Addiction can be a source of deep misery. You can name the big life destroying ones pretty easily: gambling, alcohol, and all the various chemicals. However, we very often don’t have a framework of reference to speak about the process of how addictions form. What we are missing is more detail about that process so we can become proactive in our own lives and nip addictions in the bud before they grow out of control.
The discussion on addiction is primarily one of habits and the loss of our self control to those habits. A quick scan through all of the online dictionaries defining addiction will find descriptive words such as need, disease, compulsion, and dependence. However, addiction should never be considered a static condition, but part of a continuum of how intensely a habit has control over us. In this vein, by changing our focus from simply defining addiction to seeing addiction as part of a process we can gain enough understanding to make decisions for greater health and happiness.
The model of a continuum grades habits by the strength of momentum and intensity they hold over us. From the least to the greatest momentum they are: subtle impressions, actions, habits, addictions, and compulsions. And while we don’t have time to define all of the subtle changes as a habit moves from each point to the next, it is important for us to define the edges of the addiction phase. A habit becomes an addiction when we think about that habit even when we are not doing it. Its that simple. The point on the continuum that begins an addiction is when the pull begins to take us away from what we are currently doing. Habits are just actions we do regularly while addictions pull us away from the present moment. Addictions become compulsions when we no longer have the willpower to stop ourselves from doing them. Even if we hate it, or want to stop, or feel guilty about doing it, our habits have taken on such a devastatingly large momentum that we cannot stop them. Compulsion is a very devastating space that hurts us because of this loss of control, but also because the compulsion propels towards its own goals and disregards all the rest.
Caution: We all have addictions, habits, actions and probably a few compulsions. By using the model of a continuum I hope that it is easier for us all to own a few more of our skeletons.
Remember: All habits flow along this continuum. Coming to know yourself and your habits before they become addictions is a powerful tool for health and happiness.