The first step is to admit that you have a problem

The cost of a gallon of gas hit $3.55 per gallon Thursday as it continued its steady march toward the $4 mark everyone keeps saying it will hit this summer.

At what point will we say enough is enough? Will we? Sometimes I wonder if we have the strength or willpower.

When it comes to gas and oil, there seems to be little outrage, little action. Oh, we might complain a little about it at the water cooler or over dinner, but when it comes right down to it, it seems we will just pay whatever the oil companies ask.

I don't blame them. Whether you're in the oil business or running a lemonade stand, you charge whatever the market will bear based on supply and demand. That's the beauty of capitalism.

The gas and oil companies control the supply. But we control demand. We're the ones who keep pushing their profits higher and higher. We're the ones cutting back on other things so we can afford to drive. And that's really telling, isn't it?

We're not cutting back on gas so much. We claim to be driving less, and we might not drive as far on vacation, but the traffic that I drive in every day hasn't gotten any lighter.

What we're cutting back on is eating out, ball games, movies - all those discretionary spending practices that help drive the economy.

So we have less to spend on other things. We no longer have that extra bit of cash each week because we have to shove it in our gas tanks. We have to feed the monkey.

Businesses that depend on our discretionary spending lay off workers.

And we take another hit from the gas pipe.

Some of those businesses close the doors.

But we keep on driving. And our thirst for oil grows along with our denial.

We complain about how much it costs - and then shove the nozzle in the tank anyway, sticking the needle in the car's vein - and we pump it full.

We talk about alternative fuels like ethanol, and then look on in amazement as the price of corn skyrockets.

We talk about public transportation, but deep down we know that it's a pipe dream. We're too sprawled out, we love our cars too much and we don't have the time. Most of us are not going to leave for work an hour or two early to take a train and a bus 20, 30 or 40 miles to work.

We're a nation of driver junkies, slaves to a black liquid, addicts worse than any crackhead or methmouth.

I'm not a political scientist or an economist, but I have long had a theory about oil that I really believe is true: it is the single most important resource on the planet and whoever controls it, controls us.

They control us because they have figured us out. They know we can not live without our elixir. We must feed our habit.

When it comes to addiction, what the substance is doesn't matter. As long as there are plenty of people addicted to it, the ones who deal in it will make money off the ones who buy it, and to a large extent, control their behavior.

For a great many of us that substance is oil. It is the blood of our economy and the lubricant of our industries. Life without access to it is almost as dire as having no water to drink or air to breathe.

The late Richard Pryor used to discuss his cocaine habit in the same terms. Nothing was as important to him, he said, as answering one question. And it wasn't "How much is this costing me?" or "How can I quit?" It was, "Where can I get some more?"

Right now, the truth is it's the same with oil and gas. Until we get serious about quitting, we will remain indebted to our dealers and under their thumb.

E-mail Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays.