Walter White, aka The Great Heisenberg, is an addict. Not a drug addict, of course; he may be the manufacturer of the highest-quality methamphetamine on the market, but he never touches the stuff himself, as we all know.
Despite this fact, he is an addict, nonetheless. Even if his own unbelievably pure, crystal blue product never enters his body, he is completely enslaved to it, just as surely as the countless junkies whose lives continue to be ruined by it on a daily basis. Unlike them, the drug itself is not the object of his addiction, but rather the means by which he achieves the source of his high; Walter White is addicted to power.
Addiction is an obsessive compulsion to engage in some sort of behavior because it results in a feeling of pleasure, a “high,” generally associated with the increased production of endorphins in the brain. In most cases, we think of that behavior as the taking of drugs or the drinking of alcohol; some people are also addicted to sex or to eating, some to gambling (as Walt claimed for his cover story) and there are even those bizarre individuals who can’t stop eating cat hair or toilet paper in order to get their kicks. Usually these pleasure-producing activities start out harmlessly enough- obviously, not everybody who drinks is an alcoholic- but when they begin to assume control of one’s life, when the pursuit of that elusive high becomes more important than any other consideration, even self-preservation, then it has become a full-fledged addiction. As the twelve-step people put it, the addict has become “powerless” over their own behavior, and their lives have become “unmanageable.” The last person to recognize this, of course, is usually the addict himself, who continues to think he has it all under control. Such a person is Walter White.
It doesn’t take much to see it; Walter has been haunted for most of his adult life by feelings of failure and inadequacy- another classic symptom of the addict- and with his diagnosis of cancer was confronted with the finality of his self-perceived worthlessness. His desperate, last-ditch effort to succeed as a husband and father by becoming a meth dealer provided him with an unexpected side benefit- the feeling of importance, of being a man worthy of respect. In other words, he discovered what it feels like to be a man of power, and it captured him as surely as the chemically-induced state of elation captures those who partake of his wares. How long did it take before his supposed motivation for entering the business- the well-being of his family- became a mere excuse to justify his continued exploration of life as “Heisenberg?” Before he had accumulated more than enough money to achieve his ends, as well as eliminating his cancer (the very reason for his choosing to become a drug lord in the first place) and still chose to escalate his operation, for the sheer rush of it? Before the safety of his wife and children, the very people he had originally meant to protect, was threatened by his activities? None of these things stopped him; there was always another excuse to push it further, to be the man everyone fears.
Now, it seems, Walt has finally decided to put it all behind him; so it is with most addicts, who recognize that they have gone too far and make an attempt to quit, cold turkey. Few are successful, because the very nature of addiction means that the obsession is out of their control. We already know, from the Season 5 opener, that Walt’s choices will soon be catching up with him; whether this will be due to events that have already taken place or yet another “relapse” into being Heisenberg remains to be seen. Either way, it’s a pretty good bet that Walter White, addict, will relish the chance to be the man of power, one more time, no matter what the consequences.