I just finished reading a book called Confessions of an English Opium-Eater by Thomas de Quincey. It's an autobiographic essay written by the author in 1821 where he narrates how he became addicted to opium.

This is one of the first books addresing addictions and it became an inspiration to other authors who wrote about human torments, such as Baudelaire and Poe. My personal believe is that the cynical and even "upbeat" tone of the author during his recollection takes away the real suffering that the writer had to go through and before his addiction. He is an unreliable narrator. He almost dismisses the fact that he had serious episodes of what he calls "melancholy" but we today call it depression. 

He says he started consuming opium when he was a university student, because he had a strong stomach ache and a classmate recommended him the drug to ease the pain. At the beginning he consume it as a recreational drug and he even stated that consuming opium each weekend in the amount he did couldn't be more dangerous than drinking on weekends.
But then he became consuming it EVERY DAY NON STOP! He spent 10 years consuming opium in different quantities and ways. 

He narrates the pleasure the opium gave him and how it errased all his pains, and it gave him this new perspective on life and it was the best thing that could happen to him and it was perfect.

Then he narrates how it absolutely debilitated his body and mind and he couldn't focus his attention on anything. He couldn't sleep well because his dreams where filled with nightmares. He doesn't mention it in his book, but I learned that he and his family had to struggle financially because he was unable to be responsible with money.

At the end of the book he implies to have stopped consuming and even that it wasn't that hard really, but then in an epilogue written a year after the publication of the book he says he actually stopped consuming opium everyday, but that he continued consuming it. Only he reduced the dosis. And reading about de Qincey's life you can learn that the continued consuming for decades after the publication of this book.

And then qustions arise. 

I wondered at the fact that de Quincey spent 10 YEARS! consuming the drug non-stop, but aren't many of us as addicted to something as him?

How many of us are addicted to caffeine, tobacco, weed, spending money, smartphones, sweets, other drugs? Many people have to have the TV on all day everyday. Isn't that a kind of addiction? And what about being on the phone all day? And the people that can't spend one morning without coffee because their bodies need the caffeine? I myself are seriously addicted to sweets. I daily crave sweets and it's very difficult for me to spend one day without eating at least a cookie, even if I try.

What makes us addicted to something, even when we know it's harmful?

What can we expect from us, a society that is deeply addicted to things to comfort themselves from "mental pains"? I believe addictions try to cover "holes" in our needs. Do you need attention or affection? Be addicted to smartphones. Do you need company because you are afraid of solitude? Tv is the answer. Are you restless? Smoke. Do you want endorphines? Be like me and eat as many sweets as your blood allows. Do you want to feel that you belong to a group? Smoke weed so you can brag about it and feel special about it.
But do we have to do it? Can't we tackle the real issue behind our addictions? Can't we self-analyse us and find and face our fears and needs without it?

Edit: Some typos.

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  • Hey Ishtar, nice observations. It seems that you're an attentive reader. ;) 

    Having worked with people who had severe drug and alcohol addictions I can tell that they always play down the negative consequences. And most of them don't even care what they do to their families, partners and others while being under the influence of drugs. Only after withdrawal, and living for many years without the drug they start to realize what they have done... Those who realize what they are doing to others start to fight very early against their substance dependencies. It's sometimes the case that they cannot stop for themselves (because they have given up on themselves) but they don't wanna harm others! 

    The same goes for people with gamble, sex, shopping, etc. addictions. They often not only ruin their own lives, but also that of their partners and children. 

    Now you're questioning about other addictions, but the line between (bad or good) habits and addictions isn't clear here. When you call yourself addicted to sweets, you need to answer if this is actually a real addiction, or just a habit and absolutely natural desire. Yes, habits can lead to addictions, this is why it's good to look critically at all of them... but you should free yourself from unrealistic expectations on the human mind. Our consciousness is limited. Although, people like to rationalize their own behavior, and construct reasons for everything. The brain isn't working like this. Every conscious decision cost our brain a lot of will-power, that's why habits are build to reduce the time/energy spend with balancing pros and cons, contemplate, or reflect upon your last deed. 

    So, everything what sparks positive feelings, joy, pride, relaxation, or is reducing fears, could become not only a habit but also an addiction. Our reward system is to blame for this. An addiction has been formed when you compulsively seek to achieve the desired effect, despite harmful consequences to yourself and others. That can be physical dependencies as well as psychological dependencies. 

    Many people consider some substances as harmful, or certain behavior as wrong or immoral, and want to refrain from that forever. But if the substance is actually needed by the body, or the behavior is a natural need for the human being, they get into deep trouble with their subconscious and bodies. - You can't call everything an addiction just because you haven't managed to deny yourself (natural, but unwanted) needs! 

    There are other questions hidden in your post: Is complete self-control possible? Is it possible to conquer all of our fears and inhibitions forever? 

    And my opinion is NO, we are still humans. Doesn't matter which path we choose... even those who reached that so called state of enlightenment, by dedicating their life to this quest, know it's evanescent.

    But that shouldn't keep us from trying our best every day. ;-) 

    • Beautifully worded answer :) I enjoyed reading it and it gave me a new light to answer my questions (even those that were hidden!).
      Thank you!

  • Como estas senorita Ishtar? I don't like drugs especially opium. Using drugs leads to addiction and undesirable consequences.     

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