What defines the line between overuse and addiction? Is there a line, or does it all depend on the person in question? If we were to draw a line, we could say that everyone is addicted to something. It can really be anything. The only thing that a person must ask themselves is if they are entirely dependent on the thing they think they may be addicted to. We’re all dependent on oxygen, food, water and sleep. But we don’t label those things addictions because they don’t generally negatively affect a person’s life. You don’t miss work because you need to take a couple of deep breaths. You don’t blow your life savings on getting enough water in a day.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is a whole host of things that significantly harm one’s life when one becomes addicted. At the top of this list are things like alcohol, nicotine, and prescription and illegal drugs. These all represent substance abuse and chemical addiction. They not only change one’s physiology, but they also actually rewire a person’s brain so that they cannot live without the substance. Trying to break these addictions is a long and slow process that involves a massive amount of physical and emotional pain. But addiction is not restricted to substances. There are many addictions out there most people are not aware of. There are many things that people can become dependent upon, even to the point where it can be labeled an addiction.
How many hours do you spend on your phone each day? It is almost certainly not one or two hours. If you own a smartphone, it’s safe to say you probably spend an inordinate amount of time on it. Does this constitute an addiction? Try and think about this for a second. If you forget your phone at home, do you feel anxious? Why do you feel anxious? Are you worried that people won’t be able to get hold of you? If so, why is this such a big deal?
Are you afraid you’ll miss something on one of your social media accounts? If so, we ask the same question: Why is that such a big deal? Or are you simply anxious because you don’t have the phone in reach? If any of these apply to you, you could very well be addicted to your smartphone. While a smartphone addiction may not seem all that serious, it should still be acknowledged. Just because you aren’t ruining your life because of this addiction, it doesn’t mean it should be ignored entirely.
This one is not all that surprising, simply because it is a substance. When you drink a cup of joe in the morning, the caffeine in the coffee travels through your blood and enters your brain. There, it binds to receptors that are designated to deal with adenosine. Adenosine is what tells your brain to start feeling tired. If this chemical cannot deliver its message, you end up feeling more awake. If we deliver regular doses of any chemical to our brains for an extended period, the brain becomes dependent upon this chemical.
It stops being able to function properly without it. This is what we refer to as an addiction. In the context of caffeine, it does not necessarily mean that you can’t stay awake without it. But, when you try to cut out coffee, you start noticing the addiction. You may find your ability to concentrate compromised. It’s also possible to become irritable and unnecessarily tired. The good news is that if you can cut coffee out for a full two weeks, your brain will reset to what it was like before caffeine entered the picture.
When the topic of sugar addiction comes up, two opposing camps do not agree at all. One side swears that sugar is addictive, and the other will say the first group is being dramatic. When it comes to picking a side, it might be best to look at the physiology of human beings before forming an opinion. For these facts, we are going to look at human evolution. Tens of thousands of years ago, human beings had to scavenge for food.
At this point they were not hunter-gatherers, they did not kill their food and they did not cook. But, while looking for food, they had to develop some way of figuring out what was healthy and nutritious and what was poisonous. This is where the brain came in. It developed a way of letting its human know when it encountered food that was salty, oily or sweet. When this food was consumed, the entire brain lit up like a Christmas tree. This same trend persists today, meaning that your mind is all too happy when it gets a dose of sugar.
To explain how shopping addiction works, we’ll need to look at the process involved with addiction. In a very simplified form, it can be viewed as this: You consume something or partake in an activity you are addicted to. At first, there is a rush of happiness and relief. During this time, you are not bombarded by cravings; instead, you are content. But this is not long-lasting. Once the initial high wears off, the person starts feeling guilty. They are essentially crashing, and this when they begin to regret what they have done.
How do they deal with this regret? They simply repeat the initial action, and this continues the addictive cycle. When you break down addiction in this way, it is very easy to see how shopping can be an addiction. The other indicator here is whether a person discloses their shopping habits. If they are lying to their loved ones about their shopping, they could be addicted.
This addiction is one of the more common addictions on this list, and it indeed should receive more attention than it does. Gambling has the same pattern as with other addictions whereby there is a never-ending loop of exhilaration and crashing. There is one other thing that comes into play here, though. When a person is addicted to gambling, it doesn’t matter how much they’ve lost. It doesn’t matter because they can always make it back in their next big win. All they have to do is bet one more time or play another round.
Even if that next round is played and won, there is always more to be made. If they take those winnings, they can double or maybe even triple them. The money they make or lose will never be enough. This thinking has led thousands down a very dark route where they lose not only all the money they have, but also all the people that they have or will ever love.
We live in a world where a person’s aesthetics are more important than their brains or their personality. You can be smart, kind and successful, but if you are not attractive, those traits mean next to nothing. With a social climate like this, what is one to do if they are not born attractive? Do they submit to a life where they are considered a second-class citizen, or do they do something to change it?
People can go to the gym, put on makeup and dress for their body types, but none of these are permanent changes. The only way to permanently change one’s appearance is to have surgery. One procedure may boost a person’s confidence; two may even make them feel more comfortable in their skin. But what happens when people start having three or even four? What happens when they are never satisfied with how they look? Could they start overdoing cosmetic surgery to the point that they become addicted to it?
The golden tan one gets from heading to the beach can be wholly restorative. It can leave one feeling healthy, attractive and vibrant. But there is evidence to suggest these feelings of wellness are not only created simply because the person has enhanced their aesthetics. Some studies indicate that tanning has the power to release endorphins. It is possible that a chemical reaction takes place when you soak up those rays that release feel-good hormones into a person’s body.
If you are only tanning occasionally, this is not a problem. The problem arises when a person starts becoming dependent upon the high that tanning produces. When beach goers were studied, it was found that some had become so dependent on tanning that they even experienced withdrawal symptoms when they abstained from the act. Withdrawal symptoms aside, becoming addicted to tanning can have a severe effect on one’s health. In excess, this behavior can produce a variety of side-effects, the worst of which is skin cancer.
Addiction to exercise fully optimizes the metaphor that too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. A person can get addicted to working out for two reasons. The first is a dependency on the rush that working out gives a person. When you get your muscles going and your heart pumping, there is a rush of endorphins and adrenaline through your system. This is a high. You feel stronger, better and happy. It’s not false happiness, either. Your body and mind indeed are delighted. But this kind of joy can be addictive. You can crave this high. You can wind up seeking it out obsessively.
Those addicted to working out find that it will never be enough. They will never be strong enough, big enough or ripped enough. This kind of body dysmorphia can be incredibly dangerous, because the body can only take so much. It can only grow so much before a person is forced to take supplements to maintain their progress and prevent themselves from hitting a plateau.
Have you ever heard of the saying that it’s “all for the ‘gram”? This has nothing to do with the measurement, and nothing to do with weighing things. What these people are saying is that the thing they’re doing is worth it because they can snap a picture and post it on Instagram. Once this fully edited and captioned picture goes online, the subject of the photo should be inundated with likes and comments. This gives them a rush; it makes them feel validated.
This may sound like an odd confidence booster, but it’s becoming more prevalent among young people. Those afflicted can’t go too many hours without checking their accounts because they hate missing the latest things that are trending. They hate it so much. they could be obsessed with it. Medical professionals have not yet validated addiction to social media, but it is possibly only a matter of time. Smartphones and social media rule the world at this stage and in no time at all, there are going to be parents fretting over whether their children have become a victim to the latest craze.
A couple of decades ago, it was taboo to talk about love making. It was solely reserved for the bedroom, and it was supposedly only reserved for a man and a woman. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore. It is essential to talk about the act, because it is important. Human beings are sexual creatures. We have desires and wants, and there’s nothing wrong with talking about it. When people started talking about it, we started realizing just how different people’s sexuality is. Some people just don’t have a very high drive for it, and some just cannot have enough.
Their desire is insatiable. All they can do is think about it. They will do anything to satisfy their craving. They will skip work or wreck relationships; whatever it takes. These people could suffer from sexual addiction. People in the know are divided on this front, but one thing is clear: If your sexual drive is interfering with your life, you could have a problem.
What does it mean to be in love, and where on earth does love come from? Does it originate in the heart, or in the soul? If we cannot quantify the soul, how are we to say what it is capable of? There are many things in this world scientists cannot explain, but when it comes to love, they think they may have the answer. The idea is that when you start to develop feelings for a person, your brain starts to release hormones like dopamine and serotonin.
These are feel-good hormones. When the stimulus gets removed, your mind stops releasing these hormones, making a person seek out the person who created the response in the first place. This is the cycle that is considered to develop what we call love. Now, if there are hormones involved, it’s entirely reasonable to say this could create an environment for addiction. People could start to depend on the rush. They could rely on falling in love to feel good.
When you ask people if they’ll ever get a tattoo, generally they reply that want one, but that they’ll only get it when they find the right one. There really will never be a perfect tattoo. The process began when a person decided they wanted one, only then do they find a tattoo they like. Once many get that first tattoo, they realize it’s not as big of a deal as they thought. It doesn’t hurt as much as they thought, and it’s all too satisfying looking at that new piece of body art in the mirror.
The sheer satisfaction of looking at the new tattoo you got is more than enough persuasion to make you get another one … and then another one. Is this an addiction though? Is this destructive behavior? The answer to that depends upon the situation. If a person is putting their health, career or loved ones at risk to get new tattoos and do it anyway, they could be partaking in risky behavior.
People who don’t play video games don’t see the appeal. They can’t fathom how someone could spend so much time and energy on something that isn’t real. It’s an imaginary world with imaginary characters and imaginary rewards. Why get so worked up on something that isn’t real? The thing these people are missing is that in the video game world, you control what happens. You get to choose your appearance and your character, along with its history, strengths and weaknesses.
In these worlds, you have an impact on what goes on. You are not powerless. You can succeed, you can win. In a world that is extremely chaotic, it is very easy to see how this can be attractive, and possibly even how this can become addictive. Mental health professionals had not officially defined video gaming addiction, but that does not mean it doesn’t exist. There are scores of people out there who have neglected their real lives to maintain their virtual ones.
If we are going to understand how a person can have a nasal spray addiction, we need to understand the compulsive element of addiction. There are a class of addictions where people do not repeat the behavior because they depend on the substance itself, but because they compulsively cannot stop themselves even if it is harming them. They cannot help themselves and need to repeat their behavior, consequences be damned.
If you take nasal sprays for longer than the prescribed period, you wind up creating the same symptoms you were trying to treat in the first place. A person addicted to these sprays will still use them even if they see they are getting worse. This is the nature of compulsion and addiction. There is also the argument that there are addictive substances in some of these sprays which could further solidify the addictive behavior. The extent of the damage produced by this addiction is dependent upon the intensity of the addiction itself.
Ice is just the solid form of water. It doesn’t taste like anything, and apart from mild hydration, it has no nutritional value. Why then, do people eat ice? Do they like the feeling? Is there something in the sensation that is alluring? It is entirely possible that both could be true to some degree. But ice is bad for your teeth. So bad in fact that it can break your teeth, which will earn you a costly trip to the dentist’s office. We ask the question again then, with this information at hand, why do people eat ice?
Could it be a compulsion? Can they actually not fight the desire to eat ice? There is no such thing as an actual addiction to eating ice, but there is a word that is used to describe the compulsion to eat ice. The word for this affliction is pagophagia, which falls in the same category as pica. A person will probably not ruin their lives if they compulsively eat ice, but they could completely wreck their teeth.
Have you ever had that annoying rogue eyebrow hair that keeps growing back no matter how many times you pull it out? Every time you see it comes back, you dig through countless layers of skin to get rid of it. Does that sound familiar? If it does, don’t worry: You don’t have trichotillomania. This long word is a compulsive disorder where people literally cannot help but pull out their hair. That doesn’t mean just the hair on their heads, either. It can be eyebrows, eyelashes, pubic hair and even arm hair.
The compulsion is so strong that these people begin to develop bald spots, but even this does not stop them. The act begins with insatiable anxiety. This anxiety builds while the person tries to resist it. People with this disorder don’t want to pull out their hair, but they feel like they need to do it. Once they do, they are greeted with relief and then the all too familiar regret, followed by more anxiety.
As a child, we all ate dirt at some point. Thinking back on it now, we might be a bit disgusted that we did, but the fact remains that we ate dirt. We sat in the sandpit or the garden, looked at the brown stuff all around us and thought “Hey, that looks quite tasty.” We excuse this kind of behavior and label it as childish curiosity because we certainly don’t eat dirt anymore. Or do we?
Believe it or not, there are fully grown adults who are secretly eating dirt. They know they shouldn’t, but it doesn’t stop them. They know that there is no nutritional value to the dirt, or maybe that it is unhealthy, but they still go right ahead and munch down on a pile of dirt. This is a compulsion. They need to do it. Their brain is telling them that they need to do it, and if your brain says it is true, who are you to say otherwise?
With this addiction, we delve back into the world of substance abuse. Gasoline is not healthy. It is actually very unhealthy. Human beings should not consume it for any reason whatsoever. But – and there is a but – there are people who sniff the stuff. One may agree that gasoline has a nice smell. It’s weird to say that because it is gas, but the smell is quite enjoyable for some incredibly odd reason. Liking the smell of gasoline and going out of our way to sniff gasoline are two very different things.
A person without an addiction may savor the smell of gasoline each week or so when they fill up their car. They certainly will not shove their nose into the gas tank to get high. That’s what sniffing gasoline does to you; it makes you high. It causes a chemical reaction in your brain, just like any other harmful substance. This is troubling behavior, but not necessarily such a big deal if a person does this rarely. There is a problem, however, when a person starts to seek out this high on a frequent basis. Then they are delving into the territory of addiction.
Sticking a needle in your skin and then sticking a metal rod through that hole hurts. People might say the pain isn’t that bad, but it hurts. It does, and the pain does not end there. Once a person gets a piercing, there are weeks of recovery to look forward to. If it is in a person’s ear, that ear throbs every hour of every day. You can almost hear the pain.
If the piercing is on your body, it hurts when you move. It hurts when your clothes touch it. This is the pain that is normal, not to mention the pain involved if the piercing gets infected, which is quite likely. But, there is satisfaction involved with getting a piercing. You like the new addition to your body. You marvel at the shiny piece of metal now sticking out of your skin. This satisfaction can lead to an addiction. You can crave new piercings. You can even get addicted to the pain.
We eat out of glass, and we do not eat glass. At least, we should not eat glass. Can you imagine the damage those little shards could do to your body? Even the smallest cut from a broken glass hurts an enormous amount. It bleeds, it oozes, and at times it looks like the sore will not heal at all. A cut from glass is not something a person would usually seek out. But, when you start talking about addictions, you’ve got to leave normal behind.
You can’t look at someone’s behavior and think they’re crazy. They aren’t. They have a problem, and they could very well need help. Some people eat glass. They do this because they cannot control it. They have an urge to eat glass, and if they don’t give in to the urge, the longing will drive them crazy. The anxiety will keep them up at night. It will bounce around in their head until they have no other choice but to eat glass.
Medicine progresses each year. As more research is done, professionals realize that what they once thought is not true at all. This is true in every field of medicine. In the case of eating soap, this same trend is real in psychology. Not long ago, medical professionals gave a name to a certain condition: Pica. People with pica eat things that are not nutritious; these things may even be harmful. And they do it knowing full well that it is not good for them.
Initially, people thought pica was a result of nutritional deficiencies. People ate things like soap, it was thought, because their bodies were lacking something, and they were somehow trying to replace it with arbitrary things. This is not true. People eat these things because they are compelled by their misfiring brain to do so. They may find relief once they have eaten the soap, but this is short-lived. Not only does the anxiety return, but a person can get sick if they eat enough soap. These bars are filled with chemicals that have no place in the body.
When a baby does not stop crying, parents will do anything in their power to make it stop. They will sing, coo or cry with the baby if need be. Some parents give their children pacifiers, or the children start sucking on their thumbs of their own accord. The movement the mouth makes when sucking either of these two things mimics the movement a baby makes when it suckle on its mother’s breast. This movement provides comfort as it reminds the small brain of the comfort of suckling.
There is something in the brain called a reward pathway. If an action gets associated with feelings of pleasure, comfort or happiness, the mind will seek out these actions to feel that same pleasurable sensation. The brain remembers the comfort from sucking on one’s thumb, and this comfort travels all the way into adulthood. This means that there are adults who compulsively suck their thumbs. They do this for comfort; they may even do it without even realizing.
When we were toddlers, we put everything and anything into our mouths. One of those things was chalk, and unlike glue or sand, chalk kind of tasted nice. It didn’t taste nice like ice cream does, but you have to admit there was something significant about eating chalk. Maybe it was the sensation, which was both weird and pleasurable. Perhaps it was the taste, like nothing but something at the same time. We all ate chalk, but we do not all still eat chalk.
At some point, we left that strange habit behind and refrained from eating chalk because we knew we should. Some people did not stop. They knew they should. People may have even told them they shouldn’t be eating chalk, but still, they eat it. This is because these people also have pica. People who have pica do not only eat glass, sand or soap. They may eat chalk, and do so compulsively. They do so without knowing why.
People who do not like heavy metal music can’t understand those who do. They see this music as incoherent screaming, or music with no melody. The kind of music that cannot possibly be enjoyable. We can sit back and act tolerant and say “to each to their own,” and go about our day. But one study found that heavy metal music can be beneficial to one’s mental health.
This study said that because this music very clearly displays anger and sadness, it helps its listeners to feel and express these emotions while listening to the music. Once these emotions have been felt and expressed, they can be let go. This makes for a person who is calmer and less inclined to have random outbursts of anger. In moderation, this can produce a person who is mentally and emotionally more robust, but addiction is not about moderation. Addiction is about excess and dependency. A person who depends on heavy metal music to deal with their emotions could be addicted to this music.
As children, we were told to wash our hands before we eat and after we go to the bathroom. We are told that we should clean them before we touch our faces. Adults tell us this because they know we pick up germs with our hands. Therefore, washing our hands on a regular basis is just good personal hygiene. Then there is the compulsive washing of hands. This is washing your hands more than a few times a day.
This is washing our hands because they never feel clean. Feeling like our hands are always carrying some germ whose sole purpose is to make us sick is not healthy behavior. This could end up damaging one’s health. The body needs to be introduced to some germs to build immunity, and washing your hands excessively will dry them out and strip the skin of its natural oils.
People who smoke cigarettes know how awful ash tastes. They do not understand this because they have actively given ash a try, but because at some point there was some ash on the butt of their cigarette which made it into their mouths. When these offending particles made their way onto the tongue, they produced a violent response which included hacking and possibly some spitting to get rid of the foul-tasting stuff. These people would probably never want to taste ash again, and they would look at compulsive ash eaters in shock.
Compulsive ash eaters are not weird people who somehow think ash tastes nice, they eat it because they, too, have pica. They will eat the stuff because they need to eat it, and not because they want to. These people will probably not do this in front of other because they understand it is weird; they just can’t help it. The only thing that could help them is a proper diagnosis.
In the last century, we didn’t know asbestos was harmful. We didn’t know cigarettes were unhealthy, and we certainly did not know how damaging the lead in paint was. When we figured these things out, we started to systematically cut them out of people’s day-to-day lives. For people who compulsively eat paint chips, this may very well have saved their lives. If the lead-based paint were still common, people who eat dried paint would be in hospitals all over the world.
There is no nutritional or logical reason for a person to eat paint chips. On the spectrum of normal to odd, it falls on the very odd side. But much like the other items on this list, it’s not a choice. It is a compulsion. It is pica, and a genuine condition that should not be left untreated. Like every other type of compulsive behavior, the cycle starts with anxiety. These people feel anxious when they are not eating paint chips. They feel anxious about eating paint chips. The only way to get rid of the anxiety, even for a moment, is to eat paint chips.
We’re very quick to judge a person who works too much. Quick to look at them in disgust when their families and love lives fall apart because they are spending too much time in the office. They probably often hear lectures about stopping to smell the roses. Maybe they hear that they should take a break, that it is just a job. To those people, it may not be just a job. They may not be able to stop working. They may live in a constant state of tension as they think about how much more there is to do and how much more they must achieve to feel successful.
People like this may not be doing it merely because they want to. They may be doing it because they have an underlying problem. Maybe they crave recognition. Perhaps they need their jobs to feel good about themselves. Many recognizable psychological problems and conditions can make people workaholics. These people need help and understanding; they do not need criticism.
Throughout this list, we have spoken about people compulsively eating things that are not nutritional. We have talked about the conditions and how it is considered odd to eat these things because they are not food. Some people are addicted to food. These people are generally overweight because you cannot overeat without your body reacting in some way. These people also have a problem. They could be eating so much because they are trying to replace something in their lives with food. They are trying to fill a hole, fill a void or prove a point.
Most people want to be overweight; they want to be healthy and happy like the rest of us do. But they can’t help themselves from trying to achieve this by eating. Treating an overeating disorder would entail relatively extensive psychotherapy. A mental health professional would have to delve into a person’s past, present and future to try to figure out why they are eating so much.
It seems quite odd to criticize a person for reading too much. How could reading be harmful? It activates the imagination and enhances the vocabulary. It helps a person delve into the minds and personalities of others, giving them a more well-rounded view and an idea of the world. This could not possibly be considered a bad thing. Countless people don’t read enough. They don’t broaden their minds enough, and they don’t stimulate their brains.
But what happens if the literary world becomes more real than the real world? What if a person starts neglecting their life so they can get lost in the lives of the people in their books? This is when they could be reading too much. Life may be painful and unpredictable, but we can’t just replace it with a world that only exists on pages. We need to live in the real world. We can’t just escape every time life gets too complicated or too messy.