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Addiction: Illness or Weakness?

July 14, 2012

Ok, so this blog headline is great: “Can You Really Be Helplessly Addicted to Heavy Metal, Skittles or Sunday Football?” I would argue: No! And Jeff Wise, in his “Extreme Fear” blog for Psychology Today agrees.

He describes a Swedish man who claimed he was “addicted” to heavy metal music, so his employer actually was required to pipe in the appropriate headbanging tunes so he could work as a dishwasher.

Wise notes that “Internet addiction” is one of the new “mental illnesses” that might be included in the DSM-5. Others want to include gambling and porn addiction. As Wise notes: “The profusion of addictions represents a cultural change in how we explain unacceptable behavior. Traditionally, socially deviant behavior was viewed as a moral matter.”

Now, addiction is labeled a “medical” condition caused by biological or chemical problems in the brain.

Because of my philosophy, which I explain in “Pack Leader Psychology,” it seems clear that a large number of “addicted” people simply lack the personal accountability to exert self-discipline. It is much easier emotionally for them to explain away behavior rather than hold themselves accountable. This “Dominator” type of person has low self-worth. So any sense of being criticized (“Don’t eat that brownie, it isn’t a healthy choice”) feels unbearable — a “piling on” to their existing self-shaming messages. So they choose to exert no self-control, because to say “no” to oneself is a form of criticism that they can’t handle.

I strongly believe that self-respect comes in large part from self-discipline. Sure, we should accept ourselves, flaws and all, but that doesn’t mean when our behavior becomes morally wrong or socially unacceptable that we shouldn’t take a good look at our rationalizations and make a few changes.

As Wise asks, are addicts helpless to fight addiction, or do they simply prefer not to fight it? What do you think?

Wise quotes psychologist George Ainslie and his book “Breakdown of Will.” Ainslie says that by viewing addiction as an “implacable external force,” it automatically sends messages to the addict that he or she is helpless against the addiction. It weakens the addict, giving the message that he or she lacks the internal emotional resources to be strong and adopt a change in behavior.  This certainly is not a message that I as a psychotherapist would send to any client.

Coincidentally, I just finished reading Sheldon B. Kopp’s “If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!” (More on that book in a future post.) He quotes a Buddhist saying:  “The Sage arrives, having never departed.”  All the wisdom and emotional strength we each need already exists within each of us. Enlightenment or Buddhahood resides within.

Thoughts?

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