Where does the thin line get drawn between a troublesome habit and the manifestation of an addiction? Perhaps there’s no line at all. Distinguishing the difference between the two is difficult already since they both grow out of consistently repeated behaviors. Regardless of the extent of a person’s habit or addiction, should always be held accountable for their actions and resulting consequences?
For Angie Bachmann in Chapter 9 of Charles Duhigg’s “The Power of Habit”, her seemingly mild pattern of gambling turns into a downward spiral of habitual behavior. How did this addiction rear its ugly head? It’s noted that “she had gotten married at nineteen and pregnant by twenty, her days had become crowded with packing school lunches, playing princess, and running a family shuttle service.” (Duhigg 245). Despite her seemingly put togetherness, it’s obvious her habit developed out of pure boredom and loneliness as “her youngest daughter had started kindergarten a few weeks earlier and her two older daughters were in middle school…Her husband, a land surveyor, often left for work at eight and didn’t get home until six.” (Duhigg 245). Additionally, Duhigg mentions that Bachmann felt untalented and that she had nothing that made her feel special because her “father was a truck driver who had remade himself, midlife, into a semi-famous songwriter. Her brother had become a songwriter, too, and had won awards.” (246). Going to the casino “was a reward for making it through the empty days.” (Duhigg 246-247).
In Chapter 7 of “Opening Skinner’s Box” by Lauren Slater, Bruce Alexander, a psychologist, and two coinvestigators conducted an experiment to test their theory of addiction. This involved a two-hundred-square-foot housing colony for lab rats, which they called “Rat Park,”
“The investigators put sixteen lab rats into [a] fancy rat park and kept another sixteen in standard laboratory cages, where space was cramped and isolation extreme. Because plain morphine is bitter, and rats hate bitterness, the researchers gave both sets of rats morphine-laced water sprinkled with sucrose, at first just a little sucrose, but as the days progressed, more and more, until the drink was a veritable daiquiri of sugary delight, delivering supposedly irresistible opioids in an irresistible liquid. To both sets of rats, they also gave plain old tap water…next to the stocked and glowing bottles. [They found that] the cramped and isolated caged rats loved the morphine-laced water right from its subtle, sugary start, slurping it up…The rat-park residents, however, resisted drinking the narcotic solution, no matter how sweet the researchers made it. While they did occasionally imbibe (females more than males), they consistently showed a preference for the straight H2O and when the two groups were compared, the caged isolated rats drank up to sixteen times more than the park residents.” (Slater pars. 26-27)
This experiment is an example of what Slater notes at one point as a physiological inevitability. When the lab rats were placed in fancy cages that were supplied with proper necessities such as ample space for mating and warm nests, they had no urge to even go near the sugary morphine-laced water. Whereas the rats that were placed in standard, cramped cages with little to no necessities, were immediately drawn to the morphine-laced water. Did the poor conditions for these rats make it more likely or certain that they were going to have a preference for the morphine-laced water rather than the plain tap water? It’s likely this had nothing to do with it based on the researcher's next findings,
“[When adding] Naloxone to the morphine-laced water in the rat park, the rat-park rats reversed their aversion to the narcotic water and drank it. Naloxone is a substance that negates the effects of opioids but spares the sugary taste of the conduit. This rather stunning finding shows, perhaps most clearly of all, how rats, when in a 'friendly' place, will actually avoid anything, heroin included, that interrupts their normal social behaviors. The rats liked the sweetened water, so long as they didn't get stoned.” (Slater par. 27)
Regardless of living conditions, the rats were clearly able to make their own decisions in whether or not to partake in something that would negatively interfere with what they were accustomed to. The fact that Angie Bachmann developed an addiction due solely to her isolation, not living conditions just like the lab rats, can be supported by Slater’s statement that “solitary confinement causes extraordinary psychic distress in human beings…and therefore elicit[s] extreme forms of coping behavior.” (par. 29).
What made casinos and gambling so irresistible to Bachmann? After the thrill of her first time, how did she let gambling become such a routine? After multiple attempts to stop her habit, she “began receiving phone calls with offers of free limos that would take her to casinos in Mississippi. They offered to fly her and her husband to Lake Tahoe, put them in a suit, and give them tickets to an Eagles concert.” (Duhigg 261). Of course, these offers would sound too tempting for anyone, but with a gambling addiction already solidified in one’s brain, it would be like constantly adding fuel to the fire. Arguing the casinos had some fault in Bachmann’s habits would be reasonable, but in the end, she is the one ultimately responsible.
Brian Thomas, a habitual sleepwalker since childhood who unconsciously murdered his wife during a sleepwalking episode, and whose account is provided in “The Power of Habit” in comparison to Bachmann’s, could not be held responsible for his habit. Mark Mahowald, a professor of neurology at the University of Minnesota, explains,
“Sleepwalking is a reminder that wake and sleep are not mutually exclusive…The part of your brain that monitors your behavior is asleep, but the parts capable of very complex activities are awake. The problem is that there's nothing guiding the brain except for basic patterns, your most basic habits. You follow what exists in your head because you’re not capable of making a choice.” (Duhigg 253).
Based on this information, it’s obvious where the stark contrast lies between Thomas’ and Bachmann’s stories. There comes a time in habits where actions are no longer logical and are done repeatedly because “some habits are so powerful that they overwhelm our capacity to make choices, and thus we’re not responsible for what we do.” (Duhigg 253). Thomas couldn’t be blamed for his sleepwalking habits nor the consequences, even one as unfortunate as murder. Bachmann’s habit, although powerful and overwhelming, was still done routinely with conscious thought. She was fully aware of her decisions and still decided to make them. Casinos were Angie Bachmann’s own version of a fancy rat park cage with gambling machines as the sugary morphine-laced water.