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August 5, 2022

The Addiction Spectrum: How Capitalism Hacks The Brain

Photo by lilartsy on Pexels.

Addiction is a spectrum. And we’re all on it, in one way or another.

Do you feel a regular pull to check Facebook? You’re on the spectrum. Do you have a huge collection of shoes? You’re on the spectrum. Do you struggle to resist eating chocolate on a regular basis? Yep, you too are on the spectrum.

Modern society is geared towards creating addicts, because if we’re not addicted, we’re not consuming. We’re not human beings to the great corporate machine that runs the world, we’re units, and as units we’re required to consume constantly or we’re effectively useless.

Every time you get those likes on your latest post, you get a little dopamine hit that makes you check your Facebook again, and again, and again – and of course when you’re on your Facebook feed, you’re being subjected to the adverts that make someone somewhere a little bit of money.

The real problem is that as a species, we’ve had our brain’s natural reward centres “hacked”; something that no other animal on the planet has been able to achieve. The reward centres are supposed to be a closed system, only to be activated by activities that propagate the species: eating, procreating or otherwise achieving something meaningful.

When the reward centres are activated, it makes us want to repeat the activity that activated them so that, essentially, we’re driven to keep ourselves and our species in perpetual motion.

But the great corporate entities of the world, those that have products to sell or an agenda to push have figured out how to activate those reward centres externally, effectively making us need to consume social media, pornography or even chocolate again and again because our brains have been fooled into believing that these activities are helping us to propagate the species, even when they’re really not.

Drug addicts, those that rely on a substance to function, are on the far right of the spectrum of course. But no addict is directly addicted to a substance, not exactly. Addicts are addicted to the chemicals that the substance teases out of the brain. And these chemicals that are produced by any substance are the same chemicals that are produced in the brain of a chocaholic, albeit to lesser degrees.

Anything is fine in moderation. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that if I could have a few lines every so often, on special occasions, I probably would. But I simply can’t, so I don’t, ever. But “they” don’t want us to consume in moderation. They want us to need their products.

Their advertisements indicate that if we don’t buy the cologne, then the girl isn’t going to want to fuck us; if we don’t have the car, then we’re going to look less than by comparison; if we don’t buy McDonald’s, our hunger won’t be satisfied. We’re made to crave the things we don’t have, so that our actions are driven to change that. We want it. We will have it.

That’s why so many get themselves in debt they can scarcely manage just to own the latest car, the latest phone or the latest computer. We’re addicts, it’s as simple as that. It’s just that the drug isn’t a substance, it’s a product. We want it. We need it. So we’re driven to get it, consequences be damned.

Are you working double shifts, drowning in credit card or loan debt just to maintain the lifestyle you’ve chosen? Chances are you may well be. This entire thought process is no different than that of the addict. I want it. I need it. So I will do what I must to get it.

Now, you may say that this is entire argument reduction to absurdity. After all, people do not sell their possessions, steal from their families and even resort to theft and burglary in order to pay for their latest iPhone. But remember, my argument is that addiction is a spectrum. And it is socially acceptable to be on the left to middle of it.

Stray too far to the right and you start to become a social pariah. But have a little empathy, is all I’m saying. The drug addict is no different from the addict on the left of the spectrum, just further along in the process.

Speaking as a recovering cocaine addict, I have to tell you that after a certain point on the spectrum it becomes so hard to resist the call of those reward centres that many never turn back. As the twelve-steps argue, active substance addiction ends only with jails, institutions and death.

Of course, this isn’t the case for those on the far left. But that doesn’t mean that you’re free of that empty, gnawing feeling of longing that those on the far right experience, just, again, to a lesser degree.

So what do we do about this? How can we get off the spectrum entirely? Because no one, whether your addiction is social media or heroin, wants to be an addict. It’s not about want, it’s about need. I’m not trying to say I’m above you. Hell, I wrote a song about it called The Dream and one of the lyrics describes our position:

“We’re now cattle it seems, fed by channels and memes and I grieve, ‘cause I’m in the net”.

I may be in recovery, but I’m not off the spectrum. Not by a long shot. I’m still a heavy smoker. I still check my Facebook umpteen times a day; I still want the latest phone and despite being diabetic, I still consume chocolate like it’s going out of fashion.

I don’t think it’s possible to get off the addiction spectrum entirely, unless you live in a field, eating only radishes and drinking your own wee. Short of that, we’re plugged in and to unplug means to become a social pariah. I mean, have you ever met someone who doesn’t use Facebook and thought ‘do you even exist?’

So before you judge a drug addict, remember that you, in some way, know how they feel. Look at it this way: you are on the spectrum, in some way, shape or form. You can empathise. You may not have ruined your own life but you do share a commonality. You are an addict. You just don’t realise it.

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