Eric J. Ianelli at the TLS:
Years ago, in what now seems like another life, a friend said to me, “Your entire existence can be reduced to a three-part cycle. One: Get fucked up. Two: Fuck up. Three: Damage control”. We hadn’t known each other very long, probably two months at most, and yet he had already witnessed enough of my regular blackout drinking, just one of the more obvious manifestations of addiction’s self-perpetuating vortex, to have got my number. With a wry smile, he went on to hypothesize more generally – and, I suspect, only half-jokingly – that addicts are bored or frustrated problem-solvers who instinctively contrive Houdini-like situations from which to disentangle themselves when no other challenge happens to present itself. The drug becomes the reward when they succeed and the consolation prize when they fail.
There is a recognizable and rueful truth to that. A lifetime spent in my own ambivalent company and more than two decades alongside others in recovery has shown me that the addictive mind is naturally busy and likes to stay that way, even (or especially) when repeated attempts are made to switch it off. When the illness is running full tilt, with all the strategizing, debating, rationalizing, formulating and cajoling that entails, the mind finally has enough activity to keep itself occupied. But what makes addiction so all-consuming – “a species of madness”, in Coleridge’s words – is its physical component. The addict’s body and brain, at once diplomats and double agents, work both collaboratively and antagonistically to create an unwavering impetus towards a single self-destructive end. When the brain can no longer justify pursuing the addictive release, the body positively yearns for it; and when the body declares itself utterly spent, the brain obsesses until it has no choice but to oblige.