In an advanced case, it’s called “addiction.”
Cigarettes. Alcohol. Heroin.
Some will kill you fast, some will kill you slowly but a lot more painfully. Yet a great majority of folks suffering from addictions of this sort find it next to impossible to stop, even knowing the consequences.
But we can get addicted to anything. Television. Video games. Sex. Food. Adrenaline.
Fortunately, most of those things are far less fatal, for the most part. You can get a fatal disease due to a sex addiction, and being an adrenaline addict can leave you broken and bleeding at the bottom of a cliff.
Other addictions are even less likely to directly be fatal, but they’re still frowned upon, especially in extreme cases.
The person who spends eight or nine hours a day watching television while ignoring their family needs help. The person who plays video games until 03:00 or later when they have to be up at 06:00 to get to work is going to be a wreck, and possibly an unemployed wreck.
What if it’s a “good” addiction? Who among us hasn’t pulled an all-nighter when the latest Harry Potter, Game of Thrones, or John Scalzi novel has just come out, knowing that we were going to be dead tired in the morning because of it. But I’ll just read one more chapter, then I’ll stop… Doing it when the new novel comes out once or twice a year is one thing, doing it a couple times a week is an addiction.
What if it’s a “good and necessary” addiction? What if we’ve finally gotten fed up with a certain situation and tonight was the night to dive in and start kicking asses and taking names? It might be a mess that’s built up in our garage or house, a mess on the computer that needs to be straightened out, or one of those “one of these days” projects that finally reaches a breaking point. Maybe it’s a writing project or something creative, which by it’s very nature should be “good.”
When you’re in your third or fourth hour and common sense is saying, “You really need to stop, wrap things up for the night, and get to bed,” while your fingers and primitive, addiction-saturated brain stem is saying, “One more, really, then I’ll stop,” then do you have a problem?
Well, you do that night. I would argue that it’s not a problem to give in and create, solve, and fix for a night here, a night there. Like all of the examples above, it’s a matter of moderation.
But I keep coming back to the “good” nature of certain addictive behavior. If you’ve had work piling up and you finally scream and leap (any other Kzin out there?) at it, is it a bad thing even if you do it four or five or six nights a week?
On the one hand, you’re making progress! You’re getting your book written, your clutter cleaned, your organization organized. These are all good things! But too much of anything is a good thing, no matter what Mae West said.
The point in the spectrum where it tips over from grit, resolve, and perseverance into madness and addiction changes as activities move from “bad” to “good.” That’s the key.
Staying up way too late to get something important (your college thesis or a novel) done is probably still “good” if you’re doing it five or even six days a week for a while. Getting passing out drunk five or even six days a week is definitely on the “bad” side.
Given that there’s this spectrum, which is probably at least a two-dimensional plot of good vs bad and acceptable vs forbidden, the final important question of the night is, “How do you know when you’re crossing the line?”
Forget fifty shades of grey, this behavioral calculus has infinite shading.