Stephen Fry on addiction

I have a great deal of respect for Stephen Fry and am happy to find that he has started a blog. In his latest entry, he tackles the issue of addiction:

At fifteen I find a new substance to feed the ravenous beast within. Tobacco. “A cigarette is the perfect kind of perfect pleasure,” Wilde said. “It is exquisite and leaves one unsatisfied.” I thought at first that this was just Oscar talking all pretty and silly. But of course he got it right. A cigarette is the perfect instrument of addiction. Perfect. It has no function, no point, no quality other than to make itself needful to the smoker. It doesn’t taste pleasant, it doesn’t modify mood (except inasmuch as it quells the need for itself) it doesn’t offer texture, elation, hallucination, bouquet, nourishment, calorific value, anything. And ultimately, as Wilde pointed out, it never satisfies: it is always necessary to have another.

Imagine that one day someone hit himself lightly on the head with a parsnip. Instead of stopping (for this is a foolish thing to do) he carried on doing it. When he eventually did stop he went about his business but discovered, much to his surprise, that he had a sudden unconquerable urge to hit himself lightly on the head with a parsnip all over again. So he did. And the more he did it, the more he needed to do it. The act of doing it gave him a tiny surge of joy, a little rush of pleasure that had to be elicited, never mind what a twazzock he looked, parsnipping himself on the head all day.

Smoking is no less stupid than that. In fact it is a whole bicycle-shed more stupid, because it’s smelly, unsociable, carcinogenic etc etc etc. But the principle is the same: smoking has absolutely no point other than to stop the misery of not smoking. Smokers claim that it aids concentration, soothes the nerves and so on, but we know really that it only does those things because it’s tobacco addiction that messes with concentration and jangles the nerves in the first place. Tapping your head lightly with a parsnip would aid concentration too if not doing it made you all jumpy and desperate.

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