Bugs Bunny) pursuit and avoidance behavior in which the addict
maneuvers, often with astonishing ingenuity and amazing endurance, to escape
detection by others as he continues to practice his increasingly irrational
addictive behaviors. Such avoidance and escape behavior is seemingly oriented
towards eluding the notice and disapproval of those with whom the addict comes
into contact and who may be in a position to interfere with the continuance of
the addict, by means of mental defense mechanisms of denial, avoidance,
rationalization and justification, also seeks to hide from himself the gravity
and frequently the absurdity of his addictive infatuation and pursuit of a
substance, process, or person.
The addictive process, because of
its profoundly irrational and inhuman demands, cannot long exist in an
atmosphere of free and open exchange of information. Just as the first
casualty of war has been said to be truth, so in the progression of addiction
there is usually a steady erosion of personal frankness, candor and basic
honesty in regard to the addiction and its mandated behaviors. The addict is
driven towards the margins of his social and interpersonal world by his
addictive process, which expands like a malignant tumor that crowds out or
destroys neighboring tissue.
Attempts to define and understand
addiction in terms of frequency or quantity of consumption or use of the
substance, engagement in the behaviors(spending, gambling, sex, eating), or the
negative external consequences of the addiction all fail to consider the
primary, direct and internal consequence of addiction upon the addicted
Many addicts, at a certain
stage of their deterioration, still possess sufficient clarity, honesty
and awareness to recognize and admit to themselves that their behavior in the
service of their addiction is neither fully rational nor prudent - but they
comfort and justify their addictive behavior by noting that certain consequences
of addiction have not (yet) happened to them, while they point with pride to
their positive accomplishments in other areas of their lives. They reason that
their addiction is 'not that bad,' or that they are 'not as bad as some people.'
They may say that they 'have a problem' with whatever substance or process holds
them captive and controls their actions, but they balk at the term 'addiction'
to describe it. Or they may concede that, yes, they do suffer from an addiction,
which it would be better, wiser, and healthier for them not to engage in. But
they take comfort in the fact that they are 'not as bad as some people' while
they reassure themselves and those concerned about them that the time is coming,
is indeed right around the corner, when they will once and for all put a stop to
their addictive behavior.
The addict, like those around him,
usually looks to conventional and obvious external or physical consequences of
his addictive behavior to gauge his success at balancing the requirements of his
addictive process with the demands of his wider life. Thus he and others are
prone to think in terms of job performance, financial success, interpersonal
relationships, and health and legal status as the chief or only means of
assessing whether he is indeed getting away with it as he practices -or is
practiced by- his addiction.
Individuals frequently assert that
they 'cannot be addicts' or that they are 'not that bad' if they hold down jobs
at which they are successful, or if they have never been arrested or in legal
trouble for their addiction, or if they have no obvious health consequences as a
result of their addictive behavior. (Of course, even when such problems do
arise, the addict more often than not will minimize or rationalize them away as
not being of sufficient importance to require him to cease his addiction. But if
they have not yet appeared, their absence is often cited as proof that the
addict has not been harmed by his addiction.)
Such individuals, afflicted by
addiction, even wholly under the thumb of and controlled by addiction, therefore
believe that because they are experiencing no adverse external(material)
consequences, they are getting away with addiction. They imagine that they are
successfully 'having their cake and eating it too' - perhaps the deepest and
most intractable desire of all human beings.
Standard medical definitions of
addiction usually include a reference to the continued use of a substance(or
engagement in a process such as gambling) despite adverse consequences.
And this 'consequentialist' approach to the recognition of addiction invariably
emphasizes certain obvious, conventional, external, and materialistic sequelae
of addiction, e.g. job loss, health or legal problems, relationship
difficulties. It is assumed that if the individual does not experience such
problems that the chances of his being addicted are slim to none.
But if one reflects upon such
conventional and superficial consequences as those just noted, he immediately
realizes their contingent and accidental quality. Whether one is cited for
driving under the influence depends upon many factors besides his drinking
behavior. Someone, for example, who does not own an automobile will never
receive a DUI. Similar considerations apply to job difficulties, since the
demands of jobs and their liability to the consequences of addiction vary
widely. And again, one who does not work will surely never experience vocational
problems from his addictive process, no matter how severe the process may
become! Similar considerations apply to health matters and even personal
relationships(partners vary widely in their tolerance of addiction - and of
course, the addict may, in the extreme case, simply have no personal
Thus if we consider all such usual
and customary 'negative consequences' of addiction, we find that they are
without exception accidental, contingent, and non-necessary. Their presence may
well signal the activity of a serious addiction; but their absence, because of
their accidental and non-necessary nature, by no means indicates the absence of
addiction. We must look elsewhere if we wish to understand what is truly crucial
and essential to addiction rather than what is merely accidental and not associated
with the thing itself.
The essence of addiction, that which
is always and necessarily present and hence is the sine qua
non of addiction, lies in the subjective
relationship of the addict to the substance or process of his addiction.
It is the way that the addict thinks
about the object of his addiction that is the tell-tale mark of addiction.
External behaviors are of use in identifying by inference the subjective state of the addict
but always take place far 'downstream' from the addiction itself, which
originates and resides in the mind of the addict, directing and controlling the
observable behavior of the addict.
Because addiction exists first in the mind, independent of -and prior to- any
external behavior, it may be said that addiction
is its own consequence, and that therefore no one truly 'gets
away with addiction.' Indeed, from a certain point of view we may
even regard those individuals with addiction who succeed in eluding
most or all of the usual external negative consequences of addiction
as the most unfortunate of all who are addicted. And we may view
those individuals who suffer early on the gravest and most dramatic
complications of addiction the luckiest of the addicted population
because attention is thereby unmistakably and indisputably drawn
to the presence of the addictive process which in less obvious cases
may be silent, like undetected termites in a foundation, yet invisibly
But if addiction originates and
resides in the mind, if the usual negative external consequences of addiction
are simply accidental and fundamentally unrelated to the addiction, and if addiction
is its own consequence, what then are the effects of addiction on the
mind that cause(or ought to cause) harm and concern? How is it possible to say
that addiction is a bad thing for an individual if he experiences none of the
conventional adverse consequences of his addiction?
Addiction is its own consequence because addiction distorts
and stereotypes the psyche of the addict by enslaving the self to
a false and unhealthy center -addiction- from which all radii subsequently
emanate and around which the circumference of the addicted self
is henceforth constructed and maintained. Freedom, flexibility,
spontaneity and independence of thought are judgment are lost -actually
sacrificed- to the interests and demands of the Idol of the addiction
that has become the addict's jealous god. The addict's mind is in
a sense no longer his mind but has become an agent and tool,
however unwitting, of the addiction whose absolute and fundamentally
irrational mandate the addict now exists solely in order to fulfill
- even, if necessary, at the cost of his own life. But long before
his physical life is surrendered to 'the Cause' of the addiction,
the addict has sacrificed his soul and his individuality to satisfy
the requirements of the addiction.
Less abstractly: the addicted self
is centered upon and organized around its addiction in the manner of the moth
revolving around a candle flame. For just as the moth may be said to have been
captured by the candle flame, the addict has been captured by his addiction,
which for him becomes the aiming point and goalpost of his thoughts. The word
'addiction' derives from the Latin addictere, 'to be bound to another,'
as in the relationship of a slave to his master. For the addict, his addiction
becomes his telos or purpose of being, in the process replacing all other
possible goals - including in many cases that of survival itself.
And because the psyche of the addict
is enslaved to his master, addiction, freedom and flexibility are spontaneity
are thereby sacrificed to the dire and incorrigible telos of addiction.
The addict becomes like one who subsists under a ruthless totalitarian regime
which cares nothing for the individual but everything for 'the Cause' which it
promotes by every means at its disposal. And 'the Cause' in addiction is the
gratification and fulfillment of the addictive process, not the health or human
potential of the individual addict.
Considered from this point of view,
no one who is addicted can be said to 'get away with addiction.' Those who
seem to be doing so are in the worst predicament of all. For like sufferers from
an occult yet terrible disease, they go about their business thinking nothing is
wrong, that indeed they are in the pink of health. But inwardly and invisibly
the disease of addiction is nevertheless furiously and destructively at work,
disorienting the self, shifting priorities, influencing choices, and shaping a
lifestyle and worldview that is unconsciously and ingeniously adapted to the
continued operation of the addictive process.
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