Saturday, January 03, 2009


I can follow the reasoning of people who say that gambling is an addiction. I can follow the reasoning of people who say that gambling is a character flaw.

What I cannot follow is the reasoning of people who say that their weakness, whatever it may be, is an addiction, whereas your weakness, whatever it may be, is a character flaw.

You see this all the time. People who drink will climb all over people who smoke. People who smoke will get all worked up over people who take drugs. The drug abusers sneer at the gamblers. In my experience, however, you see this phenomenon most often with people who overeat. "Can't help it. I'm addicted to Cheetos.... Jesus Christ, are you surfing porn again?"* Don't get me wrong: If you weigh a few pounds more than you ought to, and you're OK with that, and your health is good, so be it. More power to ya. I'm not being a "fatist" here. I'm simply saying that if you claim to be unhappy with your weight, and you argue that you "just can't stop"then how do you justify pointing your fleshy fingers at somebody else who's doing something that he or she has trouble controlling? Whatever that something else may be.

But notwithstanding that point, and the title for this postwhich I picked mostly because I thought it was "cute"I don't want to make this about overeating per se. My main idea is that once you open to the door to the notion of "ongoing, irresistible impulse," there's really nowhere to stop. (For the record, defines addiction as "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming...") And it doesn't matter how self-destructive or even antisocial are the effects of the behavior in question; that's a separate issue. Given our limited understanding of human behavior, if addiction exists at all—if you buy the core conceptthen it can be (and, as I see it, must be) applied equally to any chronic behavior that, people will tell you, "enslaves" them. There's no logical defense for drawing any lines anywhere.

Nor do I want to hear about the biophysical component of your addiction, and how that makes it somehow a more "noble" addiction than mine. My understanding is that all addictions, all uncontrollable behaviors, revolve around anxiety and its relief. (The second part of the definition, after the ellipses, is " such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.") The pedophile gets the same release out of raping a kindergartner that you get out of running outside to the smoker's ghetto at work every few hours. So yes, the consequences for society are very different** and must be treated differently. But addiction is addiction.

Even leaving determinism out of it, if addiction = compulsion, then aren't we all
compulled?to do the things we do that we know we shouldn't do? Things we don't even want to do (or so we tell ourselves)? How else to explain why we keep doing these things long after we recognize their destructive effects for us and others? This was, of course, the basic argument of SHAM's Victimization wing, beginning with the disease model of alcoholismand I'm not endorsing that argument here. I'm just saying—at the cost of becoming annoyingly repetitivethat you can't pick and choose where you apply it.

Everything is an addiction or nothing is. Which way do you want it?

* No, this post does not spring from any incident that occurred in my house.
** though perhaps not as different as you might think, given the grim data on smoking's net costs to society. In fact, it seems entirely plausible to say that smokers cause more damage in the overall than pedophiles.


Anonymous said...

I hope you aren't really saying that smokers are the same as pedophiles in any way. Because if you did, you've lost all sense of proportion and credibility.

Voltaire said...

One of the startling realizations that ruined my religion for me was the simple fact that I wasn't applying the skepticism I brought to bear against other religions to my own. It was another nail in the coffin of my religion which turned me into an atheist. Being an atheist is the reason I chose the pseudonym to attached to this post comment.

Liesl said...

If addiction is partially defined as something that is "physically habit forming," couldn't you apply that to medications that rectify a physical trait that would otherwise kill a person if left untreated? The problem with calling all things that "enslave" us addiction or not addiction is that you have to have a demonstrable value for "harm." That utterly subjective component of the argument forces the argument to nullify itself based solely on the fact that there is no way to prove the argument. If you choose an all or nothing approach you have to assume that either is able to exist in reality. How can we say that what I think enslaves me (Dr Pepper. I swear, they put crack in it) exists in the same way for someone else? Even if you take away the particulars and call it pure addiction, you still have to measure it somehow and that's simply not possible. If you can't measure it, how can you call it something that exists as a 100%, all or nothing, thing in itself?

I liked your WSJ article, btw. I'm sorry you had such a hateful response, though I'm not surprised.

Jesper said...

I kinda agree. Well, I agree with almost everything you write here. Your addiction is as good as mine and even though I'm not aware that I have any and am equally baffled by all addictions, I do recognize that they are there.

But I do get wound up that you say "it seems entirely plausible to say that smokers cause more damage in the overall than pedophiles". They might COST more, sure. The price of a child being completely destroyed is what? 200 bucks? You have kids? How much would the destruction of their lives be? I can tell you what the cost of my kids is; everything. The whole, bloody universe, with everything in it. I really don't think there is any reasonable comparison in this case.

I also think you slightly miss a point. An actions consequenses is part of the action. See, if I had an addiction that would cause the grass in my lawn to grow slighly longer, I really wouldn't bother that much to get rid of my addiction. The consequenses simply aren't dire enough. If my addiction, on the other hand, was the very thing that prevented world peace I would do a lot more to rid myself of it. Most people are very aware of this distinction and that means that addiction is not just addiction, you have to take the consequenses of the addiction into the equation somewhere, if the addicted has any chance of knowing these consequenses.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Everything is an addiction or nothing is. Which way do you want it?"

Sorry, Steve, but your insistence upon "black or white" isn't appropriate here. I think where you derail is in your assertion that addiction = compulsion. While the compulsion to engage in a behavior is certainly a *part* of addiction, it is not the *whole* by any means. Perhaps it would be useful, then, to differentiate between addictive behavior and actual addiction. An addict engages in a behavior not to experience some wonderful rush, but rather as a means of remedying actual pain, whereas an individual might repeatedly engage in destructive behavior in response to a compulsion to do so, typically in an effort to experience pleasure (or at least a distraction).

Many years ago, I was addicted to hard drugs. Started out as the best high I ever experienced, and I was eager to try it again. After a few times, it took more to get that initial buzz. A few more times, and it wasn't about making myself feel good any more; it was about staving off the horrible cramping in my gut. And that was only the worst of many different physical pains that arose if I neglected to get my fix. I would assume that the experience of DT's, while comprised of different symptoms, falls within the same general framework. And like some other drugs, the withdrawal process is not only physically agonizing, it can be fatal.

I'm not aware of anyone having suffered physical agony - or dying - as a result of not molesting a child, having random sex with strangers, or denying themselves that extra eclair. And this isn't about making *any* behavior more noble than any other - merely about encouraging us to categorize those behaviors accurately, rather than conveniently (and inaccurately) lumping them all together.

Dr. Mike said...

Steve - thanks for clarifying this issue. I have long sent patients to 12 step organizations for alcohol and narcotics, but at it's root, I think the problem lies in an immaturity of the concerned individuals. The behavior is infantile in a way (I need it NOW!), with no forethought about the implications or consequences of the choice for themselves, their loved ones, or the society at large.
I agree with you that we have defined deviancy down regarding "addiction" - I generally consider using the term in a situation in which the withdrawal of the offending agent has incapacitating symptoms (narcotics) or has the potential to create a life-threatening situation (alcohol, benzodiazepines (eg, Xanax, Ativan, Valium)).

Steve Salerno said...

This is a post about hypocrisy. I'm not "rating the relative quality" of addictions. (If what you got out of this is the supposed contention on my part that "smokers are no better than pedophiles," then you're missing the point.) I'm saying, basically, that if you're going to blame your problem with (or dependence upon) X on addiction, then you're living in a glass house. Don't throw stones.

Steve Salerno said...

Btw, Liesl, you get my vote for best blog photo. We could have a caption-writing contest about it.

RevRon's Rants said...

"I'm not "rating the relative quality" of addictions."

Perhaps I merely misinterpreted your remarks, Steve. It sounded to me like you were stating that there's no difference between compulsive behavior and addiction, which, of course, there is.

Perhaps in your effort to elicit responses, you leaned toward overstatement. And perhaps I simply need to let the coffee kick in before responding. :-)

Wendy Lee said...

The root of this whole problem is society's tendency to label all behavioral quirks as this, that, or the other "pathology" rather than actually taking personal responsibility for your behavior. I mean, sex addiction? Come on!
Also, having lost a loved one to smoking-induced lung cancer 4 years ago tomorrow, I completely understand your point about smoking.

Chad Hogg said...

Steve: Didn't you get the memo that pedophiles are the witches / communists / terrorists of our time? Writing about them in anything other than hysterical fear and hate means you are one of them, and need to be executed.

(Not that I do not think child molesters are the scum of the earth, but that should not mean that we cannot have a logical discussion regarding them.) The worst pedophiles probably molest and effectively destroy the lives of a dozen children. The more garden variety ones might do the same to one or two. For each of these I would imagine there are hundreds or thousands of people who are attracted to children but never act on those desires, having effectively no negative impact on society. In the meantime smokers slowly kill and ruin the quality of lives of millions, including themselves and their children.

I am not sure that the difference in scale justifies the statement that "smokers cause more damage in the overall than pedophiles", but that is probably why Steve only wrote that the above statement is plausible, which it certainly is.

This was not the point, I know, but I hate to see any discussion of today's sacred (profane?) cow driven off immediately by hysterics.

Oh, and I favor the distinction made by RevRon and Dr. Mike that addiction requires physical dependence. Doughnuts may flood my brain with serotonin or whatever, but not eating them will not result in my death or impairment.

Steve Salerno said...

Well, wait now. Are we saying that in deciding whether something is a genuine addiction, we're going to use as the gold standard the question of whether "severe trauma and even death" results from discontinuation? Then how do booze and cigarettes apply? I grant you, someone kicking alcohol cold turkey is going to have some very unpleasant moments, and a recent ex-smoker won't be a very nice person to be around. But in both cases, health will markedly improve following the cessation of use.

I guess I'm not quite getting the distinction we're drawing here. All addictions, as I understand them, link to seratonin, dopamine, oxytocin, opiate receptors and related chemicals/mechanisms. If that is the case, then why is my doughnut addiction--which releases all that seratonin--any different from your use of heroin, which binds to all those opiate receptors in producing its high?

See, in a way, this is exactly what I'm talking about: the my-addiction-is-holier-than-thou's syndrome.

Elizabeth said...

Good point(s), Steve. I am addicted to SHAMblog, but what's your excuse?


And while at it, let's come up with The Hipocratic Oath: First, see no harm (in your own addiction).

Elizabeth said...

Liesl, you get my vote for best blog photo.

I second that. And you have a neat blog, too. I visited and am impressed (and possibly hooked). (The vines, oh those freakin' vines!) And then you have some other phenomenal blogs listed as your favorites (Attila the Mom is unbelievable, but so are the others -- what a Sunday treat, if I only had more time).

Now for a funny(?) aside: when I first saw your post, I read your name as Lies! It puzzled me to no end, and of course compelled to visit your blog right away to find out what lies exactly you were so outraged about (and I was already empathizing with your outrage on the way there, LOL). I was sheepishly disappointed to find out that it is just Liesl, after my eyes and brain adjusted to reality, though pleased to see some outrage at least (those freakin' vines aka gardening porn). Anyway, I'm glad you're here, Liesl, no Lies! :)

Chad Hogg said...

I am hardly qualified to have a real opinion on the matter, but I think RevRon has something when he says he ended up taking drugs not to continue experiencing pleasure, but to relieve withdrawal symptoms. I may feel "compelled" to continue eating doughnuts because they make me feel good, but the worst thing that happens if I stop eating them is that I no longer feel good.

RevRon's Rants said...

"Are we saying that in deciding whether something is a genuine addiction, we're going to use as the gold standard the question of whether "severe trauma and even death" results from discontinuation?"

I don't apply the limiting factors of severe trauma and death, but would limit the definition to physical discomfort - sometimes, to the point of agony - as a direct result of withdrawal.

"Then how do booze and cigarettes apply? I grant you, someone kicking alcohol cold turkey is going to have some very unpleasant moments, and a recent ex-smoker won't be a very nice person to be around. But in both cases, health will markedly improve following the cessation of use."

Are you aware of the fact that delerious tremens, the physiological manifestation of withdrawal from alcohol addiction, poses a genuine - and not uncommon - life-threat? Have you ever seen someone in the throes of DT's? Did you know that nicotine withdrawal often involves severe headaches and blurred vision, not to mention the increased irritability you mention (rather cavalierly, I might add), or an inability to concentrate?

"why is my doughnut addiction--which releases all that seratonin--any different from your use of heroin, which binds to all those opiate receptors in producing its high?"

Have you ever found yourself in the fetal position in the corner, writhing in pain and vomiting, for lack of a doughnut? *THAT* is the difference.

"See, in a way, this is exactly what I'm talking about: the my-addiction-is-holier-than-thou's syndrome."

There is *nothing* holy about any addiction, Steve. You are the one applying such criteria, and you do so because you are comparing apples to oranges. You crave doughnuts, but you are still able to function without them, because that craving is a compulsion, not an addiction.

To be honest, I'm having a more difficult time quitting cigarettes than I had quitting drugs. I could actually feel the smack killing me, and even when I fed my habit, I was incapacitated. With cigarettes, the immediate "payoff" is a sense of physical relief (from the headaches & blurred vision) & calm, along with a renewed ability to concentrate and function. You tell me how the reaction to the intake of a couple of doughnuts can equate with either of those substances.

RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - It occurred to me after submitting my last comment to suggest that you take one day and volunteer in a detox ward at your local hospital. After one day, I think you'd better understand the difference between a compulsion and an addiction.

Dimension Skipper said...

I don't know that it fits anywhere in the scope of this discussion, but I just thought I'd point to today's Rubes.

And that in turn reminded me of a joke email I received last week recounting some alleged worst opening lines of recent books. (Published?... unknown; Real?... unknown.) One of them struck me as not really all that bad an opening line (if it's for a parody/satire) and it made me laugh besides:

"Mike Hardware was the kind of private eye who didn't know the meaning of the word 'fear,' a man who could laugh in the face of danger and spit in the eye of death—in short, a moron with suicidal tendencies."

Perhaps my addiction is to humor?

But seriously, my own working definition of addiction is (and this is very off-the-cuff without any real forethought as far as formalizing it)... any substance or behavior that has known serious and personally negative consequences that a person, even perhaps while in the act, knows he should not be "doing," wishes to change, and yet is virtually powerless to do so. The mechanism to the addiction may be a physical chemistry thing, but maybe not—I really don't know.

Without that first bit about the known serious negative consequences, then lots of things in life could be defined as "addictions." Many people say chocolate is an addiction, but most are joking. The 500-pound person may not be though. It's not for me to say.

Mostly, I agree with your clearly stated (I think) basic premise, Steve... that some (many?) folks easily forgive their own vices as "uncontrollable addictions," but do not even begin to envision how others might have a similar problem.

It's not really even a question of identifying who's truly addicted (by whatever definition), but more an issue of fairness and judging others as you judge yourself, hence your "hypocrisy" theme. (Although I also think there's an analogous, but reverse situation out there... those who are harder on themselves than others, who can forgive others' foibles and pitfalls—perhaps as addictions, perhaps not—without giving themselves the same benefit of doubt. I'm just sayin'...)

My own feeling is that someone who is truly addicted is probably going to be more understanding of others possibly having similar conditions/situations than those who perhaps only tell themselves that they are addicted, but are really just rationalizing their behavior because they don't really want to change it. I could be wrong, of course.

It's another one of those situations, I think, where those who have really "been there, done that" are going to be more capable of truly understanding what's involved without being as judgmental. There are always going to be exceptions, of course, those who say "I overcame it, so therefore you should be able to as well," all the while pointing an accusatory finger. But I do think they're the exception and not the rule.

There's probably a whole spectrum from addiction to "can take it or leave it," and also a separate spectrum from judgmental of others to non-judgmental. And I think that plotting points along both axes would yield, well, a widely distributed cloud of points. It takes all kinds, yanno...

Lastly, I just want to throw this out there... I think that depression is a condition much like addiction in the sense you're talking about, Steve. It's definition can get a little hazy and different people have different ideas about it and different experiences dealing with it either directly or indirectly.

Only recently have I come to realize some of what I think my Mother was going through several years back, but at the time I "just didn't get it." I think I do now (more so, anyway). I've come to believe that those folks who seem to think handling depression requires just simply throwing a voluntary mental switch somehow and thinking happy upbeat thoughts could not be more wrong. And if they'd been there themselves, they'd know that. (Which is not to say that it's their fault that they haven't been there and can't comprehend.)

Come to think of it and taking this stream of (un)consciousness just a bit further... I don't think this "Addiction/judgment hypocrisy" thing is all that different from the Republican/Democrat thing. Hardcore Reps and Dems will (it seems to me) usually forgive the issues of someone who shares their affiliation, but let someone on the other side of the aisle do the same thing and look out!

Hmmm, how'd I get from a funny cartoon about adrenaline junkies committing suicide to the issue at hand and then on to depression and politics?!

I do go on sometimes, don't I?


P.S. I also got that you weren't really condoning pedophilia, Steve, nor saying it doesn't have very serious negative ramifications, that you were instead just doing some more of your occasional "advocating for the devil." Your point was not the degree or nature of the actual crime (and smoking CAN be a "crime" in the sense that it is now banned many public places) on the microscopic indivdual level, merely pointing out the difference in the macroscopic cumulative effects over the general population where smoking is much more prevalent than pedophilia (as far as I know).

You seemed to me to be merely throwing the concept out there whereby it could be argued that a whole massive lotta tiny little consequences stacked up could hypothetically outweigh a very small number of acts with extremely serious consequences. And I have no issue with that so long as it remains hypothetical.

Dimension Skipper said...

Well, I do think that the DEGREE of harmful effects to OTHERS needs to considered. Harmful effects to yourself are one thing, but harming kids (your own or someone else's) is another, addiction or not. Some addictions may have incarceration-worthy consequences, while others may be better off attempting treatment through whatever available means.

But I think that's more for a formalized legal system of judgment to consider with re to overall detriment to population or individuals. I don't think it's the same type of "Holier-than-thou" personal judgments that people make everyday.

At least that seems to be the root of some of the differences of opinion here as far as I can make out. I could be wrong, but I'd want (if not expect) my friends and family to react one way, but I'd also expect legal system representatives (police, lawyers, judges) to react differently.

Hmmm, maybe I'm really just saying it depends on the degree of emotional involvement then. And maybe that IS the key component I've been missing in this discussion until I just realized it now...

Liesl said...

I really don't see the "compulsion is the same as addiction" thing that some are seeing in the original post. We wouldn't call OCD behaviors an addiction, so a distinction between the two is assumed, I think. Perhaps they come from the same place (relief of anxiety becoming physical need?), but would we really say that someone is addicted to washing their hands, if that is their particular compulsion?

Steve: Thanks for the picture compliment. I laughed out loud when I read it. Funny thing about that picture: when my husband and I used it on "favors" for our wedding, many people found it offensive. Maybe they have biting anxiety? Biting compulsion? Picture addiction?

Steve Salerno said...

Liesl, well, a sly comment does come to mind (playing off their objections to the photo), but I'm too much of a gentleman to pose it at this tender point in our relationship. :)

Elizabeth said...

Good distinctions between compulsions and addictions, Liesl and Ron (and possibly others, sorry if I'm missing anyone's points!)

Addictions have the strong physical component that Ron has described, while compulsions don't. They may come from the similar place (relief of anxiety and pain), but end up with somewhat different consequences. And clinically, in terms of diagnosis and treatment, those distinctions matter. However, both compulsions and addictions have the potential to ruin our (and others') lives.

But, if I read correctly, this is not the point of your post, Steve (and correct me if I'm wrong, of course). You point out the holier-than-you attitude we adopt when looking at others' compulsions and addictions without the mercy we typically reserve for ourselves. This is very much in line with the proverb telling us how easy it is to see a splinter in our neighbor's eye while missing a log in our own (or something such). I agree that for the purpose of a SHAMblog discourse on social mores and peculiarities of our behavior there may not be a difference between my addiction to black leather boots (mmm...) and yours to hard drugs, though clinically speaking, these are somewhat different animals.

when my husband and I used it on "favors" for our wedding, many people found it offensive.

Sigh. What do you expect, Liesl, reality bites. ;)

Elizabeth said...

Alright, scrap (in your minds at least) my last comment on distinctions between compulsions and addictions. I'll have to think it through a bit more to find some clarity (it's not as simple as my knee-jerk reaction made me think).

Dimension Skipper said...

Hmmm, now that I see and re-read (in particular) my last comment, I confess I'm not exactly sure now who or what I was responding to or what my exact point was (if I had one). Oh well, I'll leave it there regardless and let others decide if there's anything relevant or coherent therein. There might be something useful there.

But really, both my prior comments were probably more a case of me "thinking out loud" and "trying to work some things out in my own brain" than actually offering any hard and fast personal views. If anyone else thinks they can tie up the numerous dangling loose ends for me, be my guest.

And as I stated before, I could just be wrong anyway (it's not like I have any real experience or knowledge on these matters). May it please the court I'll just sit back and await any rulings on my mental competency.


Dimension Skipper said...

Hey, I just noticed the poll and corresponding explanation...

I realize that in the poll question above, many of you will want more possible responses. Some will want to say "it depends on the specific addiction we're talking about." I'm purposely asking people to force-fit their answer into the category that's closest to reflecting their feelings about most addictions. I think it's a useful exercise, if nothing else."

You're right, I would prefer a little more info or more specificity...

My first reaction, upon reading just the question is to say "character flaws" under the assumption/belief that what many people "commonly" discuss as "addictions" are really just tendencies or compulsions due to what we'll agree to term (for now) character flaws, not full-blown addictions with significant deleterious effects to the individual or those around them.

But upon reading the explanation of the question, the phrase "...reflecting their feelings about most addictions" would tend to make me lean toward "addictions" (as a poll response, not a personal tendency!) because it seems to me to imply an agreed-upon acceptance of a more formal definition (right or wrong, but we'll assume right) of the word "addictions." For whatever reason the phrase "...most addictions" seems to imply the word "true" or "real" in the middle of it. I'm not sure why, but it does.

So I guess I'll cop out and abstain for now pending any further clarification. Oh what the heck... Since I assume you want an off-the-cuff gut reaction I'm gonna vote "character flaws" as soon as I'm done posting this comment. (And gee, doesn't this seem very off-the-cuff without putting too much thought into it?!)

But all in all I myself try very hard NOT to do that, not to think I can get inside someone else's head and judge whether or not their alleged "addiction" is real or just lack of willpower. I can't know, no matter how much or how well I may feel I can imagine if it were ME in their shoes.

It seems to me that any answer really does depend on whether one puts the emphasis on the phrase "commonly discussed" or on the "addiction" part with more of an understanding of some sort of widely accepted somewhat formal definition of such. And if you get down to very specific addictions, then yes, my answer would fluctuate back and forth. (Although I still would try very hard NOT to be judgmental of others face-to-face in real life. I'm still talking only hypothetically here about what I would feel deep down internally without necessarily expressing it in so many words.)

Dimension Skipper said...

Sorry to waffle, but in reading it yet again, I honestly CAN'T answer the question until or unless I find out whether you're using the phrase "commonly discussed" to mean exactly that (with not nearly as much emphasis on the definition for "addiction") or as a synonym for "most" as you put it in the explanation, Steve. The latter would then (for me) shift the emphasis much more strongly to the "addiction" part and imply a more formal understood (though still not necessarily accurate) definition of the term.

Hmmm, Elizabeth and I posted without seeing each other's comment, but there's an eerie similarity there in us both reconsidering our prior comments.

Can you still say "Great minds think alike" if they're each independently reconsidering their the very validity of their own prior thoughts and speculations? :-)

WV: "becycle"...

An existentialist's bicycle?

Steve Salerno said...

I realize I've been remiss in addressing some of the issues that have arisen--in particular questions or comments directly specifically to me. Please accept my apologies. I always do the best I can, what with my "paying" workload (which is very large right now) and also the very bad cold I've been battling. Perhaps those rainforest microbes that some of my CAM critics wished on me have actually found their mark....

RevRon's Rants said...

I think that if we are to expand the definition of addiction to include the less formal, "commonly discussed" descriptions (which would infer validity to the notion of sex addiction and doughnut addiction), it would be only logical to also include even the most far-fetched CAM practices under the heading of Medical Treatments. IMO, calling a behavioral compulsion an addiction constitutes such a severe dilution of the word's true meaning as to render the word meaningless. Might as well call a "metaphysical" hack who buys a degree a doctor.

Oh yeah, Steve... What do you think you did to "attract" your illness? Or have your critics found a source for voodoo dolls? :-)

Now get better, and get that cumbersome work stuff out of the way. We have arguments in which to engage.

Elizabeth said...

Ah, yes, DS, great (ruminating) minds do think alike. It does not help that the questions Steve has posed in this post seem relatively easy to answer, but really are not, IMO. And, obviously, in yours too, DS. In fact, I get confuseder with every minute I spend thinking about them (yeah, thanks, Steve ;).

DS, you made several insightful observations in your posts, this one among them:

There's probably a whole spectrum from addiction to "can take it or leave it," and also a separate spectrum from judgmental of others to non-judgmental.

Indeed, there appears to be a spectrum from the "soft" addictions* (and all addictions are compulsions, as Steve rightly pointed out, but I'm struggling with the question whether the reverse is true) to those, like substance abuse problems, that lead to chemical dependency complete with tolerance and withdrawal symptoms.

But then all compulsions/addictions alter brain chemistry (and quite likely are the result of a differently operating neurochemistry to begin with), and all create havoc in our functioning. Shopping/gambling/etc. withdrawal symptoms may not kill you, but they surely can make your life miserable. Same goes for all addictions, of course again on the spectrum of the symptoms' (including withdrawal symptoms) severity.

BTW, DSM-IV-TR, the current bible of mental miseries, has a diagnostic category called Impulse-Control Disorders (spread over a spectrum), which includes, among other things, a shopping addiction aka Impulsive-Compulsive Buying Disorder. Check this for more on ICD:

I'm thinking about your comment on depression, DS. Hm. I'd say that while depression cannot be technically considered an addiction, I agree that it creates new behavioral habits, especially when it's chronic, some of them perhaps of a compulsory nature. And a state of being depressed can become a "habit" of sorts for some, I think, though I'm not sure about the compulsion part.

And last, but not least: DS, m'dear, you should know better by now than invite *any* SHAMbloggers to rule on your mental competency and status. Don't. :)

*Though I think that if you can "leave it" (in the "can take it or leave it" kind of behavior), then it's most likely not an addiction.

P.S. Hope you'll feel better soon, Steve.

P.S.2. I reserve the right to revise my opinions expressed here on the addiction/compulsion issue as my mental fog continues to clarify.

roger o'keefe said...

I think you're forgetting something here. It might not be mutually exclusive. To my mind there's the question of the character flaw that allows someone to become addicted in the first place. Most of the major addictions have well-known dangers, and it is up to the person to exercise proper self-control to avoid becoming entangled in that web. For example you can't argue that college students who binge drink are addicted in any way to alcohol. Not when they start, anyway. They simply have poor character, at least in that one regard, and allow themselves to get caught up in a very stupid and dangerous scene.

RevRon's Rants said...

"DSM-IV-TR, the current bible of mental miseries, has a diagnostic category called Impulse-Control Disorders ..."

Bear in mind, Elizabeth, that in practice, character disorders are rarely candidates for medical intervention, and are utilized primarily to describe negative, non-productive, or antisocial tendencies. An addict, on the other hand, suffers distinct physiological symptoms which may or may not respond to medical/pharmalogical treatment, and in some cases may actually prove life-threatening.

Roger, I agree that there is an underlying tendency to addiction in some people. However, I would attribute the example you provide - binge drinking - as being a manifestation of an acute character "flaw" - the impetuousness and assumed indestructibility of youth. In most cases, the "flaw" is transitory, and its "cure" existing in the passage of time, accelerated by repetition of the mantra, "what the hell was I thinking?" :-)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I realized that the post was about hypocrisy and you made good points. However, I thought that the comparison between smokers and pedophiles was so out of proportion that I questioned your judgment in linking them together. The smoker huddled outside on a cold, windy, winter sidewalk, finally getting a few quick doses of nicotine is certainly not even close to the very illegal, unethical, and highly repugnant act of having sex with a child.

Liesl said...

Elizabeth: I get that a lot. The funniest, though, is when people who disagree with me think they're being clever and try to use it as an insult. Yeah, that's terribly original! Then again, if they disagree with me, how smart could they be? Thanks, also, for the compliment on my blog. Those damn vines are going to be the death of me, yet!

Steve: Don't be a gentleman! That is simply too boring.

Roger O'Keefe: "They simply have poor character, at least in that one regard, and allow themselves to get caught up in a very stupid and dangerous scene."

Seriously? I find it incredibly unlikely that anyone who begins a behavior that leads to addiction has a true understanding of what that means. Hell, a recent poll showed that 52% of able bodied people would rather die than live after a disabling event. I doubt very seriously that those people would actually feel that way if they were suddenly to become disabled; it is simply that we don't understand what it is to be something other than what we are and if what we are is functional, foot loose and fancy free, how would we understand distant and unseen consequences? What part of drug addiction is anything like anything else in our lives? We can't even know a tiny part of it before we are in it, unlike other long term consequences. So, I think it's incredibly cavalier to assume that people who become addicted to drugs have a character flaw that precedes the addiction.

Elizabeth said...

DS: an existentialist bicycle! Funny! Oh, there are so many things to do with a becycle... :)

Speaking of WVs, two of mine in the past couple of days were sadism and grave. Good thing I'm not superstitious...

Anonymous said...

That second picture -- you sure that's a fat belly and not just a pregnant belly? 'Cause a pregnant belly doesn't illustrate your point very well.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 9:47: Um, it's a guy (and no, it's not Thomas Beatie). I just cropped off his head so as not to compound his embarrassment.

Elizabeth said...

They simply have poor character, at least in that one regard, and allow themselves to get caught up in a very stupid and dangerous scene.

I'm guessing by "poor character" you mean poor self-control, Roger (correct if wrong, please).

It is true that teenagers, in general, are not paragons of planning, foresight and impulse control, but that is largely due to the stage of their development: their nervous systems are not mature enough to engage in those relatively complex tasks, yet their bodies are already flooded by an excess of hormones. In addition, their brains undergo a massive growth and re-organization centered in the areas responsible for planning and self-control, adding to their (and their parents') misery and confusion. I'd say this does not necessarily mean that their characters are flawed, though they certainly are prone to impulsive and stupid behaviors.

But those are not signs of addiction/compulsions, simply typical teenage recklessness. Most teens grow out of it and do not develop (dangerous) addictions. And those who do, have already been predisposed to it by their peculiar neurological make-up (i.e. so-called addictive personality), which is difficult, IMO, to call a character flaw (in a sense of an undesirable behavior a person could control and change if only s/he wanted to) as it is, typically, a complex set of traits, which are inborn and/or acquired early on in life as a result of trauma, improper parenting, etc.

Last but not least, Roger, you sound here like a man who does not have any vices (or addictions) and is in, well, perfect control of his impulses. Is that really so? :)

BTW, I notice that the tenor of many posts in this thread has illustrated Steve's major points (i.e. "My addiction is so much worse than yours!" and "Yeah, addiction shmadiction. Stop looking for excuses already.") And as DS has observed, this too is a spectrum...;)

Elizabeth said...

Liesl, you brave woman. Just when you think you've conquered the enemy, a new root rears its ugly stalk. Ugh.

I had a garden patch once (weep)... Gave it up, bitter and defeated by vicious weeds and bunnies from hell.

They are evil, those bunnies. You may think cute and fuzzy. You are wrong. Very, very wrong.

They've decimated my vegetation and ignored countless contraptions meant to scare them -- and here they are, mocking me every day, sitting there, in front of my deck, munching on what's left of my shrubs, looking oh-so-innocent with that soft fur and big, floppy ears. Evil monsters.

They even scare my dog, who, in theory at least, is supposed to be a hound (OK, a mutt with a lot of hound in it). He no longer goes out to do his thing in the backyard when there is a shadow of a bunny lurking about. To think of it, I also stopped going out, too disgusted with their shameless rule. Resistance is futile.

But you... You still have strength and hope! May the force be with you, The Brave One (for what else could help?)

But I digress. :)

Elizabeth said...

Ron, I essentially agree with you -- and disagree on minor and murky points, which I think at best left un-addressed, 'cuz we'd go on to infinity, I suspect, possibly splitting hairs over what are unanswerable questions. (Though that could be fun...:)

BTW, substance abuse problems are a separate diagnostic category, even though related to impulse-control issues, to acknowledge their unique challenges (and severity). In that link I posted, there is a neat (though debatable) diagram showing the overlap (and lack of it) in various mental problems related to impulsivity.

Elizabeth said...

Oh yeah, Steve... What do you think you did to "attract" your illness? Or have your critics found a source for voodoo dolls? :-)

You can laugh all you want, Ron, but I think it's clear that Steve's cold is a punishment for his recent insolence, what with the WSJ piece 'n all.

And as to voodoo dolls, they ain't no laughing matter either. French courts ruled last month that Sarkozy voodoo dolls, while technically not illegal to sell, should not be poked with needless and such, 'cuz it offends the man's dignity. Or such.

And thank god for that ruling, is all I say.

WV: afful. Plus sadism and grave. Alright, I get the message: I give up.

Elizabeth said...

Did I really say needless there...? LMAO. The curse is on.

RevRon's Rants said...

"You can laugh all you want, Ron, but I think it's clear that Steve's cold is a punishment for his recent insolence..."

I'll believe that when Rhonda's "Lor of Attraction" polka dot appears spontaneously on his forehead and he denounces the whole Determinism thing for the balderdash he knows in his heart it really is. :-)

Elizabeth said...

and he denounces the whole Determinism thing for the balderdash he knows in his heart it really is

Ron, m'friend, don't push it or there be dragons. ;)

Anonymous said...

How much of addictions and compulsions are created by the society we live in?

I cannot wait until we legalise drugs and all heroin addicts went to work and had their fixes discreetly in toilets like smokers in smoking corners - but it probably won't happen in my time.

We have to remember that what we call paedophilia was actually a way of life for much longer then the time that its been named the most horrendous crime.

In terms of the smokers being worse then paedophiles - I don't know Steve. I have been a smoker now for 14 years. I took a year's break but put on so much weight that it negated any of the supposed health benefits of not smoking.I'm still obviously stuck in Freud's oral stage.

The strange thing is that the people I happen to be in contact with who have had cancer (one of whom is my mom) are all healthy non smokers - in other words, even if I stop - I could still have a high chance of getting cancer so I might as well enjoy myself.

I see people and plants as co-evolving, where the plant with the most powerful high ensures its survival and even gets a human helping hand by genetic engineering.

Man's been smoking and tripping since he/she made the first campfire barbecue - its a part of life, just like eating, sleeping or sex.

Well that's enough of my rambling......


Dimension Skipper said...

It may not be bonafide hypocrisy and it's certainly not about addiction, but this article I just found highlights an instance of what I'll just call "snap judgment" syndrome (from which I think valid cases of actual hypocrisy can and do spring)...

Tilgate cancer dad branded "lazy" by yobs dies

A loving and "happy go-lucky" father has died—just months after being accused of faking his illness.

Howard Marley, 57, passed away on December 29, two months after he was branded "fat and lazy" in a malicious note left on his car because he was parked in a disabled bay.

Mr Marley had terminal pancreatic cancer when he was faced with the anonymous note on October 31 which read "You're not disabled, you're just fat and lazy", after he parked in the town hall car park.

Now his daughter Sarah, 31, has paid tribute to her dad, and issued a clear message to the heartless note-writer, saying: "I hope you are proud of what you did."

Sarah Baines, of Hemsby Walk, Furnace Green told the News: "What happened to my father was terrible.

"He was a remarkable man and I think the note did have some kind of effect on him.

"I hope the people who wrote it are now satisfied. The note was like the final nail in the coffin, I'm not saying that is why he died, but he was bothered by his weight anyway and the note broke him.

"He fought to the end though and was such an amazing man."

. . . .

I'm just throwing that out there as anecdotal evidence of how more and more (I think) we tend to filter an analog world through digital eyes. Things often seem so black and white to so many folks. It's either on or off, left or right, and there can't be anything valid somewhere in between. You're either with us or against us—choose your side now!

But it's just so much easier and so much less time-consuming to jump to conclusions rather than really try to delve fully into issues or really get to know people who may see things a little differently through other circumstances.

Maybe it's even a natural human coping mechanism, a tendency to time-saving shortcuts of thought in order to avoid "paralysis by analysis." After all, each of us is aware of our very own thoughts and circumstances 100% of the time (or as close to 100% as is possible and that's also not to say we fully understand them either). But how much of others' thoughts and circumstances are we really able to surmise? Do you always know what your spouse or kids are thinking and feeling? If not, then think how little we know of folks we encounter here and there just for mere moments, but who say or do something to trigger a negative reaction in us. Think of the 90% (or probably more) of their personal "icebergs" that lurk below the surface, that we cannot see or even begin to guess at.

And I'm also wondering if this (see original source here while it lasts) has anything to do with things as well. ;-)

I had more I was composing, but then I found myself getting bogged down in all sorts of tangents (even confusing myself!) and decided it was best to just cut my losses. The main thing is any relevance the article I found may have to the more general discussion despite its lack of specific relevance to the original issue of possible hypocritical addiction/character flaw perception that Steve raised.

I'm thinking now that such hypocrisy (assuming it's so) is a symptom of something much more general, much more basic about human nature. Maybe it's just an ego thing, a way to lift ourselves up at the expense of putting down (even if only in our own minds) the occasional anonymous stranger.

Steve Salerno said...

DS, that's a very funny comic strip--and very much on-point. I also think you make a very good point about the futility of trying to gauge others' feelings and interests when--at least half the time--we don't even know what's really going on (for sure) with our spouses and kids. Finally, I love the line about seeing an analog world through digital eyes. Not quite sure it "scans," if you know what I mean. But I love it nonetheless.

Elizabeth said...

I see people and plants as co-evolving, where the plant with the most powerful high ensures its survival and even gets a human helping hand by genetic engineering.

LOL, Londoner, that's certainly an interesting perspective. Yes, indeed.

DimSkipp, your comment (as it often is the case with your comments) is worth re-reading (and re-reading, and reading again :).

Liesl said...

"I took a year's break but put on so much weight that it negated any of the supposed health benefits of not smoking."

Maybe to you, but if you're doing it in front of others, the cost is much higher.

Re: Handicap parking. This is my special area interest, being someone who uses the parking. I think that story has, as expected, much more intricacy than indicated. The fact is, people abuse handicap parking constantly. I don't judge most others who park in the spots who don't "look" disabled unless a person gets out of their car and runs (yes, runs) into wherever they are going. Unfortunately, because people have invisible disabilities too many people get away with stealing placards or using relatives' placards. Hell, many people park there without a placard or plate, mostly because they think people with disabilities have entitlement issues or because they simply do not care about other people. It's remarkably disheartening.

I'm sad for the man who received the mean note; that sort of nastiness is never warranted. But I also think it's hilarious that the two times I've called someone on illegally parking in a handicap spot they started screaming racial epithets at ME, the gimp with the crutch. Ugh, it's so gross.

There's a site where people report these "offenders," actually:

Steve Salerno said...

I am posting this on behalf of one of our regulars, Stever Robbins*, who remarks that it "was actually advertised with a large billboard on the subway in Boston":

"They'll pray for you," writes Stever, "and you, of course, are expected to heal."

And I'm sure someone will come forward and swear by it, too.

* I hope that's OK with you, Stever. I was wondering why you didn't post it yourself--it seemed relatively innocuous. I did try to reach you via return email, but it bounced back.

Dimension Skipper said...

Liesl, I take pretty much the same attitude about folks parking in those spots who don't appear to be handicapped. I try to assume that their affliction is one of those very real, but "invisible" ones. (My Father had need of handicapped parking with the official placard and corresponding ID due to his 24-hour use of oxygen so I too am used to "scoping out" anyone who might be using such parking under seemingly false pretenses.

But I also try to allow for folks who may have a temporary condition (and therefore no placard, no plates), but one which does really hinder their movement. I make allowances because I've known of situations like that too and the person can't always get someone to drive them and do the dropoff.

As you say though, literally running into the store is pretty big and obvious no-no, but I don't know that I myself have ever literally seen that. I think in most such instances the offender probably would at least have the decency to fake a limp. ;-)

Anyway, I wasn't even thinking of such issues when I posted that. I just thought it was very relevant as far as showing an instance of someone making a very snap judgment about someone based on little to no information at all and how it affected the person who was directly addressed and ultimately to some extent even his family.

Maybe what it all boils down to is that there's no excuse for being rude or mean (the good ol' "Golden Rule," I guess) whether calling someone "fat and lazy" for abusing a handicapped space or judging them weak-willed (even without saying anything TO them?) for not being able to overcome a compulsion/urge/addiction.

Here's something I hadn't thought of until this morning...

Another interesting thing to me is (and I don't mean to excuse the note-writer by any means) that the story paints the note-writer in a very bad light and with admittedly good reason. However, doing some of Steve's devil's advocation here... What do we know about the note-writer? What's going on in his or her life? What was their observation at the time and their thought process? Were they just "having a bad day" themselves? That note is not necessarily their typical way of addressing such things.

And yet many people reading that article will demonize the person even if only internally since we don't know who left the note. But that's a snap judgment too, isn't it? We kind of assume the person presents him- or herselt like that all the time, but we can't know.

Nice relevant quote of the day up there at the moment with its take on the progression of who may "know and judge" us. I don't necessarily agree with it, but I think the middle part is the most obviously true:

We neither know nor judge ourselves; others may judge, but cannot know us. God alone judges and knows us.—Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)

Dimension Skipper said...

P.S. ...and of course this Tilgate incident reminds me very much (despite the lack of actual property vandalism) of "The Handicapped Parking Space" episode of Seinfeld.

Steve Salerno said...

Speaking of parking issues, and the Zen of same, here's a little dialogue my wife and I seem to go through every time we go to the mall/grocery store/whatever:

Kathy: "Will you look at that idiot? Look how far over he's parked in that space! How does he expect anyone else to park next to him and be able to get out of the car!" [My wife seems to assume it's a "he" every time.]

Me: "Honey, how do you know what conditions this person encountered when he or she arrived here? Maybe the person next to them was parked way over, and that's all the room that was left."

Kathy: "Well, I don't know about that. He didn't have to park that way!"

Then, invariably, she parks next to the car or truck, skewed (out of necessity) way over to one side. Thus proving my point, and also perpetuating the cycle into the next round of motorists to arrive at the lot.

And yet we'll have the same discussion next time. I think she's just one of those folks who needs to get angry about parking/driving issues.

Dimension Skipper said...

Sometimes a simple lol suffices and is accurately descriptive...


Elizabeth said...

Liesl, I sympathize. It stinks (when people abuse the handicapped parking).

But since we are on the subject, I too have a story:

My dad can barely walk (a result of multiple broken bones in his legs after accidents, multiple surgeries on those, and a recent stroke). I took him, in his car with the placard, to a grocery store and parked in the handicapped space. After we made it to the store, I realized I forgot my purse in the car, so I ran out to get it, only to be confronted by an outraged woman who used the most colorful language to let me know what she thought of me, an obviously healthy person parking in the handicapped spot. She did not see my dad who was already in the store and there was no room during her attack (for that's what it was) for any explanations on my part. I wished she were less eager to condemn, but I guess we all have our reasons (as well as bad days).

Liesl said...

DS: I absolutely agree with you. I try really, really hard not to judge people I see parking in handicap spots without placards or plates, but I find myself lacking utterly in that self control. But then I think back to a time when I was still single, living in L.A. and very, very sick. I had to get myself to the doctor, park, get into the building, come back out and get back to my car. Unfortunately, the only two parking spaces that were open were the handicap spot and a space up a parking ramp without an elevator. I had pneumocystis pneumonia AND a parasite, but I dragged my butt up and down that ramp. It damn near killed me! (OK, not literally) It would seem logical that I would think that people who don't do that, who are that sick and choose to illegally park in the handicap parking spot, are wimps who should suck it up. But, I think the opposite; if people are that sick, hell yes! they should use that spot. Yet, I still judge the people I don't know who are doing it. Funny thing, these human failings.

As for the young thing running... I saw that on campus one day. A young girl whipped around me in the parking lot, screeched into a handicap parking spot, jumped out of her car and took off running in her Juicy Couture shorts. I was late, so I know she was, too. The difference is, I am allowed to be late without penalty! I would imagine it's a safe assumption that the young girl was not handicapped. But to her credit I will say that I never saw that car there again.

Steve: I get your wife. Totally. I have a feeling you and my husband would find a great deal to grouse about over a glass of milk.

Elizabeth: I actually sort of appreciate the person who griped at you. I don't appreciate the nastiness, but I appreciate the vigilance. However, I know how supremely frustrating it is! People shouldn't ever do that, no matter how mad they are. Some states are instituting a picture ID on the placard itself to cut down on fraud; I think it's a good idea, though it's controversial in the disability community.

My husband just sent me this link that I think is supremely apropos!

Elizabeth said...

Steve, Stever et al., I went to the Greater Boston Healing Rooms, yes I did. On line, I mean.

People do come forward and swear by the effectiveness of the Healing Rooms prayers. Here is a sample of the testimonials (watch out for unintentional comedy here and there):

"Three days after a crown preparatory procedure was done, I experienced acute pain in my jaw, surrounding the prepped tooth. The pain was so acute, I could hardly open my mouth or speak. I was taking ibuprofen pills every 4 hours to stay comfortable. After three full days of pain, I came to the Healing Room. After forgiving the dentist who did the procedure and breaking my vow that I would never return to his office again, I experienced the lifting of pain surrounding the tooth and jaw. I can now smile with no pain! Thank you, Jesus!" - Shelley, Cambridge

"I received prayer for my absent period on three occasions here at the Healing Rooms. I hadn't received my period for over six months, with no medical explanation. Yesterday, I started my period! Praise God! Also, I received prayer three weeks before a trip home to my family, a trip I was very nervous about. I was led in prayer to forgive my parents, especially my mother. The visit was amazing and filled with grace! Again, Praise God and thank you for your prayers." - Yoojin, Cambridge

"I received partial healing of my left ankle. During prayer, I felt warmth in my ankle and a stretching feeling in my foot. I tested my mobility by rotating my foot on my toes, and the usual loud popping noise was not there. I could not hear it, nor could I feel the usual accompanying pain. I can also lean deeper into my ankle than I could when I arrived. I have definitely gained more mobility in my ankle. Thank you, Father God, for revealing Your Glory." - Wendell, Cambridge

More here:

Check also their FAQ -- here is one:

Q: How many people actually get healed?

A: Lots, but not all. In Santa Maria Valley California, the Healing Rooms has seen many, many miracles happen through prayer. Cancers healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, etc. Here in Boston, we're seeing people healed of asthma, back pain, sinusitis, sciatica, etc and we expect the Lord to do even greater things as we continue to pray. Some people, however, are not healed all at once, some people are not healed completely and some don't experience healing at all. We don't know why everyone isn't healed immediately, but we do know through experience that Jesus does heal people on a regular basis and that it's worth praying to see what the Lord will do. After all, if you don't get prayer at all, you certainly won't be healed, right?

Sigh. No, wrong, actually.

And, btw, what is wrong with the Boston faithful that they can only cure asthma and back pain (not that there is anything wrong with that) and not cancer and blindness like the California prayer(er)s?

BloggerT7165 said...


If you want to see hypocrisy in the way you are talking about with your post and see it at its finest you should sit in and listen to new groups of offenders.

The rapists easily point out to the pedophiles how "wrong" they and their thinking is and how can they not see it? Of course the pedophiles do the same with the rapists yet neither group can see their own thoughts/behaviors as problematic.

Chadd - The worst pedophiles have hundreds of victims and the impact goes far beyond just the child and their families. And I agree that the public is woefully uneducated about sexual offenders and there is some hysteria about it. At the same time the backlash on the topic is just as often uneducated about the topic and causes harm also.