Addiction from a stoic viewpoint

Addiction means a lot of things to different people. In psychology, there are strict definitions according to the DSM-V and ICD-10. They used to concern themselves with substance misuse, however they now include gaming and technology. To be classified as addicted, there is a minimum criteria. It’s quite common to use the word “addicted” liberally in order to indicate your fondness for a particular food, drink (coffee) or activity such as playing football. Is that a bad thing?

Approaching addiction from my own viewpoint, for a long time I considered it to be present if it met the criteria for disorder as defined in the international guides. By those standards, I wasn’t addicted to anything! These guidelines usually require there to be a negative impact from doing or using something, such as intoxication, withdrawal symptoms or impact on personal and interpersonal relations.

Let’s take my love for sweets. I’m not gaining weight, it’s not impacting interpersonal relationships. My blood sugar is fine and currently there are no signs of Diabetes. I don’t need to go out of my way to obtain sweets. By love sweets, I mean that I’d routinely eat a multipack of 8 caramel wafer bars, a 200g bag of jelly sweets etc. each day! This has been going on for years, ever since secondary school. However it’s not meeting the criteria for addiction or substance misuse. What about what we mean when we say addiction?

“We must give up many things to which we are addicted, considering them to be good. Otherwise courage will vanish, which should continually test itself. Greatness of soul will be lost, which can’t stand out unless it disdains as petty what the mob regards as most desirable.”

Seneca, Moral Letters, 74.12b-13

Here Seneca says that some things which we begin doing, may seem good at first. It’s ok to binge a Netflix series once, or actually maybe once a month. Well I need to catch up on another series now that I finished this one because my friends are all talking about it. Soon you’re watching a few seasons of shows per week. I’ve been there. I don’t remember any of those shows.

It’s easy to justify behaviours like my sweet “addiction”. It’s not impacting my health now, however what will be my future health repercussions? The pancreas could already be struggling without me noticing. The arteries could be slightly thickening and becoming more brittle. But I don’t feel it, it doesn’t impact anyone. And just like insidiously affecting my physical body, such attitude can easily affect my willpower and “courage”.

I think it’s time to stop finding small justifications or excuses to binge. I quit smoking, I don’t drink alcohol and I don’t miss it. I’ve been using this as an excuse to allow myself other vices, but in truth despite my stable weight and health, I’m not getting fitter, I’m not improving myself. Is it time to call quits, this is the best I can do at 25? This is what my peak self is? No, it shouldn’t be.

Addiction to laziness, addiction to sweets, addiction to small bursts of dopamine that tell you it’s ok. Stopping something is hard, starting something also hard. But it’s a necessary step. For this brain to effectively pilot its skeleton mech with skin armour, I need to do some maintenance.

With this blog I’m trying to find meaning to myself, where I am and what I’m doing but I’ve realised it’s easy to forget about the rest of me, the physical me. Yes it’s good to be resilient to physical and emotional pain, but that doesn’t mean I should neglect myself as a “lesson”. A resilient mind needs a well functioning body.

This one is a bit of a ramble.

Ivan Written by:

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