Endogenous Morphine – Internet and Life

Here is the story. He is a bright post-adolescent (but not yet adult) UBC student, top of his class in computer engineering, almost Aspergers in his focus on tasks and his inability to connect person-to-person. His Mac machines drive his life – they connect him with his gaming world, efficient sexual release (so that no time is wasted on relationships), and mostly, an alternate identity, far more thrilling than the blandness he experiences his life to be.

He really likes his Internet compulsion and, unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder, his online world relieves his anxiety rather than exacerbates it. He feels that life is not worth living without the rush of “Internet morphine.”

Hold it! Morphine? Sounds extreme and degrading. The word “endorphin” (the chemical rush that produces excitement and well-being) is an amalgam of “endogenous morphine.” Endogenous means internal, so endorphins produce inner happiness and contentment. People become habituated to experiences that produce the endorphin rush of “endogenous morphine.” It makes them happy.

A couple of thoughts about “addiction” and these endorphin stimulants.

First, any behaviour that has a positive payoff can be habituating. We hear of runner’s highs, retail therapy, day-trading rushes, gambling and sex addictions, kids spending days in front of video games…. When behaviour moves beyond desire to need, and beyond need to harm, it can be considered addictive.

Addiction is more than to chemicals (e.g. alcohol, nicotine, prescription drugs) but to whatever produces the inner chemical endorphin rush in the brain. Often, when people cannot find peace within themselves, they attach to behaviours that stimulate an endorphin fix. Then they need increasing repetitions to produce an ever-lessening fix, and the habituation cycle has begun.

Addiction looks like this:

• an unwillingness or seeming inability to stop a behavior in spite of harm to self or others
• a self-defeating thought system to support the compulsive behaviour
• a persistent pursuit of the behavior when it means neglecting valuable aspects of one’s life, or betraying one’s value system
• when “more and more” is needed to obtain an ever diminishing degree of satisfaction

So how is it that the Internet has become our cultural morphine and what’s the problem with that? A couple of ideas:

• the presence of immediate and anonymous gratification system that isolates the addict from family, faith and friendships
• a “mono-focus” that undermines a broader social contribution or participation
• a lack of resiliency in facing demands that are difficult or not pleasurable
• a deepening psychological attachment to an activity that dehumanizes self and others
• a ghost-like anonymity that undermines identity

Cyber-relationships, like cyber-sex, is an intense emotional attachment to para-humanity, not real people.

(I will make some more comments next time – this is getting way too long!)