Just Your Garden Variety Addiction?
Why you may want to quit even “harmless” addictions
Some addictions are destructive and life-threatening to the addict and even to those they love.
Everyone can look at a 12-step-program addiction like alcoholism and easily point out why it needs to stop. Usually, the addiction is visibly harmful to the addict and often to others in their life.
“Soft” addictions are harmless by comparison. These are addictions we pretty much all engage in way too much of the time.
And that’s the problem.
Be it regular overindulgence in unhealthy foods and drinks, phones and screens, or social media platforms, most of us fall somewhere on the addiction spectrum in one or more of these categories.
If not any of the above, my guess is that you can quickly name something else you spend a disproportionate amount of time doing. Maybe you haven’t gone so far as to call it an addiction, but sometimes you wonder if it is.
Maybe it’s that you work an outrageous number of hours. Or maybe you spend most of your waking hours worrying about things that will in all likelihood never happen. Or you gossip shamelessly. There are probably as many of these types of addictions as there are people.
These are the sanctioned addictions. The elephant-in-the-room addictions that people may criticize casually and somewhat jokingly, but they’re still approved by society at large in that no one is going to call for an intervention.
But are these common, garden variety addictions, really harmless?
I’ve been thinking about addiction lately because — well because I seem to be addicted to Medium.
There, I said it.
I’ve been told I’m not the “addictive type” by friends who apparently are.
When it comes to certain things, like beverages, they’re right. I don’t even have a coffee habit. I kid you not. Go ahead and take a minute to process that.
But in my own ways, I’m still just as much of a junkie as anyone else.
And lately, my drug of choice is social media in the form of Medium.
It’s been three months since I joined, so I’m hoping I’m just still in the “infatuation” stage and it will pass. Because the amount of time I spend on here is seriously ridiculous. No social media platform of any kind has ever managed to get its hooks into me until now. Damn you, Medium!
That says a lot about Medium. Which largely ties into my love for reading and writing. And I really dig the interaction that can result from reading or writing a story here.
With that trinity at my fingertips, you can see why Medium spells trouble for me.
The Why of Addiction
I’m no expert on addiction. In fact, I’ve done very little reading on it. But I’m a self-reflective person, so I’m using Medium as a mirror again. This time, to probe into my addiction to Medium itself.
Truth be told, the answer to why anyone is addicted to something is probably similar to why anyone is addicted to anything.
The question is, why are almost all of us addicted to something or other?
I’ve heard it said that pain is at the root of all addictions, and I generally take that to be true. We humans have a primal instinct that drives us to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Why? Because we love to feel good and we hate to feel bad.
In that vein, it seems obvious to me that any addiction is either an attempt to gain something pleasant or pleasurable or an attempt to avoid something unpleasant or painful.
Pain can look like extreme sadness and grief (where the addiction numbs out the pain for a bit if you’re lucky) or it can look as insignificant as boredom or restlessness (where the addiction gives you something to do for a spell.)
Pleasure can look as blissful as orgasm (where the addiction momentarily results in being flooded with feel-good sensations) or as subtle as approval in the form of a like or clap (which results in feeling special or validated.)
For a (usually short-lived) period of time, the addiction gives us the illusion that everything is hunky dory. So we keep returning to it for another “hit.”
What lies at the root of addiction? Discomfort in some way, shape or form. Our pain, our boredom, our loneliness, our fear that we aren’t good, smart or likable enough. Each of these corresponds with feelings we run from because we just can’t or don’t want to feel them.
Okay, I Eat a lot of Donuts. What’s the Big Deal? I’m Not Even Overweight!
Those of us lucky enough to be absent of 12-step-level addictions can consider ourselves supremely fortunate that our addictions aren’t going to tear our lives apart. This is true.
I’m not on a mission to convince anyone that they should break their harmless addictions if they don’t want to.
I’m only trying to understand (and hopefully end) my own addictions. If something in that resonates with you, then that’s just icing on the donut.
Every addiction comes with its own negative drawbacks, so the reasons you’d want to quit even harmless addictions vary widely.
If drinking coffee tears up your stomach but you just can’t stop drinking it (I know three people in this boat,) then you can probably don’t need anyone to tell you that your coffee habit has turned into an addiction with negative effects.
Besides the obvious, what’s wrong with harmless addictions?
Nothing, if the fact that you’re running from something or to something via your addiction doesn’t bother you.
Nothing, if compulsively reaching for your addiction to numb out the present moment doesn’t bother you.
Nothing, if the fact that you’re not truly free because you’re at the beck and call of your addiction doesn’t bother you.
If, like me, you value a life lived truly free, then maybe it’s worth examining the why of your addictions. Maybe it’s worth pulling them out by the root, even if it means going through the pain, difficulty, and discomfort of facing whatever is driving them.
Maybe you’re addicted to feeling good, and that motivates many actions and habits in your life. Feeling good feels good, so no surprise there. Who wouldn’t want that?
But if bad feelings show up is it so unthinkable to simply let ourselves feel bad instead of ditching the present moment for a “hit” of chocolate we hope will make us forget about it and feel better?
We tend to think something must be wrong and must change instantly if we feel bad. But what if feeling bad is just the opposite of feeling good, and a normal part of life? (By the way, it is.)
I wrote a 2-minute piece about feeling those unwanted feelings:
The bottom line on whether you should break an addiction or not lies in the answer to this question: Are you willing to be at the mercy of your addiction or do you value your freedom more?
If it’s freedom you want, then it’s time to reclaim it. Even if it means being uncomfortable during the adjustment period.
You’d stand up to another person if they tried to bully you into doing something you don’t want to do, right?
Are you willing to stand up to your bully of a mind when it tries to do the same?