Addictions have always been interesting to me. Growing up, I lived among people who used and abused drugs (e.g. alcohol, marijuana, even heroin). The one thing they all had in common was the understanding in their heads that what they were doing was not good for them and that, in their minds, they could quit at any time. I shook my head many times at the sight that they became while in their drunken stupors. People who were otherwise rational human beings became belligerent and incoherent while under the influence. The next day, they would apologize for their actions, say that “it wasn’t them, it was the (insert drug),” and then they would do it all over again the next time they went out. They were addicted to letting go, I think.
As a human being, I’m not immune from addiction, either. I’m addicted to food. I like a nice, fat-laden pizza, especially brick oven pizza with a thick crust. I also love, love, love Mexican food. That’s a given if you know where I was born and raised. I sometimes find that I can’t control myself from eating. Two or three tacos are not enough. I must have that fourth beef taco because an “order” of tacos is four, regardless of calories. Though, to be honest, I haven’t missed an enjoyable activity of responsibility because I’d rather stay home and eat. Is it a better or worse addiction than being addicted to psychotropic (mind-altering) drugs? I would suggest that it is, but I’m the food addict. I have a conflict of interest.
My wife and I watched the movie “Shame” the other day. It’s rated NC-17, and for good reason. (It has nudity and graphic sex scenes.) It’s a shame that it is rated like that because it takes away a very good movie from reaching people and explaining addictions and their detrimental effects. In the movie, Michael Fassbender plays a successful man in his 30’s who is addicted to sex. And he’s not addicted in the way that a teenager is addicted. He really is addicted. He finds himself “upping the ante” in his sexual encounters and bringing the addiction into his workplace. He cannot solidify his relationship with women because of his addiction. His relationship with his sister is severely strained for the same reasons. All in all, his addiction to sex is slowly destroying him.
As addictions are often known to do.
Of course, “Shame” is not the only movie about addictions and how seemingly normal people walking around us are slaves to addictions. There are probably better movies. But this one makes the point of showing the main character as someone otherwise normal and otherwise successful. His personal life is a mess, though. And, of course, there are other movies that show how someone’s entire life is a mess.
That’s the thing about addictions. The addict thinks that the addiction is under control if the addiction doesn’t interfere with their job, or if they feel that it doesn’t interfere with their job. Likewise, they may feel that it’s okay if the addiction doesn’t interfere with their personal life. But life is life. Your work and your home are part of your life and the interference of one means that the the other will be interfered with as well. Just because I can still be productive at work doesn’t mean that I can carelessly eat 3,500 calories today and not go out for a jog tonight. It’s going to catch up. It always catches up.
I reckon that the best take-home message from this little rant of mine is that we’re all addicted to something, be it the thrill of a scratch-off lottery ticket, the excitement of a new romantic conquest, or the ecstasy of an IV drug… We’re human, so we’re at the whims of the effects of dopamine and other neurotransmitters on our brains. The trick is to recognize it, accept it, and do something about it. And that’s where the mental health and medical system in this country has failed us.
But that’s for another post at a later time.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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