Do Burnout and Addiction Have the Same Root Cause?

Perhaps a strong and positive purpose in life can immunize against both

I heard a great thing on a podcast recently. It was a guy saying alcohol addiction is confused because people think it’s about alcohol and drugs themselves. According to him, it’s not.

He said the real issue is that people aren’t happy with their lives, so even if you stop drinking you haven’t solved the issue.

The opposite of addiction isn't sobriety – it's connection.

Johann Hari

This reminds me of the book I’ve written about here multiple times, about addiction in general. It’s by Johann Hari, and he basically says addiction is a lack of a strong meaning loop (my term) that keeps you fulfilled. This is why a happy person can get the strongest drugs in a hospital for 3 weeks and not get addicted, while someone who’s lost can have one hit of a drug and spiral into the abyss.

The healthy person has a family, and/or a lot of friends. So they already have a strong source of happiness. So the drugs aren’t attractive at all.

I think burnout is the same. It’s much easier to get burned out if you’re doing something that’s not your true purpose.

The best book on addiction and connection I’ve ever come across

Working too much is the drug in this case. But the root problem is almost identical: You’re unhappy with your current path. Or you don’t have one. Either way, your meaning loop is nonexistent or misguided.

I think it’s possible to be overworked if you’re on your true purpose and doing too much, with too little rest. For sure. And the symptoms might be very similar.

But burnout is something else because you might not be overworked at all, but still get burnout. I think the underlying cause may be the fact that you just shouldn’t be doing that thing.

And in both cases the solution may be the same.

You have to find, articulate, and pursue your actual meaning loop. Then all the distractions of drugs and overwork become moons orbiting your central purpose instead of the planet itself.

Pretty much every project and product I build from now on is oriented to help people find and pursue that for themselves. That’s my meaning loop.

What’s yours?

Figure that out and get after it.

There’s nothing better for your soul than spending effort towards something big, outside yourself, that produces value for others.