I am treating this separately from drugs because, quite frankly, they are only peripherally related, and in any case, i had a different concern there. God knows why the Anslingers and the Ratzingers of the world want to frighten us so much on the subject of drugs. Without denying the legitimacy of their concerns about the hells of addiction, etc, the puritan fear that someone, somewhere is having a good time must be a major factor.
Now, can i avoid a similar self-righteousness?
Drug-based addictions are at one extreme of a continuum of habits: the most morally reprehensible (because of the aforementioned good time) and the most materially explainable (because of the physical dependency and heroin is not the worst). As a society we drew a line, at first categorizing only illegal drugs and alcohol as addictive, but the more we learned, the more the category expanded.
Cigarettes and other legal drugs came to be understood in the same terms, embodying the same syndrome of guilt, denial, craving, dependency, self-destructiveness and the all-important moral decrepitude. Then came gambling, which, aside from not having an actual physical substance to blame, carries the same baggage.
How can this be? One of the most successful gambling formats of the casinos proliferating all over North America is a kind of video slot machine where you can play more than twenty times a minute. There are people so hooked on this form of instant-result-cash-flow (mostly one way) they sit at the video terminals for ten or more hours, coming prepared with adult diapers so they don't have to go to the toilet. Now this is right up there with the famous lab rats who pushed levers for cocaine until they died.
In fact, although gambling is less rewarding than heroin or cocaine, lacking their psychoactive punch, it is more addictive, because of hope. With drugs, most people eventually hit bottom and either OD or come back. You can never hit bottom with gambling because there is always that big win just around the corner. As you "internet addicts" may know, substances are not necessary. It is getting increasingly hard to draw a meaningful line in the continuum of habits. It seems that the only common factors in addictions are interior the mind and its neurochemicals.
This apparent oversimplification leaves in fact vast scope for exploration and understanding, for the mind and its neurochemicals are no simple matter. It merely throws out the moralistic and half-baked ad-hockery that brought us the kind of solutions we have had up to now. Cures later; let's jump into neurochemicals, which i believe are the central actors in the fundamental mechanism of addiction, irrespective of the outside stimulus. For these are the mediators which actualize the mind's conscious or unconscious desires for altered states. And they are the substances drugs mimic in order to create their sometimes spectacular effects.
We seek a state we believe to be attractive, and with the "help" of substances or fasting or whatever, "achieve" it. Peace, creativity, alertness, courage, ecstasy, all worthy qualities, are all available on a temporary basis through some drug or consciousness-altering process. Without getting too metaphysical, it is possible to say that if we arrive at this state artificially, without the "proper" preparation, we cannot sustain it and fall back into a state worse than before: the hangover, post-high crash, depression, insomnia, etc. This dialectic inevitable, according to Osho is magnificently reflected in and mediated by our neurotransmitters and endocrine hormones, which act on their target cells and thereupon indirectly on each other, in a complex and exquisitely balanced feedback system. An excess of artificially induced serotonin, to pick one out of a hat, will lead to an overproduction of dopamine, or epinephrine or whatever, which will lead, etc, etc, to a deficit of serotonin. This deficit produces the opposite of the desired state and now we need more.
Understanding this mechanism is not to say there is one simple solution to the problem of addiction, however strong the desire for such a solution. In fact, this strong desire has itself created new problems from old: methadone, a drug that turns out to be addictive, was introduced to solve the problem of heroin addiction. Heroin was touted as the solution to the morphine problem. Likewise opium begat morphine. Further, it would be neither too strong nor inaccurate to say that the self-righteousness of some anti-drug crusaders is as potent a drug as any they are fighting. Here also, the problem is the mind.
Since minds are so very different, we should avoid simplistic solutions. While the "surrender to a higher power" mode of AA and its clones may work for many, there are also many failures and relapses. My feeling is that understanding oneself, a broad idea but always individual in application, offers the most possibility for a real exit from the slow suicide funhouse. My experience in stopping smoking (four times) tells me that a number of elements play a part. Not wanting to hide anymore behind a veil of smoke from myself as much as anyone else was the key final step. I suppose using the habit as a means of avoidance is fairly common. Anyway, i stopped, had the worst day of my life from unique psychological stresses rather than physical withdrawal, thank you, Osho! and then it was easy, at least with not smoking, although this was still a painful time in my life.
Of course i had to want to not hide in this way anymore. What can bring someone to this point? A decision/realization that life is more rewarding when conscious. What can bring someone to this point? Now we're getting into infinite regression country, but somewhere along the line and it's different for everybody the entry point to the transformational stream is easy, natural and personally appropriate. Religious enthusiasts would have us believe that their entry point is a one-size-fits-all, but this formulaic principle kills the understanding that arises with personal exploration. You are altered to fit. This can't be right.