By Roland Watson

To finish this series, I want to examine self-destructive behavior in more detail, specifically, addiction. Perhaps as you read these articles, you find yourself thinking that the world, and society, are not as bad, or as devious, as I say. If this is your response, you might want to use my next remarks, where I review the different types of addictions that are present in modern society, to take a closer look at yourself.

As you consider the list, you should also remember one thing. The greatest addict is the person who does not even realize that he or she is addicted.

When you think about it, you may find that you are an addict as well, with all of the negative implications that this holds. Society, to which you have previously given your devotion, is perhaps on second look not as good as you believe.

What is an addiction?

So, what is an addiction? An addiction is a compulsion; something that you have to do; something that even the exercise of will cannot stop you from doing - at least not without the exertion of great effort and over an extended period of time.

Some addictions have physiological bases. Others are psychological. Also, in most cases addictions are used as a crutch, to help you tolerate the negative aspects of life.

There are lots and lots of addictions. I have already described how behavioral form is addictive. Different types of form in turn lead to different types of addictions.

Common addictions

Some of the more common addictions are to power, to controlling other people, and, as a derivative of this, to competition and success and status, to beating or being better than other people.

Related to this, some people are addicted to money, to material possessions such as clothing and new technology, to the actual act of shopping, and to gambling.

Then there is the addiction to sex, and also pornography.

Classic addictions cover a wide variety of drugs, of chemical substances, including alcohol, tobacco and caffeine; illicit drugs such as amphetamines, cocaine and heroin; psychiatric medications; and any other pharmaceuticals on which you are dependent.

You can also be addicted to food, and not only food in general, but to specific foods as well, including such things as chocolate, sugar-based foods, processed foods, "fast-food," and meats.

Technology addictions include to the TV, to computer games, and to surfing the Internet.

And finally, there are a wide variety of behavioral addictions. Examples of these include an addiction to a particular person, such as someone who dominates your life; to social interaction, where you feel a need not to be alone; to - conversely - being a recluse, and avoiding other people; to being afraid, and with an associated obsession with security; to being hip and cool; to expressing strong emotions, such as anger; and to actual physical violence.

A couple of obscure addictions, but which are becoming increasingly common in the modern world, are to activity, to simply doing things, to being busy; and, to the future, to getting there, to finishing things, at the expense of enjoying the present moment.

I want to make a couple of comments about this list. First, I've included some things that are often called phobias. I've done this because they involve compulsive behavior, even if their treatment may be somewhat different from a more typical addiction.

Secondly, only the drugs, technically, are physically addictive. The rest are psychologically addictive. However, you should not underestimate their power. For example, the addiction to power can be as strong, and as difficult to defeat, as the addiction to heroin.

On the other hand, some people are in a sense "addicted" to freedom, to travel and experience, to danger and risk-taking, and to enjoying every moment of their lives. But, while this type of drive definitely works as an antidote to society, this is not its source or purpose. It originates inside, in your heart and mind, in your will to live.

Fighting your addictions

In the balance of the article, I want to offer a little advice for fighting addiction. And, to do this, I want to recall the points that I made in the "How things change" series.

When you are addicted to something - to anything - you are essentially subject to a dictatorial power. Your addiction dictates critical aspects of your life. So, you need to overthrow this self-dictatorship, and change your life. What this illustrates is that we are talking about a global system change.

I further said that global change requires a break, in this case from your past. There are in theory two ways to make this break. First, you can gradually build up the pressure, slowly change or cut back on what it is that you want to end. The idea here is that if you can keep doing this, at some point you will reach the tipping point and leave the addiction behind.

The other alternative is to end the addiction right now, to say a firm, resounding "NO, I won't do it any more, not even one more time!" Of course, this is incredibly difficult. It is going cold turkey. It requires immense will power, which isn't always present in someone with a strong addiction.

Nevertheless, it can be easier than gradually cutting back. The problem with this is that if you decide to say no most of the time, but permit yourself the option to say yes a few times, the tendency will always be to make this time one of the few. By leaving an out, you open yourself up to rationalization. It may be better just to say no, and then to use your will to stick to it.

Reinvent yourself

There is, though, a hybrid approach. What this means is that you use your willpower to cut back, but not to the point where you stop completely. Indeed, without the pressure of making a complete stop, reducing an addiction, if only somewhat, is generally easier to do.

Of course, if you are talking about an abusive addiction, such as to violence, or one which puts your life at risk, then you should force yourself to stop doing it right now.

What the hybrid approach allows you to do - it is particularly good for substance addictions, is to think of yourself in a new way. You can begin to redefine yourself, as someone who is not addicted.

What this does in turn is shift the job from a negative focus - ending something bad, to a positive focus - becoming someone new. Psychologists have understood for years that personal development is much easier to achieve through positive reinforcement than negative.

What's more important?

Then, after some weeks or months, with this progress under your belt, you can make the final break. What is critical here is that you shift your sense of what you find or consider to be valuable.

Satisfying an addiction - getting your fix - is a valuable act, in a negative sense. Following this program, though, when you make the break, the value of not being addicted will be greater than the supposed benefit of one more fix.

And, the more time passes, the greater this positive value will become. You will be able to say, for example, is it really worth giving up six months of sobriety for one more drink?

If you can keep with it, being clean will eventually become much more valuable than the addictive act. You will have successfully reinvented yourself, as someone who is not addicted, in any way.

Closing points

With physical addictions, if you are in really bad shape, you may need to begin with rehab. Also, it is essential to avoid social influences that reinforce the behavior. You may even need to avoid your parents, if you have followed them down the road to addiction.

As another example, if you are an alcoholic you will need to avoid bars, any other social engagements where alcohol is consumed, and even going out to dinner at night. You might miss your social life and activities for a while, but one positive here is that you will cut your expenses. You will also improve your health. If you can add in a physical fitness program, even only a little, this will make the transformation even more dramatic.

Beating an addiction, of course, is all about will. The important thing here is that you do not just want to exercise control over your will sporadically, when the temptation presents itself. You need to harness your willpower, twenty-four hours a day.

For instance, for dieting the important thing is not the type, or quantity, of food that you eat. It's your willpower. You don't want to control yourself only when you must, at mealtimes, and then let go. Rather, you want to control your will as a matter of choice, all the time.

To close this article, I want to make a few comments about illicit drugs, and also tobacco and alcohol. When you first consider experimentation, and are lured by the supposed benefit - this is inevitably to satisfy peer pressure, you should try to remember the costs as well. And here, there are many costs, including legal, financial, and health.

But even more so, you should treat these substances as a virgin approaching your first sexual experience. This is because you can never go back. Drugs profoundly affect your mind, and even a few uses - of certain drugs - can change it irreversibly. Going through life with a clear and unaffected mind will enable you to achieve the greatest understanding of what it means to be alive, and therefore the greatest happiness from it. If you take drugs, you will give this up. You will throw it away, and you can never get it back.

In the next series, I will examine how we can solve the problems in our society.

© Roland Watson 2014