A certain casualness often overtakes modern conversation about addiction. Here in Oprah nation we’re proud of our semantic acumen, batting around words like withdrawal and detox and always at the ready with “Hi, my name is Bill” jokes.
The trouble, claims Susan Cheever, is that we’ve become so addiction-savvy that we diagnose it everywhere. We’ve started seeing truly life-destroying addictions as just slightly nastier versions of our attachment to iPods or tortilla chips. “‘Addiction’ is the buzzword of the twenty-first century,” writes Cheever, daughter of famed novelist (and alcoholic) John Cheever. “Many of us are addicts, but by overusing the word, we seem to get some kind of mastery over the fact, the way listening to a 911 tape over and over can make it more bearable to hear.”