Mindful Monkey.

What is ‘Addiction’?

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We often hear the word ‘Addiction’ used in the following way: “This person is using drugs because he is addicted”. The diagnostic label is then imagined to explain things. Let’s have another look at this.

Addiction is usually defined along the lines of: “When an individual persists in use of alcohol or other drugs despite problems related to use of the substance”

This seems to be saying is that – someone is doing something that is bad for them and they cannot control it.

So the statement we started with becomes – this person is using drugs because he cannot control it. Hmm and why can they not control it? – Because they are addicted. This seems to go round in circles without telling us anything; it is what we might call a tautology.

So the first thing we need to do is to remind ourselves that the word addiction is not an explanation but a label.  It is a label we use to denote someone doing something ‘non optimum’ while being unable to stop or control the behaviour. Note that this is not telling us why they are like this, we still need to find out.

The other thing that people do is to treat the word addiction as a thing, when it is more like a process. You cannot pick it up and put it in a wheel barrow can you? In fact it is a set of processes that interact in complex ways. And these processes contribute to the experience of not being able to control the behaviour.

Then we begin to realise that it is not ‘all or nothing’; it is a matter of degree. The amount of control seems to be on a continuum. One can be fully in control on the one hand of the spectrum and not at all in control at the other end. It seems to me that most of us with most of our behaviours are somewhere between these two ends.

So now we can start to ask some useful questions:

  • To what degree is the behaviour harmful?
  • To what degree are we able to control it?
  • Can we increase the degree to which we control this behaviour?
  • In what ways could we do this?

This helps us to look at the multiple processes that contribute to addiction and we find ourselves in a better position to do something about the problem. This discussion will continue in future posts on this topic.

John Davis has some interesting things to say on the topic in his book ‘ The Myth of Addiction’ – here he is talking about his ideas

(This article originally appeared here a couple of years ago and is reproduced here with a few edits)

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