Addiction Isn’t a Sin, It’s an Adaptation

I always thought of myself as a relatively healthy person — but cigarettes revealed the cracks within myself

Anna Mercury
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readNov 14, 2019

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Photo: Artranq/Getty Images

Healthy people aren’t addicted.

The thought appeared like a headlight on a dark road: irritating, blinding, and painfully illuminating. I was having a smoke break outside a friend’s home when, like a sharp laugh from the back of my brain bubbling up through my consciousness, I found myself thinking, Healthy people aren’t addicted.

I hadn’t thought of myself as much of an addict. I thought of myself as a smoker. I thought of myself as a pretty emotionally healthy person, on the whole, what with my stable, loving parents, my self-awareness, my authentic communication and relationships, and my active practice of dissolving the worst of my socialization. I’m not lost in spiraling addiction meant to soothe the pain of unhealed childhood trauma. I just smoke cigarettes. Compulsively. Almost a pack a day. Even when I’m sick. No matter what.

And yet the thought has kept nagging me: Healthy people aren’t addicted.

Try as I might to talk myself out of the seriousness of my dependence on nicotine, it is a legitimate and harmful addiction. Try as I might to normalize my behavior, the ubiquity of smoking doesn’t stop it from being an addiction. And try as I might to tell myself that the thought “healthy people aren’t addicted” is judgmental drivel, I can’t stop my certainty that it was and is true.

If I am addicted, and I am, then something in my psyche is damaged and is using nicotine to soothe the pain of its unmet needs.

Let me be clear: I feel no contempt for addicts. Addiction is not a sin—it’s an adaptation. Many of us become addicted to survive, usually in the face of physical or emotional pain and trauma. Addiction is a whirlpool we get caught in trying to clean our wounds in the wrong water. The act of soothing the pain was necessary to our survival, and so we kept doing it. There is no evil in that—it just is, and it’s sad.

I also think the term “healthy” is used too often as a stand-in for some kind of moral goodness. We’ve come to worship clean eating and physical fitness as though these are the…

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Anna Mercury
Human Parts

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