What is Addiction?
You are probably thinking smoking, drugs, alcohol, gambling, or something which you are addicted to or know someone who probably is. You are right and these are different examples of what one could be addicted to. While most of these are serious addictions which can damage your health, there are also many subtler addictions which we are not conscious of. These are addictions which you are probably not even aware of and they are eating into your health. Probably not so much into your physical health, but more on your mental, emotional and spiritual health. Let’s explore what these are. But before we go there let’s look at some of the definitions of addiction.
The fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity – The Oxford Dictionary
Addiction is the continued repetition of a behavior despite adverse consequences, or a neurological impairment leading to such behaviors – Wikipedia
A strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble) – Merriam Webster’s Dictionary
The American Society of Addiction Medicine has released a new definition of addiction, highlighting that it is a chronic brain disorder and not simply a behavioural problem involving too much alcohol, drugs, gambling or sex. – addictiontoday.org
Compulsive physiological and psychological need for a habit-forming substance OR The condition of being habitually or compulsively occupied with or involved in something – thefreedictionary.com
Each of the definitions above has a negative connotation to it. It almost sends across the signal of someone being a slave to something which causes serious harm to us. It appears to be something which is difficult to give up and controls you. The irony of the matter is that if you asked someone addicted to something, the immediate reaction is of denial. Very rarely will a person admit that they are addicted to something. Even if they do they will refuse to call it an addiction and will come up with a justification or reasoning.
For me addiction has a very simple definition.
The belief that you cannot do without something or someone OR the constant need for more or better of something.
Lets look at what other types of addictions we could have besides the usual suspects…
How often do you find watching television beyond the programme you had planned to watch? Have you realised how involuntary it has become that you switch on the TV when you sit down with your evening tea or coffee? Television is one of the biggest time wasters in our life. You wouldn’t want to have a conversation with an idiot. Wonder why we choose to sit in front of an idiot box then?
This is the idiot box of the 21st century. There was a time when I would be engaged in idle browsing, jumping from one thing to another. I would start wanting to look up something I had heard of and then went on from one thing to another and another before I realised that I had spent a couple of hours in front of the computer. We are in an information era and the moment you type something into Google, it feels like drinking from a hose pipe. There’s so much information out there, that you can very quickly get lost in the ocean of information. While the Internet is a great invention and has helped us stay informed and improved our understanding, we tend to spend more time these days in front of machines than people.
It’s amazing how people are stuck to their mobile phones. People don’t mind forgetting to eat their breakfast but would never forget to take their mobile phone with them. If they did, they feel paralysed and “disconnected” from the rest of the world. Kids are given phones and if they don’t answer a call from their parents, it does not take time before the parent starts to worry or get stressed. With the advent of smart phones and “convergence” as they call it, the reliance has increased even more with easy access to the internet.
I was once in UK on a business trip and after a busy day visited the bar for a nice cold beer (one of my addictions). In the Hotel lobby, there were a bunch of teenagers probably waiting for their Teacher or Coach to check them out. I was really saddened to see that all of them were busy on the phone, most likely posting on some social media. The whole point of social media was to make us more social but it seems to have pulled us away from each other. We take pride in the number of friends we have on Facebook and the number of “Likes” we get on our posts, but don’t bother to call up a dear friend on his birthday or just drop in to his house for a chat. This is one addiction which is grappling the young of today. While it’s a great medium and platform to stay connected, its sad to see that we almost hide behind it and avoid face to face contact.
I used to play a lot of video games when I was a kid. In fact I still played till about 11 years ago. I haven’t played on since then (apart from helping my son with his Wii). There’s an entire industry which thrives on this. According to Gartner, the worldwide video gaming industry at the end of 2013 is valued at $ 93 Billion. Another research forecast that just the mobile gaming industry will reach close to $24 Billion. Any parent will tell you how their kids have the highest concentration when they are in front of the television playing a video game. I walk into a shop which has books and games and guess where most of the crowd is? If this is not addiction then what is?
Why do you need to know the news? No really. Why do you need to read the newspaper? To stay informed. Right? Why do you want to stay informed? So that you can have “meaningful” conversations in social circles. Ok I can understand that. Now think through what is it that you actually talk about in your social circles? Economy, Politics, Sports? Now ask yourself if any of this conversation really helps you or benefits you in any way. How would it matter which political party won the elections or which team won the football match or how the government has messed up the country’s economy. Wont you be better off talking about how you can grow yourself and how you can help people around you and not trying to discuss world politics or someone else’s life? Think about it and decide for yourself. Decide what sections you want to read (hopefully its business, education, social, etc) and then stick to those sections.
I live in the beautiful island of Cyprus and one thing which you will see common in most Cypriots is their love for Coffee!. To be fair the Cyprus coffee is definitely worth trying and so is the Frappe! What amazes me though, is how the coffee shops here are always full and how people can’t have a day go without having their coffee/s. Caffeine is really not as bad an addiction as probably smoking or drugs, but it still is an addiction. I want to confide here. I am addicted to Tea. I just love it but you know what I will give it up… Soon!
I’m not an exercise freak but over the past 1 year have got into a good discipline of exercising at least 5 days a week. It helps me keep fit, gives me the energy I need and keeps me healthy. During the initial months, after about 3 months of training, I felt this urge where I was pushing myself beyond my limits and would feel guilty if I did not exercise on a particular day. I was feeling depressed which was completely opposite to what an exercise regimen should be doing. That’s when I realised that I was getting addicted to it. I took action and now exercise is not something which I “have” to do. Rather it is something which I “want” to do and has become part of my lifestyle. And I’m completely fine when I miss a day or 2 or even a week of exercise.
I used to be overweight and lost around 12 Kg over the last 1 year. I attribute my weight problem to 2 things. Beer and Sweets. Both I and my wife have a sweet tooth and are capable of hogging at chocolate all day long. We haven’t given up the addiction (and don’t plan to for the near future), however we have learnt how to manage it. It’s not more an addiction but something which we enjoy sharing with each other.
Millions of people have been self-medicating with fat and sugar for so long the activity has become a standard of living. Eating out in expensive restaurants, stuffing ourselves with all kinds of junk food and eating even when we are not hungry has all led us to becoming psychological addicts to food. As a result, people all around the world are suffering from a mind-blowing obesity crisis. The problem has grown so much that according to forecasts the Global weight loss market is to touch $ 650 Billion by 2015. Wow now thats something worth thinking about!
My dad worked from 9 to 5 and I grew up watching him do this for 30 years of his life. He rarely worked overtime and never on weekends. These days the concept of 9 to 5 is unheard of and the line between work and life is fast disappearing. While I can understand that sometimes we all need to stay up late or work over a weekend, making this a habit is what makes it an addiction. I have many conversations with colleagues and friends and they find it extremely difficult to “disconnect” from work. For some strange reason there is this unwritten rule that you are expected to be available and working all the time. What I have realised that very often this rule is self-written and not being dictated by your employer or your business. There is this excessive compulsion to be “productive”, “available” and “connected”. Personally I take great pride in saying over the past 12 years of my career; I have never worked a weekend (well maybe once). Now, I may be one of the rare cases, but the point here again is we have to learn to balance it. They call it Work-Life Balance. I call it Life-Work balance because Life comes before Work (even in the dictionary)
Alright all you women out there. This is a classic one and you can beat me up when you meet me personally. Let’s admit it. You are all addicted to shopping! Whether it is something for your vanity case, your wardrobe, your home or your garden, you can’t help not shop. Here I’m not talking about stuff which you need, rather it’s those things which you really don’t need or don’t need more off. Once again, I do not advocate living miserly. Life is to be enjoyed and spoiling yourself to the shopping gala once in a while is fine. Its starts becoming dangerous when you shop because you want to feel good. Try this the next time you feel like buying something you really think you want. Don’t buy it then and try and put off the purchase for around 2 weeks. If you still feel like buying then go ahead, if not drop it! To be fair to the women, I must say that these days even the men are turning to shopping addictions. The only difference is that we spend on our toys and gadgets even when we have enough of them. The latest mobile, the newest tablet and anything that’s new on the technology front. This is one addiction I don’t think really causes much harm unless you go overboard and spend beyond your budgets. I don’t plan on giving this up and don’t recommend you do. Just have a budget and spend within that!
I wanted to leave the most controversial one to the last. There’s a lot of scepticism in the media, amongst academics and researchers about whether an individual can really be ‘addicted’ to another person. But if you remember one of the classic definitions of addiction, which is to pursue behaviour compulsively in spite of negative consequences, then relationship addiction fits the description. I do think we get addicted in our relationships many times. What are the signs of someone being in an addictive relationship? It could be many but the most common ones are trying to hang on to someone even though there is no love left. Probably because of the emotional alleviation or acceptance it gives the person. Addiction could also show in subtler ways as a feeling of jealousy when the other person is friendly with someone, feeling hurt when the other person praises someone else or simply wanting the other person to be always there for you. While you could argue that these are signs of love and compassion, the underlying fact is that you believe that you cannot do without this person in your life. This person could be your lover, husband/wife, friend, colleague or anyone else. Now this does not mean that you should stop feeling or be emotionless in your relationships. On the contrary some of these are the essence of a relationship and bring warmth, joy and happiness to relationships. My point however is that we need to be aware of our feelings and emotions and learn to manage these before they get to a point of addiction and causing us and probably the other person any kind of damage.
A true test of whether you are addicted to any of these is to try and give it up for at least 10 days in a row. Of course it has to be something which you are doing regularly. For example if you are not exercising regularly, then you won’t find it difficult to give it up. However if you can’t start your day without reading the morning Newspaper, then try and give it up for 10 days.
I’m not suggesting that we have to give up all the above. The key is to be aware of what you are doing, make conscious choices and balance your need for these. More about this in my next post. Until then keep an open mind and think about what you just read.
Surprised? Disagree with me? Feel like having a debate? I would welcome your thoughts in the comments section below. What other types of addictions can you think of?