Healthy Addictions

I want to discuss the notion of “healthy addictions.” Really, this is an important topic. Our brain likes 'happy' chemicals and we tend to find ways to effect their release. Trouble is, we become quickly habituated to stimulation and then seek novelty in order to get that same old feeling. Our modern society gives us so many opportunities to be rewarded, but many people can’t handle it. They gradually become addicted to unhealthy things.

Topics I'll explore are: Distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy addictions. Examples of each kind. And my birthday wishes.


Nate Hagens has written about the psychology, sociology and neurology behind addictive behavior, including consumerism, which is basically the process of turning high value natural capital into mostly disposable products with low or often negative marginal utility.

Over a year ago Nate and I did a radio show together titled Evolution, Addiction and Economic Demand. Go there for more background or check out this one from the TOD archives.

The bottom line is that I don't believe we can keep from becoming addicted to something. Once we accept this fact of life, the issue becomes whether we can work on controlling what we are addicted to--making it healthy and inexpensive rather than destructive and costly.

How to Tell the Difference

This table contrasts healthy and unhealthy addictions using four criteria that I think are important.

Consider what you do regularly as a kind of pleasurable compulsion and compare it to that table. Is it an activity that consumes a lot of resources and generates trash, or is it environmentally benign? Do you get tired of it quickly and feel pressure for "more", or does the pleasure linger? Is it causing you to be pulled always into the present and unable to plan for the future, or does it involve delayed gratification? Are you depleted mentally or physically by the activity, or are you stronger or more skilled as a result?

My Healthy Addiction

I believe cultivation of plants is a healthy addiction. When I am working on the farm or garden I get to do all sorts of addictive activities. First, I make plans. This sets up the expectation of a reward. But the reward is in the future and the exact timing and quality of the reward is not perfectly known. This is important from a neurological perspective. We want to have expectations fulfilled, but they can’t be totally predictable because fulfillment requires the establishment of tension.

After the garden plan sets up a potential reward, I invest in its outcome. This raises the stakes. I really don’t want the plants to die. I tend them. Watching them grow feeds mini rewards. “Oh look! The seeds are germinating!” Getting the odd positive reinforcement along the way keeps me hooked. It’s like having a flirtatious conversation.

I really don’t know why, but the plants are beautiful too. I like to gaze upon a thriving bed of rainbow-colored chard. The colors of lettuce are astounding, especially when back lit during dawn or dusk. I grow a light green variety called Salad Bowl and a dark red one called Red Oak Leaf. Seeing them side-by-side is a treat.

I look forward to these experiences each year. In the winter I start to miss them. Seasonality is crucial because it re-establishes novelty. I don’t eat fresh tomatoes out of season, which means I enjoy them all the more when they come off those vines. And the winter provides its own rewards. Tree collards are sweetest in the winter, for example. The occasional snow or hard frost events are fun. An inch of snow on dark green-blue Dino kale is a more or less twice-yearly spectacle.

Looking at the four criteria, growing my own organic food is a great addiction. It has a low ecological footprint as I use mostly manual labor and local resources, and it displaces potentially purchased food with a high footprint. Habituation is slow because the novelty begins anew each year. The required planning and delayed gratification related to "plant time" helps me develop a long-term perspective, or a relatively flat discount rate. And I am eating nutritious food and getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.

By Contrast

For comparison, let's briefly review the great American pastime of shopping.

Product developers and marketers exist to get us addicted to buying stuff. I notice that people give each other things because they feel obligated or as a sign of affection. (Personally, I can't guarantee I won't snap when my kids are given more plastic gizmos and candy at the next round of holiday festivities).

Shopping addiction qualifies as unhealthy: the embodied energy and resulting pollution are high, product novelty wears off quickly, advertiser promotion of "newness" increases short-term thinking, and having too much stuff means that the marginal utility for most things is low.

My Birthday Wishes

As a kid I would ask for new things for my birthday. But now I am trying to reduce the burden of material stuff cluttering my life. In fact, this year (I'll be 40) I'd like a whole lot of people to stop being addicted to consumerism. (Note: my birthday isn't for a couple of months. Second note: I'd also like Bart Anderson to consider this essay worthy of Deep Thought status.)

As an American, I'd actually like to destroy the idea that we are a nation of consumers. We need a new identity. Perhaps we can try "citizens" or "sentient Earthlings." I don't know, but just about anything is better than what we label ourselves now. It would be great to have reports about "consumer confidence" be replaced by reports on "citizen life satisfaction."

Think about it. If consumer confidence goes up people will eat out more, buy more party food, and probably gain weight and clogged arteries. We will then get a new report on the worsening epidemics of obesity and childhood diabetes.

My last birthday wish is for more people to start connecting a few simple dots.

What Else?

There must be a whole lot of healthy addictions out there. I expect that as people have less money and more time they will shift into new kinds of activities and I hope these outlets are good ones. We are a remarkably species, able to adapt and acclimate to great changes.

Discussion question for readers: What healthy addictions have you developed, and what unhealthy ones may have been replaced?

My healthy addiction is Kayak diving, I'm also the president of a local scuba diving kayak club.
I occasionally get to supplement my protein intake with a little spearfishing and catching lobster when in season.

However in my case there may be a bit of sadomasochism involved as well. Last weekend I traveled across the state of Florida to do Kayak support for a master swimmers relay team in the 24 mile swim held in Tampa bay. I'm proud to say I was able to guide my Team to a win in extremely difficult conditions. It was a grueling 9 hour paddle in three to four foot swells. It was hell for the swimmers and quite a few competitors had to drop out because of sea sickness.

FMagyar. Great!!! My healthy addiction is kayak fishing, snorkelling and surfing. Here in the seaside tropics, the calm dry season is perfect for fishing and snorkelling. In the stormy rainy season, which has just begun, I surf the offshore island reef when we get ocean swell.

I love seeing and feeling the contrast in the sea and the sky. The different colours and fragrances is a treat to the senses.

I think my footprint is low-aside from the energy and materials to make my equipment. Though, the equipment is durable and will last some time before it needs to be replaced.

My unhealthy addiction is surfboard riding, where I will fly thousands of kilometres by aircraft and travel hundreds of kilometres by boat to find waves.

The price of sanity can be high or low.

Thaicoon, good to know there are some kindred spirits out there! I've been all over the world from the frozen north to the Amazon rain forest but it's when I'm out on the ocean that I feel the most alive.
I don't have to travel too far to get out on a coral reef, from my door to the closest reef including the drive to the beach is only about 4 miles so my footprint is usually pretty light.

I share your addiction of plants. I prefer the term passions over additions. I think part of the problem here is that we have bred a modern society that has developed this expectation of happiness. If you look at levels of contentment around the planet you can't help but notice that poor people in developing countries often seem the most at peace. This peace seems to come from having no expectations or guarantees about future happiness, but rather an appreciation for each day that they are healthy and have food in their bellies. I don't think our modern society will ever be satiated due to the expectations that we have developed as cultural norms. I think addictions come from a too easy life where there is no longer any real tangible risks or challenges. If you take away the challenges and make life too easy maybe 1 in a 1000 will develop positive addictions like a love of plants. The other 999 will fall into obesity. consumption and negative addictions. This is simply the nature of any random population of humans. America has had such wealth that it was a possibility that a large percentage of the population could have followed creative, intelligent, non parasitic lifestyles. They didn't. Neither will the Chinese or the Europeans or the Africans. We are talking about human nature and the fact that the vast majority of humans when given an easy life will simply default to an easy parasitic position. Sorry but the only solution I see here to increase positive happiness is for us to become collectively much poorer until we are stripped of any expectations of happiness

I too get a thrill out of growing vegetables. I just harvested our first asparagus for dinner. We had a cold spring in the north west, so the asparagus is about two weeks late. The pleasure from seeing the Red Pontiac potatoes emerging as I left the garden defies description. I also get a thrill out of making use of discarded machinery. My hay elevator was retrieved from an over grown field and repaired with rebar and angle iron. The same for the three point hitch tiller. My farm pickup is a 1977 Ford and my car is a 1989 Camry. At 76, I do not plan to replace either of them.

The best to you,


Ibon; Are fungi parasites?

Most fungi are decomposers - they eat stuff that's already dead.

Until recently, I worked in the advertising industry, thus contributing to the unhealthy American addiction to shopping. This is a sin I will have to atone for. I've started.
Thought this quote from Wendell Barry might be relevant:

People whose governing habit is the relinquishment of power, competence, and responsibility, and whose characteristic suffering is the anxiety of futility, make excellent spenders. They are the ideal consumers. By inducing in them little panics of boredom, powerlessness, sexual failure, mortality, paranoia, they can be made to buy (or vote for) virtually anything that is “attractively packaged.” The advertising industry is founded on this principle.

My healthy-ish addictions:
- Creative writing (my mood is largely dependent on how many good pages I've written lately)
- Running (endorphins, wheee!)
- Human contact (i need to be around, and hive-five, if not downright hug, a bunch of people to feel energized)

My unhealthy-ish addictions:
- Reading the news online (for the most part, this depletes energy, for some reason; produces anxiety, wastes time, delays and diminishes capacity for action; I require increasingly more interesting articles to feel intellectually stimulated ... think there might have been a Campfire on phenomena related to this ... anybody else deal with this?)
- Coffee (environmental impact, i think, tips it over to the unhealthy end; it does improve mental and physical stamina though - but perhaps in a way that is, in the long-term, counterproductive?)
- I'm sure there's more. Drawing a blank. Probably because I don't have something I'm addicted to.

I would quibble with the word 'addiction' in this context. Addiction is characterized by excessive use and ruminative thinking regarding the desired object/activity.

I recently took up mindfulness meditation, specifically with teachings by Andrea Fella and Gil Fronsdal. I find that I can stop, pay particular attention to the sounds/smells/visual setup of a modern store and it's just creepy. There is a substrate of sameness in them - same parquet floor, same fixtures, same choices of music, same BUY NOW!!! colors - they're absolutely soulless.

I quite commonly buy things but I am the devil on value. I pay a lot for Smartwool socks ... because they last forever. Nothing but Asolo hiking boots on my feet, again due to their fairly permanent nature as well as utility. I will pay a lot ... for a lot of value.

Interesting post - I went through a lot of the adjustment described in this during 2007. I was kind of a stunned bunny for about three months after I figured out this whole peak oil thing wasn't a theoretical exercise.

Mindfulness Meditation does bring on increased awareness of actions and wants and aversions, that were invisible before. You still often do the action, but can watch yourself doing it, and watch it arise and disappear. The trick is watching the thought and desire or aversion arise, and be able to make a decision at that stage.
I have done retreats with Gil Fronsdal- he is a good teacher.
The story and myth, which seems to attract most people to Buddhism, I have chosen not to cultivate.

I like your response and share your approach, but let me focus on your quibble for a minute.

My scientific background is partly in evolution-plant systematics-taxonomy. The reason I bring this up is that we study the meaning of "nomenclature."

What is it that we name? Does it truly have a distinct identity separate from other things that are related but named differently? Or do they in fact blend into one another and we simply apply markers for our convenience.

Does a rainbow have the colors violet, blue, green, yellow, orange and red? Or are there infinite divisions? What do you tell a child? What does a scientist with instruments say?

When a physician screens for a potential "mental case" they use the DSM book. A system of observations and check boxes are involved. A score is given and one is classified as having "something wrong" or not. Will the same score turn up on Tuesday and Saturday? Doubtful.

I have yet to see a decent definition of the word "addiction." Yours is by far the loosest I have run across.

Should I go into a some detail re the dopamine pathway or can we let it go and refer to the background material sited?

It would also be interesting for you propose a definition you think is decent.

Yes let's hear it for the dopamine pathway. Is it the same for most addictions? I occasionally read a blog "The Frontal Cortex" by Jonah Lehrer. I would like to find time to read his books. Neuroanatomy, Neurophysiology, Neuropharmacology and Psychiatry were once my favorite subjects but I took other paths in life and did not keep up with these sciences. My daughter is a Hopkins trained neurologist and says that she still doesn't understand the brain. Lehrer and others have suggested that some of the fMRI studies may be junk science.
--My addiction to sports had both healthy and unhealthy aspects - as did a 50 year passion for the study of population and resources. I have had the opportunity to discuss dopamine with Jay Hanson but not at his level. I won't go into my unhealthiest addictions except to note that they relate to the allure of females.

fMRI studies aren't exactly junk science, but they do tend to 'explain' too much. Economists are quick to grab neuroeconomics papers and say 'aha - so that part of brain lights up explaining our behavior!'. it is not nearly so simple. (though the studies on oxytocin and cooperation/trust are pretty compelling). I just don't think we have the resources to map out all the complex variables involved in decisionmaking, brain science etc. But habiutation via unexpected reward is a key driver. And if the baseline level increases over time, we need either more, or more novel stimuli to get the same buzz..

Regarding dopamine, too many of our activities in this culture promote/end up with a release of dopamine as an 'end'. I also think our chronic cultural depressed serotonin levels are linked to dopamine (and other) cravings.

Low serotonin linked to carbohydrate craving, obesity and depression (Wurtman 1986, 1995)

Diets high in sugar will cause release of dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain (Hoebel 2005)

Sugar is a ‘gateway’ substance that increases likelihood of addiction to other substances, e.g. amphetamines (Hoebel 2003)

Areas in brain activated in food craving are also activated in drug craving (Raglund et al 2004)

I did not intend to imply that fMRI (functional MRI) is junk science. It is actually an incredible scientific technique. However some of the papers presenting findings from the study of fMRI images may be from researchers a little too anxious to join the ranks of the published. And there may be "peer reviewed" journals that are a little too anxious to publish the latest hot topic. Does anyone have a clue as to the number of medical journals in the US or the World who feel the need to fill their pages with something interesting?
--Conventional MRI gives exquisite detail. Functional MRI gives poor resolution as it is only showing gross blood flow. fMRI papers may be extremely useful but should be evaluated cautiously.

For the record, since this thread is getting old, I don't propose any particular definition for "addiction." A poet can define a word any way he likes but someone talking science should be more precise. Do I suppose all the people posting here about their so-called addictions have anything in common re: their dopamine pathways or fMRI's? I rather doubt it. Also, a surprising lack of confessions regarding alcohol or heroin

A have a few addictions that I think are very healthy. I enjoy mountain biking. Its a great way to explore the countryside. I compete against myself using a GPS to keep track of distance, average speed [GPS also gives greater confidence to explore more out-of-the-way areas]. Another is working out. I enjoy the feeling of good muscle tone and the sense of well-being that comes from a good general level of physical fitness. The third major addiction I have is sex. Its a great way to share awesomely good times with (very) close friends, and get good aerobic exercise to boot. Plus the addictive nature of it reinforces the desire to keep my body in the best shape possible. Looking good (positive body self-image) and feeling good, which both come from being in shape, don't hurt the libido. A virtuous circle of addicitions if ever there was one - much recommended!

Fitness can be a healthy addiction. Endurance athletes supposedly get the "runner's high" from natural endorphins. I've done a lot of cycling and running in the past. I've never felt the endorphin high myself, even at the peak of my fitness. Being fit let me go farther without getting tired, but that was it. Then in my 20's I traded endorphins for adrenaline when I started getting into motorcycles. I'll be the first to admit, chasing adrenaline highs is relatively unhealthy just because it can encompass some high consumption activities.

I'm not sure I'd go along with the idea of gardening as an addiction, but it is very satisfying in many ways, as well as challenging in many ways.
But yesterday, after some days of despairing that my potatoes would ever come up, I found them pushing up though the straw. It's the first time I've grown potatoes, and it was a thrill to see them.

I am waiting anxiously for beets, carrots and onions to emerge. Oh, please, oh please, my seeds, be vivacious, spring forth with thou green shoots. I have made a fine seed bed. I have brought you water. What could be wrong?

Perhaps nothing.

Perhaps a disaster.

I don't know yet.

You know that your little garden problem is just a gateway to bigger crops..
'psst! I got some Red Wheat, got your Barley, some California Spinach.. realll good stuff (Organic!)'

"I can resist anything except temptation" -Oscar Wilde

About those addictions.

Well I thought about it some. Then I thought about my parents and possible addicitive behaviour in them. Then I thought about my grandparents and what I could discern in them.

What I found was that I used to be quite addictive. To alcohol and cigarettes for the most part as to the bad ones.
My other addiction though I don't regard it as bad is the desire to collect and buy many tools. I have not stopped this but now its mostly at yard sales or auctions. Low cost,good tools.

Then I tried to recall what addictions I could remember of my grandparents. For my grandmother I could think of only one. Snuff.
For my grandfather..none.

They lived on the farm. Rarely do I remember them ever leaving the farm. For years and years the most my grandfather did was fish and that was as much for food as anything else.

My belief then is that not too long ago many people pretty much did not do anything that could be considered addictive. Nada. There just wasn't 'stuff' there to get addicted to.

They had to work and do the chores and always something on the farm but it was not forced labor or drudge work. They seemed to just do and go on.

I believe it was only after WWII and many moved off the farms that true addictions to what now was available came about.

So we don't need addictions. So what does it matter about the possible brain activity or other nonsense? Keeping up with the Jones?
Having a car when not needed? And so on.

Here is an addiction. You work hard all day long. You find you enjoy being productive in what immediately benefits you. This I mean is when you do NOT work 'for the man' but for yourself.

Sharpen a knife. Repair your tractor. Plant some mint,a new apple tree and till up hills for three rows of corn.
This is what I did today and actuall a lot more.

So when I came in, drew a drink, pulled my Red Wing boots off and hit my easy chair...some brain chemistry must have said "hey I feel damned good and did some real nice work".....

Those in the city I have no idea of for I left it 30 yrs or so ago.
I will never leave my place here in the country.

Doing for myself has an immense payback. Fix my own things. Carve some wood. Build a bluebird house.

NOTE: Say a bluebird on the wire fence today. Saw two Mockingbirds. Saw a neighbors Purple Martin houses with a full set of martins flying and getting it spiffied up. The house wren over my bed starts at first light making many flight outside and back to build her nest. She doesn't stop til dark, where do she get the energy?.....

Do you think she has an addiction? I am setting out hummingbird vine since I saw one inside my barn and one flew up in my face out the back window as I had it raised looking at my garden.

So the birds are coming back. Not many as yet but still coming. I am pleased and perhaps even a bit 'addicted' to wildlife near me. My dogs for sure.


Great observations airdale. I think you are right that nowadays there are more opportunities to become addicted to the useless and destruction. Idle hands and too much easy energy, etc.

I have other addictions that I keep in check, such as the pleasure of a beer or a glass of wine in the evening or tea or coffee in the morning. I feel as though these are in moderation but am conscious of the fact that they can get out of control.

My grandparents had a 160 acre Missouri farm. He was addicted to early scientific farming, croquet and checkers . He was very good and very competitive. Late in life when he visited Texas he would go to a fire station to play checkers. He also liked the latest technologies. During the late 30's on our long summer farm visits I recall him coming home at noon for lunch and to hear the radio news and weather report. I also have a vague early childhood memory of him listening to the 2nd Lewis/Schmeling fight. I am not sure if my grandmother had any addictions except perhaps her favorite chickens.

Since we had no electricity back in the 30's and 40's it was late in the game when they did get a battery powered radio.

It was only turned on at certain times and never allowed to play and play like TV is these days.

My grandmother listened to it quite a bit when all her work was finished, never while there were things to do so most listening was on Sunday or late in the evenings before it got too dark.

My grandfather just knew mules and knew them very well. And he was a master gardener. Somehow never read a book on it but instinctively knew how to tend animals and put in crops. I never ever saw him work so hard as to break a sweat. I know he did but it was very slight.

As I walked behind him with one mule pulling his walking plow I saw the mule sweat but not my papa.

One other rare trait. A mosquito would not bite him. He would let them land on his arm and show it to me and say "Watch son" would sit a bit then fly off. Must have been something in his blood.Something that his skin emitted.
The one thing that I have similiar is that ticks to not bite me. I can tell immediately when one is on me and just flick it off. A sensory feel that I seem to have always had. I am also immune to poison ivy. Never get chigger bites either but did as a child.

Like the part cherokee indian he was he was very laconic in his nature and lifestyles. Like the ones I have spoken to of late up in another county where my GGGrandmother came from and they are still there.

IMO the best addiction a person can have is the love of nature and the desire to see it flourish. To not destroy it. A passion ,if you will, as someone pointed out above.

Airdale-the price of lumber has fallen to great lows a timber cutter told me two days ago, hopefully they will cease cutting our trees down

I feel I have two addictions that I'm reminded of daily. Coffee and The Oil Drum.

It probably is useful to have a definition to work from. In my case I look at addiction as 'a deeply ingrained habit that acts as a means for coping with or masking certain feelings, like fear, pain, self-hatred, isolation.' (to name a few)

I used to drink too much soda, and eat too much candy, and I feel these had been used by me in addictive ways. Luckily, I eventually found ways to restrict the times when I allowed myself to buy and consume them, and simply found better substitutes to have handy when I felt drawn to one of them. (I still have Soda.. ONLY at Movies. And I'm not supposed to buy candy when I'm getting a paper, which was when most of them were acquired.)

The TOD addiction has both benefits and problems to it, which I probably don't need to outline to most people reading this. I like to be part of this conversation. As I tell my wife, there are not many people who want to have this conversation in person in my daily life, and in my fear of what a serious energy shortfall brings with it, I feel I NEED to be able to know that this conversation is at least happening SOMEWHERE.. and like a spider with her 'shake-string', I am a little obsessive about keeping a tab on this vibration.. I'm afraid that if I let go, I might 'fall asleep', right as we're cresting over the falls, and when quick choices need to be made. I don't think I would just forget, really.. but it's one of those tingling senses of what keeps me checking in here. But I need to put a renewed effort into creating some new work for myself, as the phone has slowed a lot in the last several months..

I do appreciate the topic, Jason (and Nate).. less for my own habitual behavior, and more for the idea that so much of our consumer economy has become based on creating and manipulating peoples' addictions, from TV/VideoGames and Buying Fads themselves, to the classic standbys like Alchohol, Nicotine, Caffeine, Painkillers, Health Supplements, Sugar, Guns-Defense, Exercise.. etc..

I'm not as worried about the blame or sicknesses that derive from these Many Branded Drugs, but how we can model an economy that is NOT based on the assumption that you have to make people buy things that they don't really need. You don't need 'planned obsolescence' to have a workable sales strategy. I have to believe that is true, but I can't personally make the business case for it.

Anyone want to take a shot? Bueller?


I'm keeping the Coffee for now. As they say, It ain't Heroin..

Caffeine is a bitter, white crystalline xanthine alkaloid that acts as a psychoactive stimulant drug.
Source Wikipedia.

Living in South Florida we have access to the good stuff on just about every corner.
I haven't quite figured out if it qualifies as a good or a bad addiction but at least it's legal ;-)

Yeah, for now I can still get it without owning a sidearm.

Dang, I'm sorry. Missed the point of your question.

Healthy Addictions?

I would rephrase that to be Healthy Habits, first of all. I see 'addiction' as behavior that has grown out of your control, and is a semi-conscious 'self-medication' for unresolved distress.. you might be otherwise totally 'conscious', but in that one particular behavior, you are under the control of old, inflexible feelings and reactions. (Irrationality and Fear)

Your example of cultivation seems to fit my point. Even if the joy of it has some level of compulsiveness to it, it doesn't sound like the behavior is unwitting on your part. You are consciously choosing an activity that is healthy and that while you enjoy it sensually, you can also know it is a smart activity logically. It sounds like maybe you actually LOVE it.. which is different than Addiction.

It might be useful to look at Food and Sex, both of which are natural and rightly provide our central sources of physiological response signals of joy, contentment, fulfillment, passion (etc, ahem!) .. but which we know are ALSO huge areas of distress, fear, pain and then of course Addictive Behavior in today's world. Cookies=Love, right?

Even eating healthy food or having safe sex with an appropriate partner, a person may be caught up in old anxieties and fantasies that have them relating to Eating or Loving with a totally 'unaware' way of handling/understanding that activity, which ultimately may serve as an addiction that just reduces their direct contact with their life..

OK, even if I STILL didn't answer that question.. I have to believe I can quit any time I want..

Goodnight Jon-boy! Goodnight Lizzie-may! G'night Pa!


I think towards the end of what you wrote there you arrived at my point. It can be a fine line between a classical addiction (which we consider bad) and a healthy one (which we consider good and don't tend to call an addiction until it interferes with daily "function").

I believe bad addictions stems from hijacking of the same brain chemistry that gets us hooked into good things...the passion and curiosity and obsessions that make us delve into intimate details that create expertise.

I suppose those of you in academia also look at the "Professional Student" question.. where it's fine and noble to pursue greater degrees of knowledge, but where does one draw the line between Devoted and Addicted.. acknowledging that it's probably more like a gradual crossover than a Pass/Fail matter.

As a self-medication, there is clearly the argument that some addictions are kept in place to allow a person to function, like adding extra duct tape to a cracked window until you are in a position to finally replace the glass.. or this cup of coffee in front of me. I can't edit video without a coffee standing nearby.. it's pathetic, but there it is. These might be given credit as 'benign addictions' (Like Methodone, which lets heroin addicts remain functional while still feeding a persistent addiction.. and yet this is one of the most difficult 'solutions' to propose, at least in the US attitudes towards drugs and druggies).. 'Less Harmful', if not exactly Healthy.

Necessary Costs? Cost of doing Business?

Bob; I just came back from two weeks surfing in Indonesia. Deliberately didn't take the notebook or go to internet cafes. However, when I did return, I spent the first few hours, after checking emails, catching up on the oildrum. Addicted or obsessed I am not sure.

Hope you didn't cut Curries for lent. That would be sad. I'm jealous, but I would've been in a kayak.

I don't know about coffee. I can usually predict my behavior when using it, but when I first started (in my 40's), my girlfriend at the time remarked "I would rather see you use cocaine instead."
I'm a backpacking, flyfishing wilderness junkie, with gardening and surf when I can get it.

I wonder where Mardi Gras (the locals experience is far different and often richer than visitors) fits in ?

Happy JazzFest !!


I don't think I would define your pleasurable activity as "an addiction" if it is healthy. I feel that an addiction is by definition unhealthy. Therefore my alcoholism is an addiction. The pleasure I derive in splitting wood or riding my bike is healthy, therefore it is not an addiction. Congratulations, those of you who say you are addicted to gardening are not in fact addicts. I'm happy for you. Just don't pretend you understand the pain of people who are truly addicted to something by saying that you are "addicted" to gardening.

Good point. I wonder if "compulsion" would work better in this context.

I think addiction has a negative connotation and is better linked to harmful, big footprint, destructive types of habits. In my life, those things that I'm passionate about and do fairly regularly, though not mindlessly or habitually, are yoga, mindfulness meditation, spending time with my son, friends and family, writing, reading voraciously, working in the garden (my first, all organic, permaculture-ish...woo hoo!). These activities make me stronger, more open, more able...

As for those habits I could probably do without or at least decrease: I'm still working out my habituation to consumption. It's still so easy to pick up something new rather than repair what we have or find it used, although I am getting much better at this. Also, I'm half-Dutch and so it is practically a requirement of the queen that I drink lots of coffee. :-) Okay, maybe not, but it's still a guilty pleasure, those few cups a day while reading a new-to-me book or skimming through TOD. Good stuff.

Great topic and fits in well with my attempts to break with desire and the belief that I "need" something when I really don't. Good preparation for times to come...

Though, I am familiar with yoga, gardening, fitness quest etc, I am not sure if they qualify as addictions. They are interests, and no doubt healthy, I would add music to that list.
Being with family and socializing etc is good, healty wholesome behaviour not an addiction.

I think you left out the compulsiveness(your habituation I guess) that is a requirement for being an addiction, maybe running and gym may have components of that, but not the others.

Meditation and yoga are the anti of an addiction, as an addiction is by its nature a bit mindless, even if it occupies your lower mind completely, your higher mind knows it is bad behaviour waste of time etc. I see it like a dad indulges his kid, the higher mind that knows you are straying from your wholesome self, yet allows the senses to have their way, and sometimes the senses, are unruly and uncontrollable.
So with my definition of addiction, as something that is highly compulsive - My favorite addiction is Chess on the internet, not playing it with all the pressure of a tournament, but for the fun of it. Trying to win ofcourse but not sweating it.
It has all the other good things going fot it, low eco footprint, keeps you mind sharp etc. Utility - well that is what got us into this mess, too much quest for efficiency, utility - there is an article on Forbes Trappist monks 'work' only 4 hours a day, yet have fulfilling lives.

I have to limit my juggling--bounce juggling, toss juggling and contact juggling--to an hour a day, usually from 4 to 5 a.m. each morning. Time slows as skill increases. I'd call it a good addiction, along with bookbinding, repairing the binding of old books. I had to do my copy of The Prize a couple of months ago because the thing was falling apart.

Good example.

I've often considered Juggling and HackeySack as very meditative, and have often enjoyed such unthinking, but still mentally alive activity- and yet that is also how a lot of drug-culture in the 60's defined their psychedelic experimentation. I didn't do acid, so I can't say they were wrong.. but I had a Philosophy/Religion teacher at NYU, James Carse, who found that these students of his in those days seemed to use the drugs to attain Nirvana..[to the background music of his Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism class] but that without the disciplines of conscious work, they had no access to it (to a higher, clearer mental state, you might say) unless they took the drugs.

The rhythmic visual and bouncing quality of juggling is also the kind of activity that is used to help Autistic and Asbergers patients to focus, I believe. A friend and his son have light levels of what might be undiagnosed Asbergers (according to him), and they notice how certain rhythmic activities are very soothing to their mind and concentration, like bouncing, pacing, shaking a hand.. it makes me wonder as I look at forms of Prayer and Meditation that use swaying, dancing and bobbing - just how these activities, rhythms and vibrations help the mind to function better.

There is SO much to learn.

This is a promising start at looking at the multiple facets and consequences of our complex behaviors, but like oldchuck I also take issue with "addiction".

The dopamine pathway and mesolimbic system are only marginally significant with regards to the underlying issues leading to what we would like to call addiction. We can, in fact, continue to call it addiction as long as we understand that this is valid only from a single, unique, peculiar perspective in the multi-scaled system which affects and drives human behavior.

What I mean by multi-scaled is that human behavior is the result of a system which at one scale, the microscopic, involves cellular activity within a neuron. At another scale, it involves interconnected pathways between neurons, with the release and uptake of dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters. At another scale it involves differentiated and interconnected regions of the brain that process sight, sound, speech, memory, language, disgust, anxiety release and humor, fear, desire, anger, fight, flight, etc., in a complex network.

At another scale it involves autonomic dynamic regulation of the human body and the individual conscious experience of processing the myriad sensory inputs from interacting with the world around you. You specifically, me specifically, writing and reading these words, this individual conscious experience right here.

At another scale it involves being a member of a complex human social network. At another scale it involves being biologically bound as a species to the Earth's complex ecology.

And across different lengths of time, all of these scales interact with each other and contribute to what we analyze, discuss, and debate as human behavior.

I think the concept of addiction is valid only when considering just a few of these scales in a particular way. Addiction considers the scale of physical changes to the brain. It considers a pale understanding of the scale of human cognition. And it considers the scale of human behavior within society, but only in that this "addictive" behavior is recognized as being different from other human behavior. Using the literal definition of discriminate, this behavior is discriminated from the rest of society.

Using the word "addiction", we are ignoring the very significant effects of other scales. At least in the legal system, we are ignoring the biological effects of foreign substances on cognition, perception, indeed all the complex functions of the human brain, and we ignore the effects on what we like to call individual responsibility (another idea which misses the effects of the other scales and systems).

We are ignoring the effects of complex deficiencies in the human social network. Some of these deficiencies are known as being poor, homeless, lacking in education, being subject to prejudice, and being physically, sexually, and emotionally traumatized.

And there is one other significant effect that we ignore, which is what happens when all these scales and forces interact to the benefit of a single entity or group. From Bill Gate's fortune, from our ability above all other species to be able to think, emote, communicate, and imagine in complex ways, to our very existence as living things on this planet. This effect can be called "luck". Or if that term doesn't sit well, we can call it the temporary preferential behavior of a system.

But "luck" is more succinct. It was luck that exposed Bill Gates to computers at a young age. It was luck that our evolutionary ancestors weren't exterminated in any of the previous extinction events. It was luck that the conditions were right for complex life to evolve on this planet.

In a world of unmanageable complexity, it may have to do with luck that most of us aren't more addicted, that most of us aren't habituated to detrimental behaviors, than we already are.

Looking at the dynamics of human behavior, it's easy to slap a label on a given problem, "addiction". It's like "depression" or "irritable bowel syndrome", just because it has a name, doesn't mean we understand what it is. But it is an easy quick fix to name it, because naming it is rewarding, the reward being a feeling of influence and control.

So those easy quick fixes can also be -- dare I say it? -- addictive.

If you believe in addiction, you may suffering from what you believe.

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I totally agree that labeling comes with perils. I also believe that humans can't help but label. Categorization appears to be a strategy that helps us organize a world that would otherwise seem infinite. (See my comment above re. nomenclature and taxonomy).

The ability for people to make decisions in a timely manner requires making judgments between what "is" and what "isn't" something. Bogging down on complexity and nuance can paralyze.

For example, I have twin boys, fraternal. One is great at making quick decisions. They look at a menu and say "I want a grilled cheese sandwich." The other spends enormous time weighing the options until we have to assist him and pressure him to order his food!

But I'd like to hear more from you about this.

I'd like to say more about this, but I'm not sure what "this" is. Taxonomy, timely decisions, or your twin sons? ;)

Here's a problem with taxonomy and classification: even among people who speak the same language, language is relative to experience. While we may be able to consult a dictionary as to a word's definition, most of the practical meaning behind words is hinged on our personal life-long interactions. As we do with money which abstractly represents the actual resources we need to consume, we do the same with language which abstractly represents the reality we need to navigate.

We confuse the map for the territory. Fortunately there are ways of addressing this single issue, but they take a much larger investment of time and effort.

Timely decisions. Hmm. In general, that's a complex, chaotic morass of interacting forces. They involve both short and long-term memory. Making, speaking, and acting on a decision involves the positive and negative consequences from previous attempts which mold behavioral conditioning for future attempts. They involve practice, experience, and levels of mastery. They involve self-knowledge of preferences, desires, and fears. They involve discrimination of the relevant information to consider. They involve prioritization of other perceived demands on time.

I've been thinking about a model to better describe this, but so far the model I have looks like "perception -> emotion, cognition -> behavior -> external feedback -> perception". Still needs some of the details filled in.

And since I know next to nothing about your sons, their age, health, or environment, your parenting style ... my completely uninformed and wild-ass guess is that your indecisive son will grow out of it, or he will turn his pensive, contemplative nature to his advantage, if you let him, if you don't get in his way. In the end, if it's only about indecisiveness, that in and of itself needn't be a problem. I think.

Then again, what do I know, I'm just an anonymous user on the Internet. :)

We got our start as a species as hunter/gatherers. The inclination to search for stuff, and to get a thrill out of it when we find something we think we need or want, is hard-wired into us. The marketing people were clever enough to discover and exploit this, whether they explicitly recognized it as such or not.

It is possible to overcome our programming, but it is difficult. Few can actually do it. A more promising approach than supression is redirection.

A personal example:

I have absolutely HAD IT with all the foreign junk in the stores. The USA, as a nation, simply cannot go on relying more and more upon imports. We need to be moving as rapidly as we can to localize our economy anyway, for a whole host of energy and environmental related reasons (which have been extensively discussed at TOD already).

Enough. I'm staging my own one-person rebellion, and - to the extent that I need to buy anything at all (and I am trying to be more frugal, too) - I'm really trying hard to just buy stuff made in the USA if at all possible. The funny thing is, it has quickly turned into something of a game. It is an interesting challenge to search the internet and try to find what might still be out there in remote nooks and crannies. Even where there are no longer any US manufacturers, that does not exhaust the possiblities, for in many cases there USED to be, so then the hunt is on for used or "vintage" US-made products. Where I absolutely strike out, that causes me to think long and hard about whether or not I really need that particular thing, or if there might be alternatives to consider.

This is a way of shopping which is very much attuned to the way we are hard-wired, but it is a very different way of shopping than is the way most people go about it. I'll leave it to you to judge whether my approach is "healthier".


One way that I find to always buy Made In USA is to got to auctions. Farm auctions mostly. Also yard sales and flea markets.

Around here we have an very old tradition called 'Trade Day'.

Its always on a Monday. Its been here long as I have yet moves a lot.
It was at the fairgrounds in another county then they were thrown out. So now its down the road in a field.

People bring chickens, goats, canned goods, all kinds of metal tools and knick knacks. There was a guy there from a nursery in Tennessee selling fruit trees and I picked up a Belle of Georgia to replace the same variety that the ice storm took down in my small orchard.

This time though I got a grafted balled 'standard' tree. For just $12. Expertly grafted and balled for I checked it closely.

This is where the cast offs and valuable items of the past are found.
Trade days are where folks used to really 'trade' and not just buy. But I am glad to see it still alive.

One of the best anvils I ever owned I got at a trade day.
A Hay-Budden of amazing quality at about 250 pounds.


but how much of stuff made in USA is indirectly made with imported oil?
tough to escape that one..(but possible)

Just living simply and frugally and not buying stuff you really don't need is the main way to address that issue. Buying used/vintage stuff to give it a 2nd life is also a pretty good practice.


In the scenario I spoke of I would consider my buying to be more of a recycling or reusing. As needed items are almost discarded by others I tend to latch onto them,if they can be of use to me.

Its a form of commerce that was once far more prevalent. And avoids sales taxes as well. A benefit for all.

Trading and bartering are going to have to come back in vogue. How else can we meet the coming decline?

Airdale-something whose time is coming around again

My healthy addictions: a little bit of martial arts, reading and hiking.

Unhealthy: smoking, reading online news feeds (including TheOilDrum).

Smoking is the stupidest addiction ever.
As everybody knows, it destroys your health, it's expensive, etc.
But the worst part is that it doesn´t give you any good sensation like other drugs, only the feeling that you don´t want to smoke more (for less than an hour normally).

And as the destruction of your lungs go so slowly (+10 years smoking to feel permanent effects), you begin to think really seriously to quit smoking only after you are seriously hooked. At the beginning it's pretty easy to stop smoking.

Smoking tobacco has become a class and business issue in the US.

Smoking is the stupidest addiction ever.
As everybody knows, it destroys your health, it's expensive, etc.
But the worst part is that it doesn´t give you any good sensation like other drugs, only the feeling that you don´t want to smoke more (for less than an hour normally).

I agree that smoking is very destructive, however since nicotine is highly addictive, I'd be extremely reluctant to call a smoker stupid. As for not giving a good sensation the research says the exact opposite:

By binding to nicotinic acetylcholine receptors, nicotine increases the levels of several neurotransmitters - acting as a sort of "volume control". It is thought that increased levels of dopamine in the reward circuits of the brain are responsible for the euphoria and relaxation and eventual addiction caused by nicotine consumption.Source Wikipedia

The nicotine high is a very real phenomenon as an ex smoker about a decade after I quit I decided one new years eve to take a single drag on a friends cigarette, I can attest to the fact that it was an incredible buzz!

Jason--I don't see any definition of addiction here. Psychology discussion becomes a waste of time if it is allowed to become a sloppy muddle due to indiscriminate use of the very same expressions as are used in everyday life. For better or worse everyone has to be a bit of a "psychologist" whereas few have to be nuclear physicists.

A sensible definition of addiction involves the element that the behaviour is neurotic (is a form of neurosis and associated with the N (neuroticism) personality dimension), i.e. that it is persisted in in defiance of one's conscious better judgement, happiness, and or survival. To be addicted to gardening means you carry on gardening to the extent that you fail to come in for meals or to have a drink or to pay your bills. What you are talking about is being (very) enthusiastic about gardening, which is not a neurosis and not addiction.

Thus by definition there is no such thing as a healthy addiction, just a healthy enthusiasm.

And if we now substitute the word "enthusiasms" in your table, then you are talking a lot of sense. So many people have unworthy enthusiasms such as flying around to watch motor racing when they could instead participate in some cycling themselves.
And many people have an enthusiasm (or even innate addiction) for antagonistic self-advancement, bullying. I see that becoming less advantageous in the nearish future.

I am with RobinPC and the other posters who prefer to define "addiction" classically as an activity one is obsessed with despite evidence of it causing harm.

What I am thinking about though, is how many activities that seem innocuous to the majority of people are in fact causing us terrible harm - having a large family, a big house, a bunch of cars, eating a lot of meat, choosing items to purchase on the basis mostly of price, spending time watching television, (OK, the internet too...), driving the kids out to see a movie, you know, most of what we Americans do...

In that sense, these behaviors are a lot like addictions: one drink will not cause you harm, and neither probably, will a single binge. Eventually however, down the road you find that you wish you had not developed this habit.

And why does one develop these habits? Does anyone know why the experiments suggesting that "happy" rats are a lot less likely to get addicted to morphine, etc... never became mainstream knowledge? I mean how can I graduate from neurobiology, then medical school, and work 10 years with scores of addicted people, and in the last several years struggle mightily with scores of patients who had prescription medication dependence, without ever having heard of Rat Park? ( Has this research become discredited? Why?

Anyway, it stands to reason and all our common sense experience. There is a malaise, and a mindset that is not challenged (to put it mildly) by public school and by television, that produces a very fertile ground, an irresistible pull to "addictions" (the behaviors that cause us harm).

On the other hand, there are behaviors that can be obsessive (meditation, gardening, kayaking, creative writing, knitting in my case) that calm us down with more upside than downside, globally and personally, and thus effectively counter the pull to "addictions".

Furthermore, we can try our own version of "Rat Park", which would be, as Airdale describes, a life with meaningful community and daily work, that does not leave much time or motivation for shopping-gambling-overeating-drugs.

When I was younger, I was happiest on backpacking trips, even though there is the masochistic factor and the constant work (packing-unpacking-walking-cooking-cleaning-setting up-taking down). I could best understand it as a vacation where every action had unequivocal meaning, where I walked with friends in mountains of stunning beauty. Somehow thoughts of shopping and chocolate did not occupy my mind in that context.

The rat park stuff is really intriguing. A whole post about that would be good I think.

We appear to have developed an environmental context for ourselves that is far outside of the conditions we evolved in. It shouldn't surprise us then when we feel a sense of longing and emptiness for reasons we may fail to understand. Why, when we have "it all" (as our culture defines it) are we depressed? This sets up the conditions for the bad addictions to take hold.

Spending time with nature is probably a very important preventive measure.

"Spending time with nature is probably a very important preventive measure"

But many (most?) urban people dislike nature. They devote a lot of time and energy to chopping down and paving over everything they can. And they do the same to the countryside when they invade there too.

"I am with RobinPC..."

Hmm, not sure I want the endorsement of "Paranoid"!!!

I mean how can I graduate from neurobiology, then medical school, and work 10 years with scores of addicted people, and in the last several years struggle mightily with scores of patients who had prescription medication dependence, without ever having heard of Rat Park? ( Has this research become discredited? Why?

The same way that tons of "professional" articles and books by "distinguished" autism "experts" can fail ever to even mention my theory, and articles about dementia fail to even mention my dementia theory, and so on (not just in respect of my own work). Right now you will see the "distinguished experts" pretending that the cure of (most) autism by chelation has not yet been discovered. The world of "professional scientific research" is bursting full of such career-boosting scams!

Genuine science as practiced by historic amateurs solves problems. Professional "science" by contrast is devoted to the eternal perpetuation of those career-enabling problems.

Your point that 'everyone has to be a bit of a psychologist' is not just true. It's fundamental. We do have to 'know thyself'.. to know others, to be able to judge character and behavior, and to find various words to put it into.

Defining this IS going to be a sloppy muddle, just like the very complex, contradictory and barely predictable range of humans that it tries to understand.. so there will be definitions that don't suit you, or don't suit me.. but I'd say in relation to energy usage, resource management, economics and social futures, this is a very useful muddle to dive into, and not at all a waste of time. It's worth letting the definitions slide a bit, and listen to the truth in peoples' experience with things that are commonly described in such terms.

A great section of our Economy has been built on creating and manipulating addictions and compulsive behavior.. and we have to look hard at this and figure out how to help each other find the exits.

Your definitions don't seem to contradict what I wrote above, while I didn't apply it using the language of 'Neurosis' .. but I think we have to be tolerant of the idiomatic way these terms play out in different conversations, and I have to say that I find the reasoning of the APA's DSM to have some systemic blindspots, and try to stick to lay language.

Bob Fiske

Yes, I'm sure my own psychological limitations are on show here! And I'm certainly no apologist for the APA. In any field of sci the nomenclature is always variable between participants, as they advance their favoured conceptualisations, for instance I say that "the autism syndrome" (= what's generally called "asd") is the manifestation of excessive antiinnatia (pursuant to various causes per my theory), whereas others would propose that there is "more than one autism".
And I would criticise a dumbed down "working" definition of autism consisting of just a triad of the most established key features (thereby conveniently ignoring all the other puzzling symptom features the antiinnatia theory easily explains).

Quite funny is that most (with few exceptions) psychology profs studiously ignore or deny the existence or importance of IQ, and yet most dating sites show a high preoccupation with the intelligence of sought partners. On the other hand those few exception experts do have a much more sophisticated concept of intellectual differences.

I didn't make it very explicit, but here's what I gave: "what you do regularly as a kind of pleasurable compulsion"

I would claim that the mechanisms that lead to addictive behavior are normal bits and functions of the brain that are hijacked and become imbalanced. So there's a gradation between an addiction that leads to functional problems and a healthy enthusiasm that is very beneficial. And something healthy can slip into something unhealthy and back again, e.g., some runners run too much and damage their bodies and disrupt their close relationships.

If you look at Airdale's comments I think he makes a good point that modern society provides for the kinds of stimulation that makes unhealthy addiction more likely. So this little essay is about appreciating that and considering how to be more in control of how we spend our time and energy, directing them towards healthy enthusiasms and not unhealthy addictions.

Hope that clarifies this a bit for you and you can still disagree with me of course! I was also hoping if people wanted to delve into the details of the definition they'd look at the background material.

I too have arrived at a particular 'healthy hobby' of growing plants, though my current focus is fruit and nut trees (and shrubs/vines) in an edible landscaping approach (60+ plants as of this year). I've been focusing on learning about, acquiring, and planting those cultivars that are disease-resistant, requiring the least care (and petroleum-based sprays). Vegetable gardening is a distant second (as is small grain plots), and we are only really managing 10 beds these last couple of years, as getting bearing fruit and nuts can take 3-8 years, and these take higher priority as part of my PO mitigation plan.

Hence, my hunter/gatherer instincts have been channeled into easier 'gathering' (just step out in the yard, or into the root cellar) of essential (and healthy) proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

my healthy addictions include playing music (i play in public much of the time) which provides me with smiles and compliments from strangers and allows me to overcome my shyness.i also love the sound of guitar.

i bicycle ride which allows me to feel good and gives me a shot of adrenaline.

i just bought a small motorcylce which gives me a thrill and makes me happy to get 70 mpg.

i love to read and learn and am trying to work on things with my hands which is always making me feel good when i accomplish stuff.

bad addictions include eating later at night (which i cant get away with anymore) as well as worrying and procrastinating.

Dapperdan(Oh brother where art thou..dan?)

Man you hit it with playing music. This is a very good thing to fill one's void. Instead of endless shopping malls as JHK sez. And the endless Chef's Salad of suburbia.

I was once very much caught up in Bluegrass. Finally sold my guitar,banjo and fiddle. Really missed them after I grew older.

So now I have two banjos and at a gun show picked up a Yamaha acoustic.

Then added another harmonica and a clarinet.

I am now due to broken fingers and injuries just barely able to pick a tune. Never for others for I am way down the scale but for passing the time I know of little than can give such pleasure.

Airdale-why can't I ever get Cripple Creek down pat?

I am going to post here the absolute worst and most destructive unhealthy addiction known to modern mad(editted to MAN--Freudian slip there). In fact I think it is more likely the basic cause of our oncoming self-destruction.

I am very intimate with this addiction. I was severely impacted by it and in the process of that addiction I lost perhaps a hundred thousand dollars in what could have been a more productive future.

This is the addiction and we all are very well aware of it yet not a single post so far has indicted it.

Its simple. SHOPPING!!

How am I familiar and adversely affected by it? Very simple.

My wife was and still is heavily addicted to SHOPPING. This is where she gets to show her friends,relatives and herself that she has 'Made It' in this world. That she has 'value' and can prove it by spending more in a single day that the one shopping with her.

How did I lose so much? I owned some very good farmland and lots of farm equipment. When my income as a result of retiring and as well the result of 'income leveling' occurred our lifestlyes needed to change to less spending. My wife decided she couldn't do that so she started to stay with our children in the big suburbs and spent less and less time on the farm in a very rural area.

So to maintain our previous standard of living I started to sell assets. Land first. Then when I got the divorce summons I had to sell far more. All of my farming equipment. I put $21,000 in our joint banking acct to which she had a debit card.

Long story short. She was living with my daughter then and she completely spent most all of that $21,000 in just three months. I managed to grab out a few thousand towards the end for myself.

As part of the upcoming divorce I had to see and divide most all of my belongs and a residence. Realized $52,000 after sales and auctions.
Gave her $26,000....she spent it all in less than 9 months. All of it.

Along with the stress of maintaining her shoppping addiction she had two stents implanted on top of 10 major operations during her life. She coded 'blue' in the emergency room of the hospital. This didn't stop her. She then went into cardiac arrest two years later and had a triple heart bypass operation.

The stresses of having to maintain her image and so that others can see how well she dresses and bullshits them have almost taken her very life and health and almost rendered her husband(me)destitute.

Now she lives near a very big city with my son. She has little funds left. Only what I give her. Give her to keep her away since she decided to drop the divorce and realized that only my ex-employers group insurance could help her remain alive. She cannot obtain insurance on her own for she is now uninsurable.

This is what a serious addiction can do to one's life.

Thanks to the MSM, the advertising scumbuckets and modern culture a very nice young girl who was raised with the idea that 'only money counts and thats all' and whose goal was to always impress others even though 'others' were moslty worthless people. This was a direct result of her upbringing. A child of a disfunctional criminal and his vicious idiot wife and both were child pyschological abusers in the extreme.

I think many households are haunted by this shopping addiction frenzy. Both male,famale and children fall into this abyss.

IMO it has taken us to the edge of that abyss and now we are surely going over the edge.

The trials and tribulations of modern life is due to the communications medium. Cheap energy gave us the means to approach the insanity of conspicuous consumption that has in effect totally 'consumed' our society and lives.

The most unhealthy addiction to face mankind.

Airdale does shop also but for 'tools'. I still have some of my high school clothes in the closet. I wear my shoes til they fall apart. I have had no TV for the last 5 years. I hardly ever go to a shopping mall. If I do I go in , get what I need and leave.

My wife was wont to go on a shopping spree and as her and her favorite aunt were walking across the shopping lot they would say "Why did I buy this?" and throw it in a convenient trash container as they left the mall lot!!!..Well I never saw them actually do this but her aunt had 8 closets full of unworn clothes and my wife had $500 suit dresses she had only worn once and told me to take to Goodwill. Both had enormous quantities of shoes that did not fit them.

Airdale-note that I am not blaming women per se...its just that they tend to be overwhelming the choice target of advertisers and why that is so I don't know....except that they have greater "purchasing power" and while I have spent countless weeks looking at housing,for me and my family and my son as well....its seems to be the female that does the ohhhhhs and ahhhhhhs over the inside while I always went into the crawlspace to check for bad building construction and then the attic for the same but its seems that the interior space was always pitched towards extreme yuppism and 'one upsmanship'.
A good reason why we are where we are, IMO as always....(and who else's opinion is more valuable...mine or those 'lying eyes'?

Thanks for sharing your very personal story. Honestly, I could have written the same post fact for fact. Wonder how many of us are out here? Got a young nephew who recently got married. He has been living alone for about 5 years and told me before marriage he hauled off the garbage once a month. Since marriage, twice a week. Hope you are enjoying this very nice spring we are having.

The debate about what behaviors constitute addiction vs. compulsion vs. habit continues today. When speaking of substance dependence, two criteria determine dependence: 1) increasing tolerance (more substance required to create the same subjective positive state); and 2) withdrawal (specific symptoms such as sweating, vomiting, shaking, etc).

I would call repetitive behaviors outside of conscious control compulsions. Passions or interests are not addictions although the reward may be great. The rewards from addiction are from the chemical reaction which requires very limited effort (swallow a pill, smoke a drug). The rewards from interests and passions come from sustained effort, are enduring, but not nearly as intense as the rewards from addictive behaviors. If someone maintains an interest in activity, the reward grows with greater development of the interest.

With addictions, the reward diminishes (tolerance)with each use. Perhaps this may explain a few of the differences. Because one habituates to the addictive substance, more substance is required to gain the same effect. What is often described as addictive behavior involves increasing effort to obtain more and more substance to prevent one from feeling bad as the reward diminishes with each use. Stealing, lying, cheating, prioritizing the fix over all else are part of the addictive pattern. Gardening does not usually fit this pattern.

Rewarding activities such as chess playing, gardening, tennis are activities which demand attention, challenge participants to develop improving skill and knowledge, and developing skill over time is in and of itself rewarding. The addictive pattern diminishes self-esteem, the rewarding activities enhance self-esteem. Both addictions and hobbies can consume finances, but rarely does the hobbyist bankrupt oneself to get more fertilizer.

The following definitions of some of the terms that are being struggled with here may be helpful. They are from a Consensus Document produced by: The American Academy of Pain Medicine, The American Pain Society and the American Society of Addiction Medicine in 2001
available here:

Addiction is a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease, with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving.

Physical Dependence:
Physical dependence is a state of adaptation that often includes tolerance and is manifested by a drug class specific withdrawal syndrome that can be produced by abrupt cessation, rapid dose reduction, decreasing blood level of the drug, and/or administration of an antagonist.

Tolerance is a state of adaptation in which exposure to a drug induces changes that result in a diminution of one or more of the drug's effects over time.

They go on to note:

[...]Addiction, unlike tolerance and physical dependence, is not a predictable drug effect, but represents an idiosyncratic adverse reaction in biologically and psychosocially vulnerable individuals. Most exposures to drugs that can stimulate the brain’s reward
center do not produce addiction. Addiction is a primary chronic disease and exposure to drugs is only one of the etiologic factors in its development.

And say in conclusion:

Universal agreement on definitions of addiction, physical dependence, and tolerance is critical to the optimization of pain treatment and the management of addictive disorders.

While the definitions offered here do not constitute formal diagnostic criteria, it is hoped that they may serve as a basis for the future development of more specific, universally accepted diagnostic guidelines.

Notice how they have narrowed their definition to drug addiction. Fine for their particular interests, but quite narrow.

The practice of Addiction Medicine is not restricted to conditions arising from drug use. You might find this similar definition of addiction from the Canadian Society of Addiction Medicine more explicit in that regard.


Addiction (Adopted 99.10.14) - A primary, chronic disease, characterized by impaired control over the use of a psychoactive substance and/or behaviour. Clinically, the manifestations occur along biological, psychological, sociological and spiritual dimensions. Common features are change in mood, relief from negative emotions, provision of pleasure, pre-occupation with the use of substance(s) or ritualistic behaviour(s); and continued use of the substance(s) and/or engagement in behaviour(s) despite adverse physical, psychological and/or social consequences. Like other chronic diseases, it can be progressive, relapsing and fatal.

The Buddha taught that the source of unconditional happiness is not just being free of "things", but being free our clinging to things. Our suffering comes from not understanding the true nature of the world; that everything is impermanent.

Your coffee, your kayak, your garden, your opinions, your oil :^), they are all impermanent. And we can never obtain lasting happiness from impermanent things.

There are no healthy addictions. Even habits or addictions that lead in a "positive" direction, if when they are taken away lead to even a bit of suffering, are unhealthy. One could even begin clinging to the idea of having nothing and when they are burdened with a "thing" they suffer greatly! (I have met a few people who were clinging to Gil's books.)

When this functioning of how we cling to things is understood there is no "acting for the environment" because we act naturally, and our natural state is acting in an way that supports the environment. We do not even need to burn the oil needed to turn on an MRI, we just need to contemplate.

Very interesting comment. I notice you are a new player. I hope you continue to offer such words of wisdom, because sometimes things need to be reframed to other dimensions of reality.


Very interesting comment. I notice you are a new player. I hope you continue to offer such words of wisdom, because sometimes things need to be reframed to other dimensions of reality.


I enjoyed the post and am glad that others have given much thought to the relative value of addictions. I've tried to maintain balance in my life between self and family, along with the conflicts of conscience resulting from being married to a wife who does not share my peak oil enthusiasm/anxiety. My good addiction is bicycling, which I have forced upon my kids via a tandem and trail-a-bike. Soccer is another, but is becoming more difficult to justify with fields being far out from my house and lighting issues. Will it last or become just another neighborhood pick-up pursuit? I enjoy coffee and beer, which I suppose can be sustainably produced and consumed - and I do try to get the most local beer available. As many respondents noted, I too, enjoy reading TOD and LATOC, Joe Bageant, Wendell Berry, and other writers and sites that help me organize my thoughts for converting the ignorant masses. I can be distracted by the internet's vast opportunities, can buy too many new camping products, although I have slowed that habit to a crawl in recent years. We have started a garden, but I have trouble giving up bike time to deal with it - it will be my wife's healthy addiction, I hope. Thanks to Jason for this and other posts - I used your cyborg analogy in my high school economics class. I am also at the breaking point on the plastic crap at birthdays, to the point that I mention it as a joke to see the response; which is often agreement.

It is fascinating how I can get agreement that plastic crap is crap. But I can't seem to get behavior change!

"Oh, isn't it terrible how a flotilla of plastic the size of Africa is in the Pacific Ocean." Everyone nods.

"Hey kids, I've bought you new toys!" Guess what they are made out of? Guess how many not-quite-as-new toys the kids already have?

(Hint: See flotilla bit for answer).