On Addiction

I’m a bit of an expert at this. I have been battling addiction my whole life.

The most dangerous was crack-cocaine, the most damaging and hardest to kick, love … which doesn’t ordinarily get put in the addiction category, but having experienced white-collar crack-addiction from the inside and out… the similarities are too many and too strong to ignore. Both are shooting for “a way of feeling”… and there are many roads to the same state.

Both of those were back in the 90s… gone… replaced by things that are easier to live with.

So here we are.

It is (still) the dawn of the 21st Century. The internet has become corrupt and boring… and has insinuated itself into our lives to the extent that it’s starting to change our brain structures.

It consists of “sites” – which assumes a kind of “containment” that doesn’t really exist. They’re more like million-armed octopuses with brains that look like this:

The purpose of which is to collect as much information about us as possible, so that self-teaching-pattern-recognition programs (which we’re anthropomorphising already, and which are already better at spotting patterns than humans)… can divine patterns in our behaviour, so we can be manipulated and controlled. For money. For political power.

And the ones that succeed are optimised for addiction. I don’t know if they’re optimised by AIs, or clever UX people or MRI scans or what… but there is a natural-selection in play, and they’re becoming more and more addictive – usually via the dopamine loop. And that is ignoring porn, which is internet addiction on… steroids. On crack.

One of the guys I work with sometimes brings his 12 year old daughter to work. She’s happy to lie in the car with a cellphone all day – like ALL day. I wake up, I look at facebook. I go to sleep… to the sound of podcasts, because without distracting chatter fading in and out, my mind left to its own devices won’t sleep for fucking hours. I check facebook on my phone at traffic lights. In supermarket queues.

And for what? To see if people have laughed at my jokes? (one or two sometimes do). To see photos of other people’s lunch? To look at political stuff which seems optimised to piss me off? To be fair though, this is a mis-representation. I AM actually interested in most of the things other people have to say on facebook… just not 6 hours a day interested.

I live in a low-rent shack with a million dollar view.

I can see that from where I’m sitting now (I haven’t got out of bed yet… (apart from to get coffee, because I’m addicted to that too)). It is astonishingly beautiful, but I actually have to “take the trouble to notice it”, before returning my attention to a screen. This screen.

So here we are. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

The trouble with dopamine-loop addictions is that they increase the tendency to become addicted to other things.

When you flood dopamine receptors, they get depleted, so you need more… to experience the same levels of pleasure, or happiness. The fact that the internet is increasingly optimised for dopamine-loop addiction is increasing humanity’s proclivity to become addicted to everything else, and is decreasing our ability to take simple pleasure from things we’re actually adapted to.

The reason people (especially young people) are turning off their TVs isn’t just because TV content is patronising, manipulative and irrelevant. It’s also because it simply cannot compete with the addictive power of “apps”. I can’t sit through a movie any more without checking the internet about 20 times. As to reading books? No chance. The way I do that these days is audiobooks in my car… mainly because driving is too boring to do on its own… but really I’m not listening to the audiobook… I’m tuning in and out, thinking about other things – which a lot of the time are arguments that I’m having with people (that I don’t know) on the internet.

We’re optimising everything for addiction – using the same neural pathways that cocaine uses, and we’re giving it to our kids.

Maybe this is like The Gin Craze – I used to think it was… that period in the UK where at the start of the industrial revolution, everyone moved to cities and got as drunk as hell on bad booze for a generation or two.

The Gin Craze ended (kindof) partly due to economics, partly due to fashion I think. But the fallout from alcohol is immediate and horrific – the fallout from gentle dopamine addiction is easier to live with, and I don’t think it’s going away. I don’t know if it will get worse, but it will get more pervasive.

The basic offering of The Stacks (google et al) is “Open Your Lives to Us, and We Will Make Them Better”. Sell your soul basically. Upload it. One tweet, one photo at a time

The worst type of addiction in terms of attempted suicide is gambling – about 1/5 attempt suicide. The worst type of gambling, is gambling machines – which are optimised (using MRI scanners) to provide a “flow” of dopamine. Addicts’ brain responses actually show disappointment when they win because it breaks the flow. I don’t know if everyday internet addiction will ever optimise itself to be this extreme – it’s not good business to kill the host. It’s possible though.

And then there’s porn – internet porn is not optimised for orgasm, it is optimised for search. Porn addicts spend on average 2 hours a day… “searching”. Because that’s where the buzz is. That is also where the advertising money is. One in Four requests to search-engines are porn related… it’s a dopamine addiction. It delivers the same hit as the one you get when you take cocaine, or check into facebook or twitter again.

Right now I’m battling alcohol addiction. I’m 4 days sober. I quit for 6 months, then relapsed for about 4. I basically swapped one addiction (alcohol) for another (weed) – and although the weed thing has virtually no consequences (I’ve never missed a day’s work, never lost friends, never gotten into fights, never spent a ton of money, never put on weight, never… never…), it had become the thing I do instead of doing anything else.

So I bought one of these:

A little time-delay safe. I actually attempted to invent one about 5 years ago… made a working prototype, but (addicted to the “new” part of projects as I am), lost interest. Then someone else invented them and is selling them for far less than I could ever make them for, so I got one.

They’re great – works really well. You can lock anything you don’t want to be distracted by up for a given length of time… I can lock up the weed for a week… have a session… then I’m safe for another week.

Trouble is, I went straight back to alcohol – and that’s harder to lock up because you can buy it everywhere. It’s quite hard to socialise without it being around – and I find being around other people so uncomfortable, that without alcohol I don’t socialise for more than 10 minutes at a time anyway. I turn up, do my act, then go home – or somewhere on my own, where I can be by myself.

So – new plan… instead of locking it away for a week, I’m locking it away until late at night. See how that goes.

I’ve also put a time-delay on facebook access using the wastenotime plugin – it isn’t on my phone, but I can’t find my phone half the time anyway… the phone isn’t the problem for me. Yet.

So I guess, part of the reason I’m writing this now, is that I’ve got a bit more time on my hands… as well as just trying to figure out what I think… this post is kindof a brain-dump.

The thing that triggered it though is this:

That is the state-of-the-art of the fledgling cannabis business – a subtle but compelling blend of science and snake-oil. “Delivering Health and Happiness”? Really? Health? Isn’t that what cigarette manufacturers used to say back in the day? As far as I can see, the different species of this new product are substitutes for things like Asprin, Valium, Sleeping Pills etc etc – none of which really deliver “health” exactly.

Maybe if it can break bad habits elsewhere it will make people healthier. I’m definitely healthier on weed than on alcohol… but it’s bollocks to claim that replacing one addictive self-medication with another is making me healthy.

My old band received a fairly substantial royalty cheque about 30 years after we released our records – and we’ve decided to put it aside, and invest it in some sort of boutique marijuana business when the laws change. We haven’t got a shit-show against something like this though – this is backed by serious money, and it is delivering (50 cents a hit) something that is fairly cheap, and which is actually a really good product – in terms of more accurately letting people know what they’re getting. I’ll totally use it when it becomes available here. Weed on its own is a kludge of THC and CBD which give very different effects. It would be good to be able to fine-tune these.

Time to face the day.

Time I went out and got coffee. I go to the local cafe to get the same coffee I can make at home… because… why? To talk to people I guess. In the hope I might find someone to love there (this has never happened in a cafe, ever). To get more caffeine. To get out. Change scene.

In my experience there are two types of addiction: Those that get you out of the house, and those that don’t. Avoid the latter.

I think I might try giving up on fighting it – and just start trying to build addiction into things that I actually want to do. I have some sympathy with that McKenna notion that the whole of reality is made out of habits anyway… repeating patterns. This vacillation between novelty and comfort. It’s the basic mechanism of neural networks. Maybe this is all we are.

So there it is. No real wisdom there then.

Up, away.

1 Comment » for On Addiction
  1. Rafael Carrascosa says:

    I admire all the effort you put into battleing your addictions. Plus all the ingenious tricks and strategies you have to come up with…

    Have you tried martial arts?

    P.s. I make a living out of industrial machine learning and I can assure you that the machine learning buyer barely sees an inch beyond ‘making more money’… Everyting else it is just this huge snoball nobody really controls anymore.