Managing an addiction isn’t easy. Especially when you didn’t know you had it.

Many of us have done it. We’ve shaken our heads at one someone who has an addiction to an illegal substance that controls their entire lives. We find them to be foolish, selfish and unprincipled. Perhaps our judgments aren’t always misplaced in these cases, but the lack of empathy is terrifying considering that most of us, by definition, are ourselves addicted.

So let’s start in a common place. What is an addiction? Well, you can find as many definitions for it as there are examples of it. A version of a Wikipedia definition will suffice here. An addiction is a “compulsive engagement with reward stimuli even if it has adverse effects.” Basically, something that you can’t stop yourself from doing over and over again, simply for the pleasure of it, no matter the consequences. We box up drug abusers under addiction and for some odd reason conclude that since we are not addicted to drugs then we must be faring much better and are therefore superior to those who couldn’t resist. This makes no sense to me, unless we are on the same page as well, about what a drug is.

There is no end to the ways that this word is used. Any online word search will sum it up as a “substance with a physiological effect after being introduced to the body.” In a general sense then, aren’t we all addicted to drugs? If you are reading this, it is extremely likely that you are actually addicted to all sorts of shit and are completely unaware.

If you can’t function in the morning without a hot steaming cup of java, how are you any different than the guy who has to snort a few lines to get the day started? You aren’t. Not really. All this time that you’ve stayed away from cocaine and pills and heroin, just to find out that you’re hooked like the rest of us. That’s disheartening. So what can you do about it? You want to be self-righteous again and seen as a better person than other people, and that means that there must be a way for you to show how strong you are by kicking your filthy habits. Many of us have felt the same way here too.

But can you really give up an addiction by willpower only? Some of the legalized drugs that we abuse have been in our systems even before we came into the world. Some are so instantly gratifying that we’d feel naked in their absence. But I won’t pick on you. I realize how sensitive you are, and I don’t want to be the cause of your relapse (how condescending is that shit?) So let’s talk about the 5 most addictive things that aren’t schedule 1 narcotics in my world and my healthier alternatives:

  1. Sugar- It’s everywhere and in everything, in all of my foods and drinks, all of the time. But what about sugar is so wonderful? Refer back to our definition- there is a reward. Dopamine. And Sugar becomes a drug because once it is introduced to my body there is an effect and a craving develops once it’s absent. What’s a healthier alternative to sugar for me then? Agave or honey, I’m sure will get the job done as far as calories but it’s the methadone of replacements, isn’t it? I mean, I still need the sweetness of sugar and I’m still getting dopamine when I have saccharin or Splenda. Other than cold turkey and never having sugar ever again, I’m on the stuff, for life. And it can kill me. Moving on…
  2. Sex- Fits both criteria of a drug addiction rather easily, and for those who don’t get to have it as much as they would like, they can act out rather harshly towards themselves or others during a typical withdrawal. Withdrawal from what? That euphoric feeling that I get from engaging. Coming is a reward too that ultimately leads to the same crash and burn that every other drug does. What can I replace it with? Maybe hugs for a start. At least with touching I get an oxytocin spike. But’s just substituting one addiction for another one -other than complete and total abstinence and celibacy for the duration of my life, can I ever really get free? I have no answers here so let’s look at another one…
  3. Caffeine-Probably an offshoot of the stamina and energy boost derived from an addiction to sugar but they are often abused together in concert. I’m sure the reasons for the abuse of this substance are the same as the others, and you are starting to see the pattern here. There is a reward for using it and much like other substances viewed less favorably because they have not been legalized, the withdrawals are painful. Water gives you just as much energy as caffeine does but nobody is really all that interested in kicking the habits that they have, just in the illusory superiority of not being classified as criminals. Anyway, so what about the next one…
  4. Social Media/Gaming- I know you think it’s hogwash but people are addicted. They will sell things, lie, cheat, steal etc., for games and the systems to play them on. People will lose sleep if they don’t get that dopamine ping from a social medial site, and they never go anywhere without their phones. Not to the bathroom or to bed. Social media and excessive gaming people will cause people to lose hours, even days and neglect other responsibilities and relationships. Some people now, have been on social media their ENTIRE LIVES. You see how addicted people are to sugar. It was introduced at birth. It’s very possible the long-term effects of these drugs could be similar. Is there a healthier alternative here? Developing strong bonds with other humans and real friendships seems like the answer but think about it. If any of us really had that would we be looking for rewards from things and substances in the first place? I dunno…finally…
  5. Love- I’m sure it’s probably not love that I am addicted to. I’m confident that it’s just another obsession of some sort. But being in love with love is probably just as dangerous as any other addiction. Is there a healthier alternative? Sure, probably compassion and generosity–forms of what I believe to be real love. But if you are doing it for the reward, how is that any different than the loop that we are all constantly suffering from? Even if we do come up with healthier versions or forms of getting the dopamine we truly desire, that still doesn’t warrant a superiority complex. Sure, my addiction to sugar hasn’t caused me to commit armed robbery or engage in solicitation yet, but that may be because the justice system hasn’t made it illegal in our country to consume it. Maybe we are hurting ourselves a little less than we would if we were addicted to hallucinogens, but in some form or fashion every single day we all just want to be high. It’s a part of living. Perhaps the only healthy alternative is to have marijuana decriminalized everywhere. It makes sugar, sex, caffeine, social media/gaming and love, even better. I mean, if we simply can’t stop ourselves and the filthy habits are already ingrained, we might as well be addicted to something that makes us smile through it all and whose worst side effect is nothing more than a good night sleep. This is my attempt at empathy.

  6. Featured image by frankieleon — Flickr.