Is Addiction A Choice? The Motivational Versus Volitional Argument

Is Addiction Motivational Or Volitional?

Nature versus nurture? Genetic or environmental? Or, perhaps more prevalent to this topic is: motivational or volitional? Why our society constantly creates schemas that posit false dichotomies is unknown; perhaps it is human nature to isolate our understanding to one single factor. Yet, why exclude certain variables at the expense of others?

Let’s Stop Being So Myopic

Certainly, nature plays a role, as does nurture. Undoubtedly genetics is a factor but so is environmental elements – consider the function of epigenetics (Peeke, 2014).

Yet, I think the biggest debate regarding addictions is whether it is motivational or volitional. Baumeister, Roy, and Nadal all assert that it is primarily motivational and that the volitional remains intact; that is, the reward outweighs the risk in the addict’s mind (2017).

Carnes proposes that the addiction may have begun motivationally, yet subsequently, the brain is hijacked and changed physically resulting in dependence and rendering volition practically obsolete (2012).

Empirically, the evidence is overwhelming that the brain endures radically change with the repetition of rewarding behaviors (Amen, 2016); consequently, this produces a motivation that is, for all intents and purposes, irresistible.

Maybe The Argument For Choice/No Choice Is Trivial

If we define addiction using neuroscience we will elaborate on how behaviors stimulate the pleasure center of the brain and that, as stated above, over time the habitual exercise of said behaviors results in a dependence. After that, we have little choice but to meander into philosophical quadrants. The scientific method will yield diddly squat in this ring, instead, we must don the linguistic gloves of deconstructionism and throw some fisticuffs over words, using language to set the parameters of choice as it were.

However, this modern take is in no way superior to the more ancient way of explicating addiction. It’s just different in terms of position: whereas the modern concepts are mired in language, the ancient ones were steeped in a paradoxical and mystical form of pragmatism.

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Sexaholics Anonymous Runs The Medieval 5k: Pride and Lust

Sexaholics Anonymous defines it differently, and brilliantly and succinctly if I might add. They identify the motivational factor as lust, which is defined as “an attitude demanding that a natural instinct serve unnatural desires (2001, p. 40).” Consequently, denial of this fact turns to blindness (the volitional factor), and one becomes unwilling and moreover, unable to see the truth. Pride is then that which gives birth to lust because it takes an individual from their natural habitat, or in a manner of speaking, their essence…we will discuss this in the next few paragraphs.

“Pride turns you away from God and lust binds you to yourself.”

-Blaise Pascal

Therefore, the problem is not the motivation to satisfy a desire – this is good and normal. Instead, the problem occurs when a natural instinct is perverted far beyond its intended purpose. This exploitation of natural instinct is what disregards sound reasoning and suspends volitional capacity.

For example, when one begins to use sex to satisfy loneliness or shopping to conquer anxiety, or food to swallow depression, the natural motivation (to remove discomfort – a natural desire) leverages a natural instinct in an unnatural way (e.g. sex was never intended as an antidote to loneliness) resulting in a destruction of the human will. Why? Because it works so good!!

Moreover, this attitude (which SA calls lust – see definition above) is “the controlling factor in addiction.” The behaviors or activities is not what one is addicted to. Instead, they are enslaved to a worldview that believes in, trusts wholehearted, and unloads lust in its fullest capacity; this worldview is rightly called pride because it’s a lone wolf mentality – seemingly at odds with the relational/social nature of humankind.

The Problem Therefore Centers In The Mind

The dilemma is that natural instincts can only be exercised in humankind’s natural habitat – that is in community. Therefore, natural instincts employed autonomously, apart from the relational context cease to be capable of satisfaction. Or more medievally apropos, “quaerite autem primum regnum et iustitiam eius et omnia haec adicientur vobis...But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matt. 6:33).” The implication? Seek anything else first and fail to experience the provision. Thus, the individual living as an island unto themselves “must” find artificial and unnatural means to ‘provide’ for and satisfy their natural desires.

Herein volition is broken.
Herein addiction is borne.

Timmy G (2018)

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Works Cited

Baumeister, Roy F. and Amber Cazzell Nadal. “Addiction: Motivation, Action Control, and Habits of Pleasure.” Motivation Science, vol. 3, no. 3, Sept. 2017, pp. 179-195.

Carnes, Patrick. A Gentle Path through the Twelve Steps: the Classic Guide for All People in the Process of Recovery. Hazelden, 2012.

Epigenetic transformation — you are what your grandparents ate: Pamela Peeke at TEDxLowerEastSide

Amen, Daniel G. Change Your Brain, Change Your Life: the Breakthrough Programme for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Anger and Obsessiveness. Piatkus, 2016.