Addictions – a curious phenomenon

smartphonesThe following article was submitted and written by Mel Raymond:

More than just substances – Unpublicised Addictions

Addiction is a curious phenomenon, and one we do not fully understand. Some of us are more prone to addiction than others – the so called ‘addictive personality’ is no mere myth, and scientists think that predisposition to addiction may have something to do with both genetics and upbringing [1]. However, more ephemeral things such as personal and societal circumstances [2] also appear to play a part, as do mental health and probably many other as-yet unrecognised factors. From a purely neurochemical point of view, addiction appears to have a lot to do with the chemical dopamine – the brain’s ‘reward’ mechanism. We are primed to seek out activities which cause the release of dopamine, which gives us a pleasurable sensation. From an evolutionary perspective, this ‘reward’ system encourages us to do things which ensure our survival and perpetuate the species – eating, for example, and sex. The addictions we all know about (alcohol, opioids, gambling, that kind of thing) all give the brain a dopamine ‘hit’ which it comes to rely upon in place of more natural rewards. If addiction can be caused by a reliance upon dopamine-releasing behaviours, however, should it not cause more addictions than the ones we know about most? Read on to find out about some lesser known addictions.

When Fun Becomes Addiction

It’s worth noting that something is only described as an ‘addiction’ when it begins to interfere with the sufferer’s ability to conduct their life, or to have a negative impact upon their health, relationships, or life in general [3]. Often, to label a behaviour or even an addiction as ‘disordered’ is not particularly helpful [4], as it can dehumanize the person concerned. There are many things we do to release dopamine which are perfectly harmless, and to start worrying about our fun pastimes becoming pathologically disordered would take much of the joy out of life. Nor should you start casting judgemental eyes upon people who evidently get great enjoyment from certain pastimes – it takes a lot for these things to develop into addiction. If they’re not pursuing it to such a degree that it’s damaging their lives or the lives of those around them, then it’s probably not an addiction. Having said that, here are some of the lesser-known addictions afflicting people worldwide:

Shopping  shopping

For some of us, shopping hits a deeply embedded evolutionary button related to the gathering of resources. Hunting out and obtaining items causes a great release of dopamine. We’ve all been guilty of impulse buying, but for people who become dependent upon the dopamine release of shopping, impulse-buying becomes a very serious issue indeed [5].

Sex

Sex addiction is more highly publicised than its fellows on this list, but still remains relatively unknown. Plenty of people have a high sex drive, but for sex addicts, sex becomes the main structural factor in their lives. They will spend their whole lives planning, setting up, and having sex. This causes great difficulty within relationships. It also puts the sufferer at great personal risk, as they are likely to engage in risky sexual behaviours. Sexually transmitted diseases are common, and some sex addicts have been known to develop predatory tendencies in the pursuance of their desires (although, it should be stressed, these are in the minority). There’s actually not much that is sexy about sex addiction [6].

Pornography

Addiction to pornography is rising rapidly as the internet pornography industry expands. Porn addiction is (naturally) similar to sex addiction. However, unlike sex addiction it may make it very difficult for sufferers to have actual sex. This is due to what is known as ‘desensitization’. Normal human relationships become very difficult for a porn addict – and many other areas of their lives are also likely to be affected.

Exercise

Exercise addiction is another condition currently under intense scrutiny. Exercise causes the release of endorphins, to which our brains could theoretically become addicted. In general, exercise is very healthy. However, it is perfectly possible to exercise so much that your health suffers. People with exercise addictions will put themselves through so much gym time that their work and home lives are likely to suffer, as well as being likely to damage their health.

The Internet socialmedia

Internet addiction is a major phenomenon in China and South Korea, and it’s heading fast into the rest of the world. Internet addicts become so reliant upon the validation and excitement of their virtual worlds that they break all ties with the physical world. This can lead to the complete breakdown of all non-internet related aspects of their lives [7].

[1] Michael Segell, “Big mystery: What causes addiction?”, NBC News, Oct 2013

[2] J Westermeyer, “The role of cultural and social factors in the cause of addictive disorders”, PubMed, Jun 1999

[3] Psychology Today, “What Is Addiction?”

[4] Lance Dodes, “Do’s and Dont’s in Psychotherapy for People Who Have Addictions”, Rehabs.com, Jul 2015

[5] Renee Morad, “Shopaholic: 7 Signs You’re Addicted To Shopping”, Huffington Post, Sept 2014

[6] Sirin Kale, “What is life really like if you’re a sex addict?”, Dazed, Jan 2016

[7] Christopher S Stewart, “Obsessed With the Internet: A Tale From China”, Wired, Jan 2010

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