Addiction is a Lack of Self-Control, and Every Choice You Make is Interlinked

I just read the book “Dopamine Nation” by Anna Lembke. Fantastic book. I was going to summarize the book, but then I thought f*** it people can read it themselves if they want. Instead I want to articulate an insight that’s in my head since putting the book down:

I. Every component of your life – physical health, mental health – is interconnected and correlated.

II. Every choice you make has compounding positive or negative ramifications.

Physical fitness, good diet, good health, productivity, positivity, happiness, gratitude, confidence, charisma, selflessness, mood stability, optimism, discipline, self-control, long-term thinking, good relationships, resilience, determination, wealth, abundance, intelligence, energy, honesty, responsibility, and strength are all correlated.

Obesity, poor diet, eating addiction/disorders, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, dysphoria, insomnia, poverty, scarcity, pessimism, myopia, selfishness, fatigue, low energy, laziness, addiction, loneliness, irritability, entitlement, shame, embarrassment, fear, dishonesty, victim mentality, and weakness are all correlated.

Now this may sound obvious, but I think we underestimate how interlinked everything is.

Everything being interlinked implies that every single decision we make, no matter how minor, has compounding effects on everything else. Here are some studies from to help convey this point:

  • A study by neuroscientist Warren Bickel showed that people who read a narrative passage of abundance (you’ve just been promoted with a big pay raise and will have the option to move to a part of the country you’ve always wanted to live in with expenses covered) showed greater tendency to delay gratification than those who read a scarcity narrative (you just lost your job and have to move back in to your parents’ place in a part of the country you dislike spending all your savings to move there and you don’t qualify for unemployment)
  • Mice addicted to drugs are less likely to help another mouse that’s stuck
  • The Stanford marshmallow experiment showed that children who were able to delay gratification and not eat a marshmallow put in front of them for 15 minutes showed better life outcomes

When it’s midnight and you have a craving to binge eat some junk food – the ramifications of giving into that binge eating session go beyond just the negative dietary effects of binge eating junk food. You weaken your discipline and fuel another addiction that will carry over to your other decision making beyond binge eating unhealthy food – for example by being more compelled to give in to drugs, porn, mindless internet surfing, skip out on working out, etc. And of course the negative dietary effects of healthy food will also negatively effect your mental health which in turn reduces your physical health in a negative feedback loop or downward spiral.

I’ll turn off a lot of people by referencing Andrew Tate here, but I agree with his advice of telling a suicidal person who’d reached to him to go get a six pack (abs), and then come back to him. Exercise, healthy diet, and good physical health will naturally translate to better mental health.

Addiction is a lack of self-control

Addiction is not just specific to the one thing that an addict is addicted to (eg. drugs, sex), but a general lack of self-control that translates to other areas as well. This is why you can’t cure an addiction by replacing it with another addiction. The solution to addiction is restraint and self-control, which requires accepting the “pain” of withdrawing and leaning into reality rather than escaping from it.

You Can Choose to Either Be in Control or Play the Victim

I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that we are in control of our decisions, and thus have the ability to dictate our life outcomes. Victim mentality seems to be in vogue these days but is destructive because it entails feeling powerless. Powerlessness and lack of self-control are practically synonymous with anxiety and addiction.

The following studies show how a belief in self-control improve life outcomes:

  • A study in the 1960s showed that dogs subject to electric shock who were able to control their behavior to avoid shock were more likely to work to avoid subsequent electric shock in a different scenario. The dogs that weren’t able to control in the first scenario were more likely to not attempt to avoid the electric shock in the second and just whimper in pain. (page 145)
  • A 1957 study by Curt Richter at Johns Hopkins University tested how long mice would swim for their lives in a jar of water with water jets forcing them to swim. Mice of equivalent physical fitness showed enormous variation in how long they fought for their lives – with some swimming for 60 hours while others gave up and drowned after 15 minutes. But then when mice prior to being placed in the jar were grabbed by the experimenters’ hands multiple times and allowed to wriggle free, they swam significantly longer for an average of over 60 hours before giving up and getting exhausted. (this is on page 4 of “The Art of Choosing” by Sheena Iyengar, another book I will read)

I’ve noticed that I either seem to feel really driven and happy, or the opposite. When it’s going well, I’m happy, motivated, productive, in shape, confident, disciplined, have good relationships selfless, etc. Finishing some work might give me energy to write some article or make a video which might give me energy to work out which might give me some energy to do something else productive and so on and so forth in one giant positive feedback loop.

When it’s going poorly, I’m not happy, struggling to get out of bed, unproductive, undisciplined, addicted, lacking in confidence, not looking forward to anything, have poor relationships, etc.

For me my most negative and unproductive tendency has been to loop on negative thoughts – such as anger or unhappiness towards an injustice in the present or past. This is not something I remember experiencing for a long time, but recently I had a couple unexpected shocks totally derail me. I got laid off (in a way that felt like a betrayal) and half broken up over text in the span of a week, which also happened to throw off my future living plans. I went from feeling on top of the world and invincible to unhappy and demotivated, with the energy that had previously been directed towards my personal projects and goals now being sapped on anger, sadness, and other unproductive thoughts.

It’s not easy to climb out of a downward spiral, but it all starts with little choices. Choosing to work out. Choosing to abstain from eating junk food. Choosing to force yourself to do some work even if you’re feeling lazy. Choosing to go to that social event or approach that cute girl/guy.

Ultimately life will throw shit at you. Loved ones pass away. Relationships end. Jobs are lost, business goes down, money is lost. It’s fine to feel like shit when this happens.

But after the initial shock, you then have a choice to make.

You can either choose to continue feeling sorry for yourself, feeling like a helpless victim, and going down the negative feedback spiral of feeling like crap all the time, low energy, losing money, focusing on scarcity, being addicted, only thinking about the short-term, and looking and feeling like shit.

Or you can choose to have an abundance mentality, work towards long-term goals, push yourself through the pain, be grateful, see the humor in life, and recognize that you are not a helpless victim of your emotions and circumstance – that you are in control.

Modern Society has an Addiction Problem

Addictions are generally framed as specific to one thing – drugs, porn, sex, gambling, videogames, social media, TV, food, etc.

I argue that addiction should be framed more generally as a lack of self-control. Just like depression and anxiety are two sides of the same coin, all these other various addictions are one in the same in the sense of having the same root cause. Someone who’s addicted to videogames can likely easily become addicted to porn, junk food, mindless internet surfing, etc.

It is not politically correct to emphasize the “self-control” piece because everyone wants to be a helpless victim and relinquish any sense of personal responsibility, but this mentality is doing more harm than good.

The point isn’t to stigmatize people who’re addicted, but for people to admit that they have an addiction, and should fix it if this addiction is not serving them.

If someone works 12 hours/day, that could be classified as work addiction. But honestly I don’t see that as a problem unless the work is getting in the way of other important things that they should be doing like taking care of their spouse and/or kids.

But spending 12 hours/day playing videogames, watching porn, mindlessly consuming Instagram and TikTok, and surfing Reddit is definitely not constructive to one’s long-term happiness, and probably not constructive to one’s short-term happiness either. If you’ve ever mindlessly surfed the internet or consumed some app only to afterwards think “wtf am I doing this is a waste of time” yet still felt compelled to continue, then you are experiencing addiction. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that addiction is confined to heroin and crystal meth.

A story that stood out from me from the book was that of a teenage girl addicted to vaping marijuana and suffering from anxiety and other mental health problems. The author suggested that she try abstaining from marijuana for a month. The teen protested. The author asked her if she still wanted to be smoking weed everyday 5 years from now. The teen said no. 3 years? No. 1 year? The teen replied “you’re right doc, you got me there. I suppose I should start now.”

One month later she came back cured of her anxiety and vaping addiction.

Visualize where you want to be in 5 years, and start makes the choices now that will lead you there. There will be pain and resistance – embrace it and go forth rather than giving up and succumbing to escapism and helplessness / lack of self-control, otherwise known as addiction. Your future self will thank you.

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