The word “addiction” is often used loosely and wryly in conversation. People will refer to themselves as “mystery book addicts” or “cookie addicts.” E.B. White writes of his annual surge of interest in gardening: “We are hooked and are making an attempt to kick the habit.” Yet nobody really believes that reading mysteries or ordering seeds by catalogue is serious enough to be compared with addictions to heroin or alcohol. The word “addiction” is here used jokingly to denote a tendency to overindulge in some pleasurable activity.
People often refer to being “hooked on TV.” Does this, too, fall into the lighthearted category of cookie eating and other pleasures that people pursue with usual intensity, or is there a kind of television viewing that falls into the more serious category of destructive addiction?
When we think about addiction to drugs or alcohol, we frequently focus on negative aspects, ignoring the pleasures that accompany drinking or drug-taking. And yet the essence of any serious addiction is a pursuit of pleasure, a search for a “high” that normal life does not supply. It is only the inability to function without the addictive substance that is dismaying, the dependence of the organism upon a certain experience and an increasing inability to function normally without it. Thus a person will take two or three drinks at the end of the day not merely for the pleasure drinking provides, but also because he “doesn’t feel normal” without them.
An addict does not merely pursue a pleasurable experience and need to experience it in order to function normally. He needs to repeat it again and again. Something about that particular experience makes life without it less than complete. Other potentially pleasurable experiences are no longer possible, for under the spell of the addictive experience, his life is peculiarly distorted. The addict craves an experience and yet is never satisfied. The organism...
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