I remember my college girlfriend asking me once what smoking did for me, and I told her something like this:
“You know that feeling you get that makes you go open the fridge and look inside even though you´re not hungry and you know what´s in there anyway? Smoking helps make that feeling go away.”
I don´t think I understood at the time what I was saying. I was just trying to articulate something that seemed ineffable, because everyone I knew knew that feeling. I don´t think any of us understood what it was. It was just one of those mysteries of life, another iteration of the angst that seemed our lot as late teens and developing adults. Something everyone was doomed to feel their whole lives, that lack that could never be filled and you just had to learn how to deal with.
Smoking was really good for dealing with that. I imagine heroin, or cocaine, or whatever thing any particular person might get addicted to is, too. And I know a lot of people feel that lack, because anti-depressant drugs are as popular and profitable as just about anything ever.
And I think that addiction and anti-depressants fulfill the same function for an imbalanced psyche, albeit in different ways.
Let´s start with the lack. Where does it come from? The answer in its particulars is different for everybody but the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that it comes from living inauthentically. It comes from ignoring that thing inside yourself that you need to do, that particular purpose whose expression and pursuit allows you to be happy, if only you will cultivate and nurture it. What that thing is is as unique and individual as you are as a person, but whatever it is, the vast likelihood is that there are forces arrayed inside and outside yourself to keep you from doing it: powerful, persuasive forces who want for you not to pursue this thing, whatever it is, and if they convince you then that lack will open up within.
The thing is, you need to do this thing. Whatever it is. Especially if it´s hard. If you don´t, you´ll spend your life unsatisfied, discontented, always with that nagging feeling in the back of your mind.
That´s where addiction comes in. Addiction helps you forget that feeling by setting up a compelling simulacrum in its place. I used to say that a smoker could deal with anything as long as they had cigarettes, and I still believe that to be true, because the addiction is so powerful that fulfilling it gives the addict a feeling of purpose and satisfaction that is almost as good as the real thing and has the added advantage of being comparatively easy and non-frightening. It doesn´t fill the lack; it creates another in its place, the satisfaction of which substitutes for living authentically, which is much harder.