Recently, while on the train, I saw a person not holding the handrails on purpose. He decided that playing a game with no outcome whatsoever was more important than his safety. In fact, he bumped into the overhead luggage carrier several times. Twice he almost stumbled and fell, with a possibly very negative outcome for him. Once he stumbled and bumped so hard into the carrier, it left a red mark on his face, even after facing it earlier. Still he refused to hold a handrail as that would have prevented him from playing the game. Clearly his addiction to the game won over any sense of self protection.

Now thinking about it, I think this is the case with most addictions. At the end, they are to some degree, harmful to the addicted person(imho). Taking this to the time when we were still facing predators, it must have been careless just to think of getting delicious berries whilst not considering the exposure to predators it came with. These individuals that are addicted (in a way) and don't care of the dangers associated with a problem, are harmed more often. Thus, making addiction an evolutionary disadvantage. Therefore, being easily addicted, as a trait, shouldn't have developed much.

Yet addiction is one of the worst problems of humanity and has been so for a long time.

So how could it develop? Are my conclusions wrong? Is addiction just a modern phenomenon? Or are there evolutionary benefits of being addicted?

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    $\begingroup$ You are born with several addictions, to food, air, water, sleep, social interaction, reproduction, ect. Being alive is a struggle between desires and self preservation, everything has risks. You could never leave your house and starve to death. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 29 '19 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry this is no philosophical question 😂 $\endgroup$
    – steros
    May 29 '19 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ You misunderstand, a brain that could not function with addiction could not get you to seek food or water or a dozen other things, Addiction is built into how the brain works. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 29 '19 at 12:42
  • $\begingroup$ See that's why I say this isn't philosophical. I don't want to discuss if basic needs to survive are an addiction as well... $\endgroup$
    – steros
    May 29 '19 at 13:16
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    $\begingroup$ You are talking about healthy normal states and aren't talking about clinical addiction. You use a child playing as an example of being "addicted". This is a very soft definition which makes this so hard to answer. $\endgroup$
    – James
    May 30 '19 at 10:12

So how could it [addiction] develop?

Children need to play in order to understand the structure and behaviour of the world around them. Bumping into things is a byproduct of this. This behaviour is distinct from clinical addiction. See this NHS page which covers some examples of addiction

Are my conclusions wrong?

As I understand it, your conclusion is that addiction shouldn't have evolved. Asking how/why bad traits evolve is a really common question. Here is the communities answer to why bad traits evolve and good ones don't.

Is addiction just a modern phenomenon?

Clinical addiction is becoming more recognised and diagnosable all the time. Recently, the WHO started to cover gaming disorder as a form of addiction.

Alcohol abuse has been around since the ancients (Carr, 2011), and I would assume earlier than that.

Animals can exhibit pathological behavious in captivity, but this would be difficult to describe as addiction (see this Bio.SE question linked in comments by @WYSIWYG).

Or are there evolutionary benefits of being addicted?

Addiction is a condition where the normal brain feedback goes wrong and the brain prioritises a task that feels good in the short term at a huge long term cost. The "reward" system that encourages us to eat and have sex has been hijacked. Addiction is an advanced neural reward system rewarding itself for behaviours that can be destructive. Without that same reward system, our drive for survival by means of food and sex may not have been so great.


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