Why anything can be addictive

Man working Even work can be addictive, according to Dr Griffiths

For many people the concept of addiction involves taking drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin.

But in this week's Scrubbing Up, gambling studies expert Mark Griffiths warns that if the rewards are there people can become addicted to almost anything.

For the past 25 years I have been studying gambling and I passionately believe that gambling at its most extreme is just as addictive as any drug.

The social and health costs of problem gambling are large and have many things in common with more traditional addictions, including moodiness, relationship problems, absenteeism from work, domestic violence, and bankruptcy.

Health effects - for gamblers and their partners - include anxiety and depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, stress related disorders, stomach problems, and suicidal thoughts.

If behaviours like gambling can become a genuine addiction, there is no theoretical reason why some people might not become genuinely addicted to activities like video games, work or exercise.

Research on pathological gamblers has reported at least one physical side effect when they undergo withdrawal, including insomnia, headaches, loss of appetite, physical weakness, heart palpitations, muscle aches, breathing difficulty, and chills.

In fact, pathological gamblers appear to experience more physical withdrawal effects when attempting to stop their behaviour when compared directly with drug addicts.

'Most important thing'

But when does an excessive healthy enthusiasm become an addiction?

Start Quote

Behavioural addictions can be just as serious as drug addictions”

End Quote Dr Mark Griffiths

Excessive behaviour on its own does not mean someone is addicted.

I can think of lots of people who engage in excessive activities but I wouldn't class them as addicts as they don't appear to experience any detrimental effects from engaging in the behaviour.

In a nutshell, the fundamental difference between excessive enthusiasm and addiction is that healthy enthusiasms add to life whereas addiction takes away from it.

For any behaviour to be defined as addictive, there have to be specific consequences such as it becoming the most important activity in the person's life or being the way they improve their mood.

They may also begin to need to do more and more of the activity over time to feel the effects, and experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms if they can't do it.

This may lead to conflict with work and personal responsibilities, and people may even experience "relapses" if they try to give up.

The way addictions develop - whether chemical or behavioural - is complex.

Addictive behaviour develops from a combination of a person's biological/genetic predisposition, the social environment they were brought up in, their psychological constitution - such as personality factors, attitudes, expectations and beliefs, and the activity itself.

Many behavioural addictions are "hidden" addictions. Unlike, say, alcoholism, there is no slurred speech and no stumbling into work.

However, behavioural addiction is a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all those in the health and medical profession.

If the main aim of practitioners is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of behavioural addiction and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge and training.

Behavioural addictions can be just as serious as drug addictions.


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  • Comment number 74.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Got to love the way the 'Editors Pics' favour those that support BBC...freedom of press?? HA!! Seems like Big Dave has a man standing behind everybody in Broadcasting House - it's beyond a joke!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    Addiction is a habit you can't break, whether healthy or otherwise. Look at TV viewer ratings to see what a lot of people are addicted to. Soaps do not give a true reflection of society, but do brainwash people into thinking lots of things that are wrong are acceptable. Thus, people get addicted to acting irresponsibly, aggressively and unsociably.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Hi Alan, take just about any area of life & the public at large seem to see it as an issue of black or white, depsite the plethora of evidence to the contrary.
    I fear that society has yet to come up a way to adjust to the loss of survivial of the fittest within our species & we are slowly doing for ourselves collectively through our stupidity. If we weren't so stupid we'd be acting on GW already

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    RE 69. Little_Old_Me
    >>>the immature reaction of so many who are left or right politically to the Beeb daring to broadcast/print anything that mentions the other side's views ....

    Personally, after all that's happened since 1990, I find it hard to imagine how anyone still cleaves to those old cold-war class-war certainties. The demarcations in our society now are much less clear cut and obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    68.Alan T - the immature reaction of so many who are left or right polictically to the Beeb daring to broadcast/print anything that mentions the other side's views is indeed a stark illustration of the poor standard of public debate in Britain today.

    We get the polciticans we deserve because we the voters are so clueless that we far too many of us cling to the idea of left = good or visa versa

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    59. Darren Shepperd
    >>>shame on the tory broadcasting corp

    A couple of days ago I was reading a contribution from "Nautonier" accusing the BBC of having an ultra-left wing agenda bias. Looking at these conflicting claims, one might conclude that BBC News is doing okay?

    What has this got to do with addiction? Were you saying HYS only covers trivialities in order to stifle dissent in the UK?

  • Comment number 67.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Addiction is driven by the misconception in the media & especially adverting that we should be happy all the time. We are just animals like all the rest and nature can be cruel and harsh, we need to learn to accept that & deal with it head on instead of trying to bury our heads in the ground

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    So true.
    The P.C Liberals are addicted to power

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    People are getting bored were I live there isnt any thing to do every thing cost money.To listen to the government that they lowerd the immergration then being told that wales is at bursting point with people coming into wales its all getting to much and people need that fix to cope with the silly things that this government is doing with peoples lives none of it makes any sence whats so ever

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    62.dodo777 - like so many things in life chocolate is only unhealthy in excessive doses. It activates your limbic system (the bit of the brain that reacts to "reward" stimuli) which won't be doing your depression any harm - though of course dealing with the symptom(s) at the heart of any illness/addiction beats treating the symptoms every time. Good luck.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    people are not happy any more every body is looking for some thing.My thing at the moment is chocolate I know it aint healthy but I get so bored and lonely plus I suffer from depression.People can make any thing addictivel

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Science acknowledges the brain is too complex to fully understand. We know it is affected negatively by basics such as poor diet; a relentlessly rushed life; environment, plus a sense of injustice caused by loss of control of our lives - due to powerful decisions made by those we do elect, and those we don't. Both appear to have no respect for the power they hold and the damage they cause.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Darren Shepperd
    I agree with you totally mate.

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    I wonder if there was an addiction to dreaming that you are someone that you are not,would there be any treatment for it ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    56.chrisk50 - join you in a sense:

    I'm an HYS adict & have been for a few weeks.......but (for added adictive personality trait emphasis) it's not my fault, it's the fault of everyone who posts things I disagree with causing me to have to respond......

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    A step to overcome your addiction is to admit you are addicted in the first place, then share with other people who have the same addiction in group therapy.

    "I'm a HYS addict and have been for many years"

    There I've said it, anyone else like to join me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    52. As_Iff
    >>>49 Alan T, eferring to KLi9`s post.
    Yeah, I wondered if that was all that was meant. Since this poster has direct experience, I was wondering whether there was a hint there of a common thread, that perception problems go hand in hand with addiction. But, you're probably right, the most straightforward meaning is probably the correct one. Thanks for your thoughts in any case.

    Alan T


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