Habit, if not resisted, soon becomes necessity. -St. Augustine
It is the irony of reality that it gives as well as take at the same time but appears as giving at macroscopic level, hence, referred as illusion. As soon as we are born, our death is certain. But it rests with us to acknowledge ourselves as dead whether at the time of birth or death. Gautam Buddha, founder of Buddhism, while roaming for the first time out of his palace, saw a corpse and thought himself as dead and felt a strong urge to liberate from twin of birth and death. But that story some other day.
Habit is no different in this case, it is accompanied by its lethal allele, addiction. Habit is very essential for learning, in fact, learning itself is habitual. But sometimes habit, mixed with a series of events or thoughts as a result of some emotion into prominence that bring change in behavior pattern, mutate to its lethal allele, addiction, which is a state of being enslaved to habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit forming to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.
Addiction is different in its nature from habit and must be fought differently. It cannot be defeated by assertion of will only because its motive force derives from some underlying need which exists independent of the practice. The addiction is itself aggravating the need, and in this sense is not merely a symptom of the need but for the most part, other practices or life experiences are generating the need. The sufferer from addiction is choosing his practice as a palliative for his pain or discomfort.
Practices that become addictive are not always newly adopted ones. The practice may be an occasional activity of the past, like playing cards, which suddenly takes on consuming importance because it becomes the most effective way that mind finds to reduce some intense craving. The habitual cigarette smoker who suddenly develops personal problems may, by using smoking to calm himself, convert the habit into a addiction. Now when he tries to stop, he will become much more anxious than if he had tried earlier, and continued abstinence may not reduce anxiety. He may find it impossible to subdue his urge without replacing smoking by some other activity and thereby reducing his underlying need. We may describe addictive behavior as the attempt by the mind of the sufferer to solve some underlying problem, one perhaps intensified by the activity, but one that owes mainly to difficulties elsewhere in the mind and seldom identified by the sufferer.
Two characteristics apart from the strength of the impulse may make a practice difficult to stop. The first is insignificance. Habits difficult to identify may be surprisingly hard to break such as habits like gesticulating etc. The second kind of habitual practice which is difficult to control is the kind that when carried out in moderation is serviceable or necessary such as habit of overeating.
In addition, when we resist our impulse, we nearly always feel incomplete at first. The person who tries not to gesticulate may suddenly feel that his sweeps of the hand are eloquent and that what he is saying cannot be conveyed without the use of his hands.
Any strong psychological need may underlie a addictive practice, and any practice may be addictive. Like all palliatives, addictive practices tend to obscure from us the needs that caused us to use them, and lull us into underestimating the urgency of those needs. With nearly every addiction there comes some reduction in the person’s ability to enjoy the wide spectrum of experiences once pleasurable to him. When a craving becomes intense, it tends to become highly specific; other satisfaction will not do. The sufferer from any addiction of long standing, if he stops his practice before carefully resurrecting other sources of gratification, undergoes a “withdrawal reaction” like that which alcoholics report.
Habit is habit, not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed downstairs a step at a time. -Mark Twain
For sake of simplicity and not making this clumsy, I’ll be discussing how to combat addiction in my next article.