"Perhaps we should start to contemplate the meaning of our society's "addiction" to addiction terminology."
The concept of addiction is used as a fear tactic, on everything from video games to tanning beds.
William Henkin Ph.D.
The numbers of things that we are potentially at risk of becoming addicted to is a staggering list, which makes one wonder if there is anything out there that is not seen as potentially addictive. I polled friends, colleagues and the Internet to put together even just the partial list below, all things that are alleged to be addictive. Excluding things like alcohol, drugs, caffeine and nicotine, here is a partial list of all the various things that we are told we can become addicted to:
Food (of any kind);
High fructose corn syrup;
Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games;
Messiness (There is a 12 Step group for Messyholics);
Oil (according to former President George W. Bush, the nation is "addicted to oil.");
Over the counter nasal sprays;
Social Online Media;
The true meaning of this never-ending list of pseudo-addictions is that society IS addicted all right, to the concept of addiction itself. Once, addiction meant only a few things. But our tolerance grew, and society needed more and more addictions to feed our cravings. If we try to stop, we go into withdrawal, unable to find any way to distract ourselves from responsibility, unable to avoid the consequences of our choices. Every time a new technology surfaces, we use it to the point of self-destruction, and then label it as addictive to try to regain some control over our use of the technology. We use the concept of addiction more every day, despite our growing knowledge that it is destroying our culture, our legal system, our ability to hold ourselves responsible. Our brains are changed, affected by the neurochemical rushes we get, from seeing people on television, their lives destroyed by their addictions. We get that rush from the voyeuristic insight into the suffering of others, from the joy and jealousy of watching the mighty fall, and from the relief that it's not us up there, watching our lives and successes crumble.
The addictionologists are right in a sense. We do live in an "addictive culture." The addiction lies in our society's desire to label all problematic behaviors as addictive and compulsive. Where, and when do we stop exactly? Where is the 12 step group that our society can attend, to confess its powerlessness over this addiction to addiction, and begin to reassert individual responsibility? Can we go cold turkey, requiring the media to stop labeling things as addictions?
The media uses the concept of addiction to create moral panics, triggering fear and anxiety in viewers: "Are you addicted to your Smartphone? Tune in at 10 to find out!" Society uses the concept of addiction to justify laws and restrictions. It was the concept of sex addiction that was used to justify Playboy Magazine from the shelves of 7-11. Is this what addiction is, or should be? Ultimately, part of our dialogue needs to be around how we are using the concept of addiction, and why.