Stop calling it addiction.

Addiction is a demon. Why give it extra power by calling it that?

Stop calling it addiction Pinterest pin

Screen addiction. Phone addiction. Tech addiction.

“Addiction” can even be a badge of honor. Maybe you know a grilled cheese “junkie.”

But the definition of addiction has transmogrified over the years. It’s now a disease, that is, not behavior alone, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. That’s a heavy burden.

Really, though, it can be any number of things. Whatever it is, we recognize it when it happens to us.

But would you say a habit is a disease? Sounds off to me.

It also sounds like an unconquerable demon, and demonizing frightens people into inaction.

Yet what really is the difference? We can quibble about oh, you need to do something despite the painful consequences, but all habits have value to you.

Habits have triggers. And whether it’s habit or addiction (which only a trained therapist could diagnose because you’re prone to bias), you’re not meeting some emotional need.

I gathered these needs from a brief romp around the net:

  • boredom
  • FOMO, or fear of missing out (that’s a big topic)
  • excitement at something new (notifications, anyone?)
  • safety (gotta keep notifications on so I don’t miss a work-related email, friends’ text, or news development)
  • comfort and community when you’re feeling lonely
  • self-esteem
  • stumbling across something, becoming curious or outraged, and unraveling the thread
  • destressing
  • …and everything in my kintsugi theory.

As a matter of fact, those are all so good they deserve their own post. Months from now, this page will have a lot of underlines…

So why is habit emotional?

Because you’ve learned that A (trigger) leads to B (reward), and you don’t have any other way of getting the same intensity of B as from your supplier of choice.

My best analogy of this is from a game called The Sims. See this needs bar?

Needs bars from The Sims 3. Hunger, Social, Bladder, Hygiene, Energy, and Fun. Arrows indicate direction the bar fills or empties when a Sim perfroms a certain activity.
© Maxis 2009

This Sim’s (character’s) hunger bar is going down slower than the rate at which their energy is increasing. They’re probably asleep— not resting their eyes. If they ate a huge meal, their hunger bar would go up by three arrows. A bowl of cereal would equal one arrow and not fill them up.

Now replace those labels with emotions. The Sims is a video game and isn’t that complex, but your brain is.

If your self-esteem bar is low and you jump on Instagram to read the comments and likes on your most recent post, that might signal a need. And if it’s the only three-arrow fill-up you know, it makes sense to pick it over a healthier one-arrow alternative.

That’s why I call it junk food. Fruit has natural sugar, but far less than the 26g added sugar in your average soda. Salad and ice cream can both satisfy hunger.

YouTube, Reddit, Facebook, and Twitter depicted as soda cans.
© Jan Cavan, dawghousedesignstudio.com

(I’ve heard plenty of vegans, by the way, tell me junk food disgusts them now. Soda used to be tasty! Now blueberries give them that same sugar rush. Your tech “diet” can be the same.)

It’s up to you to discover those emotional holes you’re filling with junk food.

See also:
Kintsugi: a theory of self-repair

And if that sounds hard, stay tuned. I’ve collected heaps of advice and exercises in my five-year quest to quit porn, and you want to throw everything at the wall until something sticks. Don’t worry. For you, it probably won’t take that long.

In the meantime, start by calling it a habit.

Habits are changeable. Moldable. Addiction sounds like an unconquerable level 99 demon.

Habit: a little clay man. Addiction: a fiery 100-foot demon.
The demon’s even smoking!

Whether you’re doomscrolling, checking for new likes, or reading every email as it comes in, you have the power to change.

And while I’m no credentialed therapist, I’ve done both mainstream advice and “one weird trick”‘s in my quest. I can tell you, a “habit” sounds moldable, while “addiction” is so powerful, you might as well give up now.

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Calling your habit an addiction is like shooting yourself in the foot before you run the race. And not believing in yourself is like not showing up.

I don’t like the words addiction or recovery. Addiction implies hopelessness, and recovery implies pathology. They’re useful for SEO, and so you know what I’m talking about. But that’s about it. The American Society of Addiction Medicine can call it a disease, but I agree with Steven Slate: “Addiction is not a disease.”

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Again, you’ve got to find those emotional holes you’re filling with junk food.

Don’t worry, I’ll give you several fun exercises, all things I did myself.

In the meantime,

  • stop calling it addiction— it’s overindulgence—
  • and believe you can change.

The motto of my recovery group is “It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” The scarier you make that mountain look, the less likely you are to climb it.

What habit is holding you back?

"It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves." - Sir Edmung Hillary


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