Are you an addict?

Fixed odds betting terminals have been much in the news. Recently the Government, under pressure, has brought forward a new regulation which stipulates a maximum bet of £2 a ‘throw’. Currently the maximum bet is £100, and a focussed gambler can make a bet every 20 seconds. Many of them lose up to £1000 in a single session. A total of of about 1.8 billion pounds is lost every day. Betting houses take great care to encourage their regular customers, and work very hard to keep them going.

How stupid! – we may think. Surely even the simple minded must know that the odds are calculated to ensure that over time the profit goes to the provider, the dumb client is always the loser. Well – not always. You could walk into a betting shop, put in your £100, win £10,000, and walk out, clinking with money – and never return. And that of course is the bait.

Addiction carries with it a sense of internal obligation. Tobacco smoking is a common example. Yes, there is certainly a moment of pleasure puff by puff but there is likely to be a big price to be paid in the end. And I should know: I smoked for many years, and by now I have had two heart operations.

We think of addiction as a mental phenomenon, forgetting that it is present in the brain. The brain conveniently helps us in our habits by creating the neural connections which save us from having to think. A familiar example is driving a car where many of our procedures, such as changing gear or checking the side mirror, require no conscious thought. Our brains do the thinking.

This can be even more serious if our habit changes our biological needs. The smoker actually needs tobacco more than the non-smoker, just as the non-sleeper can become dependent on their tablets, and begins to find that his dosage is increasing. But what interests me today is our potential addiction to our questionable social habits.

On the wireless the other day I heard a man describe how his mother continually plagued his father for his stupid absent mindedness. The father, as it happened, was a scientist of repute – and once considered for a Nobel Prize. My guess is that the mother could only breach the gap between their intellects by her criticisms. Her inferiority complex required, but never satisfied, the difference.

I, for instance, find in conversational discussion that I am strongly inclined to make sure that everyone knows how well read I am in the subject. It must be very annoying to all those who now feel at a disadvantage. I spend more time trying to save tuppence in the supermarket than I do at spending a thousand pounds. I remember well my wife’s expression of interest when listening, or in many cases not actually listening, to my latest ideas on the Universe.

And I am given to not really listening to other people, even though I know its importance. I am much too keen to prepare my stylish answer. I forget that a conversation should be an episode of mutual caring exchange not a tennis match.

I wonder whether our fierce discussions on this Blog about climate change are well thought out – with an open mind investigating the evidence. Or are they the product of a closed mind – to be protected at any cost. Much the same might be said of religious beliefs.

Those are just examples, but I suggest that we spend some time looking at our social habits, and particularly those which concern people close to us. Spouses, children, colleagues, friends? We might well be helped by asking such people to tell us about how it feels at the receiving end. We could learn a lot.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Moral judgment, Neuroscience, Quentin queries. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Are you an addict?

  1. David Smith says:

    I don’t want to get into confession and self-analysis here. I might go a little way in that direction with someone whom I felt I knew well and trusted, but there’s very little to recommend trust online.

    Keeping it general, then, I’ll suggest that when we’re talking about bad habits we probably aren’t discussing addiction. Addiction implies chemical dependency. Like so many words, it’s been used sloppily by the media and by advocacy groups reaching for exposure, sympathy, and money. But there’s a world of distance between an opium addict and someone who can’t seem to stop bragging about himself. The braggart has an unpleasant habit, but he’s no addict.

    As for non-addictive bad habits – behavior that hurts oneself and may hurt others – it may be useful to make distinctions between types of people and types of habit. For example, an habitual killer has a more severe bad habit than, say, a stutterer. A man who constantly berates himself is in a different category from one who loves to berate others. For one thing, the former is likely an introvert and the latter an extrovert. We could also distinguish bad behavior by its effect. The killer, say, causes more damage, statistically speaking, at least, than the stutterer. Using a different measure, the killer is more likely to incur social wrath than the stutterer. You might say that the killer is at one end of the community blowback scale and the stutterer is at the other. And so on.

  2. G.D says:

    We do become addicted (as in dependant on an ‘activity’) to the ‘product(s) of a closed mind’ when we are threatened by opinions/beliefs that oppose our views of reality. Cognitive dissonance is to be avoided at all costs! (But a smoker has it all the time!).

    But, if we accept, what we ‘know’ (believe) & the ways we ‘know’ are not absolute, and relate from that mind set, then we can entertain ‘paradox’ (dissonance?) without reverting to the familiar habits of a closed mind; and the need for it to be ‘protected at any cost’ becomes less of a problem. We can then relate and be open to change & each other.
    (It takes nothing away from ‘our beliefs’ as they stand in any given moment).

    Of course we all have our blind spots, which need to be enlightened and healed!
    One of mine? …. When sensing unconsciously (intuitively) that someone is overly sure of themselves (ego?) i find it difficult to relate to them; feel they aren’t open to other’s views. (Even if they claim to be!).

    That threatens all the above, and dissonance is created within me. Weather simple insecurity & mistrust on my part, or a correct intuition (both have proved true in the past) makes no difference. After realising ‘the threat sensed’ and an initial period of working through it in relationship with them, if the ‘sense’ remains i can not help but ‘close my mind to them’.

    As far as i am concerned they are attempting to make whatever in their own image………. Particularly others & God.

  3. galerimo says:

    Before saying anything else on the topic, according to Statistica, the UK government received £2.7bn from betting and gaming tax receipts in 2017 – over double the amount that it was just 10 years ago.

    And aparently there are now almost 600 000, ‘problem gamblers’ in the UK, (NHS). Officially that is.

    With that sort of financial return from human misery, where the addiction to gambling is concerned, the Government will need to establish a lot more credibility in order to be seen as looking after the welfare of its own people.

  4. John Nolan says:

    galerimo

    All that means is that gamblers subsidise non-gamblers (think of the lottery money which isn’t even tax!), just as smokers subsidise non-smokers to the tune of £14.7bn a year (that’s the profit the government makes, taking into account tax, early death and spending on treating smoking-related illness).

    So according to your argument the government should regain credibility by abolishing taxes on gambling, smoking, alcohol or even obesity (the sugar tax). Yet this goes against the grain of using taxation to disincentivise behaviour that our lords and masters deem undesirable – which to liberal-minded people like me constitutes an abuse of taxation whose only rationale (it is after all imposed theft) is to raise revenue.

    In short, if I choose to spend my own money on ‘bad’ habits, that is my choice. There is such a thing as the principle of subsidiarity, which is part of Catholic social teaching, as Quentin has often been at pains to point out.

    • David Smith says:

      “In short, if I choose to spend my own money on ‘bad’ habits, that is my choice. There is such a thing as the principle of subsidiarity, which is part of Catholic social teaching, as Quentin has often been at pains to point out.”

      The realm of individual freedom – freedom of persons from the rule of governments – seems to be shrinking. The modern state is determined to replace the relatively benign moral guidance of religion, which has been declared mere sectarian preference, with the decidedly strict rule of law, which by common consent now is always applicable to everyone wherever individual behavior *can be conceived of* as being inimical to the efficient operation of government. That’s a big claim, but it seems to be practically unquestioned. Therefore, I’d say that you’re considerably more likely these days to find your various governments claiming the right to inspect and control your behavior in more areas than was the case, say, seventy or eighty years ago.

      Thus, you may soon find your governments collecting and inspecting data on your gambling habits and telling you that you’ve got to change your ways or be arrested and taken to court. Their goal is to protect the state coffers from being deprived of your tax money by what they decide are your bad habits. And their justification is that if the state has an inadequate amount of tax money, they’ll be less able to control you in other ways. For your own good, of course. Well, for the good of society, which includes you, as a constituent widget.

      At least for the moment, we in modern democracies still have considerably more individual freedom than our ancestors did in the days before the advent of democracies. But progress both gives and takes away. Stay tuned.

  5. galerimo says:

    Yes I am. But these days I am careful to acknowledge behaviours rather than claiming “addict” for personal identity.

    In much the same way a person would avoid saying I AM a cancerous person rather than I HAVE cancer. Or even I am managing cancer.

    To be freed from the grip of an addiction into a place of vigilance around compulsive behaviour, is true liberation indeed.

    Desire never leaves but the constant practice of recovery, by the grace of God opens up a view on vulnerability, fear/terror of relapse and the sheer joy around living a good life relying on God as Father.

    If a person was going to a particular restaurant and ordering spaghetti bolognese and it was making them sick every time, even to the point of dysfunction, surely they would stop going there or at least change their order.

    So why not the same for those “social habits”, that destroy our lives with such heavy casualties in family, friends, jobs and self-respect. We keep going back.

    I agree only partly with the “mental phenomenon” view you take on addiction.

    My understanding is that it is simply, love gone wrong. Addiction is the dark side of true love.

    It manifests the sheer blinding power of attraction that is Eros, I would see it more of a sensate, spiritual disorder. At the extreme end of a positive personal value.

    A man, retiring from his profession as a highly regarded and esteemed practitioner shared with me recently about his many failed marriages and relationships with women.

    “I never stopped loving any one of them”, he said, “I kept imagining that the grass was always greener on the other side of the fence”.

    While operating very competently on a professional level he claimed to have an addiction in his personal love life.

    Finally, he told me that he came, late in life and exhausted from the stress of it all, to understand, the grass is greenest where you water it.

    In the end it is not just what others tell us; only, and if we are lucky, when we finally listen to the truth we tell ourselves can we “learn a lot”.

    • David Smith says:

      One apparent attraction of declaring every bad habit an “addiction” is that by making it medical, you give yourself an excuse not to deal with it: “I can’t help myself; I’m in the grip of addiction.” Another attraction is that it turns you into a victim, and victims are rewarded with pity and sympathy. You’re turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

      • Quentin says:

        Here’s another view. Knowing that you have a (bad) habit you are aware that you may need to take steps to overcome the internal tendency. For example, my wife and I had not succeeded in giving up tobacco over 50 years. But when we promised each other that we would do it together, it worked like a charm. I would not have been letting myself down, I would have been letting my wife down. That was enough.

  6. David Smith says:

    “Addiction is the dark side of true love.

    “It manifests the sheer blinding power of attraction that is Eros, I would see it more of a sensate, spiritual disorder. At the extreme end of a positive personal value.”

    Well, yes, I see that it *can* be that, but it’s not always, and probably seldom. And, rather than say it’s “love gone wrong”, which implies that “love” is an independent creature over which one has no power, might it be more accurate and honest to say that it’s simply giving in to an urge to indulge in romantic and sexual fantasies at the expense of other human beings?

  7. Alasdair says:

    In their respective eras Brits Alex McIntyre and Alison Hargreaves and the Swiss Ueli Steck were possibly the greatest mountain climbers in the world. Although they were very different personalities, they were all highly driven individuals. The modest fame and fortune which top mountaineers enjoy cannot have been their motivation. Admittedly, before his death, Steck was apparently the second most famous Swiss within his own country (after Roger Federer), McIntyre and Hargreaves were almost unknown outside the UK climbing fraternity. McIntyre made at least one first ascent of a super steep and difficult route on a himalayan peak which he didn’t bother to report at the time and the achievement remained unsung during his lifetime. A mere love of mountains and wild places could have been satisfied without climbing such extreme routes on peaks where easier alternatives exist.
    It seems to me that, to have exposed themselves so often to such a high level of real mortal risk, they must have been addicted to risk and to the notion of cheating death (which eventually each failed to do). The terms “adrenaline junky” or “thrill seeker” are overused and barely adequate. These terms are used to describe skate-boarders and mountain bikers who engage in activities where the apparent risk is much higher than the actual risk. Extreme high altitude mountaineering remains the most dangerous activity which significant numbers of individuals, male and female engage in in numbers. Unlike other pursuits like motorsport, and even pure rockclimbing, it has not become safer due to technological advances.
    I was in awe of these individuals once, but I now believe that they suffered fatally from a very dark addiction.

  8. David Smith says:

    “I was in awe of these individuals once, but I now believe that they suffered fatally from a very dark addiction.”

    Would you say that a specialist who works much harder at her specialty than most other people in the same specialty is likely to be an addict? Personally, I’d say she was obsessed, but probably not addicted.

    Sorry, this semantic quibbling is wasting time on a byway off to one side of Quentin’s topic, which was:

    “ I suggest that we spend some time looking at our social habits, and particularly those which concern people close to us. Spouses, children, colleagues, friends? We might well be helped by asking such people to tell us about how it feels at the receiving end.”

    I’m an unusually asocial person in the flesh, so even if I were inclined to share personal anecdotes, I’d have very few to share, but I’ll try to think of particularly persistent behavior patterns I’ve seen in others.

  9. David Smith says:

    Quentin wrote:

    “Knowing that you have a (bad) habit you are aware that you may need to take steps to overcome the internal tendency. For example, my wife and I had not succeeded in giving up tobacco over 50 years. But when we promised each other that we would do it together, it worked like a charm. I would not have been letting myself down, I would have been letting my wife down. That was enough.”

    My father was a smoker for, I think, many years before he stopped. The reason he gave for having stopped was that at one time the smoking left him with a lingering and very unpleasant taste. There may have been more to it than that, but that was the explanation he gave. No terrible withdrawal symptoms – he just stopped. Once many years ago a close friend told me she’d heard that a medication I had been taking for a long time caused acute withdrawal problems. Maybe that was true, but when it came time to leave that medicine, I had no or very little problem. I mention these two incidents by way of suggesting that some people who may be regarded by an expert as addicted may not be, or, alternately, that some people may be much less inclined to addiction than others. Quentin’s example, above, seems to me to support that.

  10. John Nolan says:

    Moral theologians have argued that exposing oneself to danger of death may constitute positive and indirect suicide if the end does not compensate for the danger of death that is run. Alasdair’s intrepid alpinists may fall into this category.

    David’s example of a (female) ‘workaholic’ is interesting, although I suspect men are more likely to suffer from this disorder. It raises the question of what difference, if any, there is between an obsession and an addiction.

    • David Smith says:

      “It raises the question of what difference, if any, there is between an obsession and an addiction.“

      I’d say “obsession” is a personal judgement on a behavior, whereas “addiction” implies a willingness to add to a personal judgement a quasi-scientific label: “John’s constantly working through the night on his projects is obsessive. I’m afraid it may even be addictive.”

      In these times, at least in the Western world, the media assign the highest authority to things “scientific”. It’s probably a natural consequence of that that when we desire to impute extreme gravity to something, we not infrequently appeal to science to make our point. In fact, in this example, both “addictive” and “obsessive” have their origins in science.

  11. ignatius says:

    Here we are batting about on the tip of a rather large and chiefly submerged iceberg. Anyone who has tried to pursue, to any degree whatsoever, the inner life of contemplation will have become aware of a degree of inner chaos and lack of control over their own desires, distractions and motivations.
    We could pursue this subject quite fruitfully at length and some interesting issues would continue to arise. I offer one or two for further consideration: How do we deterrmine our inner yardstick? In other words how do we define what ‘addictive or obsessive behaviour actually is, for ourselves and for others…is there a ‘norm’?
    Can we determine a boundary between neurological mechanisms, personality structure and chosen intentions? where is the boundary?
    For myself I would say that there is in ‘me’ a welter of desire, fantasy, urge, intention, wants and needs. My daily life proceeds minute by minute from out of this strange biological miraculous morass that constitutes myself. With regard to the intention towards the balanced life I am simply reminded of the old adage that when you are up to your neck in alligators its hard to remember that the aim was to drain the swamp!
    Perhaps this goes to explain why Christmas day will most likely find me down on C wing in the big house down the road belting out carols with several of my mates who for one reason or another cannot be allowed out to play!
    Happy Christmas all 🙂

  12. David Smith says:

    Quentin wrote:

    “I suggest that we spend some time looking at our social habits, and particularly those which concern people close to us. Spouses, children, colleagues, friends?”

    One thing I’ve noticed both in others and in myself is an unwillingness to approach the other – husband, wife, child, relative, comrade, neighbor, accidental acquaintance – where he is, rather than to impose ourselves onto him. One sign of this problem may be the use of the first person instead of the second, as in “I’m so sorry that happened to you. I wish I could help.”

  13. Iona says:

    Somebody may be able to correct me on this, but I think the term “obsession” has its origins in theories about demonic activity. One might be “possessed” by a demon, in which case one would be helpless in its grip, and only exorcism might release one. Or, a lesser problem, one might be “obsessed” by a demon, in which case one was not completely helpless, one still had a grain or two of free will left. Psychiatry took over the term “obsession” to characterise someone in the grip of an idea rather than a demon.

  14. John Nolan says:

    Confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus addictis, voca me cum benedictis. (Requiem Mass, Sequence).

    ‘Addictus’ has the meaning ‘given over as a bondman’, so if we are slaves to our habits we can truly say we are addicted.

    Iona is right about obsession which is derived from the Latin obsideo, obsedi, obsessum (to besiege). Just as an army lays siege to a city as a prelude to occupying it, so a demon will besiege an individual prior to taking possession.

  15. Nektarios says:

    What is an addiction, what is passions, what is obsessions? Are they not sin reigning in our mortal bodies and where these addictions, passions and obsessions are running to excess?

    What can one do about them? Is it possible to overcome them? How are we overcome the root of these which is sin reigning in our mortal bodies? Is it possible, surely is it, but it has to be God’s way or it just doesn’t work.

    This world lies in the power of the enemy of our souls. Those who are truly not Christians are in his power and they can do little or nothing, they have no power and sin and death rules in them.

    They try all sorts of means and keep failing.

    We are called as Christian to mortify the deeds of the body, that means to put to death the deeds of the body.
    For those who are not Christians, it is impossible to go against the flesh, the body where the root, sin resides.
    Those who are Christians it is not only possible, but we can overcome.
    We need to realise, Christian, what we are and what power we have and how it works.
    Now please read Romans 8:8-13.
    Here the Apostles is writing to the Romans and so to us about all this, to help us understand God’s way, not our own way of dealing with sin in the body with all its addictions, passions and obsessions and sinful excesses.

  16. galerimo says:

    To you Quentin, as well as my gratitude for the the critical and deep insights and yes, even the unsettling challenges, I want to extend my best wishes for Christmas.

    Every good thing that you would wish for yourself and your family – May it be yours for this Season that comes to us with the greatest blessing of our new born Christ child.

    And to all my fellow “posters” here, thanks for your work, your wit and your wisdom. All the Blessings of This Holy Night to you and yours.

    “When the time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman… (Gal 4;4).

    • Quentin says:

      Thank you Galerimo for your thoughts and blessings. For me, this blog is a boon. It provides us. lay or clerical, with a way of debating our different approaches to the religious life. I learn so much from others and I find myself considering ideas which, otherwise, I would never have encountered.

      Happy Christmas to everyone. Quentin

  17. Alasdair says:

    To quote an often referred-to source “Addiction exacts an astoundingly high financial and human toll on individuals and society as a whole. These costs arise from the direct adverse effects and associated healthcare costs e.g. emergency medical services and outpatient and inpatient care, long-term medical and psychological complications, the loss of productivity and welfare, fatal and non-fatal accidents, suicides, homicides, and incarceration, among others”.
    So addiction is bad then – very bad. We are justified in insisting on legislation against its causes eg controlling the fixed odds betting terminals that Q refers to – even at the risk of being accused of becoming a Nanny State. We owe it to addicts and to those who might become addicts, and we also owe it to “society as a whole”. Although some claim that untold job losses and suffering will result to those whose very survival apparently depends on the income from slots. Such arguements are always made to resist changes for the better.
    All this is very different from annoying social habits like being “given to not really listening to other people” etc. We all need to have more self-awareness and strive to be better if we can.

  18. Alasdair says:

    Further to the habit of “being given to not really listening to other people” which Quentin mentioned and I admit to, (quite a bad habit actually but hardly an addiction).
    See the book “Twelve Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos by professor Jordan Peterson”.
    Rule 9 is “Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”.

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