By Steven D. Levitt November 11, 2008, 3:41 pm <!– — Updated: 3:41 pm –>

Gary Becker Thinks the Most Addictive Thing Is …

Over 600 blog readers took a shot at guessing what Gary Becker thinks the most addictive thing on Earth is.

Lots of folks threw out things like crack and caffeine, but do you really think I’m going to offer a blog quiz with an obvious answer?

While not the answer I was looking for, there was something poetic about Deb’s guess:

A yawn. A smile. Salt.

Before I give the answer, it is worth thinking about what it means for a good to be addictive. At least the way I think about it, an addictive thing has the following characteristics:

1) Once you start consuming it, you want to consume more and more of it.

2) Over time you build up a tolerance to it, i.e. you get less enjoyment out of consuming a fixed amount of it.

3) Pursuit of that good leads you to sacrifice everything else in your life to get it, potentially leading you to do ridiculous things to try to get the good.

4) There is a period of withdrawal when you stop consuming the good.

No doubt alcohol and crack cocaine fit that description well. In Becker’s view, however, there is something even more addictive than substances: people.

When he first said this, it sounded kind of crazy to me. What does it mean to say that people are addictive?

Then I thought more about it, and I think he is right. Falling in love is the ultimate addiction. There is no question that in the early stages of attraction, spending a little bit of time with someone makes you desperately want more. Infatuation can be all-encompassing, and people will do anything to make a relationship blossom. They will risk everything and often end up looking utterly foolish. Once in a relationship, however, the utility one derives from time with the beloved diminishes. The heady excitement of courtship gives way to something much more mundane. Even if a relationship isn’t that good, for at least one of the parties there is a painful withdrawal period.

To get the exact answer I was looking for took until comment number 343, when Bobo responded “Other People.” Many others were close. Jeff (comment 13) said “Society or human companionship.” Laura (comment 47) said “Love.”

I’ll declare all three of them winners.

So what do you think? Is Gary Becker right or wrong?

i am not sure, i want to believe that being addicted to falling in love is the biggest addiction of them all – i sure know, i like to fall in love, so it’s an interesting notion – but that does not mean i have to be happy with the explanation – ah well, someone very nice and dear has sent me this article and promised to mail me something to help me with my love troubles – i am excited!