Self-Control in the Age of Addiction

Our Addiction Age

We live in the age of addiction. Many folks engage in compulsive shopping, unrestrained gambling, even out-of-control sexual behavior. All these behaviors can be conceptualized as addictions. But not all undisciplined behavior represents a genuine addiction. And while there are some rare exceptions, most true addictions don’t just develop overnight. There’s a typical pathway to getting “hooked.” And that pathway is littered with many clear warning signs. Healthy characters respect and heed those signs. But underdeveloped characters tend to ignore or disregard them. That’s why character, and mastering character’s “sixth command,” is so important.

Addictions result when we repeatedly expose ourselves to certain sources of pleasure or tension-release. Repeat exposure causes our bodies to develop “tolerance.” Then, it takes more and more of whatever we’re “using” to experience the desired pleasurable effect. To make matters worse, we can experience “withdrawal” in the absence of the addictive substance or behavior. We feel worse than before, making us crave exactly what we should avoid.

Character and Addiction

Those who haven’t cultivated the will to bear discomfort will have great problems handling “withdrawal” even if they want to stop a destructive behavior. (For more on this topic see: Character and the Will to Bear Discomfort). And those who haven’t subordinated the pleasure-seeking principle to the life principle will always be at greater risk for any compulsive behavior, and eventual tolerance and addiction. Suffering from a genuine addiction is not in itself a reflection of poor character. But developing healthy character provides a degree of immunity from wide variety of impulse control problems. That’s why at their core, programs like A.A. are fundamentally character-building enterprises.

Disease or Character and Poor Impulse-Control?

Certain brain diseases can make an otherwise healthy character lose control. Folks suffering a bout of true mania can exhibit reckless, impetuous, or overly adventurous behavior. They might even become uncharacteristically volatile and aggressive . And such disorder-caused behavior not only troubles their family and friends but also is abhorrent to them. That’s because their actions are so “out of character.” So, they’re typically eager to seek help. They want to avoid such behavior in the future.

These days, many folks are diagnosed with brain diseases and addictions when their real problems stem from their underdeveloped character. And they often get prescribed medicines that actually do help them with their impulse control. But that lets them off the hook in cultivating better self-control. And that also means they’ll likely stay arrested in character development.

The High Cost of Poor Impulse Control

Treatments for addictions are often lengthy and expensive. And as any addict knows, relapses are always possible. Addicts’ relationship partners suffer plenty, too. They often lose both years of emotional investment and a good measure of their hard-earned savings. The real cure: strength of character. And all the “commandments” work together to build that character. We’ll begin talking about commandment 7 next week.


Character Matters will be a live broadcast Sunday Oct 16 at 7 pm EDT (6 pm Central).

Check out Character Disturbance for more information on the “10 commandments” of sound character development. And check out my other books The Judas Syndrome and In Sheep’s Clothing.

And watch for my new book The Ten Commandments of Character: How to Lead a Significant Life. It’s also with Dr. Kathy Armistead, my co-author on How Did We End Up Here? That’s the toxic relationship survivor’s guide to living in a character disordered world.

One thought on “Self-Control in the Age of Addiction

  1. Excessive shopping was a sort of an addiction for me for several years. Now that I’ve gotten away from shopping for pleasure, I honestly don’t miss it. I’ve gotten away from it, though, through necessity, since I’m going through a very expensive divorce. But now I’m finding that as long as I have enough clothes, that look good AND fit (weight gain that I’m ok without having something new so frequently.
    Addictions – and poor character, as Dr. Simon explains – is the downfall of my STBX. Gambling, drug use, excessive prostitution use – what looks like pimping also – buying excessive amounts of movies (probably 10 or more a month – lots he didn’t even watch), excessive buying of guns (two large safes full). Whatever he does he does in a big outrageous way. Earned a large salary but still stole from a client. He ended up losing his license over an amount of money that he did not even need – but he thought he could get away from it.
    I’ve seen firsthand what poor impulse control, pleasure seeking, quick gratification can do to a person. Its destroys them and family members topple down alongside him.

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