Heard of the term? It’s compulsively engaging in any activity that has harmful, negative consequences.
It’s the scourge of Western society. Especially with the advent of new technological forms of stimulation and mass media, the population at large is becoming increasingly addicted to these quick, easy fixes for your dopamine reward system.
Behavioral addictions waste your valuable time, suck up your energy, corrupt your inner state, and passively take control over your life. And the worst thing is—by their inherent nature, the more you engage in these behaviors, the more you are likely to participate in them in the future. If you’re not careful, they can destroy you.
The Reward System
Your best friend and worst enemy, the dopamine reward system. As humans, we all have a psychological reward system that reacts and conditions ourselves to certain stimuli and provides positive emotion as a result of their consummation.
The reward system is at the core of human behavior, having conservatively evolved as a large benefactor of natural human fitness. Built to associate certain behaviors with positive emotion through operant and classical conditioning, it has dramatically increased the likelihood of survival and reproduction in our species.
Ironically, the system has backfired. By having such a dramatic effect and influence on our conscious and subconscious choices, any stimuli presented to us can become reinforced through our reward system and subconsciously affect our actions.
This means that anything intrinsically, inherently pleasurable (sex, food, etc.) or extrinsically pleasurable (money) can become entwined with the reward system and motivate you to repeatedly seek out the action of the addictive behavior.
Through a positive feedback loop carried out by dopamine and other chemicals, the neural circuits involved in the action grow and strengthen, increasing its influence for future use. The more you do it, the more you want to do it in the future.
The reward system isn’t always bad. It motivates us towards our goals, builds proper habits that directly benefit us, and trains us to pursue worthwhile endeavors.
Unfortunately, the reward system can get fucked up. Badly. Especially with the introduction of new forms of mental stimulation through technology, our reward systems are passively becoming corrupted. Porn, video games, and other technological stimulation exploit our natural reward systems. Ever wonder why practically all young men today watch porn and play video games? They prey on our evolutionary instincts and behavior to induce an addiction.
Here’s a quick summary of how the cycle of behavioral addiction forms:
You engage in a particular behavior.
The behavior is intrinsically/extrinsically rewarding.
3.Dopamine conditions the reward system to strengthen the behavior.
- You feel a greater, more alluring motivation towards engaging in the behavior.
Repeat Step 1.
Your behavioral addiction literally rewires your brain physiologically. As the positive feedback loop continues to reinforce the addiction, more dopamine receptors are formed to accommodate the increased levels of the neurotransmitter.
Once the amount of receptors has been increased, the amount of dopamine needed to maintain homeostasis (or the feeling of "normal") is also increased so once you take away that reinforcer you also take away that excess dopamine in the reward pathways. This is why you may continue to engage in the addictive behavior when it is no longer “fun” or “pleasurable.” We need to fuel the brain's constant need of dopamine in order to feel “normal.” As your neural circuits become increasingly desensitized to the stimulus, you’ll want to engage in the behavior more while liking it less.
Why is it so difficult to stop? Stimulus control overrides conscious control. What this means is that the behavioral response to engage in the addiction dominates your behavior and any conscious intervention or inhibitory activity is decreased. Even though you know that it’s harmful for you, you’ll continue regardless. This is why willpower isn’t enough to stop an addiction—the addiction is literally caused by elements below your conscious and active control.
There are, in theory, an infinite number of possible behavioral addictions, but there are some that are much more common than others due to their addictive nature. Among them—porn, video games, gambling, Internet addiction—anything that offers instant gratification and harms you in the long term.
Note—Behavioral addictions and drug addictions both affect the reward system—the only difference is that drugs directly manipulate the neurotransmitters involved in its activity, and behavioral addictions passively affect them.
There’s a reason why we vehemently discourage porn here. It preys directly on one of your greatest motivators—your sex drive. You literally have thousands, if not millions, of hot women at your fingertips to pleasure yourself to. And it’s easy. It takes just seconds to click to a new website, open a video, and gawk away.
The moment your brain sees the shit you have in front of you, your reward system goes crazy. It goes haywire. Evolution hasn’t prepared your brain for this type of stimulation.
All you want to do is consume more and more—clicking through hundreds of videos, wasting away hours in front of your computer screen, and endlessly feeding off of the stimulation. And the more you watch, the more you fuck up and desensitize your system. You become less and less enthused by normal, vanilla shit, you develop strange fetishes, and you constantly seek greater stimulation and new, hotter women. There’s a name for this. It’s called the “Coolidge effect.” Look it up.
Instead of working to reach the top of the evolutionary hierarchy and becoming a high-status and attractive man, all you have to do is open your laptop and watch the latest pornstar get fucked senseless. It’s pathetic.
You’re killing your masculinity. A man’s sex drive motivates him to do all sorts of shit—work, reach his goals, and become powerful. You’re wasting it on a bunch of pixels on a screen.
Video games are literally designed to be addictive.
You can engage in social activity with other players, reach defined goals within short amounts of time, see how you rank against others, clearly measure your progress, and endlessly receive rewards.
Instead of accepting the harsh reality of your sad, depressing life, you can escape through the video game and receive the pleasure that you so desperately seek. You can upgrade your character, win better loot, and improve your skills. And there’s no real failure. If you lose, you can just respawn and try again.
Whether or not you believe that gaming is fine in moderation, there is no debating the fact that video games are psychologically addictive.
You can get all the instant gratification and dopamine hits that you want. Anytime you want. And it doesn't matter how unsuccessful you are in life—video games are there to save you. But real life has no progress bar.
You can’t pay your fucking taxes, but you can win fifty games of Fortnite! You can’t wake up to your alarm clock, but you can get the cool new gear in Call of Duty! You can’t get your goddamn life in order, but you can get your Sims character to!
If you’re actually able to limit yourself, at most video games should be used a tool for relaxation. But even then, you should be extremely careful. Don’t trick yourself into thinking that you can play it less. If you’re addicted, you’re addicted.
Once you realize that the joy you get from video games is artificial, the rewards are meaningless, and you're wasting away your true potential, you can begin the process of quitting. It just takes that one moment of self-awareness.
Quitting the Addiction
I’ll assume that everyone already has goals and aspirations to move towards. If you don’t that, that’s the first step. If you have nothing to achieve in life, of course you’ll become behaviorally addicted to all the stimulating nonsense out there. It’s your only source of pleasure and motivation.
Once that’s fixed, you need self-awareness. You need to understand, deep-down, that the pleasure, rewards, and stimulation you receive from porn, video games, gambling, and other behavioral addictions are all artificial. You have to know that they are truly harmful, demeaning, and ultimately detrimental to your goals in life.
Then, you need to make a decision. Write it down. Make the decision to work towards quitting. If you can go cold turkey, do it. You will likely fail, but it allows you no wiggle room. Over time, if abstained from long enough, the addiction’s neural pathways will weaken and eventually become extinct.
As long as you continue to perceive the behavior as rewarding, you will continue to engage in it. It’s that simple.
Ask yourself how you feel in the moments when you regret giving in to the addiction and write it down. Repeat it to yourself. Journal about it. Meditate on the reality of your situation.
Install feedback and accountability. Create a calendar where you have to mark each day where you succeed in avoiding the addition. Tell a friend. Give someone $100 and ask for it back later only if you succeeded in the avoiding the addiction. Sell your desktop. Block harmful websites.
You have to be able to remind yourself consciously when you feel like giving in to the addiction why you’re working to quit. Even if you're feeling like absolute shit, tired, defeated, and depressed, you have to be extremely careful to not fall back into it. It’s at this time when you’re the most vulnerable—deprived of pleasure, you will be even more likely to jump at opportunities to obtain it. If you don’t watch yourself, you could succumb to the addiction again for days, weeks, or even months on end. You might relapse and end up giving in to defeat, resigning yourself to its influences for prolonged periods of time. One mistake—one relapse—and you could lose all the progress you’ve made.
It won’t be easy. In fact, breaking this behavioral addiction might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. However, the incredible triumph you’ll get out on quitting will be eternally greater than any fleeting pleasure you gleaned from the addiction itself.