Is America Addicted to Addiction?
From the obesity epidemic, to the opioid crisis, to the 80+ hour weeks expected of entrepreneurs, I believe America is addicted to addiction.
I recently read an article in the NY Times titled “Can You Really Be Addicted to Video Games?”. Apparently, it was quite controversial to include video game addiction as a diagnostic category in the DSM. The author, Ferris Jabr, writes, “People have written about behavioral addictions – to eating, sex and gambling—for centuries. In recent decades, some psychiatrists and counselors have even specialized in their treatment. But the idea that someone can be addicted to a behavior, as opposed to a substance, remains contentious.”
This particularly surprised me. Of course people can be addicted to a behavior! The behavior – obsessiveness, compulsiveness, greed, hunger—fuels the habit (overeating, drinking heavily, working constantly, etc.). Now the treatment certainly varies depending on the habit, but the real problem is the behavior. I’ve always wondered why groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Overeaters Anonymous form based on a particular habit (alcohol, food) and not based on relatability of an inability to halt a particular proclivity. These groups could be larger and help people with different kinds of addictions find kinship along the same lines.
One time I watched a documentary of a couple of dudes who ran 100 miles. I told my therapist that I looked up to this guy, Jayson, who overcame dyslexia at school and worked tirelessly throughout his life to achieve his goals. My therapist surprised me. He asked whether I thought this man’s life was in balance. I said, “No.” He asked whether I valued balance in my own life. I said, “Yes.” Then he said, “It’s interesting that you look up to him.” I won’t forget that. Jayson ended up becoming a motivational speaker. In one way, I admire him, but viewed from a different lens I think it’s totally fucked that motivational speakers often exhibit little balance in their own life.
America idolizes obsessive behavior, from earning straight A’s to eating whole containers of Halo Top ice cream in one sitting. We’re obsessed with perfection. Olympic bronze medalists are happier than silver medalists. The author explains why: “So we have the paradox of a man shamed to death because he is only the second pugilist or the second oarsman in the world. That he is able to beat the whole population of the globe minus one is nothing; he has ‘pitted’ himself to beat that one; and as long as he doesn't do that nothing else counts.” Certainly, it doesn’t count! It wasn’t the best! If you’re not the best, why bother? Or, at least, it’s an honor to be on stage (bronze).
What do you think? Does America admire and reward addictive behavior?