Before the Devil Knows You're Hooked

Champions of "personal responsibility" believe that moral censure can prevent addiction and spur addicts’ recovery by removing “incentives” to use drugs. The recovery community diagnoses addiction as a medical condition that blame can’t help. In the end, Philip Seymour Hoffman wasn’t saved by either camp.

Taking to Drink

When the late Gore Vidal compared his fondness for the lecture circuit to “taking to drink,” was he suggesting that having an audience was potentially addictive—or something more personal and interesting?

A Valentine's Day Proposition

Prepare to cut up a few scientific journals into valentines. Last time out we marveled at how often the phrase “casual sex” twists therapists' minds into strange positions.This week we take a poke at some dubious research on women’s desire for “casual sex,” addressing Freud’s famous Valentine’s Day question, “What do women want, and is it me?”

"Casual Sex" You Say?

The phrase “casual sex” turns out to be a most treacherously roomy category. It can include good sex, bad sex, safe sex, risky sex, sex alone or with others, sex with friends or strangers, sex with partners older or younger. But few who use the term seem to notice.

Playing With One's Self

Computer solitaire, originally packaged with Windows to make computers and mouse technique easier for new users to grasp, can become a huge time sink, even for people like me who flatter themselves that they're too smart and engaged with life to get hooked on it.

Humans vs. Humanity

If the bulk of our psychological experiments in the U.S. apply only to the globe’s 5%, a great many experimental findings are due for a do-over.

The Boss of Me

There's not much room for debate about addiction's ability to impair in some brains whatever passes for individual autonomy. Emphasis here on the word "some."

Are You Not Who You Think?

American individualism imagines a sovereign self--- free of adulterations like addiction and social control; but neuroscience questions whether this is possible.

Amy Winehouse---What We Need to Know Know Know

Because addictions are dangerous and dehumanizing, our unexamined assumptions about them can make them more so.

Devil's Food

So tempting is it to blame biblical literalism for the Bible Belt's defects, that I have found a way to do it. But the truly satanic force behind physical decay and moral perversion in the Bible-thumping states may be less grandiose: fish fingers, say, or chicken nuggets.

Read Her Lips

The video is choppy as a coke fiend’s razor blade. She puts the needle into the record’s groove instead of into her arm. She’s in Paris. There’s a town car, a gray Bentley, headed her way. Dior hopes to hook you on the latest version of Dior Addict lipstick. But it’s the ad itself that’s addictive.

Springtime for Hitler

While drinking excessively puts your at risk for addiction, quitting drinking carries some strange risks as well, as Lars Von Trier found out at the Cannes Film Festival, where he made a rambling speech that got him banished as an anti-Semite.

The Crazy Button

Actor and rock star Meat Loaf could feel his meltdown coming. "My switch is this close. It's going to get ugly if I get angry," Meat Loaf promised team mate Mark McGrath. I say "promised" rather than "warned," because I recognized the signs...

Is Addiction a Social Disease?

Does getting paid in millions get people hooked on an executive compensation high? Is addiction the most useful way to think about our craving for oil, or Wall Street’s compulsion to repackage bad loans in pursuit of profit? Is the very concept of addiction so addictive that we can’t stop using it, even when it isn’t the best metaphor for the job?

Shrinks on the Nod

Psychotherapist Lee Kassan and others discuss the problem of therapists who get too old to do their jobs well but too attached to their careers to bow out, and how you---whether you're a therapist of a patient, can most gracefully protect yourself.


How dangerous is electronic media addiction really? How seductive are the bright lights and tiny cities of our new playthings? How permanently damaging, how difficult to manage are the various degrees of immersion they induce in young people?

The Devil's Playthings

To maintain their equilibrium, many celebrities, those whose existence depends on the ability to project fabulousness and desirability, seem to need alternate identities, something that can counter the drug of objectified desire with vitamin shots of being useful or “good.”

Patti Smith’s soul mate---Robert Mapplethorpe, or Madame Bovary?

Smith writes: "Everyone took it for granted that I did drugs because of the way I looked." But, she adds, "I refused to shoot up." Nevertheless, her youth is spent in a riptide of desire, much like Gustave Flaubert's creation, the romantic obsessive Madame Bovary....

Rehab in Rewrite

Today's drug addict as depicted in popular media - once a committed outsider - a terrifying degenerate or brilliant outlaw, often some semi-aristocrat like William Burroughs or Dr. Gregory House -- is now competing, not always successfully, with a bunch of nobodies who want to rejoin society, like the overweight hoarder and the washed-up semi-celeb. In my last column I ruled out a few possible causes. This time out, I'm looking for what's driving the shift. 

Our Rehab Habit

American culture seems to be turning into an addiction theme park. In addition to the usual books, plays and songs about addiction, television reality shows are flooding the airwaves with shows about people who just can't seem to stop doing self-destructive things. Programs featuring hoarders, rehab, cartels, intervention, halfway houses, addicted celebrities, binge eating and excessive pet adoptions are now strewn through every cable line-up like used works in a rust-belt drug den. But one of the most remarkable features of the addiction media boom is its banality.Unlike the geniuses and rockers, the delinquents and beats, bad boys and fast girls of old, most of the addicts we're seeing these days are deglamorized: witless and spotty, stripped of distinguishing verbal and sartorial style, they don't start out high enough to work up any momentum on the way down. Why is that? What's going on?

Masturbators for Whom Jesus is Coming?

For Evangelical Christian women who were victims of child abuse as were several of the Kansas pornography addicts the New York Times covered, maybe being redeemed by a savior works better as an antidote to compulsive masturbation than "secular sexual theory".

Is Pop Science Sweetened Like Soda Pop?

Statistical "facts" we like feel true to us, whether they are accurate or not, just as artificial sweeteners make our insulin rush. Sweetness is, arguably, more than a craving in our culture; it's close to an addiction, and not just at table, but also in the lab, in peer reviewed journals, in the highest temples of science.


The protagonist of the film The Hurt Locker is a mechanic rightly proud of his own competence. But at another level, Staff Sargeant William James is a warrior whose real antagonist is death and whose greatest weapon -- and neural pathway to bliss -- seems to be adrenaline. Eyeball to eyeball with mortality, his brain and body flood with the stuff, and each time he beats the reaper, it's such a rush he soon wants another, any way he can get it.There's a debate in the psychology biz as to whether a dependency on adrenalin, which is self-generated, can legitimately be called an addiction. Research into the neurochemical mechanisms involved is puny compared to the experimental data surrounding pharmaceuticals like cocaine (in whose metabolism adrenaline seems to play a role). But the phrase "adrenalin addict" resonates with a lot of people who suffer from a compulsive attraction to shock and awe.Does James belong in their company? 

Bottoms Up

Can we tame heavy drinking and still produce artists like Alexander McQueen and Rip Torn? Malcolm Gladwell, in the current New Yorker, thinks yes, but his argument, while full of interesting and useful information, doesn't quite gel.

writing and wronging

Twentieth Century literary lions, fueled by various spectacular addictions, turned male anxieties into face-slapping prose. They imagined a world in which women were terrifying, or trophies, or too delicate to live, and they did it seductively well; so well in fact that literary lionesses who wanted to be depicted in a richer way ganged up and did an intervention. But lately, having put the male beast through all twelve steps of the domestication program, some of us are waxing nostalgic for the days before we had it declawed.

Eating the Rich

Back before we knew much about the chemistry of addiction, Karl Marx declared religion the opiate of the people. It's a fun metaphor to toss around during December's holiday frenzy, but it isn't all that apt. As a sedative, religion is more like Nyquil: something that gets you through the night without too many thoughts about the exploitation of class by class. The true opiate of the people -- the seducer that fools you into feeling it's your friend, that changes your gut, rewires your brain, hooks you, hurts you and won't let you go -- turns out to rich, sweet food - aka holiday treats.

Slaves to Chocolate

Do I have a bad low-end gourmet chocolate habit that I can break by force of will, or am I enslaved by chocolate's merciless molecules? And if I'm in denial about my chocolate habit, exactly what about it am I refusing to face? 


For some reason, all those fly-by-night Halloween stores offer no drug-fiend costumes. Has addicton been so "medicalized" that we no longer demonize it, or are we just too scared of drug culture to let it out of its crypt for even one night?

Hooked on Snap

Like crack, certainty is something our minds are designed to enjoy and ill-equipped to resist, even when we know it may kill us. Scientific certainty addicts claim that all science is based on solid proofs, on hard facts, or at least on the best available knowledge of the moment. But science itself tells us that this isn't exactly or always true.

Singin' in the Wane

Positive thinking is great for you when it's based on solid science, but when not, it can be so very not. In her new book, Bright-Sided -- How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, Barbara Ehrenreich chases down a long list of happiness quacks and reads them the riot act.