Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D
In the present climate where chemical addiction, obesity, gambling, sexually transmitted diseases, shopping sprees, and similar other disorders of desire and impulse are rampant, we need to stop and reflect on how we got here in the first place. Without understanding of how we got here, we can't draw the road map of where we go from here.
Addiction, bingeing on alcohol, food or other pleasurable substances, compulsive gambling, promiscuity, or the "shop till you drop" phenomenon are disorders of unrestrained desire and impulsive behaviors and a product of our consumption-focused culture. That's what they are!
Superficially, we view them as caused by a deficit or excess of certain chemicals, hormones, brain neurotransmitters, wrong company, wrong circumstances and similar other extraneous factors. All those reasons are true at one level, but at a deeper level they are shaped by something far deeper and bigger than the individual. For example, our behaviors at a deeper level are shaped by what we pass on to one another. What we pass on to one another is itself shaped by the culture we live in.
While it is useful to analyze the specific disorder, and to design specific medication and psychological treatment for it, we should also address the underlying mechanism that causes these disorders. The former approach has gotten us into the ever-expanding spiral of "optional diseases." Some call them "habit disorders." But, that raises the question of how we form a habit. By choice! Therefore, I call them optional diseases because we volunteer ourselves to be "victims" of these disorders.
Unless we control the underlying disease we might overcome one disorder only to volunteer for another. Specific medications for smoking cessation, alcoholism, compulsive shopping, narcotic addiction, etc are of limited help. People often quit one addiction and take another. Someone quits smoking and switches to compulsive eating. A recovering alcoholic becomes a caffeine addict. Perhaps, you know someone who has exchanged one addiction for another.
The word, "addiction" is derived from the Latin word, "addicere," which means to give over or surrender our rights to someone. Therefore, an addict is someone who has surrendered himself or herself to a substance, object or a person. Basically, an addict at some point traded self-control for instant gratification and then as one can guess, "One thing led to another." Such individual choices, to some extent are encouraged and reinforced by the culture we live in.
So, let's look at the big picture. In the last couple hundred years, and more significantly in the last fifty to sixty years, we have been transitioning from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance.
People living in the culture of scarcity are predominantly governed by the survival principle. People living in a culture of abundance are predominantly governed by the pleasure principle.
Values promoted in the scarcity culture are along the lines of forbearance of pain, tolerance, patience, abstinence, self-denial, self-control, delay of gratification, hard work, toughness, persistence, perseverance and the like. These values not only help people to survive but also to make great strides towards building a great nation of prosperity and abundance.
Values promoted by the abundance culture are along the lines of self-expression, instant gratification, indulgence, consumption, excessive recreation and entertainment, a sense of entitlement and, above all, aversion for self-restraint and self-control. The pleasure principle says, " If it feels good, do it! Do it now! By Golly, you deserve it!"
History of many civilizations shows that the people rose from scarcity and hardship to build mighty empires. Then they went into the idling mode to relish their victories. Following generations lived life to the fullest enjoying the era of great prosperity and abundance. Thus, the posterities, totally governed by the pleasure principle for a few centuries, crumbled.
We are in an era of prosperity and abundance. Unless we wake up, why would history treat us differently? The greatest danger we face is from ourselves. We must teach our children the value of self-control and diligence. Many parents neither restrain their children, nor do they teach them self-control. They see their child has gone to get the fourth can of soft drink or third hamburger of the day, but they do nothing to stop him or her.
Some parents don't teach such values as self-control, patience and frustration tolerance because they themselves are a product of the culture of relaxed controls. It doesn't occur to them that it is a subject matter for parental intervention.
According to one survey, 53% of children have a TV set in their rooms! Not a wise thing!
What should you do if you have a disorder of desire? A desire or craving can be controlled. If you experience a sensation of hunger, wait to see if it is a true hunger sensation. Don't just make a dash to the refrigerator. If it is true hunger sensation, make a wise choice in satisfying it.
As regards craving, bear with it. Keep reminding yourself that a craving too can pass with time. The trouble is that as soon as craving hits, we rush to "feed" that craving. We don't wait long enough to see the craving die.
Don't turn away as you meet your stumbling blocks. Without resistance, pain and discomfort, you can't get past your addiction.
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Copyright 2003, Mind Publications
Posted October 2003