Addiction is: compulsive behavior despite
And it’s really important to start by defining
addiction because for a long time we really
defined it very poorly.
We used to think that addiction was “needing
a substance to function”.
And what that resulted in was that cocaine
was “not addictive” because cocaine does
not produce physical withdrawal that is noticeable.
You may be cranky and irritable and crave
cocaine, but you won’t be puking and shaking
and have the classic symptoms that you would
see with alcohol or heroin withdrawal.
So cocaine wasn’t addictive.
Then crack came, and we realized that defining
addiction in that way not only harms people
by telling them that cocaine is not addictive,
it also harmed pain patients because people
who take opioids daily for pain will develop
physical dependence, but they are not addicted
unless they have compulsive behavior despite
To me, non-drug addictions are really, really
interesting because some people have argued
that drugs are addictive because they change
the brain and that addiction results from
unique pathology related to the particular
chemicals of the drugs.
It is certainly the case that the chemistry
matters, but addiction can occur completely
without any external chemicals.
And the reason that that happens is that addiction
is not simply exposure to a substance, addiction
is a pattern of behavior, and certain patterns
of experience are inherently addictive.
And gambling is a good example of this because
what gambling does is it gives you intermittent
And so every unpredictable amount of times,
And this is a puzzle to our pattern-seeking
brains, and we keep thinking we’re going to
find a pattern and it’s going to sort out
and we’re going to understand it, and we’re
going to get rich.
Or we find that sort of the constant immersion
in these ideas that allow you to escape: “Well
I’ve got to do—this is going to soothe you
and allow you to escape from your life,”
and stuff like this.
I think gambling is also really interesting
because we’ve had an enormous explosion in
the availability of gambling, but we have
not had an enormous explosion of gambling
And again, this is because the population
rate— there’s only a certain percent of
people who will be vulnerable.
Now, you can make more of those people by
traumatizing them and taking away their economic
ways of living, but you can’t create them
by providing more substances or more addictive