Raw Concepts: Mood-Changers, Addiction Elements

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There are many cultural critics from different disciplines who complain about how people expand the language of addiction to describe everything: sex addiction, gambling addiction, eating addictions, etc. The rationale is that by labeling forms of bad behavior, you are somehow excusing them. I strongly disagree. I think if anything we are too limited in our thoughts about addiction, and that we should view more things through the prism of addiction, and that doing so does not excuse the bad behavior of the addict.

I believe the only thing an object really needs to have the potential to become addictive is to be a mood-changer. The definition of a mood-changer is pretty obvious and contained right there in the name. A mood-changer is any object that brings about a change in mood. All addictions involve being hooked on mood-changers. The An addictive mood-changer tends to bring about a change in moods that is perceived by the user to be a positive change, even if it’s a change in mood that the average person would not view as positive. This means that although addictive mood-changers usually are chosen to bring about mood changes that most of society would deem as positive, like giddiness or omnipotence, this isn’t always the case. Some people may strongly enjoy moods that most people would view negatively, such as humiliation, self-pity, or numbness, making that person’s mood-changers of choice things that humiliate, depress, or anesthetize him. A person’s private logic often runs contrary to society’s public logic.

Enjoyment of mood-changers alone isn’t proof of an addiction. Everyone uses and enjoys mood-changers. What matters is a person’s ongoing relationship to a specific mood-changer. For a relationship to a mood-changer to be considered addictive, three elements need to be present:

  1. Compulsion. The use of the mood-changer has to be compulsive. We’re going to go deeper into what constitutes compulsive behavior in a later post, but for now we’ll just define it as something one feels driven to do, even in situations where the person is intellectually aware that he’s engaging in behavior that is risky and self-destructive to a degree far out of proportion to any potential benefits derived. He is often willing to defy common sense and long-term logic in order to indulge in the behavior. There is a lack of control involved in compulsion, a feeling of powerlessness to say no in the face of your desire.
  2. Tolerance. The more you use the mood-changer, the more you get mentally and physically accustomed to the mood-changer. You lose sensitivity to it, the doses that used to excite you now bore you and have little effect, and you require bigger doses to achieve the same mood-changing effect as before.
  3. Withdrawal.As tolerance continues to increase, you reach a tipping point where you go from needing the mood-changer to feel above-average or superhuman to needing it just to avoid feeling shitty. You can see this with coffee addicts who can’t even feel like a human being until that first cup of coffee. This is what withdrawal is; when you don’t have access to the mood-changer, you feel subhuman and terrible. In life, you feel as if you’re constantly oscillating between feeling superhuman or subhuman, with your various mood-changers being the relevant trigger.

As long as you are using a mood-changer, and your relationship to that mood-changer has these three elements, you have an addiction. It doesn’t matter what areas of your brain are being lit up when an fMRI is scanning you; if you’re compulsively using something as a mood-changer, you need bigger amounts of that thing than you used to to get the same effects as before, and you feel shitty when you don’t have that thing, than you have an addiction to that thing, plain and simple.

12 Responses to “Raw Concepts: Mood-Changers, Addiction Elements”

  1. Hello T,

    you made an interesting point , i totally agree with your statements.
    My question is , wich are the ways to break the cycle?

    The non-conscious part of our mind needs…something to “replace” the addiction.

    For instance, ive used to drink 3-4 coffees everyday, i stopped cold turkey to drink coffee but, after 6 days i couldn’t resist and started again.
    After that i made a new “strategy”, instead of Coffee i drink water+lemon or green tee …

    it worked!!

  2. Izumi have you checked out Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg?

    It goes into detail about how you should always replace the reward you get from a habit with a different reward in order to quit a bad habit.

  3. Things can be extremely pleasurable to the point of becoming ‘habit-forming’. But is addiction real? If, for example, alcohol is an ‘addictive’ substance, why is,say, person A ‘compelled’ to drink all the time to the point that become known as an ‘addict’, and yet person B is not. So is alcohol really an ‘addictive substance’? If one person “couldn’t resist” and they other person could, then the substance or the thing, whatever it is, simply is not, in itself, “addictive”.

  4. Chris: what is your point? What does one thing, the fact that one person gets hooked on alcohol and another doesn’t, have to do with the other point, which is whether or not addiction is real?

    Two people get exposed to a person carrying a germ. One person gets sick, the other doesn’t. Using your logic, does that now mean sickness isn’t real?

  5. If a notable percentage of people *don’t* get hooked on an alleged ‘addictive’ substance or pursuit; and a notable percentage of allegedly ‘addicted’ people permanently quit the addictive substance or pursuit in question – then were they ever *truly* physically or psychologically “dependent” or “addicted to” the substance or the pursuit in question? [as though it exerted a vice-like grip over him and he was totally “powerless” – really?]

  6. Again, use the sick analogy. If a notable percentage of people exposed to a germ carrier don’t get sick, and a notable percentage of sick ppl get permanently cured, then were they ever sick? Is sickness now not a real thing?

  7. Actually Chris, I think it would be clearer if you could just state what conclusion you’re trying to steer us toward. That addiction as described by the three elements I mention doesn’t really occur in people?

  8. @Matt

    I’ll buy the book, thanks for the advice 🙂

  9. My personal view is that I agree that your points 2 & 3 about tolerance and withdrawal are true, however in your point 1 you stated that: “There is a lack of control involved in compulsion, a feeling of powerlessness to say no in the face of your desire.”
    My issue is that you want to expand the concept of addiction to encompass a whole list of things, when even the conventional belief in drug-induced ‘addiction’ is far from an empirically supported fact (and is based only on the testimonials of some addicts who claimed that exposure to a drug made them “lose control” and also on some technical research on lab animals). I am referring to the work of Bruce K. Alexander by the way. I have no intention of steering anybody towards my conclusion, however nearly everybody subscribes to the disease model of addiction and won’t entertain any different viewpoint on the matter.

  10. When did I mention a disease model of addiction? That’s not relevant to the overall point of this post. Whether or not one believes in the disease model of addiction shouldn’t affect whether or not you believe in the three elements of addiction. Also, I disagree on whether the compulsion aspect is arguable. Compulsion simply means one feels compelled. Is it really debatable that addicted people find their addictions compelling.

  11. Ok, I promise that these are my last words on this subject.
    ‘Compulsion’ is defined as: “an irrational NEED to perform some action, often despite negative consequences.”
    But the ‘addict’ is not really *compelled* to do what they do, because that would imply that the ‘addict’ truly NEEDS that thing, but they don’t NEED it at all. At least not like actually *needing* oxygen, water and food in order to survive. The addict only FEELS that they *need* it. So they believe that they are compelled, but it’s not an objective, true, medical fact, it’s purely an emotional feeling. Hence why I believe addiction to be a myth, and that addicts are not truly compelled at all, but they like to convince themselves and everyone else that they are.

  12. Chris – you’re interpreting the word “need” too literally and narrowly. It’s about perception. What matters is that the addict PERCEIVES it as a need. Not whether he LITERALLY needs it. Otherwise only food, oxygen, nutrients, and water and maybe medicine could ever truly be the targets of compulsive behavior.

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