Now, now, Captain Jack Sparrow, what kind of a mess did you get yourself into?
Some of us, perhaps most of us, are aware of the trials and tribulations of talented actor Johnny Depp, aka the dashing pirate Jack Sparrow, in the highly successful film franchise Pirates of the Caribbean, his most popular box-office hit.
A star since his teenage years, it must have been embarrassing to see pictures of him in a courtroom under the influence of alcohol/drug abuse.
As many are in show business and other professions, the too rich, or the too poor, become victims to a detrimental addiction, substance abuse, alcohol, drugs, etc.
The result is the loss of fortunes, careers, and even lives.
What is this thing called “addiction”, and why is it so harmful to mankind?
It is nothing new. Religious books, like the holy Quran and the Bible, warned us about the consumption of harmful staples. Do we obey? Were Adam and Eve the first addicts, unable to resist temptation? Ah, that forbidden fruit.
Addiction is generally understood to be a dependence on substances. Those include alcohol, drugs, nicotine, tobacco, or even prescription drugs, but that is not all. Of late, we have learned of another addiction known as “behavioural addiction”.
This is not to be confused with “obsessive compulsive disorder”, such as constantly washing hands or locking doors.
Behavioural addiction includes excessive gambling, over-eating, shopping, Internet, TV, sex, watching pornography, video games, even plastic surgery, among others. It is not dissimilar to drug addiction, triggering the brain’s reward system, except that one is addicted to a substance, the other is addicted to a behaviour or a feeling experienced by acting on the behaviour.
There was some disagreement among scientists that behavioural addiction, such as gambling, was a true addiction, but after a four-year study, a group of experts concluded that addiction is about the underlying neurology of the brain, not about outward behaviour. It followed the same path as substance addiction, triggering the brain’s reward system.
In April 2011, the American Society of Addiction Medicine released a new definition extending addiction to include behaviour other than problematic substance abuse.
We must always keep in mind that addiction is indeed a disease. Addictive behaviour uses desire like a psychic malignancy, sucking out life’s energy into specific obsessions and compulsions, leaving less energy available for other pursuits — relationships, enjoyment, relaxation, interaction, and so on.
When you are addicted you are emotionally unavailable. It is equivalent to a “demonic power”, says the Bible and it is practically forbidden in Islam.
To our great shock, some of the most beautiful things in life can be addictive. How can “reading” be so evil? Do you enjoy reading? Can you live without it?
One who reads a lot is fondly called a bookworm or a bibliophile and that was sort of a compliment. Reading is the easiest way to learn, to study, to build an intellect, an individual, a nation, a civilisation.
However, there is an element of madness in too much reading, as it drains the brain and can cause mental disorder. If you read in bed, you are a librocubicularist —sounds like an insult.
Too much reading punishes the brain and locks you up from society and we have had enough of isolation and lockups.
What about love, perhaps the finest emotion of humankind? What can compare to that excitement, that euphoria, that happiness that love brings? Your brain releases chemical messages, such as dopamine, to make you feel high.
Being in love is an uplifting, joyous state everyone deserves to experience.
Can anything be wrong with that? Only when you fall into a pattern of emotional dependence on the object of your adulation. Does that mean “fall in love” but just a little? No, but it does mean that we can be caught up in a cycle of need to experience this craving and without it we develop withdrawal symptoms much like other behaviours associated with addiction.
Maladaptive, pervasive, and excessive interest in a romantic partner can result in a personality disorder and a blind lack of control. It is prevalent among 3-10 per cent of lovers.
To die for love is no laughing matter. It happens.
Love addictions can occur in forms other than romance —children, friends, parents even strangers. When impulses are out of control, love becomes an unhealthy feeling to our detriment and that of others. Pity. We love to love.
Strangest of all addictions that we came across is the addiction to war.
To be addicted means you must have it and cannot live without it. Surely that does not apply to war. Ask a soldier. Does he miss the horrors of combat?
Most veterans will answer yes.
“That dry-mouthed fear that can be incapacitating before battle,” said one soldier. “How good it must feel to do something bad.”
The adrenaline produced by combat. “We band of brotherhood”, wrote Shakespeare.
The brotherhood it generates is as addictive as heroin. This yearning to go back to the battlefield: “It fuelled my brain with dopamine and my body with testosterone,” a veteran’s comment, proving the addiction to war.
We saw some of that in the Oscar-winning movie The Hurt Locker (2008) and Man Down (2015).
If soldiers can be addicted to war, can countries too? Ask American author Joel Andreas, writer of Addicted to War.
Is anyone out there addicted to peace?
“When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.”
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
*A version of this article appears in print in the 12 May, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.