Non-substance addictions

New but still old

Uncontrollable gambling, video game mania, unrestrained texting and emailing, repetitive impulsive and unnecessary shopping, pornography obsession; all are conditions that ‘are’ problems but they have never been classified as disorders. They share similarities with the typical addictions: they are characterized by repetitive action, a need to continually perform the task in spite of negative consequences, financial, social, interpersonal loss on account of the obsession (addiction), an occasional desire and attempt to stop it but intense anxiety and restlessness on doing so; thus repeatedly engaging in the task incessantly.

Many crimes many faces

While cell phones are a great way to maintain communication, many teens and tweens have started spending an average of 6 hours a day sending and receiving messages. Checking emails more than once in an hour is an alarming sign. eBay and auction site obsession gives some people a rush; they may adjust their daily routines to look for the cheapest bid. Internet addiction with purposeless online surfing for no tangible outcome, social networking for instance with an urge to add 100 new friends on Facebook per day, online gambling in spite of losses, cyber-sexting, online pornography, television fixation; all are new faces of addictions. Seemingly positive actions like exercise, which releases endorphins, can also become uncontrollable and qualify as an addiction. What characterizes any addiction or dependence on an action for that matter, is the urge to adopt it even in the face of negative consequences; and crave for it in its absence.

Different yet the same

All addictions (may it be cocaine or gambling) give rise to pleasure (exhilaration, high and excitement) or help diminish agony (boredom, anxiety or depression). Addictive substances or actions offer gratification, which is probably amiss otherwise in life; this is what drives people to these substances or actions and the reward these things generate acts as a reinforcer to continue the endless drive for procurement. For people who are unexposed, addiction is impossible. For those who are exposed and sense the immense reward, the substance seems to be a ‘fit’ for happiness and the person gets ‘hooked’. There are many who are exposed to alcohol and nicotine and gambling; and yet they do not ever get ‘hooked’. That is what differentiates the ‘addict’ brain from the ‘non-addict’ brain- the receptors and the instinctive reward system. All addicted brains have somewhat similar reward centers that need fulfillment with some or the other addictive substance or action.

MINDFRAMES: Reframing addictions

Every illness is not a grave malignancy. An illness is a mere alteration or deviation from normalcy. The disease theory of addiction thus emphasizes that like other illnesses, addiction is treatable. Biologically, the reward center of the brain needs to be teased using alternate methods and neurotransmitter imbalance in the different parts of the brain needs to be corrected. Psychologically, alternate coping strategies need to be instilled. Socially, a non substance use provoking environment has to be set. This bio-psycho-social approach will assure that the substance or addictive action like texting or gambling or video gaming is abandoned. Personality change, introspection, cognitive restructuring, relaxation exercises, rational emotive training and interpersonal approaches are helpful. Addiction is an illness. People with diabetes, cancer and cardiac conditions get sympathy and understanding from their loved ones; however this is not classically the case with these problems. Here the best person who can help oneself is oneself. It makes sense to do it sooner than later.

Newer addictions

Many of these may just seem like obsessions or bad habits, but these are the new age ‘addictions’

  • Cellphone and texting
  • Sexting and Cybersex
  • Television compulsion
  • Internet browsing
  • Social networking
  • Online pornography
  • Videogame obsession
  • Pathological gambling
  • Online bid shopping
  • Credit card shopping
  • Exercising addiction
  • Stealing (kleptomania)
  • Pathological lying
  • Fire (Pyromania)
  • Power-fame fixation

Frequently Asked Questions

But I gamble just for some fun!
Gambling as a healthy pastime is acceptable. However, uncontrolled betting with increasing amounts of money, heavy debt, and the incessant hope that the next bet will assure a win to make up for all previous debts; is abnormal. It involves suspension of sound judgment and the person is unable to make rational choices. That is when gambling is no longer just about fun. It can generate a withdrawal that is comparable to any drug withdrawal!

Frequently Asked Questions

How can medicines help?
Medicines help in correcting the neurotransmitter imbalance in the reward center of the brain, thus facilitating a sense of wellness even in the absence of the unwanted behavior. There is need to follow a structured cognitive restructuring exercise too, to assist abstinence.