Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Addiction: An Attitude You Can Put Aside

In no way do I mean to trivialize or belittle the subject or anyone plagued by this debilitating demon.  Yes, there are differences between chemical, physical, and emotional addictions.  If we care to see, however, every single one of us struggles with the inclination towards addictive behavior to one degree or another.  The following thoughts come from recognizing this tendency within myself.  I've never taken drugs, don't drink (though am no stranger to the ravages of alcoholism), don't smoke, am an extremely moderate coffee drinker (contrary to my tweeting persona) - but my own obsessive attitudes have given me enough pause to seriously contemplate the topic.

Addiction - be it chemical, physical, or emotional - manifests itself not only in WHAT we do but in HOW we do things.  It's a mistake to think we get 'hooked' on something because it's acted upon us.  Many people make use of caffeine, alcohol, recreational and prescription drugs, even modern technology without becoming addicted.  What 'hooks' us 9 times out of 10 is our attitude, our thoughts, or on some occasions our lack of thought.

It may take several disconcerting experiences before we start to consider the attitude or intent that's been driving a particular action.  Eventually, however, you ask yourself, "What's going on here? Am I merely seeking release, relief, a solution, a high, some excitement? Or is my behavior another example of mindlessness, action empty of any intent?"

Well, no need to make things difficult or to invoke a Freudian analysis of your relationship to your mother.  Just pick a behavior, any behavior, and plot your attitude towards it somewhere along the spectrum that runs from abject Want & Desire all the way to Indifference towards the desire to do this particular thing.

                 Want & Desire  ☜____X_________________________☞ Indifference

The closer to Want & Desire you are the more addictive your attitude is towards the behavior pattern in question.  The closer to Indifference you come the less hold this desire has on you.  Keep walking in THAT direction!

When you understand your attitude is a matter of choice (i.e., your own free will), you are in a position to turn and walk away from addiction.  It is this attitude of indifference (i.e., you can 'take it or leave it' at that moment) that allows us to partake in any activity without becoming addicted.  The Greeks demonstrated this awareness in their practice of moderation - "everything in proportion is best" - for they valued Beauty in every aspect of life.  By intentionally practicing disinterest, detachment, or indifference they came to moderation - not too much, nor too little.

Again, I'm well aware of hereditary and genetic predispositions towards addiction.  (That's why I don't drink.)  Especially in these instances, we need to employ the human spirit or mind, our intelligence - because far beyond the physical tendency towards addiction exists mental habit informed by attitude.   And attitude is the one thing we can always do something about.

So here are my 'take-aways' on the mechanics of addiction:

1.  Wrong thinking or non-thinking can lead to addiction.
2.  Addiction is often the result of attitude.
3.  Your attitude is subject to your own free will.
4.  Indifference is an attitude worth cultivating.

Think about it for a bit.  Experiment with arbitrarily changing an attitude.  Try practicing indifference towards a particular desire.  It's not a bad 'recipe'.

All comments welcome.


  1. I agree completely. I still drink, for example, but I am extremely aware that my alcoholic father predisposes me to the same and therefore I limit myself and will often jump on the wagon voluntarily to further limit myself. I am very aware that I make the choice of whether to eat that particular thing, or watch that particular show or . . . the list goes on and I can only blame myself if I allow my desire/want of something to be stronger than my indifference.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment, Victoria. I know there are many of us out there with similar experiences. I count myself lucky to have come to some of my understandings. Just wish it hadn't taken me so long!!! But alcoholism, particularly in this society, is a 'difficult nut to crack'.