This post is not about anything as expertly diagnosed as substance abuse. The evidence to support the physical and psychological impact that all forms of chemical addictions can cause the human body and their impacts on society are readily available. However, I believe that we throw the word addiction around too easily. Obviously, if a particular activity can cause chemical changes in the body, such as the use of drugs, alcohol or tobacco, then it can lead to addictions and is classified as a form of sickness.
Perhaps the only major form of addiction that does not meet this criteria is gambling, but I’m not entirely sure how, since it really shouldn’t cause lasting chemical or physical changes to a human body. Obviously, I’m not talking about getting your knees broken by a bookie’s enforcer.
In more recent years though, other forms of physically manifested addiction are starting to be discounted. Internet Addiction Disorder for example, defies the proper criteria to be classified as a true addiction. What activity is it exactly that would be addictive? The Internet is a massive communication medium and it’s almost impossible to avoid using it in Western society. So, is it e-mail? Are online forums addictive? Does that mean talking to other people is an addiction? What about games? Can Hearts or Spades be evil, psychology altering activities? I’m being facetious of course, but my point is that the Internet is too broad a category of activity to narrow down as an addictive behaviour. You don’t have to have a doctorate to figure that one out.
Even sexual addiction is now coming under scrutiny as being false, as reported by this article in the New York Post. While an over active appetite for any particular activity can be unhealthy, that doesn’t necessarily make it an addiction. Keep in mind that compulsive behaviour and addictive behaviour are not the same.
I can understand gambling addiction a bit more than others, because the possibility of winning can cause quite an adrenalin rush. The guilt over losing can cause extreme anxiety that leads to irrational decisions and the cycle is born. So I guess, you can call gamblers adrenalin junkies. That concept is a bit easier to reconcile.
Now, we get into a grey area. If video games provide the same euphoric rewards as gambling, then they are essentially the same. Only, there’s usually less money involved, so it’s probably not as destructive. If the cycle isn’t as extreme, is that what classifies it as a compulsion, instead? My armchair understanding of a compulsion is an activity that a person feels perhaps a pathological need to participate in, otherwise they will suffer an extreme sense of anxiety or similarly debilitating emotions.
We all know someone or possibly entire groups of people for whom Facebook, texting and other forms of social media overtakes their lives. I believe this though, speaks more to personal insecurities and a lack of manners than it does a deep rooted psychological problem. Besides, participating in regular conversation doesn’t generally provide a sense of euphoria, so it lacks one of the main criteria for an addiction.
We also have likely known someone who is an addict. For me, the first was my grandfather. He lived four hours away, so I only saw him a couple times a year and I thought he was one the greatest people who ever lived. I was still very young when my parents first explained to me that he was an alcoholic. When I got a bit older they told me that they were worried that I might someday fall prey to addiction, because my personality was so much like his. However, it wasn’t me they had to worry about.
I started smoking when I was about 12 years old because of peer pressure, but quit when I was 14, because I got asthma and feared the smoking had caused it, but never suffered any form of dependency. As an adult, I’ve enjoyed the odd cigar. Nicotine has not proved my undoing. I can go out for a night with the guys from work and have a half dozen beers, but then not have another for months. So alcohol doesn’t hold sway over my life. I’ve never gambled and the very thought of drugs makes my skin crawl. So, I don’t exhibit any of the warning signs of typical addictive behaviour.
I am however, a habitual collector. I do not suffer any form of anxiety about it, but I do thoroughly enjoy it and I frequently change interests. It started when I was a child. I first collected Smurfs, then Star Wars toys. As a young teen I collected fantasy novels. When I got my first job I started collecting movies on VHS and Batman comics. When I first discovered BBSes and then the Internet, I started collecting pirated software, but I used to worry about getting caught. So, I started collecting Shareware, instead. I hated the nag screens, so I moved on to Freeware.
Now, I collect media. I have thousands of movies and hundreds of television series. I also have a huge collection of music and a fairly substantial e-book and audio book collection. I’ve watched or listened to most of my collection at least once. Many I may never view, read or listen to again, but I continue to collect. At most you could call the behaviour compulsive, but even that I think is a stretch. I enjoy the acquisition of media. Of course I enjoy absorbing the media itself, but I get even more satisfaction from building and maintaining the library of all of my collections, as evidenced by the wiki I’ve created at Schvenn.net.
On the Internet I have profiles on over 100 websites. My wiki contains links to roughly 500 useful websites, 250 freeware programs and equally as many Android apps. I keep online catalogues of various portions of my collections, such as my movies through DVD Profiler and my favourite TV shows on my wiki.
I never collect more than my means allows, though. My wife would definitely say I spend too much time on my hobbies, but it’s never put undue stress on our relationship. I enjoy camping and getting away from our connected world and never feel any anxiety over being away from my “stuff”. I spent four months overseas and again, I didn’t miss any of it, what I did miss, was my family. So, none of the symptoms of addiction seem to present themselves. Is it compulsive? Perhaps, but it also doesn’t control my life. I believe that I am more of avid enthusiast than I am an addict.
A few of my friends seem to change electronic gadgets like tablets and phones more often than I change socks. I have one friend who has managed to amass one of the most impressive Nintendo collections I’ve ever seen. His wife may not be thrilled with it and he’s even taken a second job at a pawn shop to both give him more access to used games and provide him with some extra money to support his hobby. Is that unbalanced?
All of my collections clearly make me a materialistic person, but I believe most people in modern society are. Can any of this behaviour however, be classified as an addiction? If it doesn’t alter your chemical balance, control your behaviour or provide that “quick fix” that people who suffer from the more evident addictions seek, does it still qualify? I don’t think so. Is it unbalanced? Perhaps. Is it compulsive? It can be, but you just have to watch that you don’t become unbalanced.
However, where do we draw the line as a society? When do we start classifying the behaviour as an addiction? The problem is, that as soon as we do so, we give people with weaker willpower or lower self-esteem an easy out. They rely on their diagnosis as an excuse to continue, rather than take responsibility for themselves to change that part of their behaviour that they feel they cannot control, but most likely don’t want to try to overcome. That’s why, when I see people throw around terms like Internet Addiction Disorder or Sexual Addiction, it angers me. It’s just another example of how we, as a society, cater to the lowest common denominator.
People need to take control of their lives, claim responsibility for themselves and recognize their weaknesses. That’s not to say that people who turn to the Internet or abnormal sexual activity are necessarily psychologically healthy, but stop putting labels on things and address the underlying issues, instead.