Am I An Addict?

Only you can answer this question.

This may not be an easy thing to do. All through our academic careers we've told ourselves, "I can handle it." It may even have been true at one time. If you're reading this, it probably isn't now. An academic addict is a person whose life is absolutely railroaded by academia. To put it bluntly, you can't quit--and it's ruining your life.

Unlike most addictions, academic addictions involve more than the ingestion of specific substances. Yes, there are academic drugs; yes, it is a transformative moment when you can publicly admit to denialozine abuse. But academic addiction goes far beyond all that. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are not interested in what or how much you used, or what your connections were, what you've done in the past, how much or how little you have. We are.

We want you to trace your academic networks, your "cronies," your "references," your "conference friends," and recognize that they give you just as powerful a hit as seeing your name in a prestigious journal, or having your new book come out.

We want you to explore your student codependencies, your need for their approval and admiration and belief in your infallibility.

We want you to confess the devastation of your home life by reading and writing addictions, power and dignity addictions.

Perhaps you admit you have a problem with academic life, but you don't consider yourself an addict. All of us have preconceived ideas about what an addict is. "But they pay me for this!" many a confused academic has cried. "It's completely legal!" others protest. "Everybody's doing it! And it doesn't hurt anybody!" But social acceptability is never the same thing as health. The mere legality of a practice does not guarantee its life-affirming qualities. Many of the most successful people in our universities today are addicts. There is no shame in admitting this.

So read the following questions carefully, and answer them honestly. The life you save may be your own.

  1. Do you ever read in secret?
  2. Do you keep copies of your books and article offprints in the bathroom for easy access while at stool?
  3. Have you ever doctored your curriculum vitae--even for insignificant things like conference paper proposals?
  4. Have you ever?
  5. Have you ever flouted library regulations, even in minor ways: failed to return books on time (for semesters or years at a time), snuck reference books out in your jacket, etc.?
  6. Do you buy more books than you could ever hope to read?
  7. Do you have piles of book catalogs by your bedside, on your desk at home and at work, and by the toilet, with titles circled, with every intention of one day placing an order?
  8. Do you regularly read before going to sleep at night and upon waking in the morning?
  9. Have you ever read one book, or written one article, to overcome the effects of another?
  10. Do you always take the book you're reading wherever you go, and read it in hastily snatched moments between other duties?
  11. Do you fight rising panic when you realize that you've left home without your book?
  12. Does the thought of running out of books terrify you?
  13. Do you have anxiety symptoms at the possibility of enduring boring travel, meetings, or parties without your book?
  14. Do you have nightmares about losing your position (say, after the country is overrun by barbarians) and having to do nonacademic work for a living?
  15. Do you put the purchase of books, computers, word-processing and file-management software ahead of your financial responsibilities?
  16. Has academic discourse affected your sexual relationships?
  17. Have you ever read a book you didn't enjoy, and felt that you couldn't possibly put it down until you had finished it?
  18. Have you ever picked up a book, or gone to the computer, because of emotional pain or stress?
  19. Do you feel uneasy when urged by colleagues to assign nonanthologized readings to students?
  20. Have you ever lied about how many books you bought?
  21. Have you ever read a book without knowing what it was about or what it would do to you?
  22. Do you enjoy academia for the "life of the mind," the "community of scholars," or are you in it for the perks?
  23. Does reading interfere with your sleeping or eating?
  24. Does it ever feel like there isn't enough time in the day for you to finish all the worthwhile projects that demand your immediate attention?
  25. Do you ever question your own intelligence?
  26. Do you ever diminish your academic credentials in conversation with nonacademics, in a pathetic attempt to "pass"?
  27. Do you ever daydream about the bliss of total ignorance?
  28. Have you ever thought you couldn't fit in or have a good time without academic credentials?
  29. Do you lose sleep over upcoming tenure or promotion decisions?
  30. Are you mortally afraid of appearing foolish or ignorant before your students, or colleagues, or anyone else?
  31. Do you ever ridicule students who ask difficult questions?
  32. Do you worry more about your students' self-esteem than about the university's reputation for high academic standards?
  33. Are you reluctant to release something you've written out into the world, for fear that it will be changed, altered, bastardized, bowdlerized by an editor, misread or misquoted by a reader?
  34. Do you worry, in reading these questions, whether a "yes" or a "no" answer most clearly indicates addiction?
  35. Do you ever push a graduate student to work with you rather than a colleague, even when the colleague is more obviously qualified for the job?
  36. Did question 4 bother you?
  37. Do you check your e-mail more than 50 times a day? Do the five minutes between automatic mail-checks seem interminably long to you? Do you regularly check your mail manually more than 3 times during that five-minute wait? Do you get angry at the e-mailer when it tells you "Sorry, you have no mail" two or three times in a row? Do you check your e-mail first thing every morning, before breakfast, before brushing your teeth or washing your face, before voiding your night-time bladder or bowels, before getting dressed, before making your bed, and indeed before you are even half-awake, so that you mostly feel your way to the computer, with a rising sense of excitement and need? After you have been on-line for quite a few hours, do you tell yourself over and over to turn off your e-mail before the next mail comes in, so that you can (a) get some work done, (b) talk to your spouse or other person present in the flesh, or (c) go to bed, but wait for the mail to come in "just once more" at least 10 times? While waiting for new e-mail, do you ever actually get any work done, or do you while away the minutes surfing the web, updating your homepage, or tweaking the colors in a .jpg file? Do you subscribe to more than 5 lists generating at least 100 messages a day each, and keep telling yourself to unsubscribe, or go nomail, or go to the digest mode, or program your e-mailer to filter incoming messages, to manage the sheer quantities of mail you receive, but never quite get around to any of those remedies? Do you know more about at least 20 e-mail friends in different parts of the world than you do about your next-door neighbor? Do you always interrupt whatever work you're doing when new e-mail comes in?
  38. Do you think you might be an addict?

"Am I an addict?" This is a question only you can answer. In answering it you may want to ask yourself another question: while you were reading through the questions, just how important was it to you to get all the answers "right"? Are you now looking for a "key" to the questions, a numerical operation you can perform on your "yes" and "no" answers to determine objectively whether you're an addict or not? If you are--especially if you were but, now that we asked about it, want to pretend that you weren't--you're probably an addict. Again, only you can decide. But it's not necessarily an intellectual decision. It isn't something that can be manipulated analytically. Pay attention to your body. Do you squirm as you attempt to position yourself "correctly" in response to these questions? We did as we wrote them. We're addicts, and we're not afraid to admit it.

(Actually, I am not afraid, but Bill is. He's heavy into denial. DR)

(I am not in denial. I am not an addict. I can't be, because you see, I am not an academic. BK)

(This is another one of his pathetic little self-delusions. DR)

If you are seriously addicted to writing, you may want to sit down at your computer and answer each question at length, as honestly as possible, with footnotes and references. If you're not "into" writing, you may just want to read on as we explore some of the complexities of each question through our own writing addiction.

Back to AA contents.

Forward to Don't Panic!

Copyright 1992 Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul