Addiction versus Obsession: Common human traits and behaviors

| June 15, 2007 | Reply

Main Entry: ad•dic•tion 
Pronunciation: &-’dik-sh&n, a-
Function: noun
1 : the quality or state of being addicted
2 : compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance (as heroin, nicotine, or alcohol) characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal; broadly : persistent compulsive use of a substance known by the user to be harmful

Main Entry: 1ad•dict 
Pronunciation: &-’dikt
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: Latin addictus, past participle of addicere to favor, from ad- + dicere to say — more at DICTION
1 : to devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or obsessively
2 : to cause addiction to a substance in (a person or animal)

Main Entry: ob•ses•sion 
Pronunciation: äb-’se-sh&n, &b-
Function: noun
1 : a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling; broadly : compelling motivation
2 : something that causes an obsession

I was more fascinated by all the commentary about body building than I was by the actual subject. A note: I once participated in this activity, and I have to agree it is something other than mere sport. But can’t any athlete become an addict? We have all known, or at least heard of, athletes who train addictively. We speak of being addicted to running, or addicted to sex, or to relationships…

I became curious (one could even say, obsessed) with obsession. Of course, I first had to look up the words, addiction and obsession (see above). I have to admit to an opinion, which is that addiction and obsession are common human traits and behaviors. Both seem to be unhealthy, that is, they don’t promote either mental or physical stability. To the best of my discernment it seems that “addiction” is a physical behavior, while “obsession” is mental or emotional.

I believe addiction and obsession are as human as, well, breathing, for instance. You could say I am addicted to breathing. My body sort of craves it. I can’t stop myself from doing it much longer than a minute and a half. But I think breathing is generally a healthy activity, if you define health as life-supporting or enhancing.
My point is this: the body is designed to function in particular ways. A physical craving which is overpowering can, and is, necessary to support life. Otherwise, we could forget about eating, drinking, even breathing.

OK, so breathing is a function of the sympathetic nervous system and happens without thinking about it, so to keep things fair, let’s limit addictive behavior to those activities which require our conscious participation (like eating and drinking). Even so, we’re hard-wired to crave. If you don’t accept the cases of yogis who were able to survive without food, water, (or air for that matter), for prolonged periods of time (months and even years) then you could say that it is necessary for life-support to have a craving to eat and drink.

So sometimes the hard-wiring gets skewed and we crave some activity that isn’t necessary to support life, like drinking alcohol or smoking. I understand that there has been some success with drugs that break the body’s need for these substances. But then there’s obsession.  The mental and emotional component can be profound. If one cannot stop thinking about something, and if one feels extremely depressed, even grief-stricken at the lack of a certain substance in the body, and these could include endorphins caused by running or working out, then the addiction may continue, fed by the obsessive thoughts and emotions.

It becomes difficult as we know to separate the physical addiction from the obsessive thoughts and emotions. We can all obsess on something or someone! As was pointed out in the bodybuilding commentaries, obsessions can begin early in life based on unhappy or traumatic events. It seems that the negative aspect of obsession comes from the likelihood that an obsession is bred by and fed by a crisis, trauma, or catastrophic occurrence.

Is anyone you know addicted to happiness, or to feeling peaceful, calm, or stable? How about obsession with kindness or compassion? Yet we often say we crave quiet, peace, down-time, stillness. How is it that if we crave these things we are almost never addicted to them, nor do we obsess over them?

Even though I would argue that obsession and addiction are as normal as desire, I have to say that desire has a healthy connotation while addiction and obsession are definitely unhealthy. Desire is still under our control. I can desire chocolate, but do nothing to satisfy the urge. Left alone, it goes away. Later I may choose to fan the flames and then give in to it, but I can generally choose when I partake. But lets say I’m at a party where I don’t know anyone except the host, and I’m feeling a bit shy or unconfident. Oh look! There’s a table full of truffles! I can station myself right next to the platter full of truffles and eat to my heart’s content. Contentment caused by what? Consumption of the truffle? The supposed “high” that chocolate can engender? Why don’t I get “high” on happiness? Why don’t I continually choose thoughts and behaviors that cause me to feel happy? Well, isn’t that what addiction and obsession are about? Don’t we do something, or think about something, because it creates some degree of happiness or contentment? So again, we’re back to obsession and addiction as necessary to life.
 
In conclusion, why say “freakish” when talking about ANY obsession or compulsion? We call it “obsessive-compulsive DISorder” but its certainly common enough.  Preoccupations and compulsions can lead to amazing discoveries or to amazing feats, so why not just accept that some people need to build huge muscles in their bodies and some people can’t stop looking at u-tubes.

Today I went to Borders and saw that they had a DVD copy of one of my favorite old movies, Freaks.

You could say I’m a freak for Freaks; I considered buying it so I could watch it again and again and again…

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Category: American Culture, Health, Meaning of Life, Psychology Cognition

About the Author ()

Artemis likes wilderness, wild animals and whooping it up with the boyz. She also thinks writing and yoga are pretty cool. And watch out for the full moon.

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