Kicking the Habit: A New View of Addiction - Page 2

By Nina Emkin 07/04/12

In The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg offered readers a new way of looking at how to change their behavior. Now he tells The Fix how his methods apply specifically to addiction.

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In one chapter, you interweave the story of a woman who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to casinos with that of a man who killed his wife while sleepwalking. You argue that she ought to be held financially responsible for her losses because she was aware that she had developed a harmful habit while the sleepwalker had no awareness that he was capable of killing in his sleep, and thus shouldn’t be held responsible. Can you explain that?   

The more we learn how to change habits, the more that confers responsibility upon people to change their habits once they are aware of them. Ignorance is a defense up to a point, but once you learn about and understand yourself, and once society gives you more and more tools [for change], you have a responsibility to take advantage of those tools. The difference between the murderer and Angie is that the sleepwalking murderer had no idea he might end up killing someone. He was devastated by the fact that he had committed this crime. He’s never forgiven himself for it. But when it comes to Angie Bachmann, she could anticipate that she was going to gamble all this money away. She had even quit gambling once before. She deserves our sympathy; it wasn’t her fault alone. But at the same time, once you know you have a problem and that there are programs to address that problem, you have a responsibility to address it.

Nina Emkin holds degrees from UCLA and Sarah Lawrence and has written for The Fix about relapse and coming out as an alcoholic, among many other topics. She lives in Los Angeles.

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