Wednesday, July 17, 2013

the addictions we tolerate

"I shoot up heroin, snort lines of coke, have a gambling problem, chain-smoke, and drink."

"I watch Game of Thrones, Homeland, Newsroom, Big Bang Theory, and Dr. Who constantly, and LOVE rocks. No, seriously, I really like buying rocks."

Ideally you haven't heard either of these quotes too often, but which would you say has the more urgent problem? Undoubtedly the first person. They're addicted. With that said, isn't the second person too? "Addiction" is a word with a lot of connotations, most dramatically connotations like the first quote, and yet it's manifested in everything from "just one more episode" to "I swear this is the last time I'll buy ___." I question what separates the addictions we tolerate and the ones we don't.

If you think about things like illegal drugs, they're obviously far more damaging to health and safety than, say, a TV show, but we also think of them as primarily addicting substances. There's no warning label on a TV show, "This may keep you watching on and on and on until you actually start rejecting social opportunities because you just want to know what happens" (HOLLA, DOWNTON ABBEY!) the same way a cigarette packet or wine bottle comes with a warning.

Of course, though, if we think about it, TV shows and clothing stores and food items are designed to be addicting just as much as those street drugs are. The most effective guarantor of sustainability in a business is addiction to the product. The customers keep coming back because...well...there isn't much of a choice (or, at least, free will comes with a far greater price). Additives in fast food that make them way more tasty than naturally possible for the dehydrated refrozen items they are, continuously shifting trends that create a sense of urgency in the clothing consumer to "update" their wardrobe, plot twists that meanly sink your heart and make your eyes pop and water (THAT CAR ACCIDENT, DOWNTON ABBEY, THAT CAR ACCIDENT).

We just don't class those things in the same kind of category. These are the addictions we tolerate, because we usually delude ourselves into thinking that these aren't addictive substances at all. But they can be. As an example: what's my grandmother's heroin? Rocks. Yes, rocks. That isn't a street name for anything, I'm talking about straight-up rocks here. Once, she went shopping at an outdoor market in Seattle's International District and purchased a jade bauble and some "valuable" rocks for an untold but presumably massive amount of money that led to great regret on her part and scolding by everyone else. Why an aged and intelligent woman would spend money on rocks is kind of beyond me. There are more precious rocks that other people are addicted to--diamonds and rubies and emeralds--but the point is less about the substance and more about how we react to someone else's attraction, or addiction, to them.

Addiction isn't just drugs or alcohol or problems that wreck your life. Look up "define:addict" on Google and you'll get:


  1. A person who is addicted to a particular substance, typically an illegal drug.
  2. An enthusiastic devotee of a specified thing or activity.
Enthusiastic devotee? Now that sounds awfully acceptable.
"I'm an enthusiastic devotee of skydiving."
"I'm an enthusiastic devotee of the works of Richard Feynman."
Say "I'm an enthusiastic devotee of ___________" and you have something palatable, something you can bring to posh dinner parties and say while you stand in your evening gown sipping a cocktail! So next time someone says they're an enthusiastic devotee...
you know what they really mean is, "I'm an addict."
I think, in the end, we judge the addiction less on whether it is an addiction or not--let's face it, we're all addicts, to shows or clothes or book series or drugs or people or LIFE--and more on the end result. We calculate the impacts in our heads and we realize that you can't win every battle, that we can't all be ascetics, and we have to let some of these addictions pass. I can only hope that we make the right judgments.
Let the right ones in.
(cough. cough. Downton Abbey.)


  1. Makes me wonder if we actaully don't need MORE addicts in the world, people so hooked up on their field of study they can go for days without sleep to find that new cancer treatment or figure out some ancient language. People like Darwin or Feynman or Shubin, devoting their lives to their theories.

    That's also detrimental for health (both psychical and physical) but so much needed: addiction to curiosity.

  2. Anonymous9:59 AM

    Nice piece. The rocks thing reminds me of this story of how the diamond industry developed:

  3. Interesting point. I also think that sometimes so-called harmless addictions to, say, TV or shopping can be actually more detrimental than a moderate addiction to a drug or alcohol. It totally depends on the person and situation and the person's ability to maintain a grip on reality.

  4. Anonymous1:11 PM

    I'm an enthusiastic devotee of your writing!