Recently there has been a flurry of articles on addiction, the reasons why we become addicted and why do we continue to abuse these substances; be it alcohol, gambling or even love (there was a very interesting article about being addicted to love by Prof Mark Griffiths in a recent Psychology Review – and on a side note I will be writing about interviewing him later on this week for this site so keep your eyes out for that). As part of the A2 health course we study substance use and abuse so here I will give a quick overview of what everyone’s been ranting about. :)
From my brief conversation with Ryan Hampton, it became clear to me that there is a common perception that overindulgence in certain behaviours is all down to individual choice. If you are overeating, oversexed, gambling away your earnings or spending all your time online, you are more likely to be considered morally abhorrent than the victim of a disease. Calling these problems addictions has triggered debates about whether our society or our biology is to blame, and whether people that fall foul of a behavioural obsession should be offered help and treatment rather than punishment.
One of the most interesting thoughts (and one that came up while talking to Prof. G) was that addiction is not a behaviour that can be classified by how much of something that you do, but actually the effect of it on your life. Two people could show the same behavioural traits (for example playing 12hours of computer games a day) and one would be said to be addicted whereas another one not. There will be more about this in a coming article that I’m in the process of writing.
Further to this is the question as to why people become addicted to certain substances (and, importantly, why others do not). It’s important not to be reductionist.
â€œAlmost any of us can become behavioural addicts, given the right exposure, the right timing and so on,â€ he says. â€œBut there are multiple causes: our personalities, genetics – itâ€™s not simple.â€ Why some people develop addictions while others can safely dip into these activities with no ill effects is still unknown. [quote]
Moving on from this, how do we actually classify something as being addictive? What if it’s a behaviour that everyone is doing, is this still an addiction? An article over at PsychCentral by John M. Grohol addresses this exact issue:
… if everyone is engaging in a behavior, itâ€™s neither addiction nor abuse, by very definition. Itâ€™s â€œnormal.â€ Unless youâ€™re the morality police or something, when someone chooses to spend more time talking to their friends online or playing an online game, thatâ€™s their right and choice. Itâ€™s not â€œabuseâ€ by any stretch of the imagination.
Finally, many studies at the moment are looking at the biological effects of addiction on the brain.
Several studies of the brain and behaviour back the idea that there’s very little biological difference between what goes on in the head of a gambling addict and that of a crack addict. A growing number of researchers believe that the same processes lie behind all addictions, behavioural or chemical, whether it’s gambling or shopping, computer gaming, love, work, exercise, pornography, eating or sex…
Although this does raise issues of being deterministic when it come to the understanding of these addictions:
… That’s a controversial claim. There’s a common perception that overindulgence in certain behaviours is all down to individual choice. If you are overeating, oversexed, gambling away your earnings or spending all your time online, you are more likely to be considered morally abhorrent than the victim of a disease. Calling these problems “addictions” has triggered debates about whether our society or our biology is to blame, and whether people that fall foul of a behavioural obsession should be offered help and treatment rather than punishment.
Over the last few weeks I have been reading a lot about addiction and the current theories and research into it. There seems to still be a lot of competing views, even now. But, as the world is changing, so too are the things that we are becoming addicted to and the accessibility to those things. Gambling is now no-longer a passion of those who frequent casinos or that slot machine in a Smokey pub; it’s in our living rooms on TV and everywhere you look on the internet. As the list of addiction types grows longer, the number of addiction treatment centers offering treatment for the various types of addiction is increasing as well.
Anyway, read the articles and make you own minds up – just don’t spend too much time on the internet: you might become an addict! ;)