Gary Becker Thinks the Most Addictive Thing Is …

Over 600 blog readers took a shot at guessing what Gary Becker thinks the most addictive thing on Earth is.

Lots of folks threw out things like crack and caffeine, but do you really think I’m going to offer a blog quiz with an obvious answer?

While not the answer I was looking for, there was something poetic about Deb‘s guess:

A yawn. A smile. Salt.

Before I give the answer, it is worth thinking about what it means for a good to be addictive. At least the way I think about it, an addictive thing has the following characteristics:

1) Once you start consuming it, you want to consume more and more of it.

2) Over time you build up a tolerance to it, i.e. you get less enjoyment out of consuming a fixed amount of it.

3) Pursuit of that good leads you to sacrifice everything else in your life to get it, potentially leading you to do ridiculous things to try to get the good.

4) There is a period of withdrawal when you stop consuming the good.

No doubt alcohol and crack cocaine fit that description well. In Becker’s view, however, there is something even more addictive than substances: people.

When he first said this, it sounded kind of crazy to me. What does it mean to say that people are addictive?

Then I thought more about it, and I think he is right. Falling in love is the ultimate addiction. There is no question that in the early stages of attraction, spending a little bit of time with someone makes you desperately want more. Infatuation can be all-encompassing, and people will do anything to make a relationship blossom. They will risk everything and often end up looking utterly foolish. Once in a relationship, however, the utility one derives from time with the beloved diminishes. The heady excitement of courtship gives way to something much more mundane. Even if a relationship isn’t that good, for at least one of the parties there is a painful withdrawal period.

To get the exact answer I was looking for took until comment number 343, when Bobo responded “Other People.” Many others were close. Jeff (comment 13) said “Society or human companionship.” Laura (comment 47) said “Love.”

I’ll declare all three of them winners.

So what do you think? Is Gary Becker right or wrong?


Michelle

Psychological or physical? I'm addicted to Xanax, and was terrified to hear of a guy who *died* in jail when his jailers didn't give him his meds. Of course, I'd take the people over the pills, if that were an option. Physically, it wouldn't be an option, though, if I had to choose.

Siobhan

Oh.... and another thing...

Whilst this isn't always the case - why do people go to rehab? If they prefer dying young (as perhaps some do) and addicted to crack, then why do some people come back? To live alone... I don't think so, for something they miss from people? maybe? Why is social phobia a serious problem for people? They crave being with people, but cannot cope? I don't think this is necessarily well formed... but hopefully will make people think...

Also, in all the counter examples - no one has any evidence that the people who don't spend time without other people or don't like other people didn't go through some kind of withdrawal or not...

Siobhan

I have but one comment (okay, looking over it... maybe a few)...

For all those who are skeptical... try go off people, and by that I do not mean a singular loved one, or just not leaving your house (whilst still being able to hear people)... go to the moon, alone, that's probably what going 'off' people would be like, passing people everyday on the street means they're still there... we can't say how much less addictive it is than chemical drugs, because the withdrawal is rarely/maybe never observed... I'm not saying that Becker's answer is necessarily right, but when I read the post (I must have missed the post leading up to this), my thought was love, and maybe it's not love, or acceptance... maybe it's just the presence of other people - even without conversation or intimacy. The examples of monks and other individuals are the exception and not the rule, and still they have to come into contact with people at some stage. ??

Read more...

Ellie

The argument about substance addiction is fine, but actually addicts often surround themselves with other addicts, so while they may spurn family and people who they love they do in fact replace them with other people.

I agree that people are very addictive, case in point, when people are lonely or alone, they will talk to strangers ona bus, the metro in shops etc, because they NEED human contact of some kind.

Michael

Seriously for a moment I think that the missing detail here (aside from our spending way too long debating a spur of the moment suggestion) is that there are a great number of addictions that can be covered by the term 'people addiction'

Addictions to gossip, conflict, rape, scholarly debate, bdsm, porn, hugs, soap operas and teaching can all be categorised as people addictions, just as addictions to crack, speed, alcohol and caffeine can all be called substance addictions.

Is rape more addictive than crack? I am proud to have no idea.

SMcQ

Other people? The sappy way you idealize it sounds like the cliche conclusion to every sitcom. Kumbaya economics.

Makes sense only from a narcissistic perspective, with other people serving as mirrors for our individual self absorption. Considering that we are social animals by nature, human aggregation seems like a biological necessity, like food, water and air. If these don't qualify for addiction, then neither does our social nature.

The contest is over, but here is a better answer: GOSSIP.

Rafferty Uy

Hm... this kind of makes sense, but I can't say I completely agree. A better way to say it could be that: "The most addictive thing for man is gaining security and significance." Falling in love is just one of the means to get these 2.

Conor Neu

I think the problem with the question is not in the definition of what "addiction" is, but what you mean by "most".

Most in quantity or most in power? If quantity, then yes, there are probably more people addicted to love than anything else. If power of the substance, then I disagree. Many people can walk away from "other people" (as mentioned, hermits, monks, etc.). And also as mentioned, how often do you see a heriod addict just walk away from that substance?

Kevin H

egh, I think partially. Most people have a naturally self limiting reaction to other people, while some people certainly have a larger desire/tolerance for people, we all pretty much have our own natural limit for friends/attention. Try finding that limit with your average crack addict....

chris

Boo, hiss. :-)

nyf

not very convinced by this at all...sure, falling in love is an intense sensation and one that you desire to consume more of as you experience it, but it matters that your mental addiction is directed at another person who (hopefully) reciprocates! i think of a healthy relationship as one that does not involve addiction like qualities...one should not feel forced to make poor decisions to fall in love (as that individual might feel to get money for drugs)...

Judy

Oh, how clever! How quirky! I just LOVE how some people can come up with the most brilliant and counterintuitive ideas.

C'mon, that's just plain dumb. The only thing to learn here is that some guy called Gary Becker thinks he's very witty.

Matt

L'enfer, c'est les autres.

Paul K

I agree with the others that this is patently absurd. For one thing, most addictive drugs work by stimulating the same hormones as "love", but in much much stronger concentrations, so clearly they must be stronger and more powerful and so more addictive. Think of it this way, how many people rob and kill others for love vs. how many do so for drugs?

The only reason more people are not addicted to those drugs is because people avoid getting started on them knowing the consequences, and the access to them is much more difficult.

Judy

Ohmygod! I think I’m addicted to STUFF! Consider:

- Once you have some stuff you quickly get used to it and then need more and more stuff to keep you satisfied.

- You sacrifice most other areas of you life to get a job and career in order to get more stuff.

- Once you have stuff, it's painful to give it up.

- Some people go to great lengths to quit stuff, but no one, except maybe a few Jains somewhere, is ever able to give it up completely.

Stuff, like people, is simply a part of life. To pull people into the topic of addiction adds nothing to our understanding of either.

Martin

People are no more goods than the sun is. And I would give up people much faster than I would give up the son (I could get by without people if I could domesticate some animals to live with me).

In terms of real goods, I'm almost certain electricity is the real answer. Crack is competitive.

Randy

'Attention' didn't count, eh?

steve

i think using the term 'addicted' to refer to other people is to make a category error. not having read the other posts, people are people - not goods for consumption. because they are rational, free agents they do not fit into that category. that they coincidentally seem to be addicting evidences the fact that we were built to be communal, not individualistic.

Steve

It isn't people, but the adoration of people, or affection by people, that is the addiction. What we crave is to know we MATTER to others (which is a partial explanation as to why we all are commenting on a blog like this, as such an action carries absolutely zero value to the world aside from the possible validation of ourselves by others).

I think it's that existential mattering that we so crave.

Donna

There are addicts who give up people, or the approval of people, in favor of their drug of choice.

But I would submit that far more people give up addictive substances (or never go there in the first place) in favor of the approval of people.

If chemical dependency weren't taboo, most everyone would partake of something or another to excess.

I've beaten alcohol, crack and heroin, and it wasn't because I was concerned for my health. It just got way too lonely living on the outskirts of society.