Divorcing Addiction from Love

A Strange Note in Sebεa*

We’re born free. In a sense, at least: we’re born without our now formed perception of good and bad, right and wrong, what ifs and what elses. But we soon outgrow the safety of this freedom to fit into certain cultural values and social norms. We learn about the world; how to think, what to believe, how to behave, growing with a hive of opinions that shape our view of life. Yet, time soon plunges us into the desire for a new kind of freedom. The kind that calls us to decline being fed by the external; to question the things we know and decide how to be. And it is within this new freedom that we profess love —  for things and people —  and are led into the buffet of addiction. It is within this personified consciousness that we, in our modern culture of individualistic redefining, confuse the meaning of love with the severity of addiction.


We strip addiction of its perilousness through statements like I’m addicted to chocolate or rice, Afro-beats, singing, and many other pleasures. We unfind –– or ignore or forget –– the discoveries of science about how addiction is a brain disease that exists as a constellation of several biological elements. We shut our eyes to the fangs of addiction, swimming within the lies of cognitive dissonance, attempting to rationalize our behaviours. We swoosh through the billboard that shows us that although love and addiction are guided by similar networks of emotions, they diverge in meaning, our behaviour toward certain emotions, and the outcome of such behaviours.


From Franz Kafka’s pronouncement that ‘love is everything which enhances, widens, and enriches our life. In its heights and in its depths.’ To J.D. McClatchy’s observation that ‘love is the quality of attention we pay to things. Love is both the shrine and the idol. Love is what we make of other people, and what they make of us.’ Love —  as we have come to define it —  is diverse in its meaning, rolling across the mattresses of romance and walking on what the Ancient Greek termed Agape; unconditional, charitable love. Like time, love is an endless essence that pervades the human experience; an inescapable component of every being —  no matter how vile, vicious, and tyrannous. To echo the Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges (substitute time for love), ‘Time is the substance [we are] made of. Time is a river which sweeps [us] along, but [we are] the river; it is a tiger which destroys [us], but [we are] the tiger; it is a fire which consumes [us], but [we are] the fire.



Artwork by Ameh Egwuh

Life After Life by Ameh Egwuh via RELE ART GALLERY.


Addiction is one-sided love. Delusional love. Love showered by the addicted on a parasitical element. It is commitment without care. It is food for pleasure, an offspring of love, a fusion of our genetics or environment that morphs into a chronic state of functioning. When we think about the word, addiction, we’re flooded with imagery of drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. But addiction extends the world of these substances.


It breathes in rooms for gambling and follows us through our regular activities of exercising, eating, working. As with all habits, addiction often begins with a cue. We get notified by an element —  could be anything from a picture to a sound to a device to a mood —  that tells our brain to initiate a certain kind of behaviour that will lead to a reward. Cues are predictors of rewards; they tell us that a prize is to be won, should we take a certain action. They appear within our consciousness, beat a silent drum in our mind, and trigger the next stage of forming a habit, cravings.


As James Clear notes in his thoroughly rewarding book, Atomic Habits, cravings are ‘the motivational force behind every habit.’  They are powerful desires formed by our thoughts and emotions toward the knowledge that we might be rewarded for something. Clear notes that what we crave ‘is not the habit itself but the change in state it delivers. You do not crave smoking a cigarette, you crave the feeling of relief it provides. You are not motivated by brushing your teeth but rather by the feeling of a clean mouth. You do not want to turn on the television, you want to be entertained.’ And with its force, a craving pushes us to a response —  which could be a thought or an action —  that subsequently ferries us to the end goal of every habit, a reward. As Clear explains, rewards ‘satisfy our cravings and teach us which actions are worth remembering in the future.’ But despite jumping from cues to cravings and taking action (response) for a reward, we do not become addicted to things until we fall at the mercy of repetition; until we, time and again, say yes to our cravings, infecting our brain’s reward circuit and arresting it within a loop of reconfiguration.


Love and addiction are divergent emotional responses. Where love is patient, addiction chomps at the bit. Where love is kind —  which emanates from a place of loss and requires thoughtfulness —  addiction ignores the looming harm at the tail of a reward. Addiction is injurious, either to the self or those around the addicted. And as with all things, love and addiction are temporary, but we find that it’s easy to fall out of love but intensely harder to give up an addiction.


Artwork by Kofi Setordji

I Believe I Can Fly, Kofi Setordji Via ART X LAGOS


1 Question for You

What is the one thing you can’t do without?


As you think through this question, here’s what you should read next: Explore the meaning of addiction, as curated by VeryWellMind, and digest their explanation for why addiction is considered a chronic brain disease. Revisit the scribblings on why solving a problem can prove to be so difficult


*Sebεa is the Kabyle word for the number seven (which, in the context of my scribblings, refers to the month of July). Kabyle is a northern Berber language, an Afro-Asiatic language. It is spoken by up to 5million people, predominantly in Algeria.